$500,000 Award for Violations of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

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Finally some good news to report. Following a nine day trial in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The jury awarded Plaintiffs, Manuel and Luz Fausto, $500,000 in their suit against Credigy Services Corporation. The verdict consisted of $100,000 in actual damages and $400,000 in punitive damages. An important win and it appears to be the largest under the FDCPA for a consumer that had debt.

Credigy's trial strategy, not unlike many other Defendants, was to attack the credibility of the Faustos and their nine children.  Credigy issued subpoenas to depose the majority of their children and sought banking, mortgage and medical records of them and their children.  Brings to mind an old saying my attorney once shared with me when similar tactics were used as strategy in my case; ...if the facts are on your side argue the facts, if the laws are on your side argue the laws, if you have neither on your side -attack the Plaintiff.

Read the details of this case as written by David Humphreys & Luke Wallace, the Attorneys for Manuel and Luz Fausto.


By Guest Bloggers:
David Humphreys, Luke Wallace
Humphreys, Wallace, Humphreys, PC;

Debt collectors in the U.S. have been regulated by federal law since the mid 1970's under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Surely enough time has passed that the rules for fair debt collection practices are understood and followed, right? Some law professors and other commentators have suggested that the pendulum has swung too far. They argue that debt collection lawsuits are multiplying and unfairly burdening the legitimate debt collection by seeking statutory penalties and attorney fees for hyper technical violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. 

We want to offer you a different perspective based upon our in-depth exploration of the underbelly of the collection industry. What you don't see and what you probably don't know, unless you have experienced it first hand, is that the debt collection industry is built upon collecting money by creating fear and intimidation through false threats and lies. Much of the industry is built on collecting what has been called "Zombie" debt, ancient credit card accounts that have been charged off ten or more years ago, well past the time limit to bring a legitimate suit that could be proven by evidence in a court of law. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of the actual records of what has been bought and paid for on the credit card account have been lost in the mists of time. Consumers have moved and lost or destroyed their payment records rightfully assuming that the account has been satisfied. After all, who would wait ten years to collect a debt?

These accounts are bought and sold between junk debt buyers for literally pennies on the dollar. Through the use of technology, including sophisticated autodialer systems, debt collectors can "reach out and touch" consumers in their home for just a few more pennies. The recent trend in the industry is to set up collection floors offshore, in India or Brazil, and pay ollectors the equivalent of a few hundred dollars monthly, with bonus' based on their ability to extract money from American consumers.

We'd like to share with you the story of Manuel and Luz Fausto and their experiences in dealing with one debt collector, Credigy Services Corporation, based out of Suwannee, Georgia.

What happened here, sadly, is typical of the experience of many consumers. In fact, during the trial, Credigy embraced the evidence of its conduct as lawful and appropriate. Credigy apparently has no plans to change its debt collection activities. This is especially troubling because Credigy is not a rouge operator. In 2006, its parent was acquired by a subsidiary of the National Bank of Canada, and it should be ashamed of these practices.

Credigy showed no shame during the trial; when confronted with damning threats made by its collectors caught on tape, Credigy's corporate representative, a lawyer with ten years of experience who had appeared in more than fifty trials, claimed he wasn't familiar with the transcript and had only "glanced" at it. This same witness admitted that although he had "heard of" affiliate Credigy Global, he really wasn't familiar with it. When confronted with previous testimony, he admitted to being an owner of 50,000 shares of Credigy Global.

Manuel Fausto opened a Wells Fargo charge card at a local branch in 1992. The account had a credit limit of about $1,000. Mr. Fausto and his wife Luz made monthly payments on the account as agreed but the balance kept increasing. After asking (and being declined) at the local Wells Fargo branch to have the interest on the account "frozen" so the balance could be paid off, the Faustos received help from a local business that promised to negotiate a discounted payoff of credit card balances. The Faustos had no other credit card debt but paid the Wells Fargo account off in 1998 or 1999 with two money orders delivered to the local debt negotiator.

Seven years later, in August of 2006, the Faustos received a phone call at their home from a debt collector calling from Credigy Services Corp. The Faustos had no dealings with and did not recognize Credigy as someone they owed.  The Faustos also received a letter from Credigy claiming that almost $17,000 was due on the account.   The Fausto's made an appointment with a non profit legal clinic, the Watsonville Law Center, who wrote a letter for Mr. Fausto to sign demanding that Credigy provide a copy of the contract proving they owned the debt and some proof that the debt was actually unpaid. Credigy responded with a form letter restating the balance claimed due. The Fausto's brought the letter back to the Watsonville Law Center. WLC wrote a letter for Mr Fausto informing Credigy that since they ignored the request for information, that the Fausto's demanded under federal law that Credigy Cease and Desist all further contact with the Faustos.

Credigy continued to collect on the account, writing numerous letters and calling the Faustos home over 90 times. The collectors were calling from a Credigy affililate in Brazil and made repeated false threats to the Fausto's that Credigy would take their home and paycheck even though the time to sue had expired years before Credigy's first phone call to the Fausto's home. Mrs. Fausto tape recorded the last phone call from Credigy which documented false claims that the account had been reviewed in the legal department that the account was a joint debt owed by Mrs. Fausto also, that Credigy was a "Credit Agency" and that Credigy would report the account "forever" on Mr. Faustos credit file.

