What is Debt Validation: Make debt collectors provide proof

A debt collector contacts you regarding a debt. How do you know this is your debt and that you actually owe the collection agency?

Make debt collectors and junk debt buyers prove you owe them. What if the debt has already been paid or perhaps the Statute of Limitations has expired on the debt and you cannot be legally sued for the debt?

Debt validation forces a collection agency, debt collector and even a law firm in the business of debt collection prove you owe the debt. It is a powerful weapon against debt collectors which protects consumers from unfair and deceptive debt collection practices.

In some instances, consumers who simply request debt validation discover the junk debt buyer will go away because their goal is to get a quick payment and move on without putting too much effort into collecting the debt.

How Debt Validation Works

According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) you have the right to request a collection agency validate the debt they are trying to collect. Essentially, the collection agency must show that you owe the “original creditor” the debt, not the “collection agency” attempting to collect the debt.

The collection agency is required to send you a debt validation notice within five (5) days of their first communication with you. If the first communication to you is a letter it may already include the notice.

The notice will contain a “mini Miranda” stating: “This is an attempt to collect a debt and if we do not hear from you within 30 days of this notice, we will assume the debt to be valid.”

Writing a Debt Validation Request

When requesting debt validation, you can dispute the entire debt, part of the debt, and you can request the name of the original creditor. Your debt validation letter must be sent in writing. After receiving your dispute, the collection agency must send you proof that it owns or has been assigned the debt by the original creditor. Verification that you owe the debt and the amount of the debt needs to include documentation from original creditor (however, it is the debt collector who sends it to you). It is not enough for the collection agency to simply send you a printout of the amount owed.

If You Request Verification, Collection Must Stop

After receiving your dispute, the debt collector cannot contact you until it has provided you with the requested information. The collection agency must stop its collection efforts and cannot resume them before double-checking the debt information with the original creditor and mailing you the verification, including the original creditor’s name and address.

Debt Collectors can be Deceptive

Many debt collectors will send letters with no stamped postal information that lets you know when the letter was mailed. Debt collectors never send these notices certified mail or even registered mail so you have no way of knowing when the 30-day period begins. You certainly cannot go by the date on their letter because in many cases it is back-dated and by the time the consumer actually receives it, a week or two has gone by according to the date.

Fortunately for the consumer, because the debt collector does not send the letter certified or return receipt, they cannot prove when the 30-day period began. You can still request debt validation after the 30-day period has passed and question the validity of the debt.

But the debt collector does not have to honor your request for debt validation if; after the initial notice has been sent, you failed to request debt validation during that time.

The good news is that if you did not request debt validation within 30 days of the first contact, the courts will not consider you having admitted to owing the debt or that the debt is valid. See FDCPA § 809 (c): “The failure of a consumer to dispute the validity of a debt under this section may not be construed by any court as an admission of liability by the consumer.”

Proper Debt Validation Documents

Legally what constitutes proper debt validation is an unsettled issue and depends on the specific nature of the dispute. Debt collectors believe all that is required is verification the person they are attempting to collect from is correct and the amount being claimed is accurate.

However, the FDCPA requires verification of the validity of an alleged debt, not “verification” of your name and amount of an alleged debt. Proper validation should be in the form of documentation from the original creditor, not the debt collector. Debt collectors must provide proof you owe the debt to the original creditor, not to them.

Documentation can be account statements from the original creditor, payment history from the original creditor, a copy of the original signed loan agreement or a credit card application with terms and interest rates. Although rarely done, validation can also include an itemized accounting of the amount claimed to be owed, including all fees and charges and how those fees and charges were determined.

Debt collectors purchase debts for pennies on the dollar

It has become increasingly common for original creditors to sell bad debts. Debt collectors purchase these debts in large portfolios for pennies on the dollar. The debt is often inflated to include unknown fees and interest rates.

Improper Debt Validation Documents

Some unscrupulous collection agencies and junk debt buyers will simply send you a printed form from their computers because they have no original proof from the creditor. Oftentimes, when junk debt buyers purchase charged off debts, they simply receive basic information about the debtor.

