Don’t be a “Verification Sucker” – When You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

When a debt collector sues you as the first thing you hear from it (they can do that), this does not give you a right to dispute and require verification. Your rights are through the legal process, and you must answer the petition or you will be defaulted. Sometimes debt collectors use people’s confusion over their rights and do things which suggest you could dispute the debt. This video discusses your rights.

You would be amazed how often people ask me whether they should “just send a verification letter” to the company or law firm when they get served with a debt lawsuit. Or as one person put it, “now that I’ve called the court to tell them I object, should I just send a verification letter? Or was that enough?”

No. It wasn’t enough – it wasn’t even anything at all.

Dispute and Verification

Click here for a copy of this article in pdf form: Don’t be Verification Sucker

Let’s take a quick step back here and review some facts and some rights.

When a debt collector first contacts you regarding a debt it is attempting to collect, it is required by law to provide you certain information. If the contact is not in writing, it must send you a notice in writing. If the contact is in writing, that contact must contain a notice. That notice must inform you of the debt collector’s identity, the nature and amount of the debt in question, and your right to dispute the debt and require verification. People often refer to this notice as the “verification letter,” although more properly it’s a notice of the right to dispute the debt. If you dispute, they must verify the debt before attempting to collect again, and you have thirty days to dispute the debt.

If they don’t want to attempt to collect again, they don’t need to dispute. It’s a law supposed to prevent continued attempts to collect on an unverified debt.

A Lawsuit is NOT a First Contact

If you’ve never heard from a debt collector, can they sue you for a past due debt? And if they do, must they give you notice of your right to dispute? Yes. And no. They can sue you without first bugging you for money. If they do sue you, the lawsuit is NOT a contact that triggers your right to dispute and verification. That’s what the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says, and the reason for that is simple: you’re in the court system and play by court rules once a lawsuit gets filed.

You Must Answer

And the court rules are that once you get served with a lawsuit you must file an Answer (or other “responsive filing” – a motion to dismiss, for example) or you will be in default. Put another way, if you don’t respond in court with an Answer denying liability or a motion to change or get rid of the lawsuit, you will lose. The lawsuit changes the rules, and you “aren’t in Kansas anymore.” [That’s what Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz when all the weird things start happening.]

Don’t be a Verification Sucker

The debt lawyers know the rules very well, and one would like to think that it’s only an “excess of caution” that causes them sometimes to print the FDCPA language on their lawsuit. But given the fact that so many people have sent dispute letters instead of answers, and the fact that the debt collectors KNOW this, that might be naïve.

What I’m here to tell you is that whether or not such language is on your lawsuit, YOU MUST ANSWER THE SUIT or face a default judgment. Don’t be a sucker – file an Answer or other responsive document within the time allowed by the rules of civil procedure. You must defend yourself in court – you’re not in Kansas anymore, and the FDCPA no longer applies.

A Little Window, Maybe

Litigation does not technically rule out the FDCPA entirely, just the “first contact” rule. It may be that the debt collector’s attachment of the notice to a lawsuit is itself a violation of the FDCPA, as it may be an attempt to sucker you into seeking verification instead of answering the lawsuit. It might be an unfair attempt to get a default judgment. I have argued as much before. That might give you a counterclaim to their lawsuit.

And if you have sought verification rather than answering, and they got a default judgment, you should certainly consider moving to vacate that judgment either on the basis of that deception or your own confusion. The courts favor judgments on the merits rather than technicalities, so there’s a very good chance such a motion to vacate, if filed in time, would work.

But these are not exceptions to the rule that you must respond to the lawsuit in court. If you get sued, the FDCPA no longer applies in that way. You must respond or they will get a default judgment against you, and the next you will hear about it will be when they garnish your wages or bank accounts. Don’t let that happen.

Disputing and demanding verification would be much easier, no doubt, but it doesn’t work at this point.

Don’t look for the “easy” way. Look for the RIGHT way.

 

Oklahoma Law on Debt Collection

Oklahoma Debt Law

This will eventually be an article on small claims courts in Oklahoma.

Small claims courts are a frequent bane to debt defendants because they apply loose rules (of evidence and civil procedure) designed for pro se, unsophisticated parties disputing small amounts of money. Debt collectors, however, have discovered that these lax rules can make it easier for them to get even more default judgments and to win cases on obviously insufficient evidence. Oklahoma put a stop to that by enacting rules that forbid debt collectors from bringing their claims in small claims courts.

Of course this hasn’t stopped them.

