The sleazy world of predatory debt buyers

By Felix Salmon
May 25, 2010
NEDAP has an extremely important new report on a particularly evil and sleazy part of the predatory financial universe: debt buyers. These institutions make hundreds of millions of dollars by suing people in low-income neighborhoods, often without properly serving them with notice that they're being sued. When the alleged debtor doesn't show up for court, the debt buyers get a default judgment, and start attaching bank accounts and garnishing wages. Often they do this successfully even when the debt is not legitimate.

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NEDAP has an extremely important new report on a particularly evil and sleazy part of the predatory financial universe: debt buyers. These institutions make hundreds of millions of dollars by suing people in low-income neighborhoods, often without properly serving them with notice that they’re being sued. When the alleged debtor doesn’t show up for court, the debt buyers get a default judgment, and start attaching bank accounts and garnishing wages. Often they do this successfully even when the debt is not legitimate.

The debt buyers are massively profitable, despite the fact that they have almost no legal leg to stand on:

When debt buyers purchase debts, they become legal owners of those debts, but obtain very little information about them. Debt buyers usually receive an electronic file that includes only a person’s name and social security number, last known address, the amount allegedly owed, the charge-off date, and the date and amount of the last payment. The portfolio does not include documentation of the debt, such as the governing contracts and account statements. This information is insufficient to ensure that the debt buyers collect the correct amount from the correct person. Debt portfolios are regularly sold on an “as is” basis, without consideration for whether collection of the debts in the portfolio is legal.

Debt buyers’ ability to obtain additional documentation from the original creditor is extremely limited: they may purchase the right to request such documentation in a limited number of cases, or they may not have access to any supporting documentation at all. If the debt is resold to another debt buyer, obtaining such documentation becomes even more difficult, as most second and subsequent sales of debt portfolios do not include any direct access to the additional documentation from the original creditor, which means that those debt buyers almost certainly lack the documentation needed to support lawsuits filed against people whose names appear in their portfolios.

The report makes a number of very sensible recommendations, including a ban on debt buyers filing lawsuits if they don’t have any evidence which proves the debt is owed. More generally, something has to be done to rectify the enormous asymmetry in sophistication and legal ability between the two sides here: as the report says, “many people sued are pressured into unfair and unaffordable settlements that leave them in a worse position than if they had ignored the lawsuits”.

This entire industry couldn’t exist, of course, if it wasn’t for the banks, which tacitly condone this behavior by selling debt buyers utter garbage debt. So while going after the debt buyers themselves is obviously the first order of business, it’s also worth putting pressure on the banks to stop dealing with them. I wonder which bank might like to be first in denouncing these gruesome parasites.

Update: I should add that the report was not just the work of NEDAP: it was co-written with the Urban Justice Center, with help from attorneys at the Legal Aid Society and MYF Legal Services.

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22 comments so far

“they have almost no legal leg to stand on” … not exactly…

Collection agencies are an important and legitimate, if unpleasant, part of our economy. I have always paid my bills and have not once in my life been bothered by a collections agency. At least in this instance they have never, ever gone after the wrong man.

Rules should be in place to require complete documentation of debts, you are right.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

All due respect, Mr. Hess–are you really saying that because you’ve never been treated unfairly, it’s unlikely that many other people have been? A survey of one is not good statistical evidence, and if I may say so, a myopic way to view the world. Also, you sound like a well-educated person. I suspect the kind of abuse that Felix describes is more often attempted on people less able to defend themselves.

Posted by EconWatcher | Report as abusive

Dan, EconWatcher is right: read the report. The debt buyers don’t go after people like you, because they know full well they would never win or collect. They deliberately target non-English speakers and the very poor.

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

Mr. Salmon speaks in a democratic vein, quite aside from the question of whether certain deadbeats deserve the pain that is inflicted on them. The toolkit that debt buyers tote is filled with practices that we would rightly condemn as totalitarian, were they to practice their trade within other borders–what else is it to convince indebted people that they have no rights?

Posted by stbh | Report as abusive

Surely you jest.

You expect one gruesome parasite to denounce another?

Posted by MarkWolfinger | Report as abusive

It sounds like it doesn’t have to be only the poor and non-English speaking who are affected. The part about no proper service (not entirely sure what that means) of the suit is very troubling. That can be used against anyone. And even an educated person could have difficulty following the breadcrumbs of a purported debt.

