Sometimes debt collectors will attach an “identity theft affidavit” to the discovery they give you and “request” or suggest that you fill it out and file it with authorities. Or they invite you to send it to the debt collector so that it can file it with the authorities. Sometimes they try to get you to believe there is something in the discovery process that forces you to fill out such an affidavit. Sometimes they try to get you to believe they’re “just trying to help.”
They aren’t trying to help, and you don’t have to fill out such an affidavit. They want to make you think that denying you owe them money could turn into or be a crime.
I believe this practice violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and makes both the debt collector and its attorney liable to you under the Act.
Attaching an Identity Theft Affidavit violates the FDCPA
Attaching the ID theft affidavit violates the FDCPA because it deceptively attempts to create the impression that they can require that such an affidavit be filed. They want you to feel that you must swear – to the police – that your identity has been stolen or give up any claim that it may have been done. It increases the general “pressure” already created by the litigation itself. This exerts improper and unconscionable pressure on the debt defendant to give up on his defense and capitulate to the debt collector.
Let’s Get this Straight
If you allege that your identity has been stolen and maintain this as a defense to the action against you, you will eventually probably have to swear to it under oath. Eventually. If the matter goes to trial. Doing so falsely could subject you to criminal punishment. But lying in such testimony is probably not as big a deal as lying to law enforcement and filing a false charge. You’re less likely to be caught or punished for “mere” perjury – not that we suggest it, of course. Exerting pressure on you to file such a report is an attempt to raise the stakes of the litigation. Since most people understand that filing a report with the police is serious and could involve repercussions, they are hesitant to do so whether it would be justified or not.
And there are times when someone has stolen your identity in a way which would defeat your liability where you would not want to involve the police. Nor do you have to.
No Right to the Affidavit
The discovery process does not give any party the right to require another party to make a report to any governmental agency. The only way you could be forced to take such an action is by court order (possibly, under certain circumstances unlikely to occur in debt litigation – and certainly not as part of the discovery process). Discovery is a process of asking about and providing answers (or objections) to questions about documents or other information you have in your possession or control. Sometimes – but rarely – this can include making “compilations” of particulary complex data or records. Never can it require you to create or send a report of any sort to someone unrelated to the litigation (i.e., the police).
Knowing that forcing you to make a report on identity theft is far beyond their legitimate powers, the debt collectors will sometimes merely “include” it in their discovery packets – inviting you to draw the conclusion that you must file it with the police. In the case of a represented party against an unrepresented, unsophisticated party, this is probably an unethical practice for the lawyer to engage in. It is deliberately deceptive and blatantly tries to create a false impression on the part of someone vulnerable to misrepresentation.
Attempt to Collect a Debt
The FDCPA makes any debt collector liable when it uses unfair or deceptive techniques in its efforts to collect a debt originally owed to someone else. Simple attaching an ID theft affidavit to discovery is utterly deceptive, as it tries to take advantage of an unsophisticated litigant’s lack of knowledge – and fear – of the legal process to cause it to do something the debt collector has no right to ask. And of course this exerts pressure on the consumer to pay if for any reason he or she cannot truthfully file such a report. Making a false report to the police authorities is a crime. Being unwilling to file one makes no statement about whether or not the debt is legitimate or owed to the debt collector – but it knows that unsophisticated pro se litigants will think that it does. So these litigants will feel pressure to give up their cases – pressure applied under the disguise of the legal process but deriving no actual power from it.
That is the essence of an unfair debt collection practice.
This is Part 1 of this Article. Click here for part 2.