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Potential difficulty in debt dispute
February 25, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

In disputing a debt with a collector, how do I address this language from their letter: If you notify this office in writing within 30 days from receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will: obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification.

I intend to make use of scody's World-Famous Debt Validation Form Letter, but I'd like to add something to it regarding this point. I'm very concerned about what they mean by 'obtaining a judgment.' I've been told they can't just unilaterally decide whether the debt is valid and then inform me of the fact, but I don't know how it works exactly or how to back up my request that they not do that. Thanks for any advice or clarity you can bring.
posted by jinjo to Law & Government (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
They don't say they will obtain judgment. They say they will obtain a copy of a judgment. In other words, if a judge ordered you to pay money and you haven't, they'll get a copy of that judgment and mail it to you as proof that you owe the money.
posted by Dasein at 11:45 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


If there's a judgement against you, you'd know. They can't get one unilaterally, you'd have to go to court.

So write your letter, send certified mail and keep a nice fat file of every bit of correspondance.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


A judgment requires that they go to court to get a judgment in the first place, otherwise one doesn't exist. This will include properly serving you a summons, providing time for you to dispute the debt, and going before a judge. That is, if you bother doing anything at all. Most of the time people don't, and the debt collector/original creditor gets what's called a "default judgment" which means they sued someone, and that person just never showed up at court.

If they got a default judgment against you and you never received the summons (a sadly common state of affairs, there are some notice servers who aren't particularly scrupulous) you can often get the default judgment "set aside" which means its undone and you have a regular old lawsuit again.

Anyway, the way I read the clause "obtain a copy of a judgment" means that they will send you a copy of a per-existing judgment, not suddenly file a suit against you.

It's pretty boiler plate language, and I wouldn't worry too much. The absolutely worst thing is that they provide you a copy of a default-judgment you've never heard about, and then you have your lawyer move to set it aside.
posted by bswinburn at 11:48 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


That language in their letter is just to inform you that they will abide by the FDCPA requirement that they will provide you with a copy of whatever contract/agreement/etc. verifies, in their opinion, that you owe a debt. If the original creditor already got a legal judgment against you by suing you in a court of law and winning (including by default judgment if you just never answered or showed up in court after being served), sending you a copy of that judgment would satisfy the creditor's requirement.

If you don't agree that the contract/agreement/whatever they send you is proof of a valid debt owed by you for whatever reason, that is for you to then dispute.
posted by Safiya at 11:50 AM on February 25


Okay good. That is a huge relief. No shenanigans are at hand. Phew. Off to the post office I go. Look under your chairs! It's a Best Answer!
posted by jinjo at 11:52 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


To be clear, a judgment entered against you does NOT require that you went to court or even that you received ACTUAL notice of the proceedings, so long as the required legal steps were followed by the plaintiff. So, a judgment may exist without your knowledge but you are entitled to be provided with verification of that judgment if you dispute a debt which has gone to judgment.
posted by uncaken at 11:56 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


To be clear, a judgment entered against you does NOT require that you went to court or even that you received ACTUAL notice of the proceedings, so long as the required legal steps were followed by the plaintiff. So, a judgment may exist without your knowledge but you are entitled to be provided with verification of that judgment if you dispute a debt which has gone to judgment.
A second warning about this. This was just one incident to me, but who knows how often it has happened elsewhere: a few years ago I opened my mailbox to find an official window envelope from the county that had been mis-delivered (the address was for a house across the street). However, the gummed flap had not been sealed and had, instead, somehow moistened and stuck to about six other similar envelopes, all with open flaps. Some of the envelopes had judgement notices in them and a few were empty (apparently the enclosures had fallen out somewhere along the line). I took it to our local post office branch, where the disinterested employee pretty much shrugged and took it from me. Who knows how many of those folks never found out they had official debt collection actions lodged against them until they heard from some collection agency. I mean, if I had just thrown the bundle away, those recipients would've been considered as non-responsive or whatever the terminology is for ignoring such a notice....
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:50 PM on February 25


Putting aside their sloppy A,B then B,A construct, I do wonder whether this is a deliberate effort to muddy the water or scare you. But what it really amounts up to is this: if you had owed money and never demanded validation before and now there is a judgment against you then that is all the validation they will need to provide.

