Last year, a woman in West Virginia won a $10 million lawsuit against a collections agency she’d accused of using deception and threats in an attempt to collect a non-existent debt. But considering that no one from the agency even showed up at the trial, it seems unlikely that she’ll ever see a nickel.
It all began two years ago, the woman tells ABC’s Nightline, when she received a call from the collections folks implying that her property could be seized if she didn’t pay back a debt… a debt she says is a complete fabrication.
“They threatened to take legal action against our property and it wasn’t even our debt,” she recalls.
The woman fired off a cease-and-desist letter. By law, the only contact the collections people should have had with her after that point was to confirm receipt of the letter and/or to notify her of legal action.
But, says the woman, she began receiving hang-up calls and almost immediately. The caller ID on her phone listed the local sheriff’s office as the source of the calls, but she soon learned the number had been spoofed. She also found anecdotal evidence online of the debt collector doing this to others.
She eventually filed suit and won a default judgement of more than $10 million — the largest ever against a single collections agency — after the collections people failed to show up in court.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever collect a dime,” she tells Nightline, “but if I can get their operation shut down, that would make me very happy.”
Even her lawyer says he took the case knowing full-well he could not end up with any cash to show for his efforts.
“Yes, I like to make money, ” he says, “but at some level there’s something so atrocious you have to let people come into your office and say — that’s wrong and I’m going to do something about it.”
A lawyer representing the principals calls the judgement “unfair” and tells Nightline, “My clients say it is not their policy to engage in conduct that violates the law.”
Perhaps the best part of this story is that these collections scammers picked the wrong person to auto-dial.
Back in 1999, this same West Virginia woman won a class action lawsuit against a telemarketer whose salesmen refused to quit calling customers who had requested the calls be stopped. After that incident, the woman learned to record all her calls.
She adds, “I’m a mom, and I’m a housewife, and I’m an accidental activist.”
Thanks to CJ for the tip!