The basic information comes on a spreadsheet with many other names, address, and social security numbers (in whole or part) of other consumers. Typically no back up or supporting documentation from the original creditor is obtained because it costs extra for the junk debt buyer. Take a look at What Constitutes Proper Debt Validation to get a better idea of the proof junk debt buyers should provide.

Consumers have received all sorts of improper documentation posing as debt validation. You may get a piece of paper entitled “Validation of Debt” or “Verification of Debt” or even a computer generated form made to look like a billing statement from the original creditor in response to a debt validation request. This is not sufficient for debt validation. The Federal Trade Commission has made it clear that a “mere itemization” is not sufficient proof to validate a debt.

I read in a forum some time ago that a debt collector, Claims Recovery Systems, placed an ad on Craigslist seeking contractors with data conversion skills. Someone in the forum responded to the ad and after they received the work in pdf attachments, they realized the pdf files were old past due credit card statements. The employer wanted contractors to modify old credit card statements and specifically requested:

“The Word docs, in layout, font type, and relative size, must closely [resemble] the original pdf files, and be editable at every stage of the document, with the exception of the logos, and some of the other proprietary looking objects.”

Thankfully the respondent did not follow through and reported the debt collector to the Federal Trade Commission and their state’s attorney general. One can safely assume these modified credit card statements were purposely intended to mislead a debtor, so be very careful when dealing with debt collectors.

Do Not Provide Documentation

Some collection agencies realize they have no original documentation to prove the debt is yours and will resort to asking you to “help them” resolve the matter. After you request debt validation, you may get a letter from the debt collector requesting you send in an old statement from the original creditor or even a cancelled check of a payment you made to the original creditor.

DO NOT FALL FOR THIS TACTIC! Debt validation requires the debt collector provide proof and documentation from the original creditor, not you. Do not help them!

Do Not Acknowledge the Debt

Never acknowledge you owe the debt. Make the collection agency or junk debt buyer prove you owe the debt. Avoid getting on the phone with any collection agency, junk debt buyer or collection agency law firm. Deal with them via U.S. Mail only. Acknowledging you owe the debt, making payment arrangements or even making a partial payment on the debt may re-start the statute of limitations on the debt.

No Telephone Communication

Send a letter requesting communication by U.S. mail only because telephone calls to your employer and home are inconvenient. You will discover many debt collectors will never send written communication, they only want to deal with you over the telephone in an attempt to intimidate you into paying.

Learn how to request debt validation.


  1. I received a letter from Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC (but with an incorrect/misspelled last name) saying that I owe debt. I found out that it was from a Gap card (that I must have made in store, actually because they didn’t explain it would be a credit card).
    Well, I never received a statement, or the card (obviously, never activated), so I submitted a dispute, and they responded after 1 month with the statements from Gap. The statements have incorrect/misspelled last name as well as missing the apartment number (which I did write down in the application).
    I called PRA again and told that I am willing to pay off if they can erase the record from the credit report, but they said they cannot. It seems very unfair, as I never received the statements or the card because of the bank’s fault. How should I deal with this? (I really want to erase this adverse record that is not at my fault)

    • Before you do anything else I would suggest you contact the original creditor in writing. It may or may not help but it’s worth a try. Send the letter certified, return receipt mail. The letter should state “this is a dispute under the Fair Credit Billing Act.” In the letter let them know you NEVER received a billing statement and the actual Gap credit card was never received. Be sure to include in your letter that the Fair Credit Billing Act was violated for failure to send bills to your correct address. Tell them the resolution you want is for them to pull the account back from Portfolio, request that they instruct Portfolio to remove the account from your credit reports and let them know you are willing to pay the account in full. If you have evidence of your actual address I would include it in the letter to show they had the incorrect address for you. They have 60 days to respond to complaints under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

      If that does not work then I would make that same complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, letting them know you attempted to resolve the matter directly with the Gap. Then wait and see what they can do to resolve the matter with the Gap directly.

      Lastly if none of the above works it’s time to deal directly with the credit bureaus by disputing an error or inaccuracy in Portfolio’s reporting of the debt. They are one of the most difficult debt collectors to deal with and they rarely agree to a pay for deletion. If you find an error in their reporting such as listing the account as revolving or installment with past due monthly payments make a complaint directly to the CFPB and the Better Business Bureau on the basis of false or inaccurate reporting and ask that the resolution be a deletion of the account.

