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Communications With Judgment Debtors
Many times it is worth trying to contact a judgment debtor to see if they are willing to pay, settle, or set up a payment plan. Because of state and federal laws, one must be careful when doing so. It is legal to request a Sheriff to seize and sell a judgment debtor's vehicle, with no advance notice to them. However, it is not legal to tell a debtor that will happen if they do not pay. Go figure.
Debtors and judgment debtors are protected by laws and appeals court decisions, that specify and mandate penalties for certain practices, including abusive or unfair debt collection tactics. Debt collection agencies and judgment creditors are generally prohibited from engaging in unfair or deceptive practices, and from making false or misleading statements to collect a consumer debt.
Consumer debts are those that resulted from purchasing goods that are consumable and/or do not appreciate - for example food, clothing, rent, medical expenses, tobacco, alcohol, cable and internet, TVs, etc.
It is against the law to harass a debtor, to request more than basic location information about the debtor from another person, to tell the debtor's employer or others that the debtor owes a debt (except in the course of wage garnishment proceedings), or to contact the debtor before 8 AM or after 9 PM, or at any inconvenient time or place.
If you have questions or concerns regarding permissible debt collection activities, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 1-877-FTC-HELP or (1-877-382-4357) can answer your question.
The FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) laws apply to consumer debts, however they should also be followed for commercial and all other kinds of debts. It makes sense to not threaten or harass someone, or call them at strange hours.
Most judgment enforcers are enforcing judgments that they own. For this reason, "they are not generic debt collectors". Even if you believe that is true, follow the FDCPA laws. It is safest to always follow these laws, even if you think you do not have to.
It can make sense to call or write your judgment debtor, and try to work out a payment plan or a settlement, or just find out why they cannot or will not pay. Staying friendly and empathetic often pays off.
Here are some guidelines, to help keep you from having to pay FCDPA-mandated fines and penalties:
1) Never threaten the debtor, not even with legal recovery remedies. You can say you will have to recover the judgment, but do not say more than that. For example, do not say you will have the sheriff seize the judgment debtor's vehicle. The law says that must be done by surprise.
2) Do not publish or share the judgment debtors information, or that they owe money on a judgment.
3) Unless the debtor is a business (or for legal surveillance reasons) do not visit the debtor in person, except in court, or to take a payment in a well-lit very public places for example, a coffee shop.
4) Do not mail anything to the judgment debtor that shows on the outside that a debt is owed, or that you collect, recover, enforce, or are in any way a judgment or debt recovery entity. Make sure your communications to the debtor stay private and polite.
5) Do not inform third-parties about the judgment debtor's debt, except as required as to effectuate a post-judgment remedy.
6) Do not try to look or sound like a lawyer, or say you are from a legal department, if you do not have one.
7) Do not send notices that look like official court documents.
8) When you contact the debtor for the first time, send them the "full Miranda law" (Google that), and each time after that, the "mini-Miranda" (Google that).
When you leave a message with someone who is not the debtor, or on an answering machine, say it is personal or business - do not go into more detail. When you talk or write a debtor, be polite and solution-oriented. Stay firm, yet be flexible, is a good policy.
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