Here is the rule: http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=438809

Here’s an article. There will be more: https://www.okbar.org/freelegalinfo/smallclaims/

Be Aggressive – Sue the Debt Collector

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Right to Verification Can be Deceptive

The Right to Verification of the Debt

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When a debt collector communicates with you the first time, it is required to give you written notice of your right to dispute the debt and require “verification.” In my opinion, the level of verification required by law – if you make your dispute in writing – is pretty minimal. Still, the fact is that requiring validation seems to make a significant number of debt collectors go away, so it is apparently worth doing for that reason. It’s also an important first step in preparing to defend yourself from a law suit if it happens.

Remember, they don’t HAVE to verify – they simply have to verify before taking any further actions to collect. If they leave you alone, they don’t have to do anything else.

Deceptive Notice of a Right to Verify

A Dirty Trick by Debt Collectors: “This is a Communication by a Debt Collector” on the Lawsuit

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The essence of this trick is the habit debt collection lawyers have of putting on the legal pleadings that “this communication is an attempt to collect a debt… [ and on to the right to require verification].” The problem with this is two-fold. If it WERE a qualified communication, it would violate the FDCPA because the fact of the lawsuit and the timing required by that would “overshadow” the right to require validation.

HOWEVER, A LAWSUIT IS NOT A COMMUNICATION attempting to collect a debt under the FDCPA. Suggesting that it is one, and offering a “right” to require verification, can lure consumers into disputing the debt and requesting validation instead of answering the suit. Then, while they’re waiting for the debt collector to answer their dispute, the debt collector is getting a default judgment against them.

I know they do this trick, and I know that some people fall for it. If you have, you have a strong case for a motion to vacate the judgment. And the whole thing is probably a violation of the FDCPA and would give you a counterclaim under the appropriate circumstances.

Why You Can Probably Beat the Debt Collectors

(Even If You Couldn’t Win the Lawsuit!)

If you will stand up for yourself, you can probably make the debt collectors go away even if they could win the suit against you. (Which they usually can’t.)

Why?

Follow the Money

It’s all about money, right? They want to make money. That’s why they’re suing you. If you will defend yourself it becomes too expensive for the company to pursue the litigation against you.

Let’s Do the Math

Consider the question from the point of view of the debt collectors. They buy debt cheaply (very, very cheaply), file sut in large numbers, and win the vast majority of cases without a fight. In St. Louis County, the “call dockets” often have 300-600 defendants, most of whom are being sued by a handful of debt collectors represented by two or three lawyers. If it takes an hour or two for the lawyers to get one hundred judgments totaling (by my guess) approximately $400,000 to $1,000,000 dollars, that’s a pretty good hour’s work.

Now look at the Petition in your lawsuit, down at the last paragraph near the end (where it says “wherefore, plaintiff prays…”). If the company is asking for attorney’s fees against you at all, they’ll usually say so right in the “wherefore clause,” and you may be surprised at how small the number is. In Missouri, the number is typically 15% of what they’re suing you for. If the company is suing you for $5,000, the attorney’s fees might be around $750, but that’s only if they are suing on a contract that allows attorney’s fees. In fact there is often no request for attorney fees at all in the suit.

They ask for the same amount whether or not you fight.

If you don’t fight the case, they get a windfall. If you do fight the case, they usually don’t get any more money even if they win. Instead of hoping for several hundred thousand dollars per hour of work, they’re trying to get $150 per hour-if that. That’s a lot less fun.

And if they are not suing you on a contract that specifically provides for attorney’s fees, they don’t get any fees for fighting no matter how long it takes. Every second you make them spend fighting with you costs them money that they will not get back. Everybody on the other side knows all this, and they never forget it. Neither should you.

What Would You Do…

What would you do if you were a debt collector who was bogged down in a suit for a few hundred (or even thousand) dollars-but which could cost just as much in attorneys fees. And on the other hand you could make a hundred thousand dollars in an hour of work by picking out other people to sue instead? Debt collectors are practical people. If you stand up for yourself in a way that shows them they will have a real fight on their hands, they will usually drop the suit. It isn’t worth it with so many other people around who will not fight.

Isn’t that what you would do?

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

A Basic Overview

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was one of the first comprehensive set of protections established for debtors against debt collectors. It arose out of some truly horrific stories – and the reality is that the debt collectors continue to do horrific things in violation of the law. And yet the FDCPA is pretty good legislation that was designed to give the law enough flexibility to go after whatever the unfair collection practice of the day might be.

This video is designed to give you some idea of the scope of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act so that you can begin to think of possible counterclaims against the people suing you.

More than that, it is designed to give you an idea of some of the protections that exist for consumers in a society that is awash in debt and plagued by debt collectors.

We hope you will defend your rights. In many cases you can get a lawyer who will help you sue bad companies. But when that isn’t possible, we’re here to help.