      Good luck to you and keep me updated!

      • Thank you so much for your advice Lisa!
        I have sent a certified mail and will update as soon as I get a response back.

  2. I have credit card debt from a business that is now dissolved. The debt does not show up on any of my personal credit reports. The last payment was made five years one month ago. Wisconsin has a statue of limitation of six years. They now are contacting me to try to collect on this debt. I will under no circumstances make a payment to them of course. I have asked them for validation and they have provided me with about eight months of bills, probably the last bills there with the original credit card holder. do I have the right to ask for written documentation? And I Malgene that I have debt by asking for that? Like I said it’s not on my credit report it almost does not exist to me and my family. I’ve only communicated with them via mail and have constantly disputed the debt at all. At this point I’m simply trying to wait out the statue limitations. Any advice to offer?
    I really appreciate it and thank you for the information on validation.

    • Technically their response has provided adequate debt validation. The FDCPA only says a debt collector must provide the name of the original creditor, the contact information and balance owed. In your matter I would not rattle the debt collector’s cage by demanding further documentation…at least not at this time. For now the account is not reporting on your credit reports plus the statute of limitations for which you could be sued is just about up. If they do sue then you would pursue further concrete proof such as a signed contract.

  3. I am wanting to do a debt validation on a 12 year old debt that is now showing up on my credit, reaged. The account originated in California and I now live in Texas. The SOL I believe is 4 years in both states. Is this the correct way to get the debt removed? Or should I do a dispute through the FTC and let them collect a fine for me?

    • Debt validation is unnecessary at this time. Dispute the old debt with the credit bureaus. Put your dispute in writing and send it to each credit bureau reporting the re-aged debt. The credit bureaus must then either reinvestigate the dispute or remove the negative information about the old debt from your credit report. A simple letter that says something like this:

      Account listed as “blank” has been re-aged by “blank”. It is illegal for a collection agency to change the “purge from” date on a negative credit listing, causing it to remain on my credit report longer than allowed by federal law. Please delete this account immediately.

      If, after you follow the dispute procedures the collection agency verifies the account as accurate then make your complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Texas Attorney General. That should do it! The reason I suggest disputing with the credit bureaus first is in case you need to file a lawsuit to get it removed. You want to have a paper trail to document your efforts. Plus the CFPB and Texas AG will want to see you made an effort to resolve the matter before filing a complaint.

  4. randell Johnson says:

    Hi I had two foreclosures in separate states, California and Hawaii . How long do these stay on your credit and what constitutes the official start date . So If stays for 7 years, 10 years etc. what determines the beginning of the 7 years ? Is it when you last paid a payment?



    • Foreclosures can be tricky because the FCRA states: The 7-year reporting period begins 180 days from the date of the first delinquency which is the date you stopped making payments on the mortgage. But in some states where foreclosure is a civil lawsuit the foreclosure may report for 7 years from the date the public record was entered. It seems though most people with foreclosures say it comes off 7 years from the date of first delinquency.

  5. My roommate and I moved out of our old apartment complex without giving a 30 day notice because we did not know we were supposed to. We agreed to pay the balance of another month’s rent within 6 months by making payments monthly. She and I both had 2 months remaining to pay and did not. According to her, the apartment complex contacted her in regards to paying the balance (both of our names were on the lease) but never contacted me. I assumed the balance we written off considering our payment history was PERFECT the entire 2 year we lived there.

    I was just contacted by my old roommate and she told me that a collections agency has sent her a letter and has been calling her. I have never received anything from the agency although I have phone calls from unknown numbers. Just recently I answered and it was the collection agency collecting saying they wanted to collect the debt. The debt is owed to our old apartment complex which no longer exists because it has been bought by another company. Do we still owe this debt?

    • This is a complicated issue and I strongly suggest you contact an attorney who focuses on tenant rights in your state. A landlord or collection agency on behalf of the landlord can continue to pursue you for an unpaid debt long after you move out an apartment. Once a landlord turns over an account for unpaid rent to a collection agency, the agency is then in charge of attempting to obtain the amount owed.

      But in some states a landlord has a duty to find a new tenant even if you did not have a legal justification to break your lease. If the landlord had a duty to rent then reasonable efforts to re-rent the apartment should have been made no matter what your reason for leaving—rather than charge you for the total remaining rent due under the lease.