I wonder how the courts feel about being used in such a shady fashion?

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

Good story and fantastic comments, thankyou all.

Posted by tonydd | Report as abusive

I just read the report and this is my thought:

How about mandatory minimum sentences for these people. That is, if there is proof that someone engaged in “sewer service” or that someone with no personal knowledge of the case filed an affidavit attesting to “personal knowledge of the facts” involved in an assertion of debt. Given the effects these people are having on others’ lives — and the fact that they’re very hard to catch — a five year minimum sentence seems about right to me.

Furthermore every law firm that works with these people should get some kind of a black mark for their association with convicted criminals. That is, judges should be explicitly permitted to take the law firm’s history into account when dealing with future litigation. If this make it too dangerous legally for anyone to hire the law firm after it has been demonstrated that the law firm was associated with this kind of activity, that would be a good result as far as I can tell.

Posted by csissoko | Report as abusive

There is no question that some of the people that work in that industry are dirtbags and it takes a thick skin to show up at the office if your job is to try to take away money from poor people.

Still, am I the only one who finds it telling that hardly any of the alleged debtors are contesting these things?

I mean if I honestly think the cable company got my bill wrong I am charging at them filled with righteous indignation. This was doubly true when I was an impoverished college student.

Ok, flame me now!

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

DanHess: Read the report.

The correct analogy is that the cable company gets your bill wrong, you call them up and sort it out. Then move to a different address.

Five years later you find that your bank account has been frozen. When you investigate why it turns out that somebody is claiming that they bought a $1000 debt of yours. You may or may not figure out that it’s related to that cable bill. In the meanwhile the debt owner has failed to serve you notice of the court case and convinced some clerk — most likely via an affidavit of personal knowledge that you owe the debt — to enter a default judgment against you since you are one of those alleged debtors who don’t contest these things.

Yes, you can get the judgment overturned pretty easily, but that requires (i) the confidence to challenge the court system yourself, (ii) finding a legal aid office well enough staffed to help you out or (iii) investing in legal help yourself. For some people all three options are overwhelming.

Posted by csissoko | Report as abusive

Oh Dan.

Nobody likes people owing them money. Not everybody has a mechanism in place to realistically retrieve money actually owed, which makes some debtor situations asymmetrical.

Here we have a case of lethal mechanism in the hands of people who don’t actually care whether you owe them money on the basis of a note sold to them by people who actually didn’t care about the money you may have owed them. They have preferential access to legal remedy, apparently in cases where remedy was more putative than factual. And taking it, come what may, is what they’re all about. They apparently don’t even care where whatever the debt may have been actually came from, enough to document.

Yet they prevail by playing the numbers like Nigerian spammers do, or else they’d stop of their own accord. It appears they need some help in stopping.

Where action on such threadbare basis is permissible, all sort so mayhem is likely to result. As long as some of this rebounded in Byzantine visitation upon the necks of those playing numbers games on the backs of the poor and already downtrodden it could be gladiatorially entertaining. But it’s a one-sided match and therefore not entirely sporting.

It’s like mixed martial arts against the handicapped. Not good sport at all.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

Thank you for this article..

How ever it does not “EXPOSE” the Crime that is being foisted upon the american people!
Not only the poor and uneducated, but the other millions of middle class people who now find them selves with jobs, and a steady source of income!

These “PARASITES” the 3rd party debt collectors LIE, Don’t obey the law, and will stop at nothing in securing their judgements, ALL WITH THE COMPLICITY OF THE JUDGES AND COURT CLERKS!!

THE LAW FIRMS set up “SHELL” collection agencies to collect for!

Email us for more info..

Posted by stopdebt | Report as abusive

The law they are trying to collect on is “CONTRACT” law,,which requires them to have “the original signed contract”, and the “deeds of transfer”, indicating your account specifically with the “deeds of transfer”, and a copy or original of your last statement, indicating your last payment on the account, and the “charge Off” amount. Which the original bank “wrote Off” its books.

