In prior postings on this blog, I have identified numerous problems with the way credit card companies, debt collectors, and their lawyers try to abuse consumers through the legal system. In this post, I provide some guidance on possible solutions that would at least curb some of the most flagrant abuses.
Require Proper Evidence of the Debt: In many debt collection lawsuits, the credit card company and their lawyers don’t attach the credit card contract to the lawsuit. Why do we tolerate debt collectors who sue on an alleged contract but don’t even provide you a copy of that contract? Florida’s laws of civil procedure require that the contract be attached to the complaint or statement of claim. If it is not, the debt collector should be forced to either provide a copy of the contract or dismiss their lawsuit.
Require Meaningful Reviews by Lawyers Before Suing: In many debt collection lawsuits, the lawyers simply file a form pleading that is essentially the same as for all their other lawsuits. Requiring the lawyer to review the facts of each case before signing the lawsuit paperwork would go a long way toward curbing these lawsuits. In one of my recent cases, a debt collector sued on an alleged credit card contract, but then denied that such a contract existed. Such lawsuits are frivolous and nothing but an attempt to intimidate the consumer.
Strengthen Government Enforcement: Meaningful enforcement of state and federal laws can also prevent significant debt collector abuse of the legal system. Instead, the government’s enforcement tends to get publicity only in the run-up to elections. Then, it conveniently fades until the next election. Having an assistant attorney general spend an entire day in small claims court watching the abuses that take place would undoubtedly be an eye-opening experience for them.
Improve Consumers’ Access to Legal Assistance: Very few consumers sued for credit card debt are represented by lawyers. Part of the reason is that many attorneys prefer to work for large and wealthy corporate clients; in contrast, consumer protection attorneys in Central Florida are few and far between. It would be helpful for court clerks to at least post information outside the courtrooms telling consumers where they can find free or low-cost legal representation.
These recommendations are drawn in large part from the May 2000 report entitled Debt Deception – How Debt Buyers Abuse the Legal System to Prey on Lower-Income New Yorkers. Based on my experience as a consumer protection lawyer in Central Florida, these recommendations would go a long way to help Florida consumers from being victimized by debt collectors.