      Another problem with your situation is that you agreed to pay the unpaid rent. You can dispute the debt with the collection agency, especially if you do not agree with the amount they are demanding, but it may be difficult to ignore because you entered into an agreement to pay the balance and that agreement would typically pass to the new owner.

      You may have to pay the debt in order to keep it off your credit reports. You don’t want this to end up haunting you for 7 years if the collection agency reports it to the credit bureaus. If they have already reported the debt to the credit bureaus another option would be to offer payment in exchange for a deletion from your credit reports.

      Lastly you could always dispute the debt and request debt validation. Debt validation requires the collection agency provide proof you owe the debt. If the collection agency cannot prove you owe the debt then they must stop collection efforts until they can provide proof the debt is owed by you.

  6. I am being taken to court by a collection agency law firm for a debt that I have disputed several times. I was first sent a letter that said there was no record of the debt. Two years later, 8 mos. after disputing with the lawyers, I finally received a copy of the loan paperwork. It did not say directly that it was a credit card. I was told it was a bank loan. None of the companies responded within the 30 day period for providing debt validation. What are my options?

  7. Lisa Phillips says:

    Bobbie, unfortunately the credit bureaus allow debt collectors to place unvalidated information on your credit reports. If you dispute the information the likelihood of it being removed is slim to none. The credit bureaus would more than likely update the status to “account disputed by consumer.” I suggest you review similar question asked by a reader regarding a debt collector who refuses to remove an unvalidated debt. I give some advice on how to proceed once you receive documents that do not constitute debt validation.

  8. I contacted RFG about the posting on my credit report. I asked when the account was opened, original balance, original creditor, balance and copy of agreement. They sent me a copy of a bill that only has a closing date and amount with credit limit of $300. It shows no other charges or fees but credit report states balance is $1034. Original balance $643. The other document they sent was a program id print out from a computer with no company name or date.
    Is this proof enough to where they can put it on my credit report?

  9. I recently had a judgement filed against me for a debt that an agency claims happened back in 2006 under my maiden name. I can’t find any information on the original creditor, and they sent all notifications to an incorrect address resulting in my not getting court paperwork at all until the hearing had already occurred. Prior to the court paperwork I have never received any information from them regarding a debt. The statute of limitations according to the date they claimed the debt occurred would be May 2012. I feel they are using unfair tactics to keep this debt on my credit report and to collect money I might not even owe them. What can I do?? They already got a judgement. I have been working hard to clean up my credit and this is going to undo all the hard work I have done!

  10. Gene Douglas says:

    Several years ago I was turned down for credit because a credit report said I had a delinquent school loan. I knew this wasn’t true, and I wrote to the credit reporting agency. They replied and said it wasn’t their responsibility, because they are just reporting what was reported to them by the creditor.

    I wrote to the creditor, who said it wasn’t their responsibility, because they had sold the paper. I wrote to the new creditor, who said it wasn’t their responsibility because they did not make the report, and were not the ones who made the loan.

    Several months went by, and I read that the credit reporting agency had been in trouble with the Texas attorney general for an unrelated issue. I wrote to the atty general, with a cc to the CRA, describing my problem. The CRA then sent me a credit report with the offending data removed.

    Had it not been for the fact they were in hot water with the Texas atty general, I would probably have this hanging over my head even now.

  11. I cancelled a DSL account with Qwest. They sent me a UPS label to return the modem. I returned the modem using their label. They turned my account over to collections for the cost of the modem. I contacted Qwest, and was told that there was nothing they could do. I asked for validation from the collection agency, and they sent me a copy of the invoice Qwest sent for the modem.

    What am I supposed to do now? I asked for validation, and they provided the Qwest invoice. Is my only option to sue?

  12. Hello, We had a house that was going to be foreclosed on, instead the bank did a short sale auction to another bank. We received notice of the sale amount and the ending balance 0. 2 years later we receive a letter from a collection agency for $75,000, I wrote a certified to asking to validate the debt back in May of 2010, which they did sign for. We never heard anything again and nothing reported on our credit report, but now we are receiving another collection letter from a different company stating they are now handling all debts from the original collection agency. So do we have to send another letter asking for validation of the debt or do we just need to show that the other collection agency never responded?

