Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Welcome to my Nightmare

Let's return for a moment to the issue of the financial devastation that can result from an encounter with corrupt judges and lawyers. In a recent post, I called these folks "financial terrorists" and outlined the reasons they deserve that label.

Like the terrorists who flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11, the financial terrorists I'm aware of have been frighteningly successful in their mission.

My wife and I have received ample evidence of this. A few days ago, we began to receive phone calls from a debt-collection law firm. It's a Birmingham outfit called Ingram & Associates LLC.

A little background: Before this legal problem started, my wife and I were fortunate to have excellent credit. Neither of us has ever brought home "big bucks." But we have fairly modest tastes, and we don't have any children, so we were able to make ends meet with some margin for error.

Once this lawsuit hit and dragged on for more than five years, I became aware that our financial picture was taking a turn for the worse. Because I was unable to find a lawyer to represent me honestly, and because I couldn't afford another one after the first two cost us close to $20,000, I began to represent myself. My wife and I divided up the duties: I handled the legal side and she tried her best to keep us afloat financially.

One reason I asked her to deal with the money side is that I don't deal well with financial pressure. I've never liked the idea of being in debt, and the thought of being in debt because of someone else's criminal activities, was almost more than I could bear.

My wife juggled things as best she could, but I knew we were struggling to stay on the positive side of the ledger. The kind folks at Ingram & Associates LLC were happy to let me know, at least according to their records, how much we were struggling.

A woman named Tracey Mize seemed to be the point person for Ingram & Associates on our account. She talked to my wife one evening while I was mowing our yard, and she talked to me the next night.

Ms. Mize told me that Ingram & Associates LLC had been hired by American Express to sue me for a debt we allegedly owed. She stated that the amount was somewhere in the $10,000 range, and with attorney fees tacked on, it was about $14,000. She was calling as a courtesy, she said, to see if we could make arrangements to pay off the alleged debt.

If no arrangements could be made, she said, Ingram & Associates LLC would sue me on behalf of their client, American Express. Possible outcomes of this? She said they could garnish 25 percent of my after-tax pay and attach certain assets. For example, she helpfully pointed out, the deed to our house could be auctioned off on the courthouse steps.

I told Ms. Mize that, if we indeed owed any debt, it was because we had been the victims of a crime--that unscrupulous judges and lawyers had committed honest services mail fraud that had cost us thousands of dollars.

Initially, Ms. Mize seemed interested in what had happened to us. But she eventually made it clear that she didn't give a flip about any crime that had occurred. She simply wanted her hands on any assets of ours that had not been effectively stolen.

The conversation took a downhill turn at that point, and I wound up speaking with Ms. Mize's supervisor, one Jann Blalock. The conversation didn't get any better with her on the line.

I imagine many Americans have had experiences with debt-collection agencies or law firms. I had been fortunate to live almost 50 years without having that delightful experience. But now I've joined the crowd.

As if my wife and I didn't have enough anxiety and stress already, trying to recover from emotional and financial injuries created by criminals in the justice system, now we have to deal with a whole new kind of lawyer type.

I would be interested in hearing about experiences others have had with debt-collection firms. And the Legal Schnauzer will endeavor to keep you abreast of our interactions with the helpful folks at Ingram & Associates LLC.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Even assuming that the preceding events were indeed criminal and exactly as you say, is American Express supposed to foot the bill on your behalf? How long do you think they should let you go without paying? Did you or your wife contact AE directly to see if you could work out a payment plan? Probably not and then (I am assuming) you let the money situation go too far.

As far as the law firm, if they're hired by AE to collect the money, that's their job to collect the money with the legal resources (garnishments, etc) available by law. A law firm is a business, too, and it's their job to what a client hires them to do. Do you think AE (or any other company)would ever hire them for money collections if all they did was collect sob stories? EVERYONE in a debt collection has a bad story. It's your job (or your wife's) to deal with the company (AE) BEFORE it ever gets to a law firm. Once it goes to the firm, a company could usually care less what your deal is because you made no attempt to deal with them.

I certainly don't mean to come down hard or offend you. You seem to be an excellent writer and I enjoyed your recent stories about your dog. I just truly don't understand why you think anyone was wrong in the situation. If someone owed you money, what would you do to collect it?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this well written column also.
I must admit however that I agree with the above comment. If the credit card company paid for charges made by the cardholder then the cardholder must pay the credit card company.
I believe the biggest mistake is not communicating with the creditor before the debt is sent to a collection agency. Most creditors would rather not pay the collection agency the huge fees that they charge, they would rather solve the issue before they send it to an agency.