Last week, a New Mexico jury awarded a consumer $1.26 million in a FDCPA suit in New Mexico. The jury awarded $161,000 in actual damages and whopping $1.1 million in punitive damages.
The case involved repeated attempts–including two wage garnishments–to collect a debt from a person that did not owe it. Although the plaintiff in the case had the same name as the actual debtor, she persistently told the debt collector that the debt did not belong to her. Even her employer got involved: when the debt collector served the garnishment papers, the employer told the debt collector that they were attempting to garnish the wrong person. And it turns out that they were. During the proceedings, it was revealed that the original creditor had provided the debt collector with the contact information for the correct debtor, but that the debt collector manually changed the contact information to that of the similarly-named non-debtor. And although the debt collector asserted that the mistake was a result of a bona fide error–which is a defense to a FDCPA claim–apparently, the jury did not buy their argument. And probably for a good reason. In my opinion, it’s difficult to argue bona fide error when you originally had the correct contact information, altered it to pursue the wrong person, and ignored that person’s (and her employer’s) repeated warnings that the collector had the wrong person.
Jury Awards Plaintiff $1.26 million in FDCPA Violation Lawsuit | InsideARM | July 31, 2011
If you’re dealing with debt collectors, make sure to download and use my free debt collection call log so that you can document all of the debt collectors’ communications. And if a debt collector does anything that you think was unfair; untrue; or harassing or abusive, please contact me to discuss the situation further. I offer a free case review for all FDCPA cases and if I agree to handle your case, you won’t have to pay me any money up front. My fees come from the money I recover from you if you win your case or accept a negotiated settlement.
Last December, I posted about a Florida woman who sued a debt collector for contacting her family on Facebook. It turns out that the judge agreed with her and ruled last month that the debt collector could no longer contact her–or her family and friends–on Facebook or any other social-networking site. Click below for all of the details.
Debt collectors must tread lightly on social media | Orlando Sentinel | April 17, 2011 (via Consumerist)
The garnishment of joint bank accounts in Minnesota has generated considerable controversy–and litigation–over the last few years. Here’s what you need to know if your joint bank account has been garnished by a debt collector:
In the 2007 case of Enright v. Lehman, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a creditor can only garnish money from a joint bank account that belongs to the judgment debtor. So, for example, imagine that two people, let’s call them Rocco and Ani, have a joint bank account. Rocco has a judgment against him and a debt collector garnishes the joint account. Under the Court’s ruling, the debt collector could only garnish money from the account that belonged to Rocco. The debt collector wouldn’t be able to garnish any money in the account that belonged to Ani.
Unfortunately, the Enright decision left a number of questions unanswered. First, and most importantly, could a debt collector ever garnish a joint account when not all the account holders were judgment debtors? And if so, who was responsible for establishing what money in the account belonged to the judgment debtor–the creditor or the debtor? In a 2010 decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court answered these questions, and the answers weren’t favorable to Minnesota consumers. The Court ruled that a creditor could garnish a joint account, but could only keep the money that belonged to the judgment debtor. The Court also ruled that all of the money in a joint account was presumed to belong to the judgment debtor unless he and the joint account holders showed otherwise.
But what about the non-judgment debtor account holder? Is it really fair to her to have her money frozen while the garnishment process plays out and the ownership of the money in the joint account is established? Most of you have heard of the concept of “due process”. What that generally means is that before the government can deprive a person of rights or property, the person has to be given notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue. But when a debt collector garnishes a joint bank account, the non-judgment debtor account holder doesn’t get any notice about the garnishment. Only the judgment debtor gets such a notice, and the notice doesn’t come until after the money has been frozen. And although Minnesota law allows non-judgment debtor account holders to be involved in the Court process, the debt collector isn’t required to notify the non-judgment debtor of her right to do so. So is depriving the non-judgment debtor account holder of her money without any notice or opportunity to be heard a violation of her Consitutional right to due process? That’s the issue that will be before the Federal District Court of Minnesota this spring.
If the Court agrees that the current garnishment process violates the Constitution, it could have far-reaching implications on how debt collectors can collect money. Stay tuned.
If you still have questions about garnishment, feel free to download my free guide How to Survive Garnishment. It’s packed with information and tips for handling garnishment and will answer most of your questions about the garnishment process. If the guide doesn’t answer all of your questions, I offer 30 minute consultations for $175.
And if you’re being garnished and were never served with a lawsuit, I may be able to help you stop the garnishment by vacating the underlying judgment. Feel free to use the contact form in the upper right corner of this page to contact me to discuss the possibility of getting the judgment vacated.
New Mexico now requires debt collectors to tell consumers that the statute of limitations has passed
December 21, 2010 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment
A recently-passed New Mexico law requires debt collectors to tell consumers when the debt they are collecting is past the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations, of course, is the time limit for bringing in a lawsuit. In Minnesota, for example, most collection lawsuits must be brought within 6 years of the date the consumer defaulted on the account.
There is nothing to stop a debt collector from attempting to collect a debt that is past the statute of limitations, they just can’t resort to a lawsuit if their voluntary collection efforts fail. If they do, they’ve violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and can be sued. But it’s not uncommon for debt collectors to imply, or outright mislead, people into believing that they can still be sued even though the debt collector knows the SOL has passed. They get away with this because many consumers either don’t know what the statute of limitations is, or don’t know how long it is in their state. With its new law, New Mexico became the first state to level the playing field created by this knowledge imbalance. It would be great if other states, including Minnesota, follow New Mexico’s lead.
New Rule Requires that Collectors Disclose that a Debt is Time-Barred | Credit Slips | December 17, 2010
A Florida consumer, Melanie Beacham, has sued a debt collector for allegedly contacting one of her family members by using Facebook. The lawsuit alleges that Mark One Financial created a Facebook account using the pseudonym “Jeff Happenstance” and sent a message to Beacham’s cousin asking him to have Beacham call a number that leads to a Mark One collection representative. Beacham also maintains that Mark One used Facebook to contact her sister.
When reached for comment by the Huffington Post, a Mark One spokesman denied any knowledge of “Jeff Happenstance” and claimed that the company only uses Facebook when there is no other way to contact a debtor. In Beacham’s case, however, Mark One called her numerous times before resorting to Facebook, which indicates that Mark One already knew how to contact Beacham and resorted to Facebook to attempt to shame her into paying the debt.
The lawsuit, which seeks to restrain Mark One from using Facebook to contact debtors, appears to be the first one of its kind. But others are almost certain to follow as the economy continues a slow recovery and Facebook and other social media grow in popularity. And the use of social networks to contact debtors raises a number of interesting questions. For example, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that every communication from a debt collector contain a notice that “this communication is from a debt collector.” Does a message through Facebook fall under the FDCPA definition of “communication” and therefore require the notice? I say yes, but the ultimate answer will be up to the courts.
If you live in Minnesota and have been harassed by a debt collector through Facebook or other social network sites, feel free to use the contact form in the upper right corner of this page to contact me for a free case evaluation.
Woman Sues Debt Collectors Over Alleged Facebook Harassment | Huffington Post | November 17, 2010