    Thank You

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      Unfortunately you will have to request debt validation with each new debt collector that purchases your debt. Uncollected debt can be sold repeatedly from one junk debt buyer to another and debt validation will have to be requested every time. The good news — well each time a debt is sold from one debt collector to another, the likelihood no debt validation documents exist.

  13. Jennifer says:

    I am a single mother trying to get a home for my son and myself and I really appreciate this site. I am hoping in 2 years to be in a home with the help of thi site.Okay, I sent my request for validation to the colletion agency and they responded by sending me a statement with who I owed and how much I owed. But, I still do not owe them and they are the ones reporting to the credit agencies, so what is my next step?

  14. Lisa,

    Since I doubt that this company is even worth my time as consumer complaints against them have mounted, then I plan on just waiting it out. I have no desire to engage in an intellectual debate with them over this debt, as there is sufficient lack of it. As for the inaccurate data, as a Computer Programmer and Database Administrator I can certainly spot a data discrepancy, and believe me, with them there are plenty. I pointed this out to all three bureaus when I disputed this, yet they validated the incorrect data? I am confounded and since they are being dumped this year, all the better. I do not plan on giving them any ammunition to re-open the statute of limitations at any point and I am not investigating jack on my end. It is just frustrating these lame duck agencies, collectors and companies get away with so much and the consumers are the ones left holding the bag.

    It makes me sick to my stomach to think that this is the kind of rhetoric I fought to defend the nation and these moronic individuals. Thanks for the help, Lisa…..if you know of any other way aside from sending letters to the companies that have erroneous data in a manner that the credit bureaus CANNOT overlook, then please email me and I would appreciate the help. Wonderful site, and thanks for looking out for the rest of us!

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      First, let me thank you for your service to our country. It is greatly appreciated. Second, I feel your frustration but waiting it out is probably your best bet since you only have a few months before this negative entry drops off and I am sure your time could be better spent. I am pretty positive the only reason you got the call, after so much time has passed, is that Omni Financial knows the item is about to drop off and unless they can reset the statute of limitations, they have no way of forcing payment. I do understand your desire to pursue a just outcome without having to wait until the item drops off. The only two options I can come up with are:

      (1) Deal directly with the credit bureaus. Since they verified the information as accurate you can request the method of verification. Most credit bureaus only utilize the E-Oscar Method of Investigation where a credit dispute is limited to certain dispute codes and no real investigation is actually done. Some consumers have experienced success in getting negative marks removed just by requesting the credit bureau’s method of verification because they know FRCA laws have been violated by not conducting proper investigations.

      (2) Contact a consumer law attorney from NACA. They are well versed in consumer laws as well as the FRCA and can often get a positive outcome by just threatening a lawsuit.

      If only consumers had strong lobbyist in D.C. as do corporations, that way we would not have to jump through hoops getting credit reports clear of erroneous information and making credit bureaus follow the law.

  15. Im currently disputing a tax lien on my credit report.The lien is coming from the county i live in,so i went in the office to ask them what it was for two years ago.I gave them my ID,SSI card,and a bill.They told me it wasnt mine but someone with the similar name.Turns out its my mother and she is deceased.They told me they will correct the errors but its still on my credit today.So i disputed it with the experian two months ago,and they said the item has been verified.Now i sent them a letter asking them to provide me with the contact information of who they spoke to.I get a letter a week later saying this item has been deleted.They lied in the very beginning,because i knew this was not mine for a fact they dont do a full investigation like they should.

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      Congratulations on getting the item deleted. You did everything correct and credit bureaus do not want to challenge informed consumers like yourself. When challenged to prove what they report on your credit reports, they usually do not have a leg to stand on because they know a proper investigation has not been conducted.

      Credit bureaus are quick to use the E-Oscar method of investigation lumping credit disputes into a simplified code without ever doing a real investigation. What’s really great is that you followed through and requested the method of verification and there you have it; the item is miraculously deleted. Once you ask for the method of verification and the credit bureaus have used the E-Oscar method of investigation which is really no investigation at all, they either have to conduct a real investigation or delete the item. Thanks for sharing and I hope your success helps other consumers.

