Judge Tells Debt Collection Firm To Pay Stranger $115 For Dragging Him To Court

Last week, a Brooklyn judge ordered strongly suggested that the law firm of Pressler & Pressler, “one of the biggest in the collection industry,” pay a day’s worth of income to the man they falsely accused of owing an unpaid debt. To encourage the firm to do the right thing, Judge Noach Dear scheduled a sanctions hearing but told the firm’s lawyer, T. Andy Wang, that he might drop it if they pay up.

Pressler & Pressler relied on a database to find the man, Mark Hoyte, and refused to believe he wasn’t their guy even after he gave them his Social Security number and date of birth.

“Why didn’t you check these things out before you take out a summons and a complaint?” Judge Dear asked. “Why don’t you check out who you’re going after?”

Mr. Wang said that Pressler & Pressler used an online database called AnyWho to hunt for debtors.

“So you just shoot in the dark against names; if there’s 16 Mark Hoytes, you go after without exactly knowing who, what, when and where?” Judge Dear asked.

At this point, the lawyer–probably because he knew he was turning into the butt of an awesome legal story–started attacking Mr. Hoyte for not doing enough to prove that he wasn’t the owner of the debt.

“Did you send them proof, as in a copy of your Social Security number with only the last four digits visible?”

“No,” Mr. Hoyte said. “They didn’t ask for it.”

“But you didn’t send any written proof of the claim that it was not you?” Mr. Wang said.

“I told them on the phone it’s not me,” Mr. Hoyte said.

Mr. Wang appeared outraged.

“Hello, Collections? The Worm Has Turned” [New York Times] (Thanks to Andy!)

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  1. DoktorGoku says:

    This is one of those stories that just warms my cockles and brightens my day. Thank you for posting. :D

  2. Noir says:

    sweet, sweet justice

  3. ycnhgm says:

    This is awesome. I am going through some very difficult financial times myself at the moment. If only I had the time to answer all of the collection calls I am getting and recorded every each of those conversations I am very sure I would find plenty of reasons to sue the collection agencies for violating a number of laws and turn my inability to pay into a money making machine ;-)

  4. Julia789 says:

    Awesome! Go judge!

    I would have not given my social security number to the scummy firm though, even to prove that it wasn’t me. Who knows, that scummy collection firm might have plugged it into their database and then said “See, it is you! Your social security number is right here!”

    • Anathema777 says:

      Seriously. I’m not going to give my SS# to random folks on the phone. Hasn’t that lawyer ever heard about phishing?

    • Coyote says:

      He only verified that the last 2 digits of his SS# were different.

      • Julia789 says:

        I tried to reply in response to that when I read the full article rather than just the consumerist story, but my comment got bumped down into its own new comment… I wrote:

        …it’s confusing, one part of the article says:

        “Then the woman wanted to know if his Social Security number ended in 92, and Mr. Hoyte said no, it ended in 33.”

        And another part says he provided his social security number:

        “Under questioning by the judge, Mr. Hoyte recounted being called about the debt, providing his Social Security number and date of birth, and being summoned to court anyhow.”

        So now I’m not sure if he provided the full number or just a couple of digits. Regardless, I’m glad it all worked out for the poor guy – what a nightmare not only getting all those collection calls but getting pulled into court!

      • marsneedsrabbits says:

        Don’t even do that.
        They say: This is you.
        You say: No, it isn’t.
        They say: Give us your SS#
        You say: 123-45-6789
        Or you just give the last 4 and say: 6789.

        Either way, it doesn’t match.

        They say: You made that up! We don’t believe a word you’re saying, you lying liar who lies!

        You say: Oh, well, let me give you my driver’s license number. Or my bank account number. Or…

        Repeat as needed. Anything you say to them will be countered by them saying you’re lying.

        They have an absolute obligation to know if they are suing the right person. You are in no way obligated to help them. How they do it isn’t your problem.

        • TouchMyMonkey says:

          Kind of like those birther asshats who still insist that President Obama is an illegal alien.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          Mars, you’ve just re-enacted a phishing call.

          I’m not giving some random collection troll my SSN, license number or any account information. The burden is upon them to track down my correct name, address and social.

  5. Malicious A says:

    HAHA! the judge slapped verbally slapped the lawyer in the face. that is EPIC.

  6. spunkmonkey says:

    YES! Finally in some small way these vultures get hit. This judge is my new personal hero.

  7. scoosdad says:

    From the NY Times article:

    Alice had reached Wonderland: The lawyer who had sued the wrong man was blaming the wrong man for getting sued.

    Brilliant!

    • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

      Well of courseit’s not the lawyer’s fault. Perish the thought!

