Collections agencies climbed to the No. 2 spot last year on the Attorney General’s list of consumer complaint categories. The industry has continued to slowly climb in the ranks since 2001, when it held 8th place. If the trend continues, collections will take over the top spot in 2008.
Collection agencies fall into two general categories – legit and deceptive. KIRO TV aired a troublesome report last week about sleazy businesses that try to bully you into paying a debt you don’t owe. Consumer Protection Division Chief Doug Walsh was interviewed for the story and said phony debt collection schemes are just another way cons are trying to separate you from your hard-earned cash. If you think you’re being scammed, notify law enforcement and our office.
If you truly owe the debt, you have legal rights. State and federal laws require that debt collectors treat you fairly, and limit how often they may contact you. You also have the right to write to a debt collector and tell them to stop contacting you. The law says they can't contact you again except to notify you of legal action or say they'll stop contacting you.
Time-barred debts, sometimes called "zombie debts", are those so old they are beyond the point at which a creditor or collection agency may sue you to collect. Legitimate collection agencies typically have six years to seek an outstanding payment; that’s when Washington’s statute of limitations to sue expires. If the consumer makes a payment within the six years, the clock starts ticking again. According to the Federal Trade Commission, most courts that have addressed the issue have ruled that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not prohibit debt collectors from trying to collect time-barred debts — as long as they don't threaten to sue you. If a debt collector sues you to collect a time-barred debt, you can have the suit dismissed.
The FTC says delinquent debts older than seven years usually can’t appear on your credit report. And, of course, a debt collector can’t try to collect a debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy. Still, Business Week published a lengthy article last November about debt collectors who reportedly have tried to collect on debts that were discharged by a judge.
Remember, the best way to avoid calls from collection agencies is to pay your bills on time. Outstanding debt can lower your credit score, which lenders use to determine if you’re a good risk for a car loan, mortgage or credit card. Last December, we blogged about a new FICO formula that will give a break to consumers who have one delinquent account if they’re in good standing with other creditors. For advice on selecting a credit repair program, read Attorney General Rob McKenna's column.
Monday's Tip: Choosing a wireless phone plan
Tomorrow's Tip: Shopping online
Posted by Kristin Alexander All Consuming Blog Moderator at 07/19/2011 02:33:39 PM |
|I have a car loan which admittedly is past due. I called the finance company letting them know that I was going to be later with this months payment because I had been out of a job since December, money in savings had run out, and I was just hired on for a new job. The gentleman I spoke to said I would incur late charges, but as long as the payment was in before the next due date, I would be fine. Now the end of the month is here and I am close to having this month paid in full, but the finance company has been calling my house/cell phone upwards of six times a day. Is that even legal? I have talked to them since the phone calls started stating that I know I owe money, but I was told I had until the due date. How do I get the calls to stop? Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Jennifer|
Posted by: Jennifer H ( Email ) at 4/25/2009 10:25 PM
|Jennifer, a collection agency can't call or write you more than three times a week. You can't be called after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m. And if you send a written statement requesting a collection agency stop contacting you to demand payment, they must do so. As for the rest of your concern, I suggest you file a complaint with our Consumer Protection Division and request informal mediation.|
Posted by: Kristin Alexander ( Email | Visit ) at 4/28/2009 9:58 AM
|I was offered a settlement of $3900 on a debt that was originally $9700 I accepted the settlement amount and responded with a letter accepting the offer and a cashiers check too. on the cashiers check I had the bank type 'full and final payment' when [EDITED BY BLOG MODERATOR - NAME OF COMPANY] Financial Systems got the check, (certified signed receipt) they called me a million times telling me the deal was off unless I wrote a note saying I made a mistake, that this was a settlement not paid in full. I wrote a letter using their verbiage but never said I made a mistake. Now they are telling me I owe the full amount. can they offer a settlement then change their minds like that?|
Posted by: Robin ( Email ) at 8/5/2009 11:28 PM
|Robin, Because this involves a specific dispute between you and a creditor, I would encourage you to file a complaint with our Consumer Resource Center, which provides informal mediation between Washington consumers and businesses. You can do so online at www.atg.wa.gov/fileacomplaint.aspx|
On a related note, I wonder if you used a debt negotiation program? Such programs claim they can work out a deal with your creditors to lower the amount you owe for an upfront fee. These programs can be risky and may have a negative impact on your credit report and, in turn, your ability to be approved for new credit. You should be skeptical of any business that asks for cash up front, as that may indicate a scam.
