Articles Posted in Debt Collection

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released its complaint statistics for the month of December 2015.  Debt collection issues far and away dominated Indiana consumers’ complaints by almost a two-to-one margin over the next highest categories of mortgages and credit reporting.  Debt collection complaints are consistently the top complaint received by the CFPB in the State of Indiana as well as all other states.  Interestingly, the CFPB’s statistics do not break down the complaints as to whether they originate from an original creditor or a debt collector.  Debt Collectors are covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, while creditors generally are not.  I suspect that, even so, a majority of the debt collection complaints are caused by debt collectors since debt collectors’ income is usually much more directly linked to the amount of money they collect.  This means the financial incentive for debt collectors  to push the limits of fair debt collection is often too great for them to resist.

If you have a debt collection issue, contact us here.  We may be able to help.

PRESS RELEASE

Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff announces the filing of a lawsuit against Greenwood-based medical debt collector Med-1 Solutions, LLC and collection attorney Shannon Melton.  The lawsuit, which has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleges that Med-1 Solutions and attorney Melton violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) when they filed a collection lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center against an Indiana consumer in the wrong county.  The FDCPA provides that a debt collector (including collection attorneys) may only file a debt collection lawsuit on consumer debt in the county where the consumer is residing or where s/he signed the contract sued upon.  In this case, the consumer/plaintiff alleges that he lived in Boone County, received medical services and signed the patient consent form in Hamilton County, but was sued by Med-1 and Melton in Marion County Small Claims Court.  The consumer/plaintiff is seeking an award of actual damages, statutory damages, costs and attorney fees.

This lawsuit highlights another important provision of the FDCPA.  A debt collector violates the FDCPA if it sues you in a county OTHER than were you currently live or where you signed the contract sued upon.  The purpose of this provision is to prevent debt collectors from suing consumers in locations where it is very inconvenient or difficult for them to get to court to defend themselves.  It is a powerful part of the FDCPA.

Here at the Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff, we defend consumers who have been sued by debt collectors.  We prefer, however, to sue debt collectors (in federal court) for violating the FDCPA because in that situation the debt collector pays our fees instead of the consumer.  Sometimes a debt defense case leads to the discovery of an FDCPA violation.  A lawsuit against the debt collector then often results in the resolution of both cases in a way that is favorable to our clients.  If you have been sued and don’t know where to turn, click here to contact us for a no-cost evaluation.

 

PRESS RELEASE

Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff announces the filing of a lawsuit against Midland Funding LLC, a California based debt collector, and Bowman, Heintz, Boscia & Vician, P.C., an Indiana based debt collection law firm.  The lawsuit, which has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleges that Midland Funding and Bowman, Heintz, Boscia & Vician violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) when they filed a collection lawsuit against an Indiana consumer on a debt that had been paid in full five years earlier.  The consumer/plaintiff is seeking an award of actual damages, statutory damages, costs and attorney fees.

This lawsuit highlights an important provision of the FDCPA.  It prohibits a debt collector from collecting or attempting to collect any amount, even only a dollar of principle, interest or fees, that is not owed.  This of course includes a debt that was never owed, was discharged in bankruptcy, was settled for the less than the full amount or was paid in full.  Plus, the FDCPA has a fee-shifting provision that means that if the consumer prevails the debt collector has to pay the consumer’s attorney fees.  That means that here at the Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff, we don’t charge you any attorney fees out of pocket to bring an FDCPA lawsuit.  If a debt collector is attempting to collect a debt from you that you don’t owe, go here to submit your potential case for a free evaluation.

 

PRESS RELEASE

Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff announces the filing of a lawsuit against LVNV Funding LLC, a Nevada based debt collector, and Stenger & Stenger, P.C., a Michigan based debt collection law firm.  The lawsuit, which has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleges that LVNV violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) when, during a telephone call, LVNV threatened the plaintiff with imminent garnishment of her wages when that was not possible because LVNV did not have a judgment against her.  The plaintiff also alleges that LVNV failed to advise her of certain rights she has under the FDCPA.  The lawsuit further alleges that Stenger & Stenger violated the FDCPA by falsely stating in a pleading filed with the state court (in a lawsuit Stenger & Stenger filed on behalf of LVNV against the consumer) that the consumer had received billings for the amount due.  The consumer/plaintiff is seeking an award of actual damages, statutory damages, costs and attorney fees.

The FDCPA is a powerful consumer protection statute.  Debt collectors are prohibited from making a false or misleading statement of material fact in attempting to collect a debt.  If a debt collector has made a false or misleading statement of material fact in attempting to collect a debt from you, the debt collector has probably violated the FDCPA.  Contact us if you believe we may be of assistance.

