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July 31, 2006

Repo Man unleashed

Sheezelbub has an alarming post about the latest form of legalized extortion: a letigious species of "debt" collector that shows up and seizes assets over bills erased through bankruptcy.

Some collection firms are suing putative debtors and serving the papers to their old addresses. The collectors know that their targets will never get their day in court because they'll never realize they're being sued. Confident that their targets will never mount a legal defense, the exploiters are emboldened to sue on preposterous pretexts that would never survive a real hearing. They exploit the fact that, in some states, simply "skipping" the small claims court hearing legally empowers the collectors to seize a vehicle in repayment.

When the blissfully ignorant debtors don't show up to defend themselves in small claims court, the firms send enforcers to seize their cars in pre-dawn raids. The target awakens to find a tow truck in the driveway and a thug at the door. The thug gives the target a choice: cough up the alleged debt in cash, or hand over the car.

Welcome to the ownership society.


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How is it possible for any company to send a notice to a person's old address? In what way is that legally different from shredding the serving papers and then going to court to claim that the corporation sent them?

I'd leave out the last sentance of the post, which is otherwise right on point.

I am not an attorney, thanks be to God, but it seems to me that the attorneys and other skells involved in this activity are involved in an intentional misuse of the legal system and ought to be prosecuted.

Just so that potential victims are aware, they should get their day in court on this. There are very strict federal and state statutes that govern debt collection practices. They provide for the recovery of damages, court costs and attorney's fees. The practice you describe is not legal. Even a bad, unemployed attorney should be able to make the case and get the victim compensated.

The Boston Globe is currently doing a series on all the abuses of debt collection agencies. It is an eye opener.

"Even a bad, unemployed attorney should be able to make the case and get the victim compensated."

Well yeah, that's why you go for the kind of folks who can't make their car payments in the first place. They won't be able to cough up the dough to get a lawyer, and they probably won’t think of looking up a pro bono or Legal Services Corporation funded attorney. That’s why the reactionaries have been trying, with some success, to clip the LSC’s wings ever since the LSC Act was passed.

Life imitates art. I’ve always loved the movie Repo Man.
“I shall not cause harm to any vehicle nor the personal contents thereof, nor through inaction let that vehicle or the personal contents thereof come to harm. It's what I call the Repo Code, kid. Don't forget it--etch it in your brain. Not many people got a code to live by anymore.” - Bud

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