Victory for Legal Aid Client Subjected to Abusive Debt Collection
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Jen Ngai Lavelle, Staff Attorney

Last week, justice became real for a Legal Aid client whose daily life had been derailed by a company using highly illegal and abusive tactics to attempt to collect on a debt of less than $500.

Ms. H had originally come to Legal Aid because she was receiving multiple calls from debt collectors purporting to be law enforcement officials and threatening to throw her in jail over two checks -- written for $150 and $300 -- which had bounced.  The callers falsely identified themselves as investigators or police detectives and told her that she was guilty of committing check fraud.  Faced with the fear of imprisonment, Ms. H provided one caller with her personal bank account information so his company could withdraw the funds they claimed necessary to satisfy the debt.  She came to Legal Aid fearful of what would happen when the company learned she did not have enough funds in her bank account to cover the full amount.

In the span of only two months, Ms. H had received approximately 120 calls from the collection company, many of which included variations of the same threats of criminal prosecution.  The repeated and abusive behavior caused Ms. H, who was already disabled, to become depressed and anxious.  She developed insomnia and lost her ability to continue working at her part-time job.

Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. H against the company for violation of various local and federal debt collection and consumer protection laws.  At Ms. H’s court hearing, Legal Aid presented evidence of the abusive collection practices to the judge in the form of various witness testimony and tape recordings of sample collection calls.

After hearing the evidence, the judge found that the company had violated multiple provisions of local and federal consumer protection and debt collection laws and entered a judgment in favor of Ms. H for over $35,000, which included actual, statutory, and punitive damages.  The judge also ordered payment of almost $7,000 in attorney’s fees to Legal Aid, which does not charge any fees to its clients but may be awarded compensation in certain cases for the value of the legal services it provides. 

Legal Aid congratulates Ms. H for her victory in this case and thanks her for her role in helping to achieve a measure of justice for others in the District facing similar abuses in debt collection.

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