A Continuation Of My Struggle Battling Alleged Credit Card Debt
I squinted at the words scrawled across the pages through the dim light, entirely absorbed in my reading, when suddenly loud rasping at the door interrupted my thoughts. Sighing, I set the book aside and took a moment to wiggle into slippers before shuffling toward the door. The clock in the kitchen read 7:03. Was I expecting someone?
A heavier set woman stood outside my door, entirely bundled against the brisk evening chill. Suddenly she thrust fat mittened hands engulfing a clipboard toward me.
“Jennifer Lynn?” the tart voice came.
“Yes?” I shivered and stepped outside.
“Please sign here.”
I surrendering my signature and was presented with an unimpressive plain envelope. I had actually been expecting a mail delivery from Victoria’s Secret, but this small morsel didn’t represent the sleek package I had been anticipating.
“Err, what is this?”
“Jennifer Lynn, you’ve just been served a summons.”
I gave an incredulous stare as she spun on thick heels and strutted away.
“Hey lady,” I bellowed at the Pillsbury Dough boy retreating back. “What the hell is this?”
“Read the summons. All the information is contained therein,” the curt reply sliced through the air. A car door closed, an engine started, and she was gone.
I immediately felt queasy – as well as utterly baffled and confused. What on earth was I being sued for? I numbly stepped inside and tore open the thin envelope. A neatly typed two-page document was nestled within. After a few minutes, I finished reading and dropped into a chair, letting out a long shaky exhale.
What the hell?
It was indeed a summons for the local city court, and I was being sued by a law firm on behalf of a federal bank for an alleged credit card debt of $5,000.
Since I had been served in person by the female process server, the document stated that I had ten days to file an appropriate answer to the summons with the city court. If I failed to oblige, I would lose by default.
Ironically, a day earlier I had received a letter in the mail from this law firm regarding an alleged debt with almost the same amount stated. I had frantically racked my brain for any outstanding debts I owed but came up blank. All my modest balances were faithfully paid off each month. And $5,000 sure as heck seemed like a pretty hefty amount to simply have forgotten about.
Earlier that afternoon I sent a validation letter disputing the alleged debt through certified mail with return receipt requested. And now a mere three hours after delivering my validation and dispute letter to the local post office, I’d been served a summons at my door.
What was going on here?
I didn’t rest well that night. Nightmares of court rooms and angry judges chased me into an uneasy sleep.
The next morning, I called the city court clerk to see if the summons was a legit document or not. She confirmed the docket number was indeed real. Next, I decided to research the name of the female server who was stamped on the summons to see if she was legit or not. And indeed she was.
Ok, my brain rationalized, so this was obviously serious business. And I was starting to develop a serious headache. The law firm had expended quite a bit of money to issue this summons. The document also stated that all legal fees accrued on their end would be included with the amount I was being sued for.
Thus, I concluded, the law firm seemed pretty confident they would be victorious in court. Well, they should be able to tell me what this alleged debt was all about then and I could finally get to the bottom of this whole ridiculous fiasco.
As mentioned previously in this post (Broke-Ass Student Just Got A Whole Lot Broker ), I called both the law firm and the credit card company to inquire about the alleged debt. No one I spoke to was able to provide me with any information or refer me to anyone who could help. I felt more confused and frustrated than ever.
As I debated what my next move should be, I spent sleepless nights researching anything I could uncover on the actual law firm suing me. And things began taking an intriguing twist.
This suing ’law firm’ had quite a notorious reputation for being a bottom feeder collection agency with an extremely unethical stigma attached to its services. In 2004, New York State residents filed a class action suit against them for engaging in rampant and abusive collection practices. The firm appeared numerous times on different consumer protection resources and sites, such as Ripoffreport.com.
Repeatedly, on each site and message board I visited, the warnings were similar; beware. bottom feeders. notorious for winning by default. unethical collection practices. extremely shady. barely on legal side of the law. watch your back.
So these bastards were mainly hoping to win by default, were they? Unfortunately for them, they had picked the wrong target. Although it was traumatizing to know I was being sued, I wasn’t prepared to give up without a fight. And the more research and information I compiled the more in control of the situation I felt.
I visited a few different attorneys in the area who offered free consultations. Finally I hired a consumer protection lawyer at a very reasonable rate to file my answer with the court in proper legalese. By that point, I had acquired so much knowledge through my personal research that my attorney seemed impressed and asked if I was studying to be a law student.
My attorney chuckled when, in a frenzy, I pointed out the ten day limit to file an answer (which loomed ominously closer).
“Oh boy,” he said as he glanced through the document. “I’ve dealt with this firm before. You give these guys way too much credit.”
The plaintiff, my attorney explained, was responsible for typing up the actual summons and not the courts. And the law firm suing lied about the time to legally file my answer. By law, it exceeded way more than the ten day limit they stated. Obviously these slimeballs hoped the defendant would feel pressured by such a limited time frame and nervously submit a half-assed answer, or feel frazzled and not bother to respond at all.
The receipt for my dispute and validation letter came back a few weeks later, signed in sloppy blue ink. I figured these guys hadn’t anticipated my immediately firing out a validation letter disputing the debt before they had a chance to serve me with the summons. At least now I had proof of disputing the debt in its entirety before the female process server had arrived at my door.
After filing my answer to the summons with the court, I sat back and tried to patiently wait for their next move. Two months later, it finally came. But it wasn’t quite the validation response with the information I expected.
Dear Mr. XXX:
In an effort to avoid the cost and uncertainties of litigation, we would like to discuss an amicable resolution and possible settlement with your client, Jennifer Lynn.
Scumbag Law FirmCohen and Slamowitz
My lawyer presented the letter to me and thoughtfully tapped his fingers together.
“Well, it’s up to you,” he said slowly. “If you want to settle and throw $50 or $100 at these monkeys to get them off your back for good, it might cost less than if we go to court and push for a discovery process. During the discovery process, we’ll be forcing them to reveal any hard evidence they actually have in their arsenal against you.
However, if they can’t intimidate you into settling and have no evidence to support their claims, they may realize it’s hopeless and cut their losses.”
“But,” I protested, “I can’t settle. They still haven’t validated this alleged debt. I have no clue what it’s for.”
My lawyer raised his brow and nodded slowly.
“I’m just laying it all out for you.” He smiled faintly. “You’re obviously a bit smarter than the average bear. They thought they could use scare tactics for payment or a default judgment. And certainly didn’t expect a fight back. I’ll leave it up to your own discretion which direction you feel is best. The ball’s now in your court.”
“No,” I said firmly, taking a deep breath. I felt like a scrawny little David stepping up to the behemoth Goliath. “I do appreciate you laying out all my options. But they need to first provide documentation and validate this alleged debt. There won’t be a settlement.”
“Very well, I’ll notify them of our decision immediately.”
That was four months ago and I have not heard anything further from them (at least, not yet). I wish I had a more substantial update, but perhaps this little bit can help others in a similar frustrating situation.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned through this nightmare is the criticalness of checking credit reports every year for discrepancies or errors. Again, I encourage everyone to go to Annual Credit Report.com for a free copy of their credit reports from all three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian).
Stay tuned for further developments.