PRESS RELEASE

Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff announces the filing of a lawsuit against Reliant Capital Solutions, LLC of Ohio. The lawsuit, which has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleges that Reliant Capital Solutions contacted the plaintiff’s relatives – for reasons other than obtaining contact information – while attempting to collect a debt from her.  The Complaint alleges that this was a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) because the general rule is that a debt collector is not permitted to communicate with any person other than the debtor in connection with the collection of a debt.  The consumer/plaintiff is seeking an award of actual damages, statutory damages, costs and attorney fees.

The consumer’s lawsuit highlights one of the many ways debt collectors violate the FDCPA in attempting to collect a debt.  The FDCPA only allows a debt collector to contact someone other than the debtor in collecting a debt in one very limited situation:  to obtain contact information for the debtor.  That’s it.  And even then, there are important limits on the communication with a third party.  In any communication with a third party, the debt collector must:

1)  identify him or herself, state that (s)he is confirming or correcting contact information for the consumer, and state the name of his or her employer ONLY IF ASKED;

2)  not state that the consumer owes a debt; and

3)  only communicate with the person one time.

The failure to follow these strict limitations is an FDCPA violation.  If a debt collector has current contact information for the consumer, the debt collector obviously cannot have a legitimate basis to contact any third party for any reason.

Note also that it will never be permissible, as Plaintiff has alleged in this case, for a debt collector to call a third party and ask to speak with the consumer (unless the number is a legitimate contact number for the consumer) or ask the third party to have the consumer call them.

It is not difficult to understand why debt collectors have a difficult time obeying the FDCPA in this area.  Debt collectors know that if they call a friend or relative they can sometimes embarrass the consumer indirectly.  They don’t have to tell the friend or relative that the consumer owes a debt.  They know that by simply contacting them the issue will likely come up in communications between the two.  For example:

Grandparent:  Someone called here yesterday asking for you.

Consumer:  Oh yeah, did they say who it was?

Grandparent:  They said their name was John Smith with Reliable Services and they asked that you call them.

Consumer:  Ok.

Grandparent:  Do you know what it was about?

Consumer:  Well… yeah… I think it might be a debt collector.

The embarrassment involved then causes the consumer to pay the debt for fear that other friends/relatives/coworkers will be informed that they may owe a debt.  That kind of pressure to pay is illegal under the FDCPA, but debt collectors use it because it works.

 

Indiana consumers beware. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) recently released its list of the top debt collectors generating complaints for the period of February through April, 2015. Since its inception, the CFPB has received an average of over 7,000 collection-related consumer complaints a month. In fact, debt collection is the number one category of complaints to the CFPB. And now, the CFPB is naming names. Here is the most recent list of the top complaint-receiving debt collectors nationwide (from most to least): Enhanced Recovery Company, LLC, Encore Capital Group, Portfolio Recovery Associates, Inc., Transworld Systems Inc., Convergent Resources, Inc., Allied Interstate LLC, EOS Holdings, Inc., Resurgent Capital Services L.P., Afni, Inc. and Diversified Consultants, Inc.

If you believe one of these companies or any other debt collector has violated the FDCPA, and you want help protecting your rights, submit your potential claim here.

I often receive inquiries from Indiana consumers about statutes of limitation on debt collection. A statute of limitation establishes an affirmative defense for a defendant when a lawsuit has not been filed in a timely manner. That means that a defendant can have a lawsuit dismissed when the lawsuit was filed past the statute of limitation.

For the most part, statutes of limitation range from one year to ten years depending on the claim. The most common statute of limitation in Indiana is two years. Personal injury claims in Indiana are generally barred (subject to dismissal) if they are not filed two years from the date of the injury. But debt collection statutes of limitation based on contracts are longer. Here are some examples:

Medical Debt – 10 years if written contract and 6 years if no written contract Credit Card Debt and other revolving credit – 6 years Contract for Sale of Goods (like the purchase of a car) – 4 years
Generally, the statute of limitation begins to run at the date of first delinquency or last payment made (whichever is later). It is important to note that making a payment to a debt collector can restart the statute of limitation – even if it is about to expire. Debt collectors will sometimes attempt to coax a small payment out of a consumer for just this reason.

It is also important to note that debt collectors are prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act from filing lawsuits that are barred by the statute of limitation, threatening to file such a lawsuit or even giving the impression in a letter or telephone call that the debt is legally enforceable! If a debt collector has sued you, threatened to sue you or communicated with you concerning a debt barred by the statute of limitations without advising you the debt cannot be sued upon, or if you have a question about the application of a statute of limitation, you may submit your claim or question here.

PRESS RELEASE

Indiana Consumer Law Group/The Law Office of Robert E. Duff announces the filing of a lawsuit against Indiana law firm Thrasher, Buschmann & Voelkel, P.C. arising out of the collection of an assessment by the Huntwick Community Association. The lawsuit, which has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleges that Thrasher, Buschmann & Voelkel, P.C. sent a collection letter to a resident of the Huntwick subdivision in an attempt to collect dues owed to the Huntwick Community Association, Inc. The letter is alleged to attempt to collect attorney fees that were not owed. The Complaint alleges that this was a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) because it is a violation of the FDCPA to attempt to collect any amount that is not owed. The consumer/plaintiff in the FDCPA lawsuit is seeking an award of actual damages, statutory damages, costs and attorney fees.