Because debt validation is an affirmative action, just like statute of limitation - if you never demand it they don't have to offer it. And once a judgment is issued it stands unless you get it overturned. And I suspect you would not get it overturned just based on a lack of validation after-the-fact, depending on how much time had gone by. You'd probably have to demonstrate inappropriate legal service/notice or the like.

Though on the "they are scum" side, that's a big "so what?" There's no need to tell you these things for them to be legally true. If it's a judgment then they'd send the proof they need. They are at best muddying the water and at worst being deliberately deceptive-ish. Which leads to...

I've been told they can't just unilaterally decide whether the debt is valid and then inform me of the fact

Yes and no. Your next step is to watch out for what they send back. I don't know that the state of the debt collector world is now but for a long time junk debt buyers would send back garbage one-line printouts that were basically just the crap prospectus they purchased. Legally this was not validation and they would get dinged by debtors who called them out on it (if they continued collection activity in violation of FDCPA) but it was an effort they'd make to catch the unawares.

If you're fortunate you'll get the response I did the last time this happened to me six years back or so - they'll essentially send back a "oops never mind" letter. But don't necessarily accept that ANY validation they send back is SUFFICIENT validation.
posted by phearlez at 12:52 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


To be clear, a judgment entered against you does NOT require that you went to court or even that you received ACTUAL notice of the proceedings, so long as the required legal steps were followed by the plaintiff.

Personal anecdote:

Many years ago, I was involved in a car accident where someone driving on a suspended license ran a stop sign into me. I had the right of way. My car was totaled. I had a sore hand and knee from the accident. The other driver and passengers sustained severe injuries including bleeding from the ears and nasty things like that; they were taken to the hospital.

A few weeks later I received SEVERAL letters from ambulance chasers informing me of intent to sue, by the driver, by the passengers, by parents of the passengers and so on and so forth. I had my insurance claim and a police report stating I was not at fault and the other driver was driving with a suspended license. My insurance company told me to send them these letters but to otherwise ignore them unless I heard of an actual lawsuit. I did so. That was the end of it, or so I thought.

I moved about a year after the accident, to an adjacent state. I changed my license and registration over to the new state, and I put in a forwarding order with the post office. So it's not like I was trying to hide.

FIVE YEARS later, my insurance company called me at work and ask if I'd ever received any subpoenas or lawsuit notices other than what I had sent them. Of course I hadn't.

Apparently these ambulance chasing lawyers had mailed a subpoena to my old address after my forwarding order had expired, considered it delivered, and didn't do what my insurance company called "due diligence" to find out that I had moved. (They also told me that that kind of thing, according to the law in the state where I resided at the time, had to be personally handed to me by a cop in order to be considered delivered. Of course the cop would not have found me at that address and that would have been an obvious clue that I had moved!) When I didn't show up in court (because I was not aware I had been subpoenaed!), they entered a default judgement and I was apparently ordered to pay $70,000. The court apparently came after my insurance company for payment, since I had not paid a debt I was unaware of.

My insurance company attempted to get the judgement set aside. I have no idea if they were successful. I was told they settled, but they wouldn't tell me for what amount (I suspect it was because of my pissed off reaction to the fact that they paid even one red cent in lawsuit related to an accident that was NOT MY FAULT, that fact having been backed up by a POLICE REPORT.)

Oooh, this makes my blood boil even being reminded of it again.

So, yeah, the moral of the story is you may have a judgement against you for a debt AND NOT EVEN KNOW IT, since they can get a judgement without you showing up in court.
posted by tckma at 11:47 AM on February 26


Apparently these ambulance chasing lawyers had mailed a subpoena to my old address after my forwarding order had expired, considered it delivered, and didn't do what my insurance company called "due diligence" to find out that I had moved.

In debt collection this is referred to as "sewer service" (service as in 'process serving,' delivering a court appearance notice)

since they can get a judgement without you showing up in court.

More accurately, they get a judgement because you didn't show up in court to dispute it. Which of course the you-in-particular in this case didn't, but this drum cannot be beat enough in any debt collection thread: so very many of the protections you are afforded as a debtor require an affirmative defense which means you must must must show up/respond/deny/DO SOMETHING. There are a few situations where the smart thing is to throw shit away but you must by grod know exactly what they are.

Which is tragic, because when shit is going badly for you and people are hounding you for money you don't have (whether you legitimately owe it to them or not) it is the most depressing and helpless-feeling situation in the world and ALL you want to do is nothing. And the slimey operators know it and take advantage of it.
posted by phearlez at 12:11 PM on February 26


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