They never have any of this information, what they present to the court is a hodge podge of information, a pasted piece from an excell spredsheet with your name, address ect, usually 2 pages sideways, “certifications” which are assembled by their own staff on their own computer systems, including usually an amount you owe which they assembled from their own computer system. From this “Budle” they bought for pennies on the dollar!!

The problem is unless you “ANSWER THE LAWSUIT” Requiring you to file an answer to the suit, contesting the “CONTRACT CASE” Pay the $15.00 fee to the court, and Show up on the Date of the court hearing and contest the case by demanding that they supply the original contract, deeds of transfer, and last payment statement,”
indicating your account “specifically” and the “charge Off” amount…

They will request a default judgement from the Judge..and he will grant it!

I have specifically fought 3 cases against me, taking several court dates, time off from work, endless hours of waiting, but they realized
I knew what I was talking about and that they could’t proof their case,
IE get over on me…and they dismissed their suits…

go here….

and here

and here

and here for a expose on tv 84

you can email us at
for more info!!

Posted by stopdebt | Report as abusive

Here is the thing people fail to realize. Yes there are a number of unscrupulous debt buyers/collectors. Yes some don’t have the correct docs. However, majority purchase valid in-statue debt, along with all applicable docs. Yes debt buyers do sue, the law suits are in fact used as a collection technique. The reason behind it is simple though, once a default judgment is attained the SOL is reset, and you can collect in most cases up to 20 years. Additionally, a judgment is a more solid financial instrument than a junk debt. Another thing people don’t realize is even though these are purchased at times for 1-2 cents on a dollar, the return isn’t as crazy as people thing. For every debt collected/settled (by the way usually if you get 50% you’re god) there are 3-4 that go uncollected, even with a judgment. State laws govern what can and can’t be levied, and a large number of judgments go unsatisfied. Additionally, what everyone forgets to mention, is that the money that was given to debtor, was taken from a bank. These banks take close to 1 billion in defaults yearly, causing all of their other assets to be at risk. However, the 50″ TV purchased by a person who defaulted, is enjoyed daily in their living room. What would happen if your retirement fund now became insolvent, due to extremely high defaults at the bank administering it? I’m sure your views would dramatically change. So if the debt buyers/collectors are to go to prison, should the credit card/auto/mortgage/etc contracts include a “default jail” clause? The credit industry needs debt collectors, buyers, etc. I do on the other hand agree that reform is very much needed. FDCPA is almost 20 years old, and needs a desperate update. Also, the debt buyer and collector need to be separated. Where as a debt buyer is subject to rule A, collector to rule B, and buyer/collector Rule C. I also think that an agency in the likes of a databank, should be created to house all docs relative to consumer file from origination to closure.

Posted by notabaddebtbuyr | Report as abusive

The Minnesota Attorney General estimated that approximately two percent of people who are served with a summons in a collection lawsuit hire a lawyer to defend them. Minnesota’s response rate is probably slightly lower than other states’ because Minnesota allows service of process by mail and imposes substantial filing fees before defendants can answer the complaint.

Assuming the consumer works up the courage to respond to the lawsuit, the courts are overburdened with collection lawsuits and often overlook deficiencies in the evidence that the debt buyers present to support their claim against the consumer.

The debt buyers who file collection lawsuits do not have first hand knowledge of the original creditors’ records — the debt buyer’s “evidence” is hearsay which is inadmissible IF the consumer shows up and properly contests the debt buyers’ evidence.

If a consumer hires an attorney to defend the lawsuit, the debt buyer will usually dismiss the lawsuit but only on the eve of trial in order to run up the consumers’ legal fees which the consumer can, under the laws of 18 states, pursue from the debt buyer who sued and then dismissed.

In default situations, the debt buyers aggressively pursue the purported debts.

The WSJ recently covered the affidavits purportedly signed by Martha Kunkle on behalf of Providian Bank and/or its successor, Washington Mutual Bank. The WSJ alleged that it appeared that Martha Kunkle died in the 1990′s and yet the debt buyers continued to use affidavits she purportedly signed until as late as 2008.
It turns out that Martha Kunkle had a daughter who also worked at Providian/Washington Mutual who purportedly signed the affidavits. Many questions about the Providian Martha Kunkle affidavits used by Portfolio Recovery and other debt buyers remain unanswered : ssociates-zombie-robo-signer/

The Attorney General of the State of Minnesota recently filed a lawsuit against Midland Credit Management alleging that Midland Credit (or other affiliates of Encore Capital Group) employed “robo-signers” who signed up to 400 affidavits per day without knowledge of the original account records.:

Many states need to amend their consumer finance codes to provide that if a contract provides that one party (usually the bank, no surprise) is entitled to receive attorney’s fees if it prevails, the other party (usually the consumer who accepted the adhesion contract) will also be entitled to attorney’s fees if they prevail.

