Who is Suing Me for that old Debt?
One important thing to know is whether you’re being sued by a debt buyer, a debt collector, or an original creditor. Knowing this will help you focus your strategy.
First, some definitions.
An “original creditor” is someone who claims you borrowed money from them. It could be a loan or a credit card or anything else creating debt, but the point is that they claim THEY are the ones who originally were involved in the transaction. For example, you’re being sued by American Express, and they say you signed up for and used an American Express credit card and didn’t pay them. “But I never signed up for an American Express credit card!” – That’s good, but it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this definition. Whether or not you owe the money doesn’t matter for this. If you’re being sued by someone who claims you borrowed from them, it’s an original creditor case.
A “debt buyer” is someone who bought the debt from the original creditor. This person may also be a debt collector, but the point here is they’re claiming you owed money to someone else and the debt was assigned to them. As you probably know by now, selling old debt is big business in America and throughout the world. Look for the word “assigned.” If a debt buyer is NOT a debt collector, your rights to countersue will be limited (because the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act won’t apply to them), but they will still have most of the weaknesses in establishing their case that we usually talk about.
A “debt collector” is someone who either is acting on behalf of a debt owner (rare, these days) or a debt buyer whose primary business is the collecting of debts (i.e., they buy debts and sue people without providing any real service to the people they’re suing). These people will have weaknesses in their case AND may give you a chance to countersue.
So Who Is Suing Me?
To determine this on a preliminary basis, look at the name of the case. It will be “X Company vs. You” Normally, this means that X Company is the plaintiff. Their lawyer is NOT suing you for most purposes, and the lawyer is not, by virtue of being the lawyer on the case, a party to the action. Companies can only act through lawyers (in court), and the lawyers are generally only “mouthpieces” for them. So most of the time you can forget about them as you consider your rights.
I did say “on a preliminary basis.” What I mean is that you start with the basic assumption that the person named as plaintiff IS the plaintiff, but it turns out this isn’t always true. Sometimes debt collectors (including lawyers) buy debts and bring the lawsuit in the former owner’s name. I think this violates the FDCPA, but for now you just need to know it CAN happen and does happen sometimes, and you need to know if it’s happening in your case. The only way to find out is by conducting discovery, and our model discovery therefore includes some questions about whether the debt has ever been transferred, and to whom.