Of course we know none of you thought NOT paying your debt was legal. But did you realize that the cell phone bill from 2004 that “falls off your credit next year” could actually land you in a jail cell?
Collection agencies are resorting to some unusually harsh tactics to force people to pay their unpaid debt, some of whom aren’t aware that lawsuits have been filed against them by creditors.
Take, for example, what happened to Robin Sanders in Illinois.
She was driving home when an officer pulled her over for having a loud muffler. But instead of sending her off with a warning, the officer arrested Sanders, and she was taken right to jail.
“That’s when I found out [that] I had a warrant for failure to appear in Macoupin County. And I didn’t know what it was about.”
Sanders owed $730 on a medical bill. She says she didn’t even know a collection agency had filed a lawsuit against her.
“They say they send out these court notices, and nobody gets them,” Sanders says.
She spent four days in jail waiting for her father to raise $500 for her bail. That money was then turned over to the collection agency.
Similar stories have been reported in Indiana, Tennessee and Washington.
Here’s how it happens: A company will often sell off its debt to a collection agency, generally called a creditor. That creditor files a lawsuit against the debtor requiring a court appearance. A notice to appear in court is supposed to be given to the debtor. If they fail to show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest.
Beverly Yang, a legal aid attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, says most debtors don’t know their rights.
In fact, she says, some judges don’t even know debtors’ rights, which could result in the debtor being intimidated into a pay agreement.
“I’ve seen this even when I’m standing in the court room as the legal aid attorney,” Yang says. “The judge will ask if they can pay, how about $150 a month. How about $75 a month? How come you can’t even pay $50 a month? Did you apply for a job last week?”
The Federal Trade Commission received more than 140,000 complaints related to debt collection in 2010. That’s nearly 25,000 more than the previous year.
Yang says some creditors are eager to use harsh tactics. “Whatever the creditors or the creditors’ attorneys can do to leverage some kind of payment, it will help their profits enormously because they have, literally, millions of these.”
Kevin Kelly, president of the Illinois Creditors Bar Association, says members of his organization only issue warrants in extreme situations.
“There’s an assumption in what you’re saying that we’d rather throw them in jail than work with them,” he says. “And I don’t find that to be true at all.”
Yeah? Clearly this guy has never received a collections call.