Law Office of SaraEllen Hutchison, PLLC

everybody is a consumer, and consumers have rights!

Frequently Asked Questions About Consumer Law

Get up, stand up. stand up for your

Consumer Rights

What should I do if there’s something on my credit report that isn’t mine?

What should I do if I am a victim of identity theft? 

What if a debt collector is calling me all the time?

What if I have been scammed by a business coaching program?

Is there anything I can do about surprise medical debt?


Some frequent questions and answers about the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and other Consumer Protection Laws that protect you from scams, ripoffs and other unfair or deceptive business practices

I’d be happy to speak with you if any of the following describe your situation:

  • You have been ripped off by a life coaching, business coaching, self-help, personal development or wellness program of any kind.


Or, you have a credit issue that’s not your fault…This looks like:

  • You have been harmed by false credit reporting. You have something on your credit that does not belong to you (it’s someone else’s due to a computer problem, similar name, or identity theft), and you’ve been turned down for credit, insurance, an apartment or a job, or,
  • Some account that’s yours is reporting totally inaccurate (e.g., mortgage company or car lender says you didn’t pay after you paid it off), and you have already disputed to the creditor, debt collector, Equifax, Experian and/or Trans Union and it’s still wrong on your credit.
  • A debt collector is asking you to pay a debt that isn’t yours or that you already paid.
  • Your credit card company is holding you responsible for fraudulent charges.
  • You’re a victim of identity theft.
I will be delighted at our first meeting if you’ve saved all your paperwork, dispute letters, postage receipts, the marketing that contradicts the quality of the product or service actually delivered, credit denial letters, emails, texts, etc. 

Reach out to me and we’ll discuss the kinds of things are important in your situation.


Do you have some other kind of consumer problem not exactly as described above but still compelling? Hey, no problem. Contact me anyway and we’ll see. 

But, please understand I DON’T do L e m o n L a w or cases involving car repairs, purchase of a car or truck, or defects to any kind of motor vehicle. If that is your only claim, please look elsewhere for help with that. Thanks!

“Freecreditreport [dot] com” is not the same thing.

Don’t sign up for any memberships or subscriptions with Equifax, Experian or Trans Union.

Just save the credit reports as PDF files (you should be able to do that from the print window).

The files will likely have many, many pages.

If the screening questions to verify your identity are wholly unfamiliar and you’re unable to get your credit report, you can use this mail-in-form to request your credit reports.

By the way, your credit SCORE is different from your credit report. If you want me to review your case, I need the full reports. Not just the page that shows your credit score went up or down.

Dispute it! But don’t do it online or by phone — this will just frustrate you.

Dispute in writing, via certified mail. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has some clear instructions and a sample letter here.

Just follow their instructions for disputing IN WRITING.

Save a photocopy or scan of your dispute letter, any documentation you enclose in the letter, and your mail receipt. When the green card comes back in the mail showing that Equifax, Experian or Trans Union signed for your mail, save that too!

If, after you dispute, things are still reporting inaccurately, contact me for evaluation of your case.

Unfortunately, you have a lot of legwork to do.

But fortunately, gives very clear instructions about the steps you need to take.

At the very minimum:

  • Contact the companies where the thief opened the fraudulent accounts and ask that they be closed due to fraud. (You might need to follow up with them and include a copy of your police report.)
  • Contact Equifax, Experian and Trans Union and let them know. Request a fraud alert and a security freeze on your credit files, and save that PIN number!
  • File a report with your local law enforcement. They might not (they probably won’t) do anything to help you, but that’s not the point. The point is that you need to make the report so that you have it to attach to your written disputes to the credit reporting agencies.
  • File an FTC identity theft affidavit.
  • If there is someone else’s stuff on your credit report that shows an account or charges that were not initiated or authorized by you, you need to dispute that to Equifax, Experian and Trans Union IN WRITING, VIA CERTIFIED MAIL, ENCLOSING A COPY OF YOUR POLICE REPORT & FTC IDENTITY THEFT AFFIDAVIT AND AN EXPLANATION THAT IT WAS NOT AUTHORIZED OR INITIATED BY YOU.
  • If you have writer’s block, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a good sample letter here. Make sure you state that it is IDENTITY THEFT!
  • Save copies and scans of everything you send!