Credigy's training manuals suggested to the Brazilian collectors, who were paid the equivalent of $400 monthly salary, to use the "coercion method," that credit reporting is the most important financial information for American consumers and to tell the consumer that their life will not be the same if the debt remains on their credit report.  Credigy sued Mrs. Fausto claiming that its debt collection phone calls were confidential and seeking damages. Credigy admitted receiving the written cease and desist demand (sent certified mail) but claimed it made a "Bona Fide Error" in continuing its collection efforts.

The jury heard testimony that the "Dispute Resolution Team" was confronted with stacks of dispute letters, was understaffed and told that no more resources would be made available because it cost the company money. This was especially troubling because the "Dispute Resolution Department" was ultimately supervised by attorneys employed by Credigy affiliate Stewart & Associates.  Two employees in the "Dispute Resolution Department" testified that they left Credigy because the stress at work was making them ill.

The collection calls only stopped after a lawsuit was filed. Credigy had scheduled the calls to continue until the year 2020.  No records from any source, including Wells Fargo existed as to what was charged and what had been paid on the account.  A consumer from Illinois (a victim of ID theft) and another from New Mexico (former husbands account) testified that Credigy ignored their request for proof that the debt was owed and that Credigy continued collecting upon them after having received cease and desist demands.

Credigy's trial strategy was to attack the credibility of the Faustos and their nine children. Mr. Fausto had a second grade education and Mrs. Fausto received a sixth grade education.  Neither spoke English.

Credigy issued subpoenas to depose the majority of their children and sought banking, mortgage and medical records of them and their children.  The trial court permitted Credigy to elicit testimony that Mrs. Fausto had been charged with driving without a license and hit and run of a child on a bicycle and that Mr. Fausto had been cited for driving with a suspended license and that the police arrived at his home to arrest him during the time period Credigy was making its collection calls.

Credigy also introduced evidence that the Fausto's borrowed a significant sum against their home in the name of their oldest son and that the house was the subject of a foreclosure several months after the collection calls stopped.

Following a nine day trial in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the jury returned a verdict of $500,000 against Credigy Services Corporation. The verdict consisted of $100,000 in actual damages and $400,000 in punitive damages. United States District Judge James W. Ware, who presided over the trial, specifically instructed the jury that they could only award punitive damages, if they found by clear and convincing evidence that Credigy Services Corporation "was malicious or in reckless disregard of the rights" of the Fausto's. In order to be "malicious, the jury had to find that the conduct was accompanied by ill will, spite or for the purpose of injuring another.  Reckless disregard required a finding of a complete indifference to the rights of others.

We are informed that the verdict is the largest under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act on behalf of a consumer who owed the debt. The Fausto's are entitled to an award of attorney fees and costs as prevailing party under federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the California Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

UPDATE: JUNE 2, 2009
Mercury News Article: Read how the Faustos' fee about their hard-earned & well deserved win on behalf of all consumers!
Farmworker couple wins $500,000 verdict against bill collector

For more information;

The case is Fausto et al v. Credigy Services Corporation et al Case 5:07-cv-05658-JW

Plaintiff's attorneys: David Humphreys and Luke Wallace of Humphreys Wallace Humphreys, P.C. Tulsa, OK; Balám Letona, Santa Cruz, CA and Ron Wilcox, San Jose, CA.

Defendant's attorneys: Tomio Narita and Jeffrey Topor of Simmons & Narita, San Francisco, CA; John Gillespie and Jeff Lucas of Stewart and Associates, Atlanta, GA.


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That is amazing. See all it takes is for people to stand up against these scum bag bill collectors. I am glad to see there are other people out there that fight against these machines. We were beginning to think that our company was the only ones.

Check one for consumers. About time they are taken to task for what they do. It is terrible that these poor people were forced to drag their kids into the law suit to find justice. Bravo to the Plaintiffs for sticking it out.

Maybe these scumbags will stand up and take notice and all the other companies out there screwing innocent people to. These types of wins are the only way we can stop such harmful and illegal activities. Jay

If Credigy files an appeal I hope it's shot down and the half million dollar award puts them out of business. I'm not one for wishing good people to lose their jobs, but this is dishonest work and anyone who works for them condones these aggressive tactics. Good for the Fausto's for sticking up for themselves and their rights.

It would be nice if this had an impact on the way third party debt collectors operated in the future. only time will tell. But Lawsuits need to continue against Lawbreakers.

I am getting call from my car place I have asked then repeatedly not to call my job to call my home or my cell # I have since gotten a email from my human resource that they are still calling her for me I have called them several times to tell them to stop they are a first party agency said that FDCPA dont apply to them Im in danger of losing my Job if they continue to call can any one help

Rachel -You should get an attorney. NO debt collector has a right to call your boss...Period! You can find an experienced attorney by going to http://www.naca.net and click on "find and attorney" -look for an attorney in your area.

The FDCPA does apply to them!! They can not harass you, humiliate you, or disclose your debt to any third party -which are just a few of the illegal debt collection practices you've mentioned. Get an attorney and this will stop -immediately. They know they are violating your rights -they just don't think you know that -or will do anything about it! Keep us posted.

Debt collectors are abusive. I received a great settlement on my case when they called me at work. I'd recommend anyone in California give Hyde & Swigart a call at 619-233-7770. They didn't charge me a nickel and I ended up receive a great settlement!

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