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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.

 

Debt Verification – How to Protect Yourself

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Debt Collector Dirty Tricks

The Debt Collection Business

For a free copy of this article in pdf form, click here: Debt Collector Dirty Tricks

Debt Collectors

At its best, debt collection is a hard business. They’re trying to force people who are already making tough choices to make different choices. To make a person give up food or insurance to pay a bill for something that’s already come and gone is hard to do. And even when the choice isn’t quite that stark, there’s always the challenge of making someone give up what they want NOW for what they used to want THEN.

On the other hand, most people do want to pay their bills, and they feel guilty and embarrassed when they don’t. The debt collectors know and use those facts regularly. You might consider efforts to trigger those feelings “dirty tricks,” but we won’t discuss them other than in certain extreme ways the debt collectors play their cards.

Debtors

People who owe money also usually feel, and are, vulnerable to various bad things, and many of the dirtiest tricks use this fact against them. From a slightly different angle, one of the things that get people into debt trouble in the first place is hope or optimism – they overestimate what they can or will do or they look for an easy way out. This can make them easy suckers for scams, from get-rich-quick scams to get-out-of-debt scams. But what concerns us most for purposes of this article is that it causes them to overestimate what they can pay or for how long they can do it. Thus there’s a tendency for people to make agreements they can’t keep.

In this article, we’ll discuss a few of the tricks the debt collectors play to use the weaknesses of people in debt against them so that you can recognize and prepare for them. We also have a report that you can get for free that has many more of the worst of the tricks.

I have found that a lot of people come to us after doing some things that hurt their rights. Part of our mission is to protect some of those rights before they get lost or damaged. We want to catch people earlier in the debt cycle, in other words. If you give the wrong person money, it’s almost impossible to get it back.

A Few Preliminary Words

There are a few things I will say before getting into the scams and tricks. First, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) makes almost all of the tricks we discuss here illegal. But some of them are not, as we will discuss.

The FDCPA generally requires fair-dealing and honesty of the debt collectors, and it makes deception and “misleading” behaviors illegal. It also gives them certain affirmative requirements. But it applies only to “debt collectors” as that term is defined, and there is currently a lot of uncertainty about exactly what the term means and just who is a debt collector even among legitimate operators, and there are a lot of crooks out there, too.

What there is really no doubt about at all is that debt collectors, whether they are within the definition of the FDCPA or not, will do almost anything to get your money. You know that. We can only list and describe a relatively few of their tricks, but you need to develop the habit of extreme caution and skepticism towards anybody who’s trying to get you to give them some money. You need PROOF of every aspect of what they’re saying, because, as we all know, paying the wrong person a bill we really owe doesn’t do any good at all – it just means we’re going to double-pay.

No legitimate debt collector will require you to act immediately the first time you hear from them. Don’t let them hurry you into lowering your standards of proof – that’s the key to all of their other tricks.

A Few of Their Tricks

The tricks here are only a few of what they have come up with, and they will constantly be coming up with more. These are merely examples. The tricks don’t all have formal names, but I have given them names to make them easier to remember.

Asking for Post-dated Checks

Sometimes a debt collector will urge you to send a post-dated check. That is, a check with a date on it that’s different than the actual date. You think the money will be there in a week, so you write the check for next week.

Debt collectors love to get you to do this. Why?

There are some legitimate reasons, and this isn’t always a scam or dirty trick. It is a fact that people get busy, have second thoughts, or simply change their minds – especially when it comes to paying money for something that doesn’t bring them pleasure. A debt collector has a legitimate interest, assuming the debt is valid and the collector is honest (which you should almost never do), in getting your money before any of that happens. He or she has talked you into doing something, and he doesn’t want it to come undone as soon as you hang up. A post-dated check is a good way to make your intention stick.

The problem is that you cannot trust the debt collector, yourself, or the world around you with this.

You can’t trust the debt collector because most debt collectors will say anything that comes to mind to get you to do what they want. They are under intense pressure to perform, and to perform quickly. Therefore, chances are good that the debt collector will not remember – and not even try to remember – that your check is post-dated check. That will be forgotten before you hang up.

So even if by chance your check goes to the debt collector who called you, she will put the check in the pile to go to the bank immediately. And it isn’t likely the person who called you will see the check – it will automatically go out for payment when it arrives in the office.

And you can’t even trust yourself on this. If you were just trying to get the debt collector to go away, or if you made a slight miscalculation, or if something unforeseen happens – as so often happens – you will be in trouble.