Posted by: Kristin Alexander - ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR ( Email ) at 8/6/2009 5:23 PM
|Are collection agencies allowed to seize savings accounts? [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: I've never heard of that. But I can't give you a legal answer.]|
Posted by: Tara ( Email ) at 3/12/2010 1:57 PM
|You know, the thing is a law is only as good as whether it is enforced. There are too many instances, for example, of a debt collector calling someone's relatives, for heaven's sake. I realize the consumer has some responsibility also to be aware of the law and their own legal rights in the face of debt collection, but it seems the govt. has a responsbility to monitor some of these jerks too.|
Posted by: Debt Collection ( Email ) at 3/31/2010 6:18 AM
|What is the Washington State Statute of Limitations on credit card debt? Is a credit card considered a "written contract" or an "open account"? [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: I've addressed the statute of limitations question in other posts. Here's a link to the statute: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=4.16.04. But I cannot provide you with a legal interpretation, including answering your second question.]|
Posted by: Jed ( Email ) at 4/26/2010 6:37 PM
|I have just been contacted by a law office about a debt that I dont even remember having and that was supposidly made in 2000... It's from a check cashing loan place... Everything I have read says the statute on stuff like that is six to seven years... Is this correct? How should I go about dealing with this? [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Dispute the claim in writing, if you don't believe you owe it. Then file a complaint with our Consumer Resource Center.]|
Posted by: Erin ( Email ) at 7/16/2010 12:54 PM
|I am not sure what to do here. I just found out that several years ago a collections agency sued me for a hospital bill (that at the time, according to the facility, was supposed to be paid by insurance). The amount was about 1500, and I should not have to pay it if the hospital had actually done what they said they would. I am not sure how to dispute that lawsuit as it was about five years ago when it happened. Am I able to bring the case back to court to remove that from my record, or am I just out of luck?|
Posted by: lindsay ( Email ) at 2/17/2011 9:32 PM
|Lindsay -- Generally, if your complaint was about the debt itself, I would tell you to file a consumer complaint with our office. But since you already have a court judgment against you, I’m afraid there’s nothing our Consumer Resource Center can do. |
It’s not uncommon for me to hear about people contesting delinquent debts. But you should have been served with legal papers, had there been an actual lawsuit. When sued on a debt, you should always go to court. If you did not show up for court, the plaintiff likely was awarded their claim.
I suggest you first try to resolve your dispute with the collection agency, the hospital and your insurance company. State your concerns in writing and, if possible, include any documentation. Be sure to ask that the business also correct your credit history.
If unsuccessful, you may need to hire an attorney experienced in collections laws who can instruct you on any legal options. The Attorney General’s Office cannot give you legal advice.
Posted by: KRISTIN ALEXANDER, ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR ( Email ) at 2/22/2011 5:44 PM
|I work for a non-profit credit counseling agency here in Washington, and I've been trying to get the bottom of the concept of Time-barred debts because there is a lot of confusion. Some experts indicate that the six year time period cannot be reset except in very limited circumstances. Others, this blog included, seem to indicate that you can cause the Statute of Limitations to be reset by simply making a payment on a debt that is one to five years old as a sign of good faith. |
Can you provide information to help nail this down? I looked at the FDCPA and scanned the RCWs that seemed to apply, and couldn't find any clear answers. What sources did you use to determine that making a payment would reset that 6 year clock?
Thank you for helping clear this up.
[ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Tyler, I can't give you legal advic or perform legal analysis. But I have addressed this issue several times on the blog -- most recently on March 7, 2011. The link to the 6-year statute is included.]
