Just because a debt collector says you owe a debt, doesn’t make it true

Debt collectors are banking on the fact that they can hound people or file lawsuits to get a default judgment and garnish wages whether or not the debt was ever valid.

 

For months Lynn Dingwall never told anyone about the debt collector constantly calling her Lee’s Summit home and demanding $10,000 for an unpaid credit card bill. Dingwall knew she didn’t owe the money, but she couldn’t get the caller to leave her alone.

 

“If I had felt that I owed it, I would have paid it off,” said Dingwall who, until then, had a nearly perfect credit history.

 

When the debt collector wouldn’t give up, Dingwall finally told her son what was happening.

 

“I don’t like my kids to worry about me,” she said. “I’m private and it’s embarrassing.”

Her son immediately wrote the debt collector, informing them the debt didn’t belong to his mother and demanding they stop bothering her. But instead of stopping, the debt collecting — Cach LLC — sued Lynn Dingwall. She became one of about 2,000 people sued every year by the Colorado debt buying company.

 

Attorneys, Brianne Thomas and Josh Sanders of Boyd Kenter Thomas & Parrish, defended Dingwall in court and won. The debt collector didn’t even bother to show up. Dingwall didn’t stop there. She wanted to send a message to Cach LLC that it wasn’t nice to shake down someone for money they don’t owe. Dingwall’s attorneys filed a counter claim accusing Cach of violating the Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act, and of malicious prosecution.

 

“They (Cach) is banking on the fact that they can hound… people or file lawsuits and the consumers won’t show up to court, won’t fight it,” said attorney Thomas. “Then they (Cach) will get a default judgment and garnish wages whether or not the debt was ever valid.”

 

The jury trial showed that Cach had sued about 9,700 Missourians between 2009 and 2014. Cach won 97 percent of the time, often because the person being sued never bothered to show up for court.

 

“The public needs to understand that debt buyers don’t generally receive documentation and evidence to prove their claims,” attorney Sanders said. “So if you are a person who believes you don’t owe the debt you need to require them to prove their case.”

 

As the trial showed, Dingwall’s “debt” was tracked to a credit card that had belonged only to her late husband. It was a credit card she had no idea even existed because they kept their finances separate.

 

“I didn’t even open his mail,” Dingwall said. “He opened his own mail.”

 

Documents produced by the debt collector for the court showed the account was only in her husband’s name — up until the month he passed away of a heart attack. That very next month the account was switched to her name and her husband’s name disappeared. The debt collector couldn’t explain how that happened or even provide proof Lynn Dingwall had ever used the credit card.

The jury ruled that Cach LLC had violated the Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act by pursuing Dingwall for a debt she didn’t owe. The jury also awarded Dingwall $500,000 for malicious prosecution. Representatives for Cach never responded to FOX 4’s phone calls for comment on the trial. Cach has not yet filed an appeal, but has time left to do so.

 

Dingwall agreed to share her story with FOX 4 Problem Solvers so that others know to fight back. Just because a debt collector says you owe a debt, doesn’t make it true.