Consumer Law

Debt Collectors Clog Chicago Courts With Sometimes-Dubious Claims

A key function of Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago is to act as a debt-collection machine.

Since 2000, the volume of debt collection cases in Cook County has more than doubled, to not quite 130,000, reports the Chicago Tribune. But busy debt collectors—who historically have won default judgments in about half of the cases—aren’t always as careful as they’re supposed to be about proving their allegations. Meanwhile, consumers frequently don’t even attempt to defend themselves, and, when they do, are often at a significant disadvantage

“In the courtroom, the biggest advantage collectors have [is] lawyers, while while defendants rarely have legal representation,” the newspaper writes.

Among those who is fighting a debt collection case but isn’t represented: Michelle Moore, a pregnant mother of two who now lives in Blue Island, Ill. She says she never even had a Bank of America credit card, as a debt collector claims, let alone owes $1,685.33 on it, and lived at the time in Las Vegas, rather than at the Chicago address where the account was billed. She reportedly has been waiting a year to receive requested paperwork, such as a credit agreement, from the debt collector proving that she actually held the account.

At a recent hearing, her case was postponed until Oct. 6.

“Because debt collectors operate on volume—pushing through lawsuits based on little more than lists of names, addresses and alleged amounts due—there are also plenty of instances of mistaken identities, cases where debts are alleged when the bills have been paid and even situations where people have fallen behind and tried to work out repayments only to be hauled into court,” the Tribune says.

Updated at 2:13 p.m. to clarify the estimated number