At Consumer Law & Policy, an detailed post about a movement by the for-profit National Arbitration Forum to make it easier for debt collectors to make up debts on the spot and collect them:

A surprisingly large number of debt collectors have a problem, though: they cannot even prove that a given consumer owes them any money (much less the often-padded sums that the debt collectors claim that they are owed). Sometimes this problem arises because the consumer actually does not owe the debt collector anything (the number of identity theft victims in the United States is high and rising rapidly), and sometimes it arises because of lousy record-keeping by credit card companies. In literally hundreds of thousands of cases, however, the debt collector cannot prove its case because it does not have (and never has had) any evidence.

How can this be true? It has come about because of the changing nature of debt collectors. It is common for credit card companies to sell the right to pursue debts allegedly owed to them on a secondary market. On this market, so-called debt buyers pay surprisingly small sums (often only a few cents on the dollar, and sometimes a fraction of a single cent) for the right to pursue debts.

In a great many (if not the vast majority) of cases, these "debt buyer" companies are actually mis-named. What they really buy from the credit card companies is a few bare-boneo lines of account information. In most cases, debt buyers pay the credit card issuers to give them a list with three items: (a) the names of consumers who supposedly owe the credit card company money; (b) the account numbers of these consumers; and (c) a total figure supposedly owed (usually with little or no specifics as to the breakdown or components of that figure). These debt buyers typically have none of the records that a normal creditor would have (and would need, in court, to prove a case), such as a copy of a signed application for a credit card or copies of the monthly statements.

I know the situation very well from my pro bono work. Typically, in small claims court, a debtor’s lawyer shows up with nothing more than a printout with someone’s name on it — they never have the contract that supposedly created the debt, and they never have anything signed or otherwise verified — and the lawyer, who inevitably knows nothing about the case except that printout, claims the debt is owed as stated.

Such "proof" would never, ever hold up in any real civil case, nor should it. If a debt collection company can’t track the paperwork or even get someone to testify under oath that they have personal knowledge debt is correct, too bad. Eat the cost just like everyone else who can’t prove their case.