Attempt to Collect from Relatives of the Dead

With few exceptions, a parent or spouse’s debts do NOT transfer to anyone else. A deceased’s debts are claims against the decedent’s estate. That means, if there’s a will, that any claimants will have to make a claim against the estate in probate. If for some reason that doesn’t happen, then in some situations the “residuary” beneficiary of the will might be liable.

If the will says, “I leave $100 to Mary and the rest to John,” John is the residuary beneficiary, and John might under some circumstances be liable for a debt. But of course it almost never happens because the creditor would have to prove a variety of things that aren’t easy to prove. Most debt collectors want nothing to do with that. They’d rather try to get you to pay.

All you need to know is that if a debt collector is asking you to pay someone else’s bills it’s probably a scam.

Debt collectors know most people do not know the law and have never thought they might owe someone else’s bills.  People who are grieving are less likely to question or oppose someone who asserts that they owe something. In other words, this scam requires catching you at a vulnerable time and taking advantage of it.

The FBI’s After You

In this scam, someone calls you up “from Washington” (or wherever) to let you know you’ve been implicated in some vague crime or misdeed. They’ve tried this one on me a couple of times, as a matter of fact, only the person was supposedly calling from the Social Security Administration to tell me my account had been “frozen” because someone was using the number to launder money.

The agent spoke fast and had a number to call for verification, but things were close to a boiling point. I was supposed to act quickly or expect the FBI to show up within the next day, or possibly hours. Of course the first thing I had to do was verify a few numbers for them…

This is obviously a criminal scam, with only the barest pretense at being debt collection when there is one – sometimes the threat is that agents are on the way to pick you up for non-payment of some debt, or whatever. The critical features are the urgency, the authority, and the threat.

The people doing this one are clearly not legitimate debt collectors, they’re criminals, but it may show up as a debt collection, and chances are good you’ve been targeted because of some perceived vulnerability. Tell these guys to take a hike.

There’s more in the report

You will find many more examples of debt collector dirty tricks in our free Bestiary of Debt Collector Dirty Tricks. You can find that by clicking here: https://yourlegallegup.com/blog/debt-collector-dirty-tricks/.

 






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Stating Attorney Fees in Petition – Probably FDCPA Violation

It used to be common for debt collectors to name a specific amount of attorney’s fees in their Petition when suing on a debt. In other words, there will be an amount stated (specified) as reasonable attorney’s fees and sought as part of the debt in the “wherefore” clause of the Petition. The question is, does this violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)? The answer seems to be “yes” if the petition sues for a specific amount for attorney’s fees. If the company represents that you agreed to any specific amount of fees it is probably a violation of the FDCPA if the contract on which they’re suing provides for “reasonable attorney’s fees.”

That’s because you theoretically agreed to “reasonable” fees (as eventually determined by the court) rather than some liquidated amount.

As a result of some of the “blowback” in the form of counterclaims, many lawsuits never ask for attorney’s fees at all. But if yours does, and they ask for a specific amount, it could violate the FDCPA. Of note is how stringently the courts sometimes read the FDCPA in favor of consumers.

Common in Contracts

Many credit agreements include a section allowing the creditor to collect its “reasonable attorney’s fees” in the event of a default, and on the face of it this is perfectly reasonable. If a consumer fails to make payments, someone is going to have to pay an attorney – the reasonable fees section puts that burden on the person allegedly causing the problems. Like most laws, it’s tough on people without much money, but if someone has to pay (and someone always has to pay the lawyers), then it makes sense that the person breaking the agreement should do it. Or at least that is one reasonable type of agreement.

How it Shows up in the Petition

The way this often plays out, though, is that, after default and sale of the debt (obviously, the right to collect is what is being sold) to a debt collector, the debt collector will often bring suit for a specific amount. The petition will allege the right to attorney’s fees and then, in the “wherefore clause” will state something like this:

Wherefore, plaintiff requests $1,000 as the principle sum owed, plus interest at a rate of 29% from January 3, 2007 ($775 as of the date of filing), plus $450 reasonable attorney fees, plus costs and interest dating from the date of judgment.

I am using round numbers to suggest an attorney’s fee of 25% of the amount sought, and that is not an unusual amount sought as attorney’s fees.

The debt collector will often back up this request for fees with an affidavit stating that the amount named was “its attorney’s fees expended” or simply that the amount is for “fees as provided by contract,” or the like.

