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My wife received a collections letter out of the blue one day last week (for a debt she does not believe she owes), and we are hoping a fellow Fool can help us. We have never had something like this happen before and are not sure how to proceed.

The letter said she owed money to the apartment complex she lived in during college a couple years ago. It had her last name (maiden name) misspelled, and had been forwarded to our current address by the post office (the collectors sent it to our previous residence). When she called to get more information, they explained what the charge was for, said that there was a data entry error and said she actually owed $1000 more than the letter said! They said that they would send written documentation breaking the charges down (which we still haven't received).

The collectors allege she moved out a month later than she actually did, and that she failed to give notice (basically they contend she just bailed one day). Therefore, the charges include all sorts of extra rent and penalties/reletting fees.

It was a hectic time during that time so the details are foggy (my wife had a professional certification exam, final exams, graduation, my brother's wedding, and moving going on in the weeks around that time)--however, wife KNOWS she moved out at the end of her year's lease (not a month later) and gave notice on the day she moved out at the very latest (we believe they had her forwarding address--so how would it be possible that she just bailed if she gave them a forwarding address and returned the keys?)

Unfortunately she has moved a few times since leaving that apartment, and no longer has the copy of the lease (it was a standard Texas Apartment Association lease). We will continue searching, but she may not have any written documentation left from her time there, so we aren't sure how to dispute this.

We are wondering how to handle this situation. The amount is not yet on her credit report, and we are not sure how to go forward from here.

We have heard about validation letters and disputing items on credit reports, but are not sure what the process should be in our situation. Should she dispute to the collectors or send a debt validation request letter? What about the mistakes they made with her name and the amount on the collections letter--does that affect anything? What if she can't find written proof regarding when she moved out or whether she gave notice etc?

This is of course happening at a terrible time, as we are looking to buy a house in the coming months. Her FICO score is wonderful at this point (over 750), and we'd hate for this mess to damage it. Any advice or resources would really be appreciated.

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