December 12, 2011
Unpaid Bills Land Some Debtors Behind Bars : NPR
Unpaid Bills Land Some Debtors Behind Bars : NPR.
This is a disturbing trend. The fact of the matter is that in Georgia, as I would expect is the case in many other states, there is a manner by which people end up going to jail simply because they owed debts to some party.
I say to “some party” because so many of the debts for which people are sued and may go to jail are really brought by third party debt buyers. These debt buyers are companies that most people being sued have never even heard of. The companies did not lend these people a dime but now are abusing the legal process to pull out all the stops and collect. This may even involve trying to have people locked up.
In Georgia, although they cannot ask the courts to lock people up simply because they owe money or fail to answer a lawsuit, there are jurisdictions which offer unscrupulous debt collectors another option. Once they have obtained the judgment, either by a default due to a simple failure to answer or through some unfair meddling with the process of service of the lawsuit, these debt collectors may send out post-judgment discovery. There are rules governing this discovery, but the fact remains that failure to provide any response may subject the debtor to a contempt of court charge, greatly raising the stakes for the unsuspecting debtor who thought this ended with a judgment and the havoc that it can wreak on one’s credit.
As you well know, those people who lack resources, knowledge, or access to legal counsel and/or advice are especially vulnerable to these tactics. Suddenly, when they are pulled over for a traffic violation, they are arrested having no knowledge of any warrants or other “criminal” infractions for which they get arrested. These debt buyers and other creditors now have their attention, and have these victims right where they want them.
So now, where someone made the decision (or felt as though they had no options or choices at all) to not answer and fight a lawsuit, they now have to scramble to beg and borrow and scratch whatever they can just to get out of jail and return home to their families and their lives. This is a calculated abuse by debt collectors and they are unquestionably aware of what they are doing.
As always, the best protection against being a victim is vigilance. The saying that knowledge is power is as true as ever. Although there is little one can do when there is an abuse of process and they did not know of a lawsuit to begin with, staying apprised of one’s credit reports and who claims ownership of debts is a good start to protecting against this sort of predatory acts.