  8. Anathema777 says:

    Wait, did he give his SS# or not? Early on it says: “Pressler & Pressler relied on a database to find the man, Mark Hoyte, and refused to believe he wasn’t their guy even after he gave them his Social Security number and date of birth.”

    Then later, it says: “Did you send them proof, as in a copy of your Social Security number with only the last four digits visible?”

    “No,” Mr. Hoyte said. “They didn’t ask for it.”

    Which is it?

    • Anathema777 says:

      Oh wait, the article finally loaded. It looks like he only gave the last 2 digits. I don’t think I would have even given them that.

      • Julia789 says:

        Then later in the article it says:

        “Under questioning by the judge, Mr. Hoyte recounted being called about the debt, providing his Social Security number and date of birth, and being summoned to court anyhow.”

        So the article, and the summary, are both confusing on that fact, if he gave his whole social security number (which could have been dangerous if it was a common phishing scam) or just a few digits to verify it.

    • treimel says:

      rtfa–the cretinous lawyer was referring to “written” proof.

    • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

      He gave them some or all of the SSN over the phone, but didn’t mail it to them, as the lawyer seems to be demanding.

  9. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    From the last paragraph in the linked article, it sounds like the order to compensate Mr. Hoyte as not made. Nothing will happen until January, unless the law firm does the right thing before then.

    But it’s good to see a judge who gets it.

  10. treimel says:

    Unfortunately, the headline is just flat out wrong: the judge has not ordered the firm to pay a dime. What he *has* done is schedule a hearing for sanctions where he may end up ordering monetary sanctions. I certainly hope that happens, but it hasn’t yet.

  11. Julia789 says:

    OK Now I’ve read the linked article – and it’s not clear whether he gave out his full social security number, so I may have jumped ahead to quick. But it’s confusing, one part of the article says:

    “Then the woman wanted to know if his Social Security number ended in 92, and Mr. Hoyte said no, it ended in 33.”

    And another part says he provided his social security number:

    “Under questioning by the judge, Mr. Hoyte recounted being called about the debt, providing his Social Security number and date of birth, and being summoned to court anyhow.”

    I’m just wary about giving out my social security number to anyone, as my husband had his identity stolen and thousands in debt rang up, which took us almost a year of calls, faxes, letters to get creditors off our back and his credit report back to spotless. His was stolen when an apartment he’d rented before we were married, threw out all their files 7 years later without shredding them. His rental application for a credit check had his SS number, date of birth, all info. We knew this was how the thief got the info, as the credit cards opened had his old mailing address at the old apartment. There was no forwarding anymore, so we never got the bills until collection agents started “hunting us down.” It was a nightmare.

    I won’t even put my social security number on forms when the doctors office asks for it. Why do they need it? They have my date of birth and health insurance card, home address, etc. It just leaves it open for some medical office worker to take that info and open a credit card, or if the records are ever lost or stolen without being shredded.

    • Julia789 says:

      Make that “too” instead of “to.”

      I wish there was an edit button! Drives me crazy. Also frustrating, I’d replied to someone else’s comment under mind, and here it is, listed as its own comment not a sub-comment under the others.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i work for a pharmaceutical company that provides assistance to people who take our medication. we help them pay their copays. if they don’t provide a SS# on the forms, 99% of the time the insurance company won’t work with us to provide the assistance.

  12. thedarkerside.to says:

    Oh this is good:

    “At this point, the lawyer started attacking Mr. Hoyte for not doing enough to prove that he wasn’t the owner of the debt.”

    I guess in their minds you have to proof your innocence not they your guilt.

    Gotta love how some people would like the law to work.

    • ColoradoShark says:

      That’s the part that really ticked me off. The lawyer was chewing out the wrong guy in court for not going to enough trouble to prove he was the wrong guy. Isn’t that exactly backwards? Shouldn’t the lawyer have just apologized for not going to enough trouble to prove they had the right guy?

  13. ben says:

    Judge Dear cut off the questioning. He told Mr. Wang and Mr. Hoyte to come back to court in January.

    So he’s going to have to take another day of work to find out if he gets compensated for having to take the first day off?

    • Kitamura says:

      No no, you have it wrong, if the law firm pays the man his $115 in lost wages, the judge will consider not sanctioning the law firm. If for whatever reason the law firm does not pay him said money by the date, sounds like they get to start a sanctioning hearing (though they may end up there either way). Dunno what exactly Mr. Hoyte would get from it (if anything) if they do go to sanctioning hearing though.

  14. Wireless Joe says:

    Isn’t AnyWho just one of AT&T’s online white pages sites? It can’t be the same?

    • twophrasebark says:

      “So you just shoot in the dark against names; if there’s 16 Mark Hoytes, you go after without exactly knowing who, what, when and where?” Judge Dear asked.