Violation of the FDCPA

This language violates the FDCPA because it wrongly suggests that the consumer agreed to a specific amount as an attorney’s fee – and that almost never happens (in the case we’re looking at, the right was to “reasonable attorney’s fees”). Where the right is to “reasonable attorney’s fees,” a debt collector violates the FDCPA by liquidating that amount (turning it into a specific dollar amount) and seeking that amount as if that was what had been agreed. The case you will want to use and to know if you have this situation is Stolicker v. Muller, Case No. cv-00733-RHB Document 61, Filed 09/09/2005, Bell, J, U.S.D.C. W.MI)(granting summary judgment to the consumers in a class action lawsuit on this issue). Note that the court found that seeking attorney’s fees in this way – by including a liquidated amount in the wherefore clause “altered the contract she signed with [the original creditor]… and violated the FDCPA. It specifically violated Section 1692e(2)(A),(B) (a false representation of the character or amount of a debt or the false representation of the …compensation which may be lawfully received); 1692e(10) (using a false representation to collect or attempt to collect a debt) and 1692f(1) (collecting any amount unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.”

Copy of the FDCPA

If you have any kind of debt problems or just want to understand the laws that apply to debt collection, you should start with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

For most purposes, who the FDCPA covers and what it requires and allows are easily found just by googling the act. But sometimes you need the actual statute. And here it is free to download fdcpatext.

Who can use FDCPA and Who follows it

Who Can Use, and Who Must Follow, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act only applies to consumer debts and, by and large, the actions of debt collectors (or original creditors pretending to be debt collectors). This is broken down into the questions of the type of debt for which collection is sought and the type of entity seeking the debt. In this article we will first discuss what the FDCPA covers, and then what that means to you.

Consumer Debts only

The FDCPA applies to “consumer debts,” or debts incurred primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. 15 U.S.C. Sections 1692a(3) and (5), Creighton v. Emporia Credit Service, Inc., 981 F.Supp. 411 (E.D.Va. 1997). When the debt is rung up on a corporate or business credit card, the courts will look into the nature of the debt – and not simply the name on the card. As I have pointed out elsewhere, however, making this argument can be dangerous to the “corporate shield” since it suggests a merging of assets which is sometimes used to defeat the corporate shield and allow a creditor to pursue an owner of the corporation.

Natural Persons Only

The act also only protects “natural” persons, which means it applies only to actual people and not corporations or separate associations. Again, since debt collectors never actually speak to corporations or businesses, but only to human individuals, this simply means that if a debt collector is calling on a debt rung up for business purposes, or calling a business regarding its debt (and harassing whoever picks up the phone, for example), the FDCPA does not apply.

Transactions Only

Because the FDCPA applies to only consumer debt, it applies only to “transactions” engaged in primarily for personal, family, or household debt. In other words, it does not apply to debts generated by child support obligations, tort claims (lawsuits against you for harming another person), or personal taxes, for example. Mabe v. G.C. Services Limited Partnership, 32 F.3d 86 (4th Cir. 1994); Zimmerman v. HBO Affiliate Group, 834 F. 2d 1163 (3rd Cir. 1987); Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367 (11th Cir. 1998).

On the other hand, the term “transaction” can be fairly broad, and would include things like condominium fees or other fees or debts incurred as part of a transaction that might, in fact, have occurred years before the debt in question arose. Because the FDCPA applies to debts arising out of transactions, it has applied to condo fees for a house the consumer once lived in but later (at the time of the FDCPA violation) was renting out to others for the purpose of generating income. This would suggest the reverse might also be true – a condo originally purchased for business purposes but later converted to personal use might not be covered by the FDCPA, but I have not seen a case with that holding.

The Act does apply to things you might consider “non-credit” obligations, such as bad check debts, condominium assessment fees, residential rental payments, municipal water and sewer service, and other non-credit consumer obligations – Bass v. Stolper, Koritzinsky,Brewster & Neider, S.C., 111 F.3d 1322 (7th Cir. 1997); FTC v. Check Investors, 502 F.3d 159 (3d Cir. 2007).

Debt Collectors Only

In general, the FDCPA applies only to “debt collectors.” What that means used to be a lot clearer than it is now.

The Supreme Court confused the question of who was a debt collector in some decisions in 2018. Primarily, it determined that when a company buys a debt – regardless of its status at the time of purchase – it is a “creditor” under the part of the law debt defendants had been using to sue junk debt buyers.

