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.
I’ve talked to a couple people lately who have told me about some really awful behavior by repossession agents. One person was run off the road by two repo agents working in tandem. Another was forced up against a wall and told that she was going to jail if she didn’t turn her car over. A third was physically dragged out of her car by the repo agent. Needless to say, all of these people were terrified by their experiences. All three of them called the police, only to be told that the police would not get involved.
Fortunately for these people, there is something that they can do. Although Minnesota law allows repossession agents to take your vehicle without a court order, they can’t create a breach of the peace while doing it. Clearly, running someone off the road, slamming someone against a wall and threatening to put them in jail, and dragging someone out of their car all result in a breach of the peace. In addition to liability for a breach-of-the-peace repossession, the repo man may also be liable for other damages as well, depending on the severity of his conduct. And in some federal jurisdictions, a wrongful repossession can also be a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In Minnesota, unfortuntely, federal courts have held that a wrongful repossession may not be a violation of the FDCPA.
You can sue a repo agent that has wrongfully repossessed your vehicle and receive money damages. If you live in Minnesota and have had a bad experience with a repo agent, feel free to contact me for a free case evaluation.
Investigation reveals troubling problems with Minnesota’s debt collector licensing process
December 16, 2010 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment
The results of a Minneapolis Star Tribune investigation suggests that Minnesota’s procedure for registering debt collectors is broken. Under Minnesota law, individual debt collectors are required to register with the state and obtain a license. And if a person has been convicted of “fraud or any felony,” they are supposed to be prohibited from obtaining a license and working as a debt collector. The reasoning behind this law is fairly obvious: debt collectors have easy access to hundreds, or even thousands, of social security numbers and bank and credit card account numbers, which makes stealing someone’s identity a pretty tempting, and easy, thing to do.
But the Star Tribune’s investigation revealed that since 2005, the state has registered 111 people as debt collectors that should have been barred because of prior fraud or felony offenses. The Star Trib also found that approximately 75% of people that applied for a debt collection license lied about their criminal background. Although many of these people’s crimes would not have barred them from working in collections, it’s still very troubling that the state’s failure to conduct routine background checks before issuing a license is encouraging chronic lying on the license applications. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that many collection agencies don’t conduct criminal background checks before hiring, apparently because they incorrectly believe that the state is doing it for them.
The story details a number of anecdotes about collectors being licensed that had previously been convicted of widespread financial fraud and violent crimes such as assault, battery, and even rape. It should be no surprise when these convicted felons, after getting jobs in collections, resort to harassing and abusing debtors.
So what is the solution here? Allocating more state money and resources for comprehensive background checks is an unrealistic option with the massive state budget deficit. One suggestion, made by state Senator Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is to allow consumers to file state lawsuits and seek damages when collection firms hire criminals who harass them. “The only language that corporations speak is financial,” Latz said. “Either they pay for their negligence, or nothing changes.”
Criminals land jobs as debt collectors | Star Tribune | December 14, 2010
A recently filed lawsuit in Florida alleges that debt collection harassment contributed to a man’s death. According to a Tampa news story, when Stanley McLeod had to quit his job because of a heart attack, he fell behind on his mortgage and other bills. Predictably, McLeod began receiving calls from debt collectors. According to the story, the calls were so frequent and harassing, that McLeod’s blood pressure and stress levels increased dramatically, ultimately contributing to his death. The story quotes McLeod’s wife as saying that there were 10 to 12 calls a day and that the calls upset McLeod so much that he would get very red in the face and short of breath. One of the voice messages left by the debt collector attempted to humiliate McLeod by sarcastically commenting on the emergency helicopter ride that McLeod endured after the heart attack that led to his job loss. According to the story, the message told McLeod to “[g]et your act together and make the payments on your mortgage. Why don’t you have that helicopter pick you up and bring that payment to the office.” McLeod’s wife remarked that “[t]hey humiliated him, they harassed him, and they didn’t care. You know that if things had been handled differently by this company, he may still be here.”
This this type of debt collection harassment is not only illegal under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), but it is simply inhumane. Some may argue that McLeod will never be able to prove that the debt collector’s harassment medically contributed to his death. While this may very well be true, it misses the point. No person should ever be harassed and humiliated in this manner simply because they owe a debt. Using this type of extreme harassment and abuse just to collect a few dollars is despicable.
More recordings show pattern of debt collectors making abusive calls (via Consumerist)
The percentage of delinquent accounts has reached record highs in the current economic climate. Unfortunately, that means that the volume of collection calls and letters has increased as well. With consumers strapped for cash, some debt collectors will inevitably resort to harassing, abusing and misleading consumers in an attempt to obtain payments. This post details many common violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act committed by debt collectors. What can you do if you are have been harassed or abused by a debt collector in violation of the FDCPA?
First, save all voice messages left by debt collectors. Next, you should take detailed notes of every conversation you have with a debt collector. These notes don’t have to be fancy. Just use a pen and paper and make note of everything that was said during the conversation. Then, sign and date each note and save them. Third, save all copies of letters and other correspondence from debt collectors. Finally, if you believe that the debt collector’s conduct has violated the FDCPA, consider discussing your case with a consumer lawyer. You have a right to sue debt collectors that violated the FDCPA and receive money damages.
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 the debt collector does anything that you think was unfair; untrue; or harassing, oppressive, 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.
(photo: Joriel “Joz” Jimenez)