April 04, 2009 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Mary Ramirez and her husband Thomas have been receiving phone calls lately from a “very nice sounding young lady with a company called DCM Services, concerned that we do the right thing for the memory of our son, who passed away last year in an auto accident,” she explained in an e-mail.
Friends of the elderly Ventura couple worried they were about to become the victim of a scam, and insisted that Mary contact You and the Law. By asking questions — daring to become involved — these neighbors have saved still grieving parents from losing thousands of dollars in what can easily be described as a scam of enormous proportions.
But thousands of other families across America aren’t so lucky, losing millions of dollars to smooth talking DCM bill collectors, taking money from people who do not owe a cent, victimizing families at a time when they are emotionally defenseless.
“At the time of his death, Roger was 27 and had just moved back in with us. 2008 was a horrible year for him. His girlfriend left him, he lost his job in computer sales, and we learned that for months he was living off of credit cards. He was a good boy, didn’t drink, or smoke, was respectful to everyone, and then, while looking for employment in the Los Angeles area, was in a fatal accident, caused by an uninsured drunk driver. Roger’s auto insurance simply paid for his funeral.
“Roger owned nothing except a 15-year-old beat up car which was totaled in the accident. He had no life insurance, nothing at all. His credit cards were in his own name. According to the lady calling us, his outstanding credit card bills were about $15,000. Before this bad time, he was always a responsible adult, and I am sure would have paid those charges had he lived,” Mary stressed.
“This couple is the perfect example of what’s going on in the collection industry that is fundamentally, not just crooked, but downright immoral,” Attorney Linda Monje, of Bakersfield exclaimed when I ran these facts by her. She is both a CPA and attorney, specializing in estate planning, trust and probate law.
The Bakersfield attorney was quick to point out that, in recent months, lawyers in her specialty are receiving inquires “almost every day from people in the same situation as this Ventura couple, often too late to help them.”
“Here is the typical fact situation which has given rise to a huge fraud on the public. We will assume that mom has died — with or without a will or trust — leaving various debts, including a mortgage on her house which is much greater than the value of the house itself.
“Now, unless a family member has personally become obligated for these debts before her death, no one has a legal obligation to pay. I want to stress that point. If no family members were, let’s say, a co-signer on a credit card or auto loan, then they do not have to pay those outstanding debts,” she stressed.
“We can say that the debts survive, but family members in that situation are not on the hook. So, when the phone calls come in from those ever so sympathetic bill collectors — appealing to mom’s memory, or any pitch to get you to say yes I’ll pay — don’t agree.
“You simply need to explain that mom didn’t have anything, except the house, which was upside down on the mortgage. Tell the caller not to expect anyone to be responsible for unpaid bills, and politely tell them to stop all phone calls.”
I would add that you should not concern yourself about hurting the bill collector’s feelings. They are masters of deception. They are known to lie, failing to explain that there is no legal duty of paying bills in this type of a situation.
“Attorneys empathize with their clients, and we know that parents want their kids to have a good memory and a positive legacy, but at the end of the day, it has to be a business decision. Particularly if the parents do not have the money to pay those debts. Merely being a parent of an adult child does not mean that you are liable for their debts unless you have obligated yourself as a co-cosigner, or have guaranteed payment prior to the child’s death,” Attorney Monje points out.
“Be careful of what you sign. You could become obligated for a debt which otherwise you are not obligated for. Especially when a family member is going to be hospitalized, look at what you are asked to sign,” she warns.
“It is critical — especially in these difficult economic times — to understand that a parent or other family member has no legal duty to take on an adult child’s bills of any kind. However, chances are good that you might be asked to sign as a co-cosigner. Think this over carefully. Can you afford to pay thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of dollars in hospital bills? This can happen. Do not let your own personal well-being — or that of your own family — become compromised by taking on legal obligations you do not owe,” she concluded.
And, just in the event you wonder what DCM has to say about all of this, well I did, too. They are the nation’s largest collection agency in this narrow field. And yes, they do indeed have a media relations person — Minnesota based Brittany Pawlikowski.
But, despite my repeated requests to discuss her company’s position, I was refused that opportunity.
If you’d like a real laugh, go into their Web site. DCMservices.com and read about their “core values.” However, I must caution that it might just make you ill.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.