Posted by: Tyler ( Email ) at 3/9/2011 12:57 PM
|I am having issues with [EDITED - NAME OF COMPANY] colector calling my house asking for my social seciraty number and then threating me and yelling at me what can be done about this the number to the company is [NUMBER REMOVED BY AGO BLOG MODERATOR]. I've also let this company know that I'm disabled and have a 4 month old baby. I'd be willing to pay the bill but I don't have any documentation of owing anything from them. Can you Help Me? PLEASE!!!!!!! [AGO BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Krista, you need to file a consumer complaint. Furthmore, don't give your Social Security number to anyone over the phone. I will follow up by email.]|
Posted by: Krista ( Email ) at 3/18/2011 9:41 AM
|I have a debt collection agency from New York calling to collect on a debt that I have already settled....twice. The first time I paid off on the debt was in 2009, in 2010 I got a call stating the previous collection company went bankrupt and didn't settle that debt so I would have to pay the remaining portion. Just yesterday I have recieved a call from another agency wanting to collect on the same debt and they are stating they are goping to sue, have a bench warrant issued, etc. I was under the impression that I wasn't to be harrased or threatened if I have a debt (keep in mind it has been paid twice now). What are my options? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Write to the company stating that you paid off the debt. Include any evidence of doing so. Then file a complaint with your state AGO if the calls continue.]|
Posted by: Sean ( Email ) at 4/8/2011 7:11 AM
|I use to have four CC's -- all four of them had insurance on them from the CC card company. I became disabled and activated the insurance. The CC company canceled the debt, but some how two of the accounts have been picked up by someone saying I owe them. They will not accept the letters from the CC company about the insurance and are threatening and even gong to send something to the IRS saying the balance is income! How do I get these people to stop calling. This has been going on for over four years. I thought three years was the statute on a debt.|
Posted by: Samantha ( Email ) at 9/29/2011 9:02 AM
|I WISH I had read this before paying a bill today from 12/22/05!|
Posted by: Mollie ( Email ) at 5/9/2012 1:50 PM
|I am just looking for a little clarification on this point, I read other entries but it didnt seem to come up. "Time-barred debts, sometimes called "zombie debts"... which a creditor or collection agency may sue you to collect... have six years to seek an outstanding payment; that’s when Washington’s statute of limitations to sue expires." - Is this six years to seek an outstanding paymet, is that 6 years from when the initial borrowing occured; 6 years from when they contact you first; 6 years from when they buy the debt from the original person you had the debt to? And can this 6 year period be renewed by simply selling from one creditor to another basically keeping it alive indefinately? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: It really depends on the kind of debt you are talking about. You should contact a private attorney for advice on whether or not the statute of limitations has run its course in your situation. You can dispute a debt by sending a certified return receipt letter to the collection agency.]|
Posted by: Daniel ( Email ) at 5/30/2012 9:26 PM
|I had a student loan out with Sallie Mae. I could not pay it. It was put on my credit report, and nobody contacted me after the statute of limitations was up. I filed bankruptcy last year. Once it was final - I've received a letter from them saying that student loans cannot be discharged. This I know, but can they still try and collect? It's been way more than 7 years. It may be about 9 or 10 years since the loan was taken out. I've made three payments, but it's becoming difficult to pay more. We have a large doctor bill that must be paid. we do not want to fall into the same trap of being behind on bills that put us in bankruptcy in the first place. I was reading above that they cannot say they're going to sue me. the lady did not say she would, but I was scared NOT to pay, as I don't want my credit ruined again. What should I do? Can she turn down $10 a month payments until my doctor bill is satisfied? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Unfortunatley, the Attorney General's Office does not have the authority to provide advice to private citizens on personal legal matters. We can best serve you by suggesting you contact a private attorney for advice.]|
Posted by: Sara ( Email ) at 7/9/2012 11:27 AM
|I would like to bring up 2 issues:|
First, I realize (from the dates on comments) that this topic is 3 years old or so... but still, there are two questions above from the last couple of months that haven't been answered. Why is that?
But second: right about the time the economy went in the toilet a few years ago, the corporation closed our local office and laid us all off. For a while I had real trouble finding work... though it wasn't for lack of trying.
