Hightower: Rapacious Companies Go After Defenseless People in Debt
Good news, people: The "boom" is back! Yes, good times are here again, thanks to an economic boom that's being generated by (of all things) bad times.
As you might know from your own experiences, tens of millions of Americans have been hit hard, knocked down and held down in recent years by the collapse of jobs and wages. This calamity has led to a second blow for millions of the same families, who find themselves suddenly buried in piles of overdue bills for credit card charges, student loans and other consumer debt.
But the good news is that there's a bright silver lining in that dark financial cloud. Only, it's not for the indebted families, but for a booming breed of finance hucksters known as consumer debt buyers. Believe it or not, in the warped world of high finance,
"There's gold in them thar hills" of bad debt, and where there's gold, there are diggers.
Whenever a corporation issues a statement declaring that it's committed to "treating consumers fairly and with respect," chances are, it's not.
After all, why say such a thing, when actually practicing it would make a statement unnecessary? Indeed, with names like Encore Capital Group and Sherman Financial, these miners of human misery buy bales of these unpaid bills from banks and other lenders, paying pennies on the dollar. Then they unleash packs of their hard-nosed, aggressive collectors on the families. If they still can't extract payment, the corporate debt profiteers turn to their meanest dog: The courts.
Debt firms routinely file thousands of lawsuits a day against financially devastated Americans. They know that most debtors can't understand the legal gibberish filed against them, can't afford a lawyer, can't take time off to go to a court hearing and can't mount an effective defense against the corporate lawyers. So, some 95 percent of these lawsuits produce default judgments against hapless borrowers -- meaning debt buyers can then confiscate the wages of borrowers or freeze their bank accounts.
This boom in vulture capitalism is disgusting -- but, worse, it's subsidized by us taxpayers! We pay for the judicial system -- the judges, courtrooms and endless rounds of hearings. Predatory debt corporations have perverted our so-called justice system into their own subsidiary for squeezing profits out of destitute debtors.
This is why New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has started going after these for-profit corporate debt collectors. He found that Encore, based in San Diego, filed nearly 240,000 lawsuits against debtors in a recent four-year period, using the courts as its private collection arm. Problem is, Encore's bulk filing of lawsuits against the hard-pressed borrowers are rife with errors, out-of-date payment data, fabricated credit card statements, etc. With debt buyers scooping up millions of overdue bills each year from lenders, tons of them are missing original loan documents, payment histories and other proof of debt.
Debt predators, however, scoot around this lack of facts by simply having their employees sign affidavits asserting that the level of money owed is accurate. Judges, overwhelmed by the unending flood of lawsuits filed by Encore et al, have accepted those affidavits as true, thus ruling in favor of the corporations. But Schneiderman found that -- Surprise! -- affidavits were simply being rubber-stamped by company employees, with no effort to ensure the truth of the information. An employee of one large debt-buyer testified that his corporation ran an assembly-line scheme in which he signed about 2,000 affidavits a day.
This is no minor scam -- 1 in 7 adults in the U.S. is under pursuit by debt collectors. It's hard enough for struggling families to claw their way out from under the economic crash without having lying, cheating predator corporations twist the court system to pick their pockets and shut off their hope of recovery.