Debt collectors and district attorneys are teaming up to bully bad-check writers into paying their debt, including a California woman who bounced a $48 check to Walmart and was threatened with jail time.
In a practice that has spread to more than 300 prosecutors' offices, collection companies are sending signed letters on D.A. letterhead that threaten jail time unless the check writers settle up and pay for a "financial accountability" class, reported the New York Times.
Even petty amounts owed can invite harsh treatment. Single mom Angela Yartz told the paper she was unaware that a $47.95 check she had written to Walmart had bounced. She later received a letter signed by the Alameda County (Calif.) district attorney that she better fork over $280.05 or face up to a year behind bars.
Intimidation tactics are nothing new on the bill collection front, of course. Even hospitals are accused of using them. The University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis is now being probed for allegedly harassing very sick patients into paying up or risk losing medical care.
Debt collection is a $12 billion-a-year business, and 30 million people are now in the cross-hairs of bill collectors, reported the Los Angeles Times. So it should be no surprise that firms are stepping up their strong-arm tactics.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received 180,928 complaints about the debt recovery biz, the LAT said.
In the arrangement between debt collectors and district attorneys, the agencies secure their share plus the class fee and the district attorneys get paid by the agencies or receive a share of the money collected, reported the Times.
Above the Law pointed out the potential conundrum of threatening someone with imprisonment on prosecutor letterhead before a lawyer has even considered the case. District attorneys explained to the Times that the letters reduce their caseload, and that only those who ignore merchant warnings are contacted.
Yartz, the Walmart customer, noticed that part of her jacked-up settlement bill from the D.A. included $180 for the budgeting class. The Times said she eventually paid $100.05 to cover the bounced check and penalties, and took her chances with the rest.
BEFORE YOU GO
How to vote
Vote-by-mail ballot request deadline: Varies by state
For the Nov 3 election: States are making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the coronavirus. Each state has its own rules for mail-in absentee voting. Visit your state election office website to find out if you can vote by mail.Get more informationTrack ballot status
In-person early voting dates: Varies by state
Sometimes circumstances make it hard or impossible for you to vote on Election Day. But your state may let you vote during a designated early voting period. You don't need an excuse to vote early. Visit your state election office website to find out whether they offer early voting.My Election Office
General Election: Nov 3, 2020
Polling hours on Election Day: Varies by state/localityMy Polling Place