July 01, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
In 1998 Grandma Susie and her husband hired a paralegal to file a bankruptcy. Hospital bills which insurance did not cover left them no choice. When informed that the necessary papers had been filed with the Bankruptcy Court, the couple finally realized that their marriage was over and divorced. Only the paralegal never did file the bankruptcy. Instead, using their money for drugs and a Greyhound ticket, she left town.
“I paid those bills that I could, some he agreed to pay even though the purchases were put on my credit card – including a big screen TV and stereo. He took those items when he moved away from Hanford, after meeting some floozy on the Internet, and I am sure they spent many cozy evenings watching the TV and listening to Country Western music on our stereo! Honestly, how anyone could do this – walk away from your wife and children – I will never understand. He has been gone eight years and we haven’t heard a word,” Grandma Susie told me.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned
You might have heard the saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Often credited to William Shakespeare, the line comes from The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, written in 1697, and stands as a warning for what might happen when a woman is rejected in love – or ripped off by a druggie paralegal. 300 years have done little to change human nature, and Grandma Susie was indeed a woman scorned – twice. Susie was also someone to be reckoned with.
“When I learned what the paralegal had done – and the problems it created – I took her to court, obtained a judgment, but by the time they located her, it was too late; she died of a drug overdose, we believe,” Susie told me.
And that is where it all would have remained had not Citibank sold this 9-year-old account to Capital Management Services in New York. That’s right, the account had been idle – no collection activity of any kind – for nine years.
Hi There, Gimme $5,000 Or I will Sue You!
In late April, 2006, a collection agency wrote Grandma Susie, threatening suit unless she responded to their demand for payment of this old account. “After all these years, I had no idea what was actually owed, or if my ex-husband had paid on it, and then in came this demand letter. Could they sue me? Would they win?” she asked. “They gave me 30 days to respond to their demand, and after all this time, I have no records and honestly thought that it was written off. They were very nasty on the phone,” she wrote, asking for my advice.
This was going to be fun, I could tell.
Hi, There, Let’s Talk Statute of Limitations
“If they sue you, which these types of companies could very well do, you have a defense,” I told Grandma Susie. “In fact, we are going to have some fun with these guys right now, but first let me explain why they called. These guys purchase old debt from companies all over America, most of written off as uncollectible – for one reason or another – by the company selling this debt. For some odd reason, your credit card company did not elect to go after you for what was owed years ago, if it was truly owed.”
I explained to my Hanford reader that what these collection agencies want you to do is to re-affirm the debt. “At most, in California, they have four years in which to file suit from the last payment. If they do sue you, the correct response is to plead the Statute of Limitations, which means that they are too late. But if you agree to start making payments, or actually do make a few, this eliminates that Statute of Limitations defense – and boy do they love that!” I said.
So, calling their toll free number (I love to make them pay for the privilege of hearing me tell them to drop dead!) I set up a conference call with my Hanford reader and Miss Whatever Her Real Name Was, and after the introductions, the conversation went like this:
Beaver: Ma’am, do you know how old this alleged credit card bill is?
Collector: Hmm, I see l998.
Beaver: Bingo, you can read! That cool, now, you know I am a lawyer, so let’s see if you can read my mind. What am I about to say?
Collector: You are going to say that it is too late because of the Statute of Limitations and you want us to leave her alone. Right?
Beaver: Right. And I want you to mail her a letter to that effect and take her out of your data base NOW. Deal?
Beaver: Now, you can have desert.
Grandma Susie heard it all and was silent. I could sense that she was crying. “I’ve read you for years, and guess that it pays to subscribe to the Sentinel!” she said.
Yup, it sure does!
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.