Debt Buyers vs Debt Collectors

“Debt Collectors” and “Debt Buyers”

I often talk about debt collectors, but many, and perhaps most people being sued for debt are being sued by people (or companies, usually) that have purchased the debt from someone else and are suing to collect the money for themselves. These are sometimes called “junk debt buyers.”

So What is the difference between a “debt collector” and a “debt-buyer?”

There are some companies that collect debts for other companies, taking a percentage of the collections as their fees, and most people think of these companies when they think about “debt collectors.” But the term “debt collectors,” in its legal sense, is broader than that. There are also debt buyers, who buy the debt from the original creditors and collect on their own behalf, and these companies can also be “debt collectors” in the law.

If a company’s “principle business” is the collection of debts, it is a “debt collector” whether it is a debt buyer or (just) a collector. So the company that bugs you on behalf of the original creditor is a debt collector, and so is the company that bought the debt and began harassing you in an attempt to collect for itself. And so, usually, are the lawyers suing you and their firms. All must obey the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

“Debt collector” used to be more conveniently determined as a matter of when a company purchased a debt – if it buys a debt that isn’t being paid solely for the purpose of collecting it, it is obviously functioning simply as a debt collector. But our distinguished Supreme Court – distinguished mostly based on its hostility to working people and its favor to the rich – sees otherwise. It ruled against common sense in 2017. So now one must look to the status of the company – what its “principle business” may be – rather than its actions.

One problem with using the “principle business” standard is that the term has rarely, if ever, been actually quantified. That is, no one really knows what percentage of a company’s business needs to be a certain thing before that thing is its principle business. More fundamentally, all the debt buyers are doing is changing the name of the person allegedly owed. They make exactly the same amount of money they ever did (or they can if the deal is structured that way because there is no real risk of ownership), and their business is exactly what a third person debt collector’s is: they collect money owed to someone else. This should not be changed if the company incidentally happens to have some other operations that are other than collecting debts.

For example, a law firm that buys debts and sues on them (as many do) will almost certainly no longer be a debt collector, whereas Congress has been pretty clear that it wanted them to be. And the standard wrongly seems to focus on the overall business of the business rather than the nature of its operations vis a vis the debt in question.

Nevertheless, to prove a debt buyer is a debt collector under the FDCPA, you will now have to prove that is it’s principle business, and that will make bringing a counterclaim more difficult.

However, for purposes of defense this will not make any difference. The important thing about debt buyers, from our perspective, is that they are suing on a debt which they did not generate. This means they probably won’t have, and won’t be able to get, the records that would legitimately support the debt at trial. You should be able to beat any debt collector or debt buyer in court.

Our materials work on both debt collectors and original creditors.

 

Outsmart Dirty Debt Collectors – Make them Pay

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The Importance of Counterclaims

I have talked about counterclaims often throughout this site, and counterclaims are very important if you can make them for the reasons discussed below. Things have gotten a little more complicated in this area recently, however. It used to be that almost everyone who might sue you was a “debt collector” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Two big things have happened to change that.

First, many of the banks are no longer selling debts but are bringing their own lawsuits as plaintiffs.  This makes sense as a way to preserve evidence – although they still often do not have what they need to win.

And second, the Supreme Court has ruled that debt buyers are not necessarily “debt collectors” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FDCPA has historically been the easiest source of counterclaims. If you can argue that the company suing you has debt collection as its “principle business” (as opposed to making and servicing loans or selling stuff, for example), you can still sue them under the FDCPA. Likewise, there are sometimes state law claims you can make. If you were defrauded, for example, you might be able to counterclaim for fraud against a debt collector.

With those limitations in mind, our original article and video are below.

The Importance of Counterclaims

If you are being sued by a debt collector, the best defense can be a good offense. It is important to file a counterclaim if you can both because it takes the fun out of the suit for the debt collector and because it allows you to hold the debt collector in the lawsuit long enough to force it to dismiss its claims against you “with prejudice.”

 

In many jurisdictions, the party bringing a lawsuit retains the option to dismiss it at any time up to trial without consequence or even without the need for permission. This can mean in debt cases that the debt collector files suit, and after you have hired a lawyer and filed an answer, the debt collector is free to drop the suit, possibly for later refiling. In any event, when the suit is dismissed “without prejudice,” you are left without a convenient way to force the debt collector to stop reporting the debt to the credit bureaus, so it continues to harm your credit report.

The solution to these problems is filing a counterclaim – that holds the debt collector in the law suit until you have negotiated a resolution to the issues.

Original Creditor or Someone Else – Who is Suing You?

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