So I was poor for a while, and got behind on my bills. I nearly became homeless... not just once, but many times during that period. It has been a great struggle, but I am finally working my way back. I do computer work and internet access is necessary for my work.
So, again during that time, my bills were often behind. The beginning of last month was the first time in years that my rent, utilities, and internet (Comcast) were all paid up in full.
But then... it appears that I didn't get a bill from Comcast last month, and so now my Comcast bill is overdue again, but only by a few days. Even so, the very day it became overdue, Comcast started calling me. At least twice a day. Once from an 800 number, and once from an 866 number. I believe I have received as many as 3 calls a day, but I won't swear to it. At least two, though. And even when I have made payment arrangements over the phone with Comcast, the calls have continued.
It isn't a collection agency, it's Comcast. Still, I consider 2 phone calls a day (and possibly more) to be harassment.
So here is my question: I know what the laws are in regard to collection agencies. But what about creditors themselves? Are there no laws governing reasonable collection activity by them? I have contacted Comcast about this in the past, and told them that it is ridiculous and abusive to have their system call me every day, even when I have ALREADY made payment arrangements. And 2 calls a day is simply over the line. They were unapologetic, and just said "That's the way our system works." End of story. My complaints were ignored.
I think most reasonable people would call that harassment. Is there any recourse? If this is annoying to me (and it is vastly annoying), then I am sure others must find it so, too. [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: First, the above comments have been answered; the answers are included in the comment posts. Second, creditors calling on their accounts are not bound to the Collection Agency rules. Even with payment arrangements in place a creditor can call you until the payment is received. Usually, though once a payment arrangement is entered and uploaded into the creditor’s system the calls will stop, but again are not required to.]
Posted by: Lonny ( Email ) at 8/22/2012 4:17 PM
|Quote Moderator: "Second, creditors calling on their accounts are not bound to the Collection Agency rules. Even with payment arrangements in place a creditor can call you until the payment is received. Usually, though once a payment arrangement is entered and uploaded into the creditor’s system the calls will stop, but again are not required to."|
Thanks, but that wasn't my question. I wrote in my comment that I realize they are not a collection agency and may not be bound by the same rules.
My question was: is it reasonable (or legal) for them to call THREE TIMES A DAY to collect a bill that is barely overdue?
Wouldn't that constitute harassment?
Posted by: Lonny ( Email ) at 8/24/2012 12:10 PM
|My wife closed her bank account in 2005, and we are just hearing from a collection agency now about an unpaid overdraft fee that has increased from around $25 to over $600. I'm certain the debt is beyond time-barred, and our credit already took the hit from the original bank reporting it, but apparently they sold the debt to a collection agency in 2009, who reported it, and is just now contacting us. Are collection agencies allowed to report our credit a second time on time barred debts? And does that do anything to reopen the window of opportunity for them to sue, when the debt is sold to a credit agency?|
[ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Generally the statute of limitations can run from 3 to 10 years from the last payment. Generally debts over 10 years old are uncollectible; however, you would need to speak with a private attorney for specific time on this debt. The original credit may post the debt to your credit report as well as the collection agency attempting to collect the debt if not disputed or paid within 30 days of receipt of the notification letter. Generally, once a debt is outside the statute of limitations it cannot be reported to a consumer’s credit report. However the collection agency may call or send letters attempting to collect the debt and if you make a payment, the statute of limitations may start over again. You would need to speak with a private attorney to understand the specifics of your situation. Most consumers will send a certified return receipt requested letter to the collection agency stating their dispute and requesting that they not be called or contacted again regarding a debt they feel is outside the statute of limitations. If the collection agency continues to contact you or is posting the item to your credit report, you can file a complaint with our office and dispute with the credit bureaus.]