      This is exactly what they do…

  15. hypnotik_jello says:

    Uh, the fact that the collection agency attorney doesn’t think they did anything wrong speaks volumes.

  16. Android8675 says:

    Even better quote:

    “So without any written proof that it’s not you, you would expect someone just, you know, to go on say-so?” he demanded. “Is that correct?”

    Alice had reached Wonderland: The lawyer who had sued the wrong man was blaming the wrong man for getting sued.

    Judge Dear cut off the questioning. He told Mr. Wang and Mr. Hoyte to come back to court in January.

    “If, somehow, counsel, you decide that you’re going to compensate him for his time off,” Judge Dear said, “I will reconsider sanctions.”
    –end-quote–

    So Awesome!

    • floraposte says:

      They didn’t even have a say-so to think it was him in the first place, so he’s met a higher burden of proof than they have.

  17. Cameraman says:

    I worked on Noach Dear’s campaign for New York State Senate a few years back, though he failed to be elected (not my fault, I registered as many people to vote as I could!).

    While some whiners, such as the new York State Bar Association, have questioned his fitness to be a judge- mostly due to piddling and inconsequential objections such as the fact that he, um, has never practiced law, which believe it or not isn’t a disqualification in New York State- he has been quite a badass. For some reason he seems to hate mortage bankers and especially debt collectors with a passion, and has no problem chewing them out if they fail to do things like produce paper or show that they’ve tried to work with the borrowers.

    Judge Dear also had an interview in a local paper talking about how to avoid forclosures and how to work with lenders to restructure your loan, and how to act when you’re in court as a debtor and when you should declare bankrupcy (I’m afraid i can’t find a link).

    • Bohemian says:

      This is so much better than some of the judges that are just rubber stamps for the collection agencies and banks.

  18. impudence says:

    1.) That is criminal court in your picture not civil court.

    2.) The judge should have made them pay far more. Under the Fair debt collection practices act there is a $1,000 statutory fine for shenanigans like this.

    • treimel says:

      The good news is, the FDCPA penalty can be additional to this–this is sanctions on the court’s own motion; doesn’t forecose the defendant from pursuing a remedy under the FDCPA

  19. twophrasebark says:

    “So you just shoot in the dark against names; if there’s 16 Mark Hoytes, you go after without exactly knowing who, what, when and where?” Judge Dear asked.

    This is exactly what they do…

  20. humphrmi says:

    How do you prove that you’re not someone else? How do you prove that you didn’t take out a loan?

    And relying on AnyWho.com – seriously? The frickin’ online version of the AT&T White Pages? Ooh, that’s some serious sleuthing there…I can see why they’d be confused, why the man’s name appeared in the phone book for crying out loud…

  21. d says:

    It’s not the accused’s job to PROVE that he wasn’t the debtor. It was the collection firm’s job to prove that he was. He doesn’t have to do a damn thing to prove that he isn’t. All he’s got to tell them is that he’s not the debtor. They have to provide him with the proof that he is.

    If they can’t, then they can forget it… He just needs to tell them “This isn’t a valid debt, and I dispute it.”

    I wouldn’t provide them with my SS#. I’d ask them for the last 4 digits of the supposed debtor’s SS#, if they didn’t match, I’d tell them so. If they did, I’d ask them for more information, but wouldn’t confirm anything.

    Never pay what you don’t owe, no matter what the schmucks threaten or try to do. Turn around and SUE their asses for violation of the FCPA…

    • treimel says:

      Did you read the article at all?? They confirmed over the phone that his Bdate and the last few digits of his SS didn’t match–they sued him anyway.

      • d says:

        Yes, I RTFA, you missed my point. The guy didn’t have to prove ANYTHING to them. They have to prove it to HIM that he’s the debtor.

        The whole “innocent until PROVEN guilty” concept applies. It’s not the other way around, no matter what government terror hounds, and ambulance-chasing attorneys say…

    • SteveZim1017 says:

      I like the cut of your jib fella!

  22. diasdiem says:

    Doesn’t that just warm the cockles of your heart?

  23. Tim says:

    I hate to nit pick, but it’s important. The judge didn’t impose the sanction, that would take another hearing. He did, however, say that he would completely drop the issue if the firm would just pay the guy.

  24. fs2k2isfun says:

    Makes me glad I have a very unique name, at least in this country.

  25. friday3 says:

    You are not required to ever give your SS# in relation to a debt. I would tell them it is not me, to win your case YOU must prove I owe it, and having the same name is not proof enough. Unless, the collection agency can prove it is you, they lose, end of case. I would also suggest making them stay on hold, and taking your time with everything they ever want. They lawyers billing, so they lose the opportunity to harass other victims of their fraud.

