Think you're being hounded for a bill you don't owe? You may well be right. Collection agents for credit card companies are pursuing consumers with erroneous "robo-signed" documents, much as mortgage lenders did with homeowners, according to The New York Times.

As credit issuers ranging from American Express to Citigroup attempt to collect on billions in delinquent loans, consumers are claiming in dozens of lawsuits that the lenders have been unable to show that they actually owe the debt and are pursuing them with fabricated documents and generic testimony, the paper reports. In some cases, consumers contend that they don't owe the debt at all. In others, they say that they do owe something, but the amount of the debt has been padded.

Notably, the allegations against the credit card companies are nearly identical to those leveled against mortgage servicers, which led to a $25 billion settlement earlier this year. The root of the problem is also likely to be similar -= the secondary market for debt, said Bill Bartmann, president of CFS II, a debt collection company in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Banks frequently sell bad loans to collection companies for pennies on the dollar. The debt buyers are supposed to get the documentation that came with the original loan, but in the fast-paced world of high finance, loans are sometimes sold without all the requisite paperwork. When a purchased loan proves difficult to collect, it can be sold over and over, creating the economic equivalent of a game of telephone, where the final message is far from the one that was originated, he said.

That boosts the chance that a consumer is dinged for a phantom debt -- debt owed by someone with a similar name or Social Security number -- or for an amount that bears little resemblance to the amount that was borrowed.

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