Instead, a person buying a debt might be a debt collector if its “principle business” is the collection of debts. It is not clear HOW MUCH of a company’s business must be collection of debts for that to be its “principle business.” I would guess a sizable majority – perhaps 90% or more – but the term has rarely been litigated, and has never been quantified to my knowledge. It would seem clear that a bank with a sizable business providing credit cards would not be a debt collector if it happened to buy someone else’s debts and bring suit on them. Likewise, law firms buying debt and suing on them would probably not be debt collectors if they do anything else – a truly unfortunate result, in my opinion.

But classic debt collectors (i.e., those working for someone else) would still be debt collectors, and so, probably, are the largest junk debt buyers.

What the FDCPA does not cover is actions by an “original creditor” (i.e., the company or person who claims you borrowed from it) unless it is pretending to be another entity. Sometimes original creditors seek to exert additional pressure on delinquent bill payers by pretending to be a debt collector, and when they do this they are not only covered by the FDCPA but also often in violation of it, since the Act prohibits deception and unfair collection methods. The Act will also not cover the actions of loan “servicers,” which are financial companies that buy debt not in default and manage it as if they had extended credit in the first place.

What It Means to Be Covered by the FDCPA or Not

As I am sure you know, the FDCPA requires and prohibits certain actions, giving you defenses and the right to counterclaim or file suit against a debt collector. If the FDCPA does not apply, you simply cannot claim any rights under it – cannot require verification, bring claims for deception or abusive conduct, or seek to enforce any other rights under the FDCPA against non-debt collectors or against debt collectors for their actions in pursuit of non-covered debt.

Making such a claim could damage your ability to defend against these debts, so you should carefully consider whether the Act applies before attempting to assert rights under it.

If your debt or bill collector is not covered under the FDCPA, that does not necessarily mean that you have no rights worth asserting. It just means that you must look somewhere else for them. Many states have their own debt collection laws, and these may apply to situations the FDCPA does not. Also, more generally, most states have laws regarding how “outrageous” a person – including a debt collector – is allowed to be.

One of the great things about the FDCPA is that it gives some specific rules – debt collectors cannot call before 8 in the morning, for example, whereas a few calls by an original creditor early in the morning will probably not be illegal. As the behavior becomes more and more extreme, however, the more likely it is to be “outrageous” enough to give you the right to sue. Threats of physical harm or police activity probably go over this line, for example; cussing you out a time or two? – maybe not. It is simply not clear what non-debt collectors are allowed to do in many instances. Courts have been pretty tolerant of some surprisingly bad or extreme actions by original creditors.

Welcome to Fightdebt

Welcome to Fightdebt (Youtube) and YourLegalLegUp

Welcome to Your Legal Leg Up. Our channel on Youtube is @fightdebt. Please be sure to subscribe.

Welcome to Your Legal Leg Up.

Our goal is to help ordinary people who are facing debt problems now or trying to live down the effects of older debt problems. We want to help you protect what you have and build for tomorrow.

Debt Defense

We got our start in helping people defend against debt lawsuits brought by debt collectors. This is possible because debt collection is really a “factory” operation. The debt collectors find out practically nothing about individual cases before they bring suit, and in litigation they don’t like to spend any more time on them. Instead, they bring dozens, hundreds, or thousands (depending on the collector) of suits that are virtually identical. Because most people – we estimate somewhere between 80 and 95% of people – default or give up without paying any attention to the law suit whatever, the debt collectors really don’t need to do anything to rake in huge amounts of money.

And that’s what they do.

But the problem with that approach for them is that if you are willing and able to fight a little bit, they rapidly find it unprofitable to continue to fight with you. They make their money by collecting debts, not fighting them. We teach you to fight them in a way that increases the debt collector’s costs and improves your chances of winning. It takes some work, but your chances of winning are excellent.

Credit Repair

If you have had debt problems at one point, there’s a good chance your credit report is still suffering. And that means that good things are passing you by. You’re spending more for housing, insurance, and many other things, and there are some things you just can’t get – all because you have bad credit. You can fix that, and we can help. There are laws that help you get your credit report reviewed and straightened out, and there are practical ways to reconstruct your credit history so that you’re better off than you were before your debt problems.