If, after you dispute, the companies are still holding you accountable and the fraudulent accounts are still on your credit, contact me for evaluation of your case.

A mixed credit file is when someone else’s stuff is on your credit report, but not necessarily because that person stole your identity.

The reasons for a mixed credit file can be a similar social security number or similar name. 

You might be familiar with the term “algorithm” because you’re one of those smart math types, or you are educated about social media.

Well, the credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, Trans Union and more (there are many more that aren’t household names) use matching algorithms that allow loose matching of people to accounts to files.

This is how hypothetically, someone named Kim Lee born in 1986 who lives in Seattle could have a credit report full of the accounts, name, addresses and other information of Kim Williams born in 1976 who lives in Bellevue…or even Boston!

If you suspect you are a victim of a mixed credit file, contact me for evaluation of your case. 

There’s a federal law that protects you called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

A debt collector is not allowed to bully or harass you. There are limits to how often they can call you.

And, a debt collector isn’t allowed to misrepresent the amount, legal status or other details about the alleged debt and get away with such deception by being all “fake nice.”

They’re not allowed to talk to your mom, your roommate, your employer, or your friends about your debt.

Dispute the debt and request verification and validation of the debt. The CFPB has some good instructions and a sample letter.

If you are getting letters, phone calls, or court paperwork about a debt, even if it is your debt, it’s worth talking to a consumer protection lawyer to find out if you have any defenses or counterclaims based on mistakes, misrepresentations or bad behavior by the debt collector.

If you are in Washington State and have been handed court papers, it’s a real lawsuit and you have to respond within 20 days of the date of service. Get a lawyer asap! You can look for one at

One of the most aggressive areas of collection lawsuits is in medical debt.

But these are the kinds of consumer accounts that are most prone to errors in the calculation of the balance.

Why? Because medical billing errors are rampant! 

And many medical providers are just large corporations — even if they claim to have nonprofit or charitable status — and care more about their profit than treating patients fairly.

Hospitals, doctors’ practice groups, anesthesiologists, specialists — many frequently outsource their billing functions to third-party companies of, well, let’s just say…varying levels of attention to detail.

Hospitals sometimes send people to collections who financially qualify for Charity Care — in essence, a sliding fee scale — because they’d rather make a profit than give somebody a discount they’re entitled to.

Hospitals also sometimes send people to collection for the amounts that Medicaid didn’t pay for. This is called “balance billing,” and is against the law. If you’re on Medicaid, the hospital must accept what Medicaid pays and can’t harass you for the difference.

Even worse, some third-party billing vendors take payment from patients in collections and then don’t forward that money to the collection agency, which can lead patients to wind up paying TWICE: once to the billing vendor, and the second time to the collection agency or in the form of a court judgment.

Document, document, document! Save canceled checks, credit card receipts, email confirmations, screenshots of your patient accounts, and your Explanation of Benefits (the “this is not a bill” paperwork from your health insurance company).

If you have been sent to collections for an amount that seems inflated or inaccurate, there very well could be an error. 

Yes, you received the services, and yes, the medical provider deserves to be paid. Nobody here is arguing with that. BUT, you should never have to pay more than you’re legally obligated to pay, ever!

Dispute the debt in writing to the medical provider and the debt collector, enclosing as much documentation as you can find in support.

If they don’t correct it, reach out to me for an evaluation of your case. If you need help sorting this out and all this talk of paperwork is just overwhelming, reach out now.

You might be entitled to a refund or other remedies, including an injunction and attorney’s fees.

Your lack of results in some program is not because of you.

It’s because the program didn’t deliver.

Learn more about your rights and possible next steps here.

If you used your credit card to purchase something, and it turned out to be a fraud, defective, or a ripoff, one way to go about getting a refund is to dispute through your credit card company. This is often called a “chargeback.”

You need to first attempt to resolve it with the merchant. Then you need to dispute the charge at the specific address where your credit card bank says they want to receive disputes.

If the charges remain after your dispute and the companies’ investigation, you might have a claim under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

Learn more about the FCBA and get basic dispute instructions from the FTC.

You can feel free to post reviews of bad business behavior anywhere they’ll take them (like the BBB), but the BBB is not a government agency and does not have any power to police bad business behavior or advocate on your behalf.

If you want to report a bad experience with any kind of business, your State Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and finding an attorney to help you should be the first places you go.