Posted by: Randy ( Email ) at 1/17/2013 12:07 PM
|Back in July 2007, I had a debt with WAMU that was eventually settled. It was on a joint checking account that I shared with a relative. The debt was removed from my credit report and Chexsystems report. Just two weeks ago, a collection agency started contacting this relative, quite persistently. Neither of us have any record of owing this debt and this collection agency does not have any of my information, even though I was the one that settled the debt. It seems odd to me that an agency is trying to collect a debt that is no longer reported on a credit report. Is this common practice? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: What may have occurred is that when WAMU was purchased by Chase this debt was still open somewhere in the WAMU system. Chase may have recently sold a “portfolio” of debts to the collection agency and that agency is now trying to collect on them. You and your relative should write a certified return receipt letter to the collection agency explaining that the debt was previously resolved with WAMU and request that all correspondence be in writing. |
You should both then pull your credit reports, if you have not already done so, from www.annualcreditreport.com and review them carefully for any errors. If the collection agency continues to contact either of you, you may file a complaint with our office as long as one of you lives in Washington or the collection agency is located here: https://fortress.wa.gov/atg/formhandler/ago/ComplaintForm.aspx.]
Posted by: Ann ( Email ) at 2/6/2013 11:54 AM
|I was recently made aware of an unpaid Washington driving ticket from 2005. I contacted the court to make payment, but was informed that it had been turned over to a collection agency. I contacted the agency, who is seeking hundreds of dollars over the initial amount and is unwilling to negotiate the amount to the original amount plus the fee charged to the issuing agency (the representative is unwilling to negotiate at all and claims to be the supervisor when I ask to speak to a manager). I am not a Washington resident; the ticket and debt have never showed up on credit reports, driving records, or stops (not cited). Would this fall under the 6 year or 10 year statute of limitations? Do I have any recourse to avoid paying the exorbitant fees the collection agency is demanding? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Collection agencies do not have to make payment arrangements with consumers and can demand the entire amount due. I don’t know the specific statute of limitations for tickets/collection agencies. They could run from 3-10 years, you should speak with a local attorney who can provide you with the specific collection laws for your city/state and your legal options to dispute the additional fees that have been added.]|
Posted by: JA Ruddick ( Email ) at 2/12/2013 12:10 AM
|I was just served a court summons yesterday for a dept that comes up to $800 that is between 2 hospital visits. One in 2010 and one from 2012. I did some snooping on the length of time Debt Collectors have to wait to contact you with a court summons. I found that for WA state its 3 years. Is this correct? If so It isn't 3 years for the 2010 account until October. I am a single mom who lives solely on the income of my PT job. I plan on writing my letter I have to file but put in that I have economic hardships and am willing to do $50 payments a month because I can't really afford more than and be able to provide for my child. Does anybody have advice or know for sure if the 3 year law is correct? Thanks. [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Generally the statute of limitations in Washington can run between 3 to 10 years depending on the type of debt and situation. Our office is prohibited from providing legal advice to consumers on their specific issues. Since you have received a Summons for a pending court action, you will need to contact your local bar association and request a referral to an attorney who will be able to assist you in this matter. You can also contact the Consumer Resource Center at (800) 551-4636 between 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Monday to Friday.]|
Posted by: Nicole Leitner ( Email ) at 6/3/2013 6:15 AM
|I have a debt collector trying to collect a $1600 debt from 10+ years ago for dental services. I sited the statute of limitations and let them know that am not able or going to repay the debt. They, in turn, reported to all 3 credit bureaus and this is now the only negative item on my credit reports. Very frustrating. I have not made a single payment or promise in over 10 years to this company. Is it legal for them to put this on my credit reports? [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Our office is unable to provide legal advice regarding the placement of this debt on your credit reports, however you can dispute the debt with the credit bureaus and with the collection agency. The Attorney General's website offers information on how to correct any errors on your credit reports and also where to get your free yearly report from each credit bureau. Our website is http://www.atg.wa.gov/ConsumerIssues/Credit/CreditReports.aspx. If you are not able to resolve this situation directly with the collection agency please file a complaint with our office via our online complaint form at http://www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx#Online.]|
Posted by: Tom ( Email ) at 7/3/2013 11:30 AM
|Quote from Kristen Alexander: "a collection agency can't call or write you more than three times a week. You can't be called after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m. And if you send a written statement requesting a collection agency stop contacting you to demand payment, they must do so."|
Thank you very much for that information Kristin.
