Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Debtors Prison in 2011

Over the past three years during the Great Recession have you owed $250 on a credit card balance, but had lost your job and stopped making the monthly payments because you needed the money to pay your rent and buy food?

If so, then you might not pass GO, but go directly to jail.

Collection agencies are filing lawsuits and then sending court summons. If you don't appear for a court judgment, a warrant is issued for your arrest. Bail is many times set at the balance you owe on your unpaid debt (up to a certain limit), and the sleazy collection agencies have been using the resources of the taxpayers (police and courts) to collect these unpaid debts and profit from them.

We can always rely on our sleazy lawyers to make a buck while hurting people are struggling during hard times...that's what always made America so great.

I just read this in the Star Tribune: Deborah Poplawski had only learned by chance from an employment counselor during a background check while looking for a job that she had an outstanding warrant. Debt Equities, a "debt buyer", had sued her. Deborah says nobody had ever served her with court documents.

A month later she was digging in her purse for coins to feed a downtown parking meter when she saw the flashing lights of a police squad car behind her. Poplawski, a restaurant cook, assumed she had parked illegally. Instead, she was headed to jail over a $250 credit card debt.

"We hear every day about how there's no money for public services," she says, "But it seems like the debt collectors have found a way to get the police to do their work.

Though Poplawski, who knew of the warrant and unpaid debt, said "I wasn't equating the warrant with going to jail, because there wasn't criminal activity associated with it. I just thought it was a civil thing."

She spent nearly 25 hours in the County jail, where she had been ordered to change into the standard jail uniform. While in jail a male inmate groped her behind in a crowded elevator and she had to sleep in a room with up to 16 other women - with one toilet and no privacy. One woman had offered her drugs.

The next day, Poplawski appeared before a district judge. He told her to fill out a form listing her assets and bank account, and released her. Several weeks later, Debt Equities used this information to seize funds from her bank account. (Personally, if after I had my court appearance, I would have cleaned out my bank account. What was she thinking?)

Well-funded, aggressive and centralized collection firms, in many cases run by attorneys, buy up unpaid debt and use the courts to collect. The debt buyers file tens of thousands of other collection actions seeking court orders to make people pay. The debts, often five or six years old, are purchased from companies like cell phone providers and credit card issuers, and cost a few cents on the dollar. Using automated dialing equipment and teams of lawyers, the debt-buyer firms try to collect the debt, plus interest and fees. A firm aims to collect at least twice what it paid for the debt to cover costs. Anything beyond that is profit.

Few debtors realize they can land in jail simply for ignoring debt-collection legal matters. Debtors also may not recognize the names of companies seeking to collect old debts. Some people are contacted by three or four firms as delinquent debts are bought and sold multiple times after the original creditor writes off the account.

And if you can barely pay for rent and food, how do you hire a bankruptcy lawyer to get a government bail out like the big banks?

Full Disclosure: I owe AT&T an unpaid balance of 57 cents on my last cell phone bill.

JUDGE: "Mister Meyers, you are accused of free-loading. How do you plead?"
ME: "Not guilty your honor."

JUDGE "Then I hereby set your bail at 57 cents. Until such time you will be remanded to the County jail. Bailiff, get this scumbag out of my face! Next!"



  1. It's interesting the way courts get around the no debtors prison law here in the "land of the free" (with a higher percentage of the population incarcerated than other "free" countries). Like, if you don't pay child support for any reason, you get arrested for contempt of court.

    I'm guessing the collection companies don't even contact the person for the money owed. They probably do some robo-signing on the entire list, complete with snazzy lawyer talk, a wink and a hand shake later, there is a judgment against the debtor for failing to show up to court.

    It would be cool if someone who is good at research exposed this most probably scam.

  2. The fact is outfits like Patenaude and Felix, probably the worst offender, can't collect on old debts if the statute of limitations has expired.

    They tried this shit with me recently to try and get me to pay on a debt that was no longer collectible because of the SOL being four years in Nevada.

  3. The thing is, you don't want to start the whole debt collection process over again once the statute of limitations runs out. Then the process starts all over again.

    Patenaude and Felix sued me in 2005 just before the SOL ran out on an old debt. I got a bankruptcy attorney to write the outfit a letter and he filed an answer in court; the whole thing cost about $100. The collection outfit gradually backed off and I didn't hear one word out of it for years--not until AFTER the SOL ran out the second time. I just disregarded the phone calls knowing the debt was no longer collectible.

  4. I am currently fighting what I call "zombie debt". Debt that was discharged years ago in a bankruptcy, and somehow the debt ended up being sold, and debt that shouldn't be there is showing up on my credit report and I am constantly getting harassing calls. It's a nightmare.

  5. How to reverse boycott debt collectors.

    When a debt collector/debt collection/debt buyer company can repeatedly call with the intent of getting money their customers can repeatedly answer or call back with the intent of not giving them any. They need people to pay with as little talk as possible. They don't want to talk with people who know they are never going to pay. Be all talk and no pay. Answer when convenient. Call back. Give no information. Verify nothing. Ask as many questions as you can. Answer none.

    Don't ignore/block/report them. It doesn't work. These folks want you to ignore them for as long as you can stand to or until you give them something valuable like money or information. Ignoring them is being their good customer. Sending a cease and desist is giving information. It lets them know you are still alive and remain their good customer. Preparing to initiate unlikely individual legal battles is being their good customer.

    Be their bad customer. Make them talk to you fruitlessly for as long as they can stand to or until they stop selecting you as their customer. These companies cannot spend seconds much less minutes on the phone with every person who will never send them a dime. But they don't know who that is. You do. That knowledge is power. Every second you can keep their staff on the phone will render their business less profitable giving them a reason to never call you again.

    Calling will not reset your SOL. Making a partial payment will.

    One person who does this likes to ask general questions they should but usually won't answer, "May I have the name and address of your agent for service of process?" Calmly and slowly ask them to spell every word in the address. Read it back for verification. Control the pace. If they are rushing then politely ask them to slowly repeat. "Are you a corporation and if so in which state are you incorporated?" Repeat your questions when you don't get direct answers. When they won't answer a question ask, "Would you like to comply with the business and professions codes of your state?" That is usually the point when they hang up on me but if they say they want to comply then begin your questions again.

    Repeat while you have the spare time. These folks have many victims and few operators. If everyone calls back but pays nothing the mass auto-dialer business model becomes unprofitable. Don't aid and comfort the enemy by ignoring them. Call! Have a nice long slow friendly chat! Make them hang up first.

    Press 2 for Spanish.

    There are certainly enough victims to take down debt collectors so ignoring/blocking seems downright Orwellian. Really? We're just going to passively submit and go with a block list or however we manage ignoring an endless stream of unwanted phone calls day after day? No! Unite or remain conquered. Answer/return every call - become well practiced at keeping these folks on the phone - or count yourself not amongst the free.