Question: Is there any chance that I can be prosecuted for not paying credit card from five years ago? I have been clean and on probation and received a call out of the blue that they have sued me for $2000. Help, I need to stay out of jail. They said they would not dismiss until I make a large down payment and sign an agreement for monthly payment until paid in full, but I cannot afford this.
I am very suspicious when a consumer gets phone calls from collectors from out of the blue. If I read your question correctly, you have not heard from these people, never received any collection letters from them, and you were not served with the summons and complaint. Though you did not pay this debt in almost five years, there are those debt collection agencies which prey on consumers for old debt that are expired, because of the statute of limitations.
In California, a debt not paid in more than four years is almost always past the statute of limitations, provided that a debt collection lawsuit was not filed within the correct limitations period for the particular account. Thus, the filing of an untimely lawsuit or threatening to sue you for an expired debt also violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for harassment and misrepresentations. FDCPA violations can allow the consumer-victim to recover in court his or her actual damages, statutory damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
Since you have not received anything in writing from this collection agency, please advise this collector that you need something in writing and to send you the required initial letter, which contains the mini-Miranda statement, required by the FDCPA, for initial contacts of a consumer regarding collection of a debt. Verify that they have your correct mailing address. I do not believe that you should give them your cell phone number or email address, to protect your privacy, but you regular mailing address should be fine. You really don’t want them to contact you in too many ways, regular mail and regular phone calls at home are more than sufficient.
Assuming that they did file a debt collection lawsuit within the proper statute of limitations period, you need to get a copy of the lawsuit and understand your options. The first video of my website’s home page is “Understanding Your Options” when sued on a credit card debt. Please watch my video and a few of my blog postings, such as “Next Steps,” which explains what steps to take and the timing involved, so that you will understand the deadlines that are coming up for you. Please consult with a debt collection defense attorney to ensure that you have covered your bases.
The short answer to your question about going to jail for a probation violation is that our society does not have “debtors prisons.” We did away with that at the time we founded this Country. I would want to review the terms of your probation, but it is doubtful that missing payments on a debt or being sued for an unpaid debt would violate probation. Also, I would not tell the debt collection agent about your probation, as it is none of their business. If you discuss this, I can assure you that they will make all sorts of statement to belittle you. If they threaten you with trying to use this to get you in trouble criminally, that may also be a violation of the FDCPA.
Until you verify whether or not a debt collection lawsuit has been filed, I would ask for the documentation of this lawsuit, the debt collection letter, and check with the court’s online to see if you can determine if the documentation is genuine. Also, reviewing your own personal credit reports may help yield information about this debt collection agency and if there are outstanding judgments against you. I have a legal guide on Avvo.com that help people navigate case information that they can get for free or almost free online. Otherwise, you may need to take a trip to the local Superior Courthouse to ask of any civil cases have been filed against you.
When a debt collection agency calls out of the blue, be ready to ask for everything in writing and refuse to give in to their demands for your credit card number or banking information so that they can take your money over the phone. Until you have verified everything, you don’t know if the person on the phone is a scam debt collector or worse: an identity thief, who will take your credit card number to charge your credit to the max and your bank account information to clean out your account. Also, don’t provide this person with your SSN, DOB or DLN. All of these are private and should not be disclosed by phone from someone who happens to call you, even if they appear to know so much about a particular debt or other credit information about you.
A regular debt collection agent will understand and want to ensure that you get the information verified and in writing. A scam artist or identity thief wants you to give them the money now, right now, without anything in writing. Do not give into high-pressure tactics and risk becoming another victim of identity theft or bogus debt collection operations, collecting on time-barred debts. Verify everything and consult with a lawyer. You could be waiving many rights by agreeing to pay on a time-barred debt from a high-pressure phone call.