  26. econobiker says:

    The attorney can collect $1000s in delinquent accounts but cannot pay $115. Sounds about right for that industry…

    And then his line of questioning about Hoyte not “proving” he wasn’t the guy was classic bull dog attorney inversion of reality…

  27. marillion says:

    This is an all too common occurance. My wife has been targeted several times by collections agencies who think she is someone else who happens to have the same name.

    Over the past several years, this person, who has a different middle name, has apparently let her cell phone and credit cards go unpaid and the calls kept coming and coming. After several attempts and a few upsetting phone calls, we’ve been able to clear my wife off their lists (for now, I can only presume) because we haven’t had any more calls.

    But of course, now I’ve jinxed it.

  28. hypnotik_jello says:

    I’m surprised no one has said it: The guy’s name is Mr. Wang? What a dick!

  29. BenChatt says:

    I’m not sure a day’s wages is enough compensation for idiocy of this moronitude.

  30. Bohemian says:

    I wish more judges would do this kind of thing. I had a collection agency drag me to court for a bill I paid and had proof of. The judge read their lawyer the riot act and when he was out of excuses started lying that I had caused a scene in their offices. I never did and he had already lost the case so I really don’t get why he needed to make up a personal attack on my credibility.

    I am currently dealing with yet another medical provider that started sending me a bill for a service nobody in my family ever approved or received. I keep asking them for a copy of the medical record and even signed a release but they wont send me the medical records and sent the damn thing to a collection agency. I am waiting for the court summons next. It is like some circle of hell.

  31. Patriot says:

    Reminds me of the time I had a collection agency repeatedly calling my house (multiple times a day for weeks) and harassing me. I told them it wasn’t me (they were looking for a woman) but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally had to change my phone number (and lose my phone prefix in the process) but at least I never had another debt collector trying to contact me.

  32. Caveat says:

    A few years ago I changed phone numbers and got assigned the previous number of a deadbeat. After a while I started to get phone calls from a collection agency. There was nothing I could say to make them believe that I wasn’t Mr. Johnson. The collection phone calls kept on coming. So I decided to go with the flow and and allowed them to think that I was Mr. Johnson.
    It turns out that my version of Mr. Johnson was not very cooperative at all! My Mr. J decided he was not going to pay the balance. My Mr. J knew his rights about unsecured debts and had no wish to work with the system. My Mr. J usually did not reply to voice messages, except when he went to Las Vegas or Honolulu, in which case he would call back the 800 number (which of course indicated that indeed Mr. J was in those sinful places). Mr. J, in the worst accent possible, would then excuse himself for not calling back sooner, but he was so very much indisposed because he had been gambling, scuba diving, or whatever. Finally a hot tempered “supervisor” got on the line and called me every curse word he could imagine relating to damned foreigners, even though I strongly suspect that the real Mr. Johnson’s roots go way back in the USA. I guess he did not like my accent. Then the phone calls stopped. I suspect that they finally decided to investigate the matter more carefully and discovered that they had wasted months of manpower barking up the wrong tree…

  33. Sarcastichobbes says:

    That’s a whole lot of awesome going on right there for consumers!

    Finally!

  34. sonneillon says:

    I would rather see the lawyer sanctioned, but most of the lawyers I know would pay 110 bucks out of pocket than to have to deal with that type of thing, because if a sanctions hearing goes bad it can harm career advancement.

  35. spunkmonkey says:

    I guess I have to be the first to says this but there has to be a good penis joke in there somewhere since the judge cut off Mr Wang.

  36. bravo369 says:

    now if only judges applied such logic when the RIAA sues people without any evidence that it was actually them

  37. AlphaLackey says:

    I’d say that this was “poetic justice”, but on second thought, it’s really just “justice”.

  38. TPA says:

    I’m not familiar with criminal law, but I’d imagine there has to be some law which the lawyer could be charged under. A few nights in jail would certainly give him more pause in future cases than just a few thousand quid fine.

  39. pot_roast says:

    Any story that involves bottom feeding debt collectors getting reamed makes me a happy person.

  40. aficionado says:

    Awesome.

  41. Skeptic says:

    Legally, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff — the collections agency — to show the court that they have the correct person. US citizens are under no obligation to prove their identiy to a private business that is wrongfully accusing them of something they didn’t do. It is illegal for any entity apart from federal agencies with just cause (e.g. the SS Administration) to require you to tell them your SSN, under threat of being sued.

    I have a common first and last name, no debt (not even a mortgage), and a credit score of 820. When collection agencies call, I enjoy wasting their time. I live in AK so it’s hard for them to prosecute me the way they did Mr. Hoyte. No way am I ever giving a collections agency my SSN or DOB. The way I see it, every minute they waste trying to “get” me is time and money they can’t use to pursue others who might be easier prey. These companies are the ethical bottom of the barrel.