The consumer’s lawsuit highlights one of the most important parts of the FDCPA. In this case, the attorney fees that were added to the debt ($125) were nearly as much as the original debt itself ($144). But the FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from collecting or attempting to collect ANY amount that is not owed. That means that a debt collector violates the FDCPA both by attempting to collect a debt that you don’t owe (because you already paid it, for instance) or by attempting to collect interest in the amount of $1.50 that you don’t owe. Attempting to collect any amount not owed is a violation.

I just read an article called “Paper Boys – Inside the Dark, Labryinthine, and Extremely Lucrative World of Consumer Debt Collection” by Jake Halpern in the New York Times Magazine. If you have half an hour and are interested in learning about the debt buying/debt collection industry, it is a great read. You can find the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/15/magazine/bad-paper-debt-collector.html?_r=0

The takeaway for me as an Indiana consumer law attorney is that debt collectors, or collection agencies if you prefer to call them that, cannot be trusted. Mistakes are common when debt is transferred because there is no incentive for the original creditor, debt broker, debt buyer or debt collector who is selling the debt to make sure the information provided is accurate. Most debt sales are “as-is” and the sales contract makes clear to the purchaser that the seller is making no warranty, guarantee or representation that the information being sold is in any way accurate. So the seller has no motivation to make sure it is accurate.

Not only are mistakes made when debt is sold, but sellers have reason to falsify the information provided simply to make money. An example the article touches on is the date of last payment information. If a debt is “re-aged,” in other words the date of (supposed) last payment or first delinquency is made more recent, the debt can become significantly more valuable on the open market because generally more recent debts are easier to collect. The problem is, the date of last payment or first delinquency is the event that starts running of the statute of limitations. So providing a consumer, or even a court, false information about this date could have negative consequences for the consumer.

The point is, representations by debt collectors whether in letters, on the phone or in court documents should be carefully evaluated for accuracy. Because all too often – for various reasons – the representations simply are not true.

Center Township. Decatur Township. Franklin Township. Lawrence Township. Perry Township. Pike Township. Warren Township. Washington Township. Wayne Township. These are the small claims courts that together comprise the Marion County Small Claims Court. For years, anyone who had any dealings with these courts knew what was going on: creditors and debt collectors would file all of their debt collection cases in a single township, regardless of where the consumer who was being sued lived. Court rules permit this “forum shopping.” There were many reasons for it, but the reasons all had to do with providing an advantage to the debt collector plaintiffs and a disadvantage to the consumer defendants. Some of the reasons are detailed in a July 18, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal titled “In Debt Collecting, Location Matters.” The article can be found here: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303365804576433763597389214. Despite some “reforms” occasioned by the Wall Street Journal article, Indiana law still permits this forum shopping to the detriment of Indiana consumers.

Federal law – namely, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or “FDCPA,” now, however, has put significant restrictions on the ability of debt collectors (unfortunately, the FDCPA does not apply to most original creditors) to file in whatever township small claims court they choose.

Let me explain. The FDCPA has, for a long time, said that it is an unfair collection practice for a debt collector to sue a consumer in any “judicial district” other than where the contract was signed or the consumer lives. In Indiana, “judicial district” is typically a county. So, the FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from suing a consumer in any county other than were the consumer lives or the contract creating the debt was entered into. Using this provision, Indiana consumer Mark Suesz sued debt collector Med-1 Solutions and contended that in Marion County Small Claims Court, “judicial district” meant township small claim court. If this were true, argued Suesz, suing in any township small claims court other than where the consumer lived or entered into the contract would violate the FDCPA. The district court disagreed. The district court thought “judicial district” meant county and therefore a debt collector could pick any small claims court in Marion County and it would not be unfair. Mr. Suesz appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Initially, a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court. Undaunted, Mr. Suesz asked for a rehearing en banc (before all the judges of the Seventh Circuit) and it was granted. On rehearing, the Seventh Circuit ruled on July 2, 2014 that the term “judicial district” under the FDCPA means the “the smallest geographic area that is relevant for determining venue in the court system in which the case is filed.” What that means in practical terms is that, because the small claims court in Marion County is broken down into various townships (unlike all other small claims courts in Indiana), “judicial district” in Marion County Small Claims Court means the township. The citation to this case is Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 2014 WL 2964771 (7th Cir. July 2, 2014).

The big takeaway from the Suesz case and this post is that if you are sued by a debt collector in Marion County Small Claims Court in a township other than where you live or where the debt arose, the debt collector (note: collection attorneys are also bound to follow the FDCPA) has violated the FDCPA. Contact us. We may be able to assist you by filing an FDCPA lawsuit on your behalf and might even be able to help you get rid of the small claims lawsuit and the debt from which it arose.