Sounds like a lead-in to a joke, but this is no joking matter. A Kansas City woman, Maria Guadalupe Mejia, recently sued Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The jury awarded her $83 million! Wait……what?  You heard right.  She was awarded $83,000,000.00!!!

Granted this may be an extreme case, but the concept is the same for everybody. If a creditor or collection agency pursues a debt illegally, you have rights, and they can be punished.

So what happened in this case? To begin with, the debt was not even hers. After informing the creditor on numerous occasions that she was not the debtor, Portfolio Recovery continued to harass her and went so far as to sue her in court. All over a $1,000 debt.  Of course, Portfolio Recovery Associates will not go down without a fight. Spokesman, Michael McKeon, issued a statement, “This outlandish verdict defies all common sense,” “We hope and expect the judge will set aside this inappropriate award, and we plan to file motions to make that request formally in the near term. Any fair reading of the facts of this case makes plain that a verdict of this size is not justice by any means, and cannot stand.”

Regardless of whether of not the punishment fit the crime, a bold statement has been sent to creditors. You better behave yourselves, abide by the law, and you better have the documentation to prove the debt.

Remember, just because a creditor is calling you attempting to collect a debt, it does not necessarily mean that you owe it. In some instances it can be fraud. In this day and age, it is far too easy to obtain somebody’s personal information. If a scammer sees that you owe American Express, they call pretending to collect the debt. They will use account numbers and other personal information, that they have obtained on-line, in an attempt to appear as though they are really from American Express. They will then try to scare you into making a payment right then and there. Or they may try to get some other personal information directly from you that they can use later.

The rule of thumb is never to give personal information to anyone from an unsolicited phone call. Even if the call sounds real enough. Do not confirm the debt. Do not confirm anything, for that matter. Do not give your social security number or account number to the representative.

Upon request, a creditor must provide a validation of the debt. This is the law! If they are unable or unwilling to provide such documentation, they are violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and in all likelihood, have no legal right to collect the debt.

Even if it is proven that the debt is valid, there could be Statute of Limitation issues that they may be skirting around. If a debt is too old, a creditor can no longer legally attempt to collect the debt. You may want to consult a consumer law attorney regarding your individual situation. Laws can vary state to state and can be very confusing.

Make sure to check your credit report often. Verify that it is correct and a creditor is not reporting improperly. You can run a free credit report, once per year, from  This is a free site and does not require you to sign up for any credit monitoring services.

Remember, as a consumer, you have rights. Most of these collection agencies are counting on you doing nothing. If you feel as though your rights have been violated, call their bluff. Talk to an attorney and take action!

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