This leveling of the playing field would do much to reduce the number of unnecessary bankruptcies which injure commerce, and preventable garnishments and judgments.

Posted by FDCPALawyer | Report as abusive

I don’t think this article is fair to the collection industry as a whole, if more people were paying their obligations than there would be less of a need for this industry. I think as in any business there are people that take shortcuts or run their business in less than savory manner, but for the most part the collection industry is made up of good professional people. I know that in the years that I have been in the industry, those that are characterized in this “sleazy” manner don’t last as they wouldn’t in any industry. As a collector I always had more luck when I treated the debtors with respect and worked with them to resolve their debts. I blog about this a lot at if anyone has more questions.

Posted by BuyingDebt.Org | Report as abusive

Truth is debt buyers have no business in your personal business. When the original creditor accepts payment from the debt buyer, sometimes for as little as six cents on the dollar, the original creditor has been paid in full. You have no contract with the debt buyer unless you do contract with them. In no case are they entitled to receive more than they paid for the debt. Never have I seen a chain of assignment or ownership presented. They have no first hand knowledge. Only thing they have is hearsay. Remember, they can not misrepresent the debt in any matter. Just by stating that you owe the entire debt when they bought it for pennies on the dollar is misrepresenting the debt. Truth is very few attorneys are going to rock the boat and if we represent ourselves we must be very careful not to lose because of a procedural error. The lawyer may get away making mistakes, but not us the consumer.

Posted by zopko | Report as abusive

Fitzgerald Debt Acquisitions, LLC : Home to Experienced Buyers of Debt Portfolios- Our Business is the Same As Yours: Profit and Success through Debt Portfolios!

Posted by Fitzdebt1 | Report as abusive

visit us

Posted by Fitzdebt1 | Report as abusive

If you want to learn how to get into the debt industry visit

Posted by Fitzdebt1 | Report as abusive

I am curious about my situation as to whether or not it was legal.

I sold my business back on January 1, 2008 for $600,000, the business was strong, established for 18 years and extremely profitable, (I built it from the ground up). I had no choice but to sell because I was hit with a rare genetic disorder at age 35 that I was not expected to survive (I did but have many disabilities). We never saw it coming.

I took a $175,000 down payment and held the mortgage on the rest. Shortly after selling the business we received a massive financial blow when our medical insurance company demanded repayment for all services associated with a medical trial I took place in which had ultimately saved my life. During the medical trial I had undergone 2 major brain surgeries and it was 3 years later when some underwriter found the loophole in our policy.

The buyers of my business had destroyed in within 7 months and made off with over $500,000 in receivables while leaving my previous suppliers unpaid. They also stopped making the monthly mortgage payments which left my wife and me in a real financial mess. I believe this was all premeditated but cannot prove that and do not want to set myself up for a slander lawsuit.

I hired an attorney immediately and told him to begin foreclosure proceedings immediately but he dropped the ball in every way possible. I knew the people I sold the business to for most my life and never would have thought they were capable of doing the things they have done. I had a solid contract which was very basic but thorough. Included in the sale were 4 refrigerated truck bodies valued at approximately $17,500 each and four refrigeration units valued at $12,500 each. When I purchased those less than a year prior to selling the business I had obtained a small business loan (SBA) and the bank took those as the collateral for the loan, the bank recorded a UCC and had filed all serial numbers and other proof of ownership details with the loan documents.

My illness struck me so fast I did not even have the time to list the business for sale and no one was aware of my situation. It was by mere coincidence that the buyers contacted me asking if I was interested in selling. I’m a Christian so I believed it was God’s doing. Of course things did not turn out so well for me. Within the contact the buyers agreed to take over the payments on the loan until they could obtain a loan or assume the one in my name. They were eager to get started with the business and they wanted to begin their fiscal year on January 1st but the soonest we could close on the sale was February 14 but I agreed to let them take possession on January 1st.

