Watts & Koval Discuss Debt Collectors — Part Two


Continuing our discussion between Atlanta FDCPA attorney Steve Koval and Birmingham FDCPA attorney John Watts, and you can find part one here, we will get into a bit more detail on illegal threats by debt collectors against consumers. You can read part three and part four here.


John: Let’s talk about these areas. You gave us a little bit of detail on the threats. We have the threat of “the sheriff is on his way” or “we’re going to put you in jail.”

Do you see much, Steve, with collectors threatening lawsuits when either they cannot sue or they will not sue?

Steve: Yes, we do see that. Sometimes those are harder to determine because you may not know whether could sue.

For example, I think this is a good one, I had a client who owed $60. I don’t even understand why a $60 bill goes to a debt collector. That just kind of blows my mind that somebody would put any effort into that, but it happens. It happens frequently.

They’re threatening to sue my client on a $60 debt. In my state, in most of the courts you would sue in, the cost of suing would exceed the $60. On its face, that seems like a hollow, unreal threat. Sometimes it’s obvious like that.

Sometimes you’ll have a debt collector or a law firm from another state threatening to sue. If you know that law firm isn’t licensed to practice in your state or has never sued anybody in that state, it’s a pretty safe bet that that’s a false threat. It’s deceptive, and the idea of is to coerce you into paying. Yes, we do see that.

John: Let me ask you this. In Georgia, do you have wage garnishment?

Steve: Unfortunately, we do. On a daily basis, I get phone calls from folks who have usually ignored a lawsuit that was served on them.

There’s a judgment taken against them, and then nothing happens for a while. All of a sudden they start noticing that their paycheck is less because they’re being garnished.

That’s a very serious matter. I always tell folks, I understand why people do it. They’re under so much pressure, and sometimes the ostrich approach of sticking your head in the sand gives you some temporary relief, but it rarely is a good long-term strategy.

If you’re ever sued, don’t ignore the lawsuit. Contact an attorney.

John: That’s something that I see here in Alabama, and I’m sure it’s the same with you. In probably 80% to 90% of all collection lawsuits, the collector wins because the consumer doesn’t show up. They don’t answer.

Steve: I know, John, you do debt defense work, as I do here as well. It’s really sad.

Clients will retain me to go to court to defend them against a lawsuit. Almost every single time, we never even have a hearing. Once they see me show up, and once they see that there’s an attorney, they dismiss the case.

You see, the companies suing my client don’t have any proof that my client owes anything. They know that if we have a trial, I will raise that and they will lose their case. There will be a courtroom of 40 people in it, and people don’t realize that the burden is on the person who’s trying to collect the money to prove that they owe it.

Even sadder is that the judge will go through 150 cases on the calendar, and most of the people don’t even show up. If they had only either retained an attorney or actually shown up and known what to say, they could have prevented that from happening.

That’s the same thing that we experience here. In Georgia, do you have to have a judgment before wage garnishment can happen?

Steve: Yes you do, and thank you. That’s another very common threat. The debt collector says, “We’re going to garnish your wages.” They cannot legally say that if they don’t have a judgment against you.

The only way you can garnish somebody’s wages in Georgia, and I assume it’s the same in your state John, is if you have a judgment against them.

The debt collectors know that most consumers are not lawyers. They don’t understand how all of this works. When you hear that, you think, “Oh my gosh! They’re going to start taking my wages or take my money out of my bank.” People get really scared.

People will either pay on debts they don’t owe or wind up paying more than they should. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay your debts if you can, but if it’s a choice between having food on the table or paying the debt, we all have to prioritize how we use our money.

Debt collectors should not threaten garnishment unless there’s a judgment to back it up.

We will pick up with part three in a few days — hope you are enjoying this interview….

Remember if you live in Georgia you can call Steve Koval at (404) 350-5900.

John Watts
You can read part three and part four here.


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