Debt Negotiation

If you have debt collectors after you for a debt you can’t afford to pay, you must wonder whether there’s a way to make them go away without suing you. Of course, any one company can do whatever it pleases, but in general, the debt collectors can be brought to the table. They’ll negotiate, and you can get back on your feet without being sued. And without having to pay what you can’t afford.

Of course there are no free lunches, and anything you do to negotiate will cost you in various ways. We help you minimize those costs so you don’t pay more than you have to for less beneficial results. It’s all about making the best of a bad situation, and part of that means to keep it from getting worse. We can help.

 

Debt Collection Laws – Debt Collectors and Creditors

If you are being threatened with a debt collection lawsuit, or if you are being harassed or sued over a debt by either a debt collector or an original creditor, you should know that there are some laws in place that could help you. This article will briefly discuss a few of the sources of legal rights you may have.

The difference between “Debt Collectors” and “Original Creditors”

First, a distinction that is very important in the law: the difference between debt collectors and original creditors. An “original creditor” is an entity (the law calls it a “person,” but it could be a human or a business) that extended credit to you in some way. For present purposes, it could also mean someone you owe money to in a non-credit transaction, and also means “servicers” of loans. Debt collectors are “persons” a significant part of whose business is the collection of debts due to other people.

Laws pertaining to Original Creditors

Because original creditors have some connection with the public other than debt collection and are therefore at least somewhat vulnerable to negative public opinion, the law gives them much more latitude in dealing with people who owe them money. They are not, however, permitted to assault you, obviously, or engage in other extreme and “outrageous” behavior. Where that line is drawn, however, differs from place to place. Some jurisdictions have allowed original creditors to post your name on a “hall of shame” board, for example, but I’ve never heard of anyone being allowed to chase you down the street calling you names. It’s vague, I know.

Laws do prevent anybody from defaming you (publication of false, seriously derogatory information), and this would include the publication of false information to your credit report. By and large the rule is, that all the basic rules apply to creditors, but very few special ones do. There might be particular laws in your jurisdiction, though, so you must take that with a grain of salt.

Laws pertaining to Debt Collectors

Debt collectors don’t have the “civilizing” connection to the community that most businesses do, and so the law is much more stringent regarding them. The rule there is that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act makes “unfair” or deceptive debt collection techniques illegal. Again, the law is rather vague, but this time its vagueness is in favor of debtors. Debt collectors try many sneaky and underhanded tricks, and many shockingly abusive and outrageous tricks too, and the law is designed to try to cover them all. For further discussion, please see other articles.

Other sources of legal protections include state merchandizing practices acts (which mostly apply to marketing techniques) the Federal Truth in Lending Act, the Uniform Commercial Code, and the Federal Trade Commission. Other resources could also include the Better Business Bureau and State Attorneys General.

For a much more complete understanding of the debt law – especially if you are being sued, check out the Debt Defense System. If you are still in negotiations and want more information about what that might mean or how to go about it, check out the Debt Negotiation and Settlement System. And of course this website has a wealth of information available for free. Be sure to contact me if you have questions.

About the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the centerpiece of legal protections for debtors against debt collectors. The law was passed in its essential form in 1977, and its goal was to protect debtors against the abuses of debt collectors. This article discusses what makes this law great, and some of its limitations.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)  was enacted to put an end to some of the worst practices of the debt collection industry. It’s been a very good law, but the debt collectors are still doing many of the things the law was designed to present. You may be able to sue them or prevent them from suing you..

The Debt Collection Industry

Before the act, the debt collection industry was routinely engaging in the most abusive sorts of behavior imaginable, from calling debtors at all hours of the day or night and subjecting them to streams of cursing and name-calling, to discussing their debt with children, neighbors, and employers. Debt collectors frequently misrepresented themselves as attorneys and often threatened legal action which they were powerless to initiate. And they often attempted to, and did, collect debts that either never existed or were long unenforceable because of statutes of limitation or bankruptcy.
Whatever the staid spokespeople of the debt collection industry may say, this is the background of their industry. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1692, et seq., was enacted to put a stop to these extreme behaviors in 1977. Because the people intended to be protected by the act are underrepresented by lawyers, and because of the explosion of debt litigation over the past decade, many of the old abuses still continue, and as people increasingly defend themselves from the debt collectors, they develop new tricks all the time.