After they defaulted on the mortgage they had also stopped making the SBA loan payment of $1,162 per month. Soon after that I found out that they sold the collateral and when I notified my attorney he told me not to worry because it was an illegal sale and he could get the property back. I had even told him where they sold the units. After about 2 or 3 months with very little contact from my attorney, no return calls, emails or faxes I was served with papers from the bank as they were suing because I had defaulted on the loan, the loan that the buyers contractually took responsible for. I explained the situation to the banks collection department and I told them to repossess the collateral because its value was far greater than the balance due but they choose to come after me instead of trying to repossess the collateral which was a shock to me because I did not even think that was possible. Of course I had no defense to the suit so a judgment was filed against me and my Social Security disability check (my only income) now has a 25% garnishment placed against it.

My attorney had basically ignored my case for 14 months, he initially told me it was an “open and shut case that would take no more than 6 months to clear up” but after the first two months it was near impossible to get in touch with him. He did nothing to secure my collateral, he never had a referee of the court appointed to secure the building and the buyers had over four years to sell-off anything of value such as the hot water heaters, two furnaces, cooling units etc.

In the beginning I informed my attorney (a partner in a law firm) about the medical insurance debt which my wife and I were just barely able to cover. We had to pay slightly over $800,000 and because we had the assets we could not seek protection through bankruptcy and in the end all we had left was our home and one used car.

Apparently my case had been handed off to an associate in the firm so for the first 14 months nothing was done and the first motion was not filed until October 21, 2009.

I had become completely disabled and could not seek employment, I have undergone a total of 7 brain surgeries and I had a permanent trach in my neck and permanent a feeding port in my belly, I suffered from severe seizures and confusion.

We still had some unpaid debt and without the monthly income from the sale of my business I could no longer pay my obligation which was extremely embarrassing for me.

In the beginning I mentioned all of this to the attorney I initially met with and hired to handle the foreclosure and he told me not to worry about it because in most cases loans like that eventually just get written off especially when they find out the borrower is on disability and has no possible way of making repayment. That just did not sit right with me so I contacted my creditors, explained my situation and reassured them that once my case was settled I would be paying off my debt. I soon found out that banks are not interested in personal promises. The 3 creditors I still owed ended up suing me and obviously obtained a judgment against me.

Well after 4+ years the foreclosure was finally coming to an end, I was awarded a judgment in the amount of $461,000 and the business property was returned to me (a large warehouse and 25 acres of land). The building and property had to be auctioned off on the courthouse steps because the buyers would get credit for the amount of the sale, although that did not matter because not one person showed up to the auction so it was awarded to me. It is a very specialized building and unless the same type of business took possession major changes would have to be made for it to be usable to another business model. I had built the building just two years prior to my illness hitting me and the structure alone cost over $255,000 and that did not include the 25 acres of land. I was only 40 years old when my illness hit me hard making it impossible to continue running my business. When I had designed and built the building I figured I would be running the business for at least another 20 years and then possibly handing it down to my son.

My wife and I knew that if we had to take the building back we would have to pay the back taxes or the county would initiate foreclosure proceedings themselves. This is really unbelievable but my attorney had to disclose all liens and encumbrances against the property at the courthouse auction and 3 days prior he informed us that there was $6,500 in back taxes that would have to be paid immediately if we did end up with the property. Thankfully my older brother loaned us the $6,500 in the event that happened. However my attorney screwed up in a major way because when my wife went to the county clerk to pay the tax bill she was told the amount was not $6.500 it was actually a little over $34,000 needless to say we were panicked. Worse yet the judgment awarded to us by the court now had to be amended so we could not begin to collect on the debt until the new judgment was awarded.

This is where my nightmare really began. In August of this year I had to travel to Albany Medical Center (7 hours from our home) to undergo 2 more serious brain surgeries and while we were down there the local sheriffs served papers to my home, he actually left them with my wife’s employee who was working at a dog grooming and boarding kennel she owns on our property. We were in Albany for a couple of weeks so we had the papers overnighted to where my wife and mother were staying. When my wife contacted my attorney to ask him if it was legal to serve papers upon me through a third party he said it was because he received a copy and he was representing me in the case.