Posted by: Adam ( Email ) at 7/22/2013 8:51 AM
|I have a question, my husband just got a letter from a collection agency trying to collect an old debt from a Cell Phone Company in 2008. They say he owes $1100.00 from disconnecting early. However him and his ex-wife moved to a new area that did not have that cell company as a provider. So to get service they had cancel with that cell phone company and switch to a new one. They worked it out with the cell phone company and since they didn't offer service there, that after 3 months of sending map coverages and proof that they didn't have cell service there. The company said they would let them out of their contract with out any fees. They never heard from the company again. No bills in the mail or anything like that.|
Until now, he is divorced from her and he is married to me now, and all of the sudden we get a collection agency trying to collect this debt. Of course after all of this time they don't have any of the correspondences with the cell phone company anymore. My husband conferenced called with the Debt Collection company and the Cell Phone Company yesterday and the cell phone company said they can't pull up the old account because it is too old and they don't have those records anymore. We are not going to pay a bill that there is no proof of. The Cell Phone Company said there is no way out of this and that he owes the debt. But how can a company 5 years later out of the Blue try collecting a debt, that the consumer doesn't even owe???
I hope there is some insight you can give me into this. I am completely confused. [ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: If you have not already done so, you need to send a certified return receipt requested letter to the collection agency disputing the debt and explaining why and request proof of debt. The collection agency should provide this information to you. If not or in addition to have you file a complaint with our office using our online complaint form at: https://fortress.wa.gov/atg/formhandler/ago/ComplaintForm.aspx]
Posted by: T ( Email ) at 7/30/2013 10:01 AM
|Didn't the statute of limitations on debt used to be 3 years in Washington state? When did it change to 6 yrs? [All Consuming Blog Moderator: Thank you for your question. Our office is unable to provide specific legal interpretation or advice to consumers; generally speaking the statute of limitations can run between 3-10 years depending on the specific situation. To determine the statute of limitations for your question you will need to speak with a private attorney. For lawyer referrals you can contact the Washington State Bar Association online at www.wsba.org/atj/contact/lawref.htm.]|
Posted by: Judy Collier ( Email ) at 9/1/2013 4:23 AM
|2) In 2009 I left school because I was unable to get a student loan. The university allowed me to continue to go to school even throughout the semester (even though I hadn't paid) student accounts attempted let me know that I would have to secure a loan or find some way of paying for that semester. Well I never did get a loan and ended up having to drop out of college because I lost my job and had no way of paying for my last semester of school. This was 4 years ago. Is it possible to fold this debt into bankruptcy or is it impossible because of the nature of the debt (schooling). This debt is not found on my credit report but I know at one point the collection agency dealing with it garnished my wages. Would the statue of limitations for debt collections come into play here? I know if a payment is made it starts the statue of limitations "clock" all over again, does a forced payment such as garnishment count as a payment as well? Also if I am able to put this debt into bankruptcy could my school continue to keep my transcripts hostage? I am a semester away from having a BA but can not complete my schooling because of a $4000 dollar charge I was unable to secure a loan for even though I have been faithfully been paying on the rest of the $72,000 debt from the previous semesters which I was able to secure a loans for. [All Consuming Blog Moderator: Thank you for your questions. Our office is unable to provide specific legal information regarding bankruptcy issues or statute of limitation information. You will need to speak with a private attorney that practices bankruptcy and/or collection law. For lawyer referrals you can contact the Washington State Bar Association online at www.wsba.org/atj/contact/lawref.htm.]|
Posted by: Tiffany ( Email ) at 9/3/2013 1:27 PM
|Where can I find the laws regarding my rights and responsibilities as a creditor? We keep a handwritten, itemized, and signed bill for each account, and mail out a copy every month. Unfortunately some of our customers have not been paying.|
AGO Blog Manager Comment (lw): If you are looking for a specific law you can contact the Legislative Information Center at 360-786-7573. They can look up specific RCW's but they cannot interpret the law. If you have further questions you may need to contact our Consumer Protection Division at 800-551-4636 between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.
Posted by: Nick ( Email ) at 1/14/2014 8:01 PM
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