On November 17, The New York Times ran an editorial that rambled a little bit but ultimately reached the conclusion that state governments are much too lax when it comes to protecting the public from debt collection agencies. Debt collectors’ harassing—and occasionally illegal—behavior can force people into needless bankruptcy.
Among some of the interesting points the article raised was of a victory by New York plaintiffs against a network of debt collectors in a class-action lawsuit. Filed in 2009, the class settled $59 million. At issue was a fraudulent practice known as “sewer service.” “Service” in this context means service of process of the complaint in a debt-collection lawsuit—not utilities. The debt collectors were accused of filing false affidavits claiming they’d served debtors with notices of the lawsuits. The debtors obviously never knew about the cases, so once the hearing date rolled around, the courts granted the creditors default judgments—and opportunities to freeze debtors’ bank accounts and garnish their wages.
The Times went on to criticize the protections state governments give to debtors who face debt-collection lawsuit, including ones that aren’t fraudulent. For example, Vermont debtors might be happy to hear they can keep one of their cows, two of their goats, and three of their bee swarms, but they might have a different opinion of being allowed only a $2,500 car.
It can take weeks or months to resolve a judgment handing a bank account or a paycheck to a creditor based on false paperwork. In the meantime, debtors can be stripped of their savings and financially crippled. Reading the editorial might lead one to the troubling conclusion that at-risk debtors would be better off relying on cash than putting their money in a bank account, contrary to concerns of “underbanked” Americans.
If you have fallen behind on a debt, don’t wait for the debt collectors to start filing lawsuits or worse, sell it to someone else who does, possibly leading to the problem of the fraudulent debt collector. Filing bankruptcy is almost always far more advantageous than letting this kind of problem fester. You’ll even be able to keep more than your goats and bee swarms.
For answers to more questions about bankruptcy, the automatic stay, effective strategies for dealing with foreclosure, and protecting your assets in bankruptcy please feel free to contact experienced fair debt collection practices acts Bruce Weiner for a free initial consultation.