Debt Collectors Continue to Use the Justice System Against Consumers

Denise Zencka, a mother of three in Indiana, was forced to file for bankruptcy after she could no longer afford to repay the bills for her thyroid cancer treatment. Due to her inability to work, Zencka had to stay with her parents in Florida during her recovery. During the time she spent with her parents, Zencka was unaware that a small claims court judge had issued three warrants for her arrest. The arrest warrants came at the request of a debt collector who was seeking to collect her outstanding medical bills.

Upon her return to Indiana, Zencka was arrested by local sheriff’s deputies for the private debt she owed. When she arrived at the jail, she was too sick to make the climb up the stairs that leads to the women’s section. Instead of being put in the women’s section, she was placed in a men’s mental health unit where the male inmates could watch everything she did through glass walls, including using the toilet.

There are thousands of cases similar to Zencka’s throughout the country. This is because courts are issuing arrest warrants that contribute to the multi-billion-dollar debt collection industry. Although debtor’s prisons were abolished in 1833, private debt collectors are using the courts to get debtors arrested and to scare them into paying. This is happening even when a debt is in dispute or when the debtor doesn’t have the funds to pay.

Every year, tens of thousands of arrest warrants are issued for people who fail to appear in court for an unpaid civil debt judgment. A report from the ACLU called, “A Pound of Flesh,” examined more than 1,000 cases in 26 states, where civil court judges issued arrest warrants for debtors. Many times, the debtors weren’t even aware that they were being sued or had not received notice to appear in court.

The following are just a few of things that debtors have been arrested for:

  • Medical Fees
  • Federal & Private Student Loans
  • Car Payments
  • Unpaid Rent
  • Daycare Fees
  • Small Business Loans
  • Credit Card Bills
  • Foreclosure Deficiencies
  • High Interest Payday Loans
  • Gym Fees

Because debt collectors flood the courts with millions of suits seeking repayment, most courts will sift through collection lawsuits will little to no scrutiny. More than 95% of debt collection suits result in the favor of the collector, usually because the debtor could not afford to mount their defense.

Once they have a judgment from the court, creditors can request the court to make the person appear for what is called a “judgment debtor examination.” During this examination the debtor is asked about their finances and assets. If a debtor doesn’t appear at the examination, a judge can issue a civil warrant for their arrest at the request of the debt collector.

Once they have been arrested, a debtor can remain in jail until they can make bail arrangements. Sometimes bail is set at the exact amount of the judgment against them, while the bail money they paid is overturned to the creditor as payment.

Even when a debtor isn’t arrested, their warrants can create issues later on because they might be entered into background check databases. This can have a huge impact when it comes to future employment, housing applications, education opportunities, and access to security clearances.

The impact of predatory debt collection has had a particularly harmful effect on Black and Latino communities who face longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in poverty and wealth.

Are you being hounded by debt collectors? Have you been requested to appear before a judge for your outstanding debts? We can help. Contact our Chicago team of debt collections attorneysto schedule your free case evaluation today.


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