Watts & Koval Discuss Debt Collectors — Part One

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Steve Koval is a great consumer protection lawyer who lives in Atlanta and he has focused his practice on suing abusive debt collectors.

I interviewed Steve a while back and we will put this in a book format but thought it might be helpful to put parts of the interview (and an interview Steve did of me) on our blog. You can read part two, three and four.

We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful….


TWO CONSUMER LAWYERS REVEAL SOME OF THE DIRTY TRICKS
OF DEBT COLLECTORS AND HOW TO STOP ABUSIVE COLLECTORS

John: I want to welcome everybody to our teleseminar today. We have Steve Koval on the phone with us. He’s a lawyer in Atlanta, a friend of mine, and a fellow consumer advocate.

We’re going to ask Steve to give us his experiences, insights and thoughts into suing abusive debt collectors, and maybe to explain a little bit about why debt collectors do some of the things they do when they break the law.

Before we get started, I do want to mention to everybody that Steve and I are not giving you legal advice. We can only do that when we have your specific situation in front of us. Instead, we’re giving you general information for educational purposes. We’re just sharing you with our insights and experiences.

Before you make any decisions, you definitely need to sit down with your own lawyer, explain your situation, and get specific advice so that you can make the right decision.

With that out of the way, I would like to have Steve introduce himself to you and to share his contact information so if you want to get in touch with Steve you do that very easily. We’ll do that at the end of this call as well.

Steve, I would ask you to give us a little bit of your background. How did you get into this area? I think you have a very fascinating story on how you made a transition from practicing primarily family law to suing debt collectors.

With that said, Steve, welcome to the call. I appreciate you being here.

Steve: Thanks, John. Thanks for asking me to participate today.

I’m located in Atlanta, Georgia. My phone number is (404) 350-5900. If you all have any issues with Georgia law, I’d be happy to talk with you.

As John said, I used to practice primarily family law for about 20 years. The way I found my way into this particular practice area was my mom, who was in her 60s at the time, was being harassed by a debt collector. Her son is a lawyer, so naturally she gave me a call.

What’s really odd about this, and I’ve only had this happen a few times, is that my mom actually did not owe the debt.

In fact, she had returned merchandise and a check was supposed to have been issued to her. It was coded incorrectly, so they thought that she owed them a few hundred dollars, when in fact they owed her a few hundred dollars.

They sent notices to the wrong address. It was just a big mess. It was a series of errors that they made. Then they had the nerve to be very rude to her.

There’s one thing that I remember about the call, and my mom did this without coaching so I give her credit for it. She said to the guy, “How do I even know who you are? I haven’t received anything in the email.”

Of course, they maintained that they had sent something. In fact they had, but they sent it to an incorrect address, so she never got it.

She said, “For all I know, you could be somebody else. You might be the king or the queen of England.” The debt collector said “your majesty” or something like that. She was not taking any of it.

We brought suit and did very well on that. I thought, “This is a very interesting practice area. People shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of abuse and disrespect.”

That’s how I got started on this. I have my mom to thank, and actually the merchant who improperly handled the transaction.

John: That’s certainly one way to get into this practice area.

Let me ask you this, Steve. If people want to go to your website, what would that be?

Steve: That would be www.KovalFirm.com. Thanks for asking me that.

John: You told us that your mom was facing some abuse from a collector. She got in touch with you, being her lawyer son.

Steve: She’s here in Atlanta.

John: I know that in my practice in suing debt collectors, I see a wide variety of abuse. There are several areas that it seems to concentrate in.

I’m curious if you have that experience. Maybe give us the three to five most common types of abuse. Then we can dig into those in a little more detail.

Steve: Sure. I’d just like to say, I know you prefaced your remarks today by saying we’re not giving legal advice. We’re only going to touch on a few areas.

If you think that a debt collector has done something wrong, sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes it’s a little bit more subtle. Lay people don’t know the ins and outs of this law. If you suspect that there’s something wrong, you definitely should contact an attorney and run the scenario by them. Someone who practices in this area should be able to tell you pretty quickly whether it’s a violation of the law.

If you think you’ve had a problem that doesn’t fit into the areas we’re about to talk about, don’t think that means you don’t have a potential case.

I’m going to talk about some of the more egregious things first. These things happen. Often it’s surprising what debt collectors will actually do. Sometimes they threaten you with things that they can’t possibly do.

For example, I’m here in Georgia. Georgia started out as a debtors’ colony. A few hundred years ago, if you had a debt, they could throw you in jail for not paying. Fortunately that is no longer the case, but no one apparently has told some debt collectors this. They will threaten people with criminal prosecution or arrest.

I had a client, and we actually had this recorded. They said, “The sheriff is on the way to arrest you. Are you going to pay, or do I need to call him off? Do I tell him to stop?” That’s just amazing, and completely false. There was no sheriff. There was no real threat. It was just to scare my client, who was an older woman who had health problems. She was certainly scared. Fortunately, she contacted me and we were able to stop that nonsense.

The threat of arrest would be one. Contacting third parties is another. It’s okay for a debt collector to talk to you. It’s okay for the debt collector to talk to your spouse. They can’t talk to your parents about your debt. They can’t talk to your employer.

Often what clients want is for the dozens of phone calls a day to stop. Even if it’s once a day, they want the collection activity to stop. There’s an easy way to make that happen. You send a letter to the debt collector. You say something like, “Please cease and desist from having any further communications with me about this.”

If after they receive that they still call you, that’s a violation. It’s a very common violation. They’re not careful with their mail. They don’t really care about what’s coming in. All they really care about is collecting money.

Another obvious one is cussing somebody out. It could be slightly less than that, but even calling somebody stupid or a deadbeat. Things like that, they’re not allowed to do.

As I mentioned before, if someone is calling you a dozen times a day, that’s harassment. There’s absolutely no reason for that.

Those are some of the common and more serious violations that we see.

John: Let me say this before we jump into those in a little more detail. Steve and I are not saying, and it’s not our experience, that all debt collectors are this way. There are some very honorable debt collectors that are very careful to follow the law.

Actually, when Congress passed the law some 30 years ago, they said, “We’re doing this to protect consumers from abuse, but we’re also doing this to protect the honorable debt collectors that will follow the law.”

The ones that break the law and cheat have an unfair advantage. It would be just like in a football if one team put 13 players out on the field. They have an unfair advantage.

When we’re talking about debt collectors, we’re talking about the percentage of debt collectors that have decided, in a very deliberate and conscious manner, “We will violate the law because we want to collect more money and to beat our competition, the collector down the street.”

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We will continue with part two in a few days.

You can read part two, three and four.

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