The 21 year old daughter of the guy I was foreclosing on had purchased one of the judgments that was filed against me and her attorney, which was also her father’s attorney was going to force a sheriffs sale of the business property (the only assets I recovered from the foreclosure at this point) within 60 days. They knew that the property would not attract any buyers because no one had even shown up at the courthouse auction. So bottom line I was going to lose the only asset I had recovered from the foreclosure to this guy’s 21 year old daughter all because she purchased a judgment against me for pennies on the dollar UNLESS I dropped my foreclosure case against her parents.

The property was worth about $300,000 but where we lived there was no way it would sell for that amount because the building was built for a very specific type of business and the only way I was going to sell it for its true value was to get it listed with a commercial agent. Although because my attorney had screwed up on the back taxes issue I was going to be left with a building that I owed over $34,000 in back taxes AND the county was going to begin foreclosure proceedings on the 15th of September.

The lawyer handling my case said there was nothing I could do and that if I did not accept their deal I would surely lose the building so I had no choice but to sign off on a $461,000 judgment all because his lawyer outsmarted mine apparently.

Recovering from two brain surgeries and suffering from confusion, depression and severe debilitating headaches I just could not comprehend everything that was happening to me. I was the one who had the solid contract, I was the one who sold the business (for half its true value), they were the ones who broke the contract, I have over $250 withdrawn from my disability check before it ever reaches me but they end up holding all the cards and forcing me to lose everything. I have a hard time accepting this is how our justice system works. These people basically stole my business, made off with all the receivables, kept all the money from the sale of the collateral and destroyed my wife and me financially. None of this would have been possible if my attorney had commenced the foreclosure proceedings when I hired him in August of 2008.

This whole ordeal has put my wife and I through hell and it has left us completely broke. I would think that I would have grounds for a legal malpractice suit against my attorney but we have begged and borrowed as much as possible so we do not have the funds to hire another attorney.

I still have 2 small judgments filed in the county clerk’s office against me, one in the amount of $2,400 and the other for $4,200 and every day they are growing due to added interest charges.

I am just wondering if I have any recourse. I am extremely nervous because I do have the building back in my ownership but it could take a while to sell and it would kill me to lose the only asset I recovered from the 5 years of hell we have gone through if someone purchases one or both of those judgments. I owe my older brother over $40,000 for covering the taxes and assorted expenses, my wife is trying to get a loan against her business to repay him but that is up in the air. I had remained in contact with the 3 creditors over the years to reassure them that I had every intention to pay my debt as soon as my foreclosure was complete but apparently they were tired of all my empty promises.

I am really nervous about the two outstanding judgments and was wondering if it is possible to have my sister in-law purchase those 2 judgments without having to hire an attorney, and if so how? I will not show up as the building owner until the new tax rolls come out in mid-January but I am not confident that I can sell the building by then and once I show up as the property owner I am not sure if the two remaining creditors are notified or not.

I really apologize for the long drawn-out comment I am just about as desperate as one can be so I am looking for help from anywhere I can find it. It absolutely kills me that I was so close to collecting my judgment but was forced to forfeit $461,000 like that especially when I know they had the assets to pay the judgment.

Thank you for reading this! (If you made it this far)

Posted by StressedOut | Report as abusive

Federated Capital has sued me and got a (Fraudulent Appraisal of over $28K for the alleged debt) Summary Judgment for the paper thay paid peanuts for. They were made aware that I am Judgment Free, yet they plunged on. I appealed the canned junkdebt lawyer crap they used and the appeals court ruled in my favor. FedCaps attorney offered to settle for $2500. Shows you what they have in it including fees for their attorney. I am pressing on with jury trial. These people don’t even try to collect on their judgments, they have been Frauduently Appraised and inflated the victims cant pay and never will some have left the county. Why do they spend time on this? Could it be that they like the recent mortgage scammers are packaging and selling theses fraudulently apprasied judgments to unsuspecting dips here and overseas? I have stated so in my briefs to Appeals and lower court so it is in the on line record for all to see and I have reported to securities and exchange. This will be the next mortgage melt down.

Posted by Scambuster | Report as abusive
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