  16. I am so glad I found this site.
    I disputed and requested validation from a collection agency for a specific account. The collection agency responded and said that the validation period expired. It says that upon the first initial notice the consumer has 30 days to dispute the validity. The problem is, I never received anything from them at all. How do I respond to this? So basically they are saying that they do not have to respond to my request now. What should I do?

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      First, your visit to the website is greatly appreciated. Now, technically the debt collector is correct in that you have 30 days to request debt validation upon their initial notice to you. However, in the spirit of cooperation, the debt collector should want to resolve the matter by honoring your request. I would write to them requesting debt validation again and make sure you let them know you never received that “initial notice”. It’s not like the debt collector can say exactly when they sent the notice or when you may have received it because debt collectors NEVER send mail in a way that proof of mailing can be verified, i.e. certified mail, return receipt. While you cannot force them to validate the debt, the good news is that the law is on your side should the matter have to be litigated. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Section 809 (c) says “The failure of a consumer to dispute the validity of a debt under this section may not be construed by any court as an admission of liability by the consumer.” Good luck to you.

  17. Years ago, I moved out of an apartment a month early. I spoke with the leasing company and asked if they could just keep my security deposit (a month’s rent) as my last month’s payment. They agreed. I did not get this in writing however. Recently, I looked in my credit report to find that they were saying I did not pay my final month’s rent, and a collection agency had the account. I requested validation, and they sent a copy of the lease, only it said in the security deposit section ‘NONE’ in a font that was not a match for any other font on the page. And the copy of the lease they sent was only the first page, without any signatures, and the writing in the upper corner (detailing what I paid at the signing) was conveniently cut off. The statement they sent only included the last 6 months of my lease, conveniently not documenting my original downpayment (of rent + security deposit). Do I have the right to request to see copies of receipts written to me as well as a copy of all the statements from the start of my lease?

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      Unfortunately the FDCPA does not define what exactly constitutes debt validation, it seems to be defined on a case by case basis. You can definitely request copies of “receipts” and “statements” but you probably will not get them. Any company that would falsify documents such as the one you are dealing with, will most likely not properly comply with any validation request.

      You can send a second validation notice requesting full and proper validation and dispute their claim and see what they come up with as that one page document could belong to anyone. This one may have to play out in the court system where the sham document sent to you would never hold up in any court of law. Don’t let them off the hook, send the 2nd validation notice requesting the entire lease, with signatures, and proof of downpayment and security deposit.

  18. joanna wallace says:

    I had the same problem, my old townhome complex sent my name to collections claiming they had to replace the entire unit’s carpet because of pet damage but I never had an animal there and it was my word against theirs. When I requested a validation, they sent me an illegible copy of a lease agreement, an addendum to my lease when my roommate moved, and the original handwritten claim notice saying what my complex was charging me.

    Is this enough? There were no professional estimates saying it was necessary to change the carpets, any pictures of the supposed damages, or any invoices to say the work had even been done.

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      An “illegible” document surely is not sufficient debt validation nor is a handwritten notice with no supporting documents showing what amount of money was actually paid to replace the damages. This matter involves a little more than debt validation. This matter may need court intervention especially since you dispute ever having a pet. They cannot claim pet damage if you had no pet. You may have to consult an attorney or the local legal aid in your area to get resolution.

  19. I asked for validation of a debt that was on my credit report. The letter was sent certified mail. The collector responded a 120 days after the receipt of the validation of the debt. What do I do now? They found some old account statements from the original creditor, but nothing with my signature. I thought they only had 30 days to respond to the validation of the debt after you make the request.

    • Lisa Phillips says:

      If the debt collector responds to your request with validation, there is no time limit on when they can respond. I know of some debt collectors who have responded 9 months after a debt validation request. At a minimum, account statements can be viewed as sufficient validation.

      What you can do depends on the statute of limitations (SOL) because if the debt is within the SOL you can be sued by the debt collector so you want to tread carefully. You may want to consider negotiating a settlement in exchange for a deletion of the debt if it is on your credit reports. Another option would be to request further validation such as proof they have a legal right to collect the debt or a payment history detailing how the amount was calculated. If you neglected to inform them you dispute the debt in your 1st validation request you can send a 2nd letter disputing the debt.

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