Consumer Confidential: Beware Of Law Firms’ Letters Saying You’re Being Sued For Outstanding Debt

By David Lazarus
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As columnist David Lazarus reports, consumers have rights when it comes to debt collection, and it’s important to know them before you agree to pay any law firm to help.

Los Angeles Times

The mail is from a San Diego law firm, and right there in the envelope’s address window it says, ominously, “You may have been sued.”

The letter within states that “county records indicate you (or someone with your name) have been sued recently.”

It says that if you haven’t received legal papers, it may be because the plaintiff, probably a debt collector, didn’t bother sending a notice in hopes you’ll default in the case, making it possible for the collector to garnish your wages or place a lien on your property.

The law firm, Hyde & Swigart, wants to help. It says it will review your case for free. If you want the firm to negotiate on your behalf, it will cost at least $300. If you want to go to court, it will cost $850 or 10 percent of the debt, whichever is greater.

OK, there are a number of things going on here.

Most prominently, this is an example of a practice used by numerous law firms, checking legal dockets for debt-related lawsuits and sending letters to people who may (or may not) be involved in hopes of ginning up some business.

It’s also a reminder that consumers have rights when it comes to debt collection, and it’s important to know them before you agree to pay a law firm for assistance.

Finally, it should serve as a wake-up call to many people, especially seniors, to watch out for cases of mistaken identity.

The Hyde & Swigart letter was shared with me by Hollywood resident Mark Preston, 70, who serves as caretaker for a 92-year-old World War II veteran named Robert Nielsen.

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