The FDCPA: A Pretty Good Law

Nevertheless, the FDCPA is in many ways a model piece of legislation. What makes the law so powerful is that, in addition to making certain enumerated acts illegal, the Act also more generally makes acts that are “oppressive,” “false or misleading representations,” or “unfair practices” illegal. This means that, whereas in most laws, the would-be wrongdoer is free to craft his actions around the specific language of the law and find “loopholes,” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, at least, the consumer may argue that these actions are still unfair or oppressive. The Supreme Court has ruled that an “unfair” act can be shown by demonstrating that it is “at least within the penumbra” of some common law, statutory “or other established concept” of unfairness.

That’s pretty broad. The price for this flexibility, however, is that the remedies—what you get if you prove the case—are less powerful. And this may be why the practices are still occurring today.

As mentioned above, there are specific actions enumerated in the FDCPA, and these include most notably, suing on expired debts, filing suit in distant jurisdictions, publishing certain types of information regarding the debtor, calling outside of specified hours. And the list goes on. If the debt collector is acting in some highly offensive way, chances are he’s within the specific provisions of the Act. These can be found at 15 U.S.C. 1692c, d, e and f. You can find the specifics by Googling the Act or provision and determining whether the specific action you’re concerned about is within one of these provisions.

Who or What is a Debt Collector

The definition of “debt collector” became a lot less clear in 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that owning a debt made one a “creditor” regardless of the status of the debt at the time of purchase. But there are still ways to prove that the company suing you is a debt collector. Doing so means they have to follow the FDCPA – or more particularly it means that if they don’t obey it you can counterclaim against them or file suit yourself.

The Company Suing You

The company suing you, if it’s one of the big debt collectors, probably still is a debt collector. As far as I’ve heard, these companies don’t really do anything other than buy debts and collect on them. But I doubt this situation will persist. After there is some litigation quantifying what makes an activity a “principle purpose” of the business, the debt collectors will likely buy subsidiaries or engage in some other business to an extent necessary to exempt them from the FDCPA. I would, and in this area of business and law, these guys are more knowledgeable and smarter than I am. Expect them to take steps to reduce their liability.

What Is a “Debt Collector?”and When Are You being Sued by One?

So who is a debt collector? Well, there is the classic debt collector – the company that a creditor hires to hassle debtors to pay bills to the creditor. In that situation, the debt collector is an agent of the original creditor and is supposed to follow certain rules (the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act).

There’s another kind of debt collector, though. This is a business or person whose “principle business” is the collection of debts. Just what percentage of business makes the activity the “principle purpose” of the business is not clear – I would suggest it is very significant, at least 90%. But that’s just a guess at this point, as there has been very little litigation on the point. It seems clear that a bank that makes lots of money on regular banking services and also has a junk debt buying subsidiary is probably NOT a debt collector.

There is a tremendous amount of confusion of who is suing you. People will tell me that they are “being sued by a debt collector, but the name on the suit is Capital One,” for example. They think that because the lawyer signs the pleadings, or a lawfirm shows up in court, that it is the lawyer who is suing them.

And in a very limited sense – but only in a limited sense – that is correct. For most purposes, the entity suing them is the one named as “plaintiff” in the lawsuit

Lawyers who Regularly Collect Debts Are Debt Collectors

The lawyer and law firm representing the company suing you are probably debt collectors within the meaning of the FDCPA. That means that their personal actions may bring them within the law, but it isn’t always clear when they will, though. It appears that if the pleading asks for something, the lawyer signing it will be liable (on the hook) personally (and his or her lawfirm, also) for the violation. But the company won’t always be liable for the actions of the lawyer – its agent – as would normally be the case for most things.

If the company was an original creditor, and the lawyer threatened you with suit, and you sought verification of the debt, would the company be unable to sue you using the same lawyer? Not likely. Because the company – not a debt collector – has no obligations to you under the FDCPA, and that’s where the right to verification comes from. If you filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the company’s failure to verify the debt, it should be denied.

The Name on the Lawsuit Is the Important Name

If your lawsuit says “Cap One vs. You,” you are being sued by an original creditor and not a debt collector. They don’t have to play by the rules that apply to debt collectors. That means they don’t have to verify the debt, and they can do some of the things debt collectors are not allowed to do. You need to direct you Answer, Defenses, and any Counterclaims with the awareness that the other party is the original creditor and not a debt collector. It means, for example, that they needn’t verify the debt before or after suit, and that an attack by you on the ownership of the debt is not going to work – their name is on the debt. There’s no “chain of title” issue where title has never passed to another company.

But how they act when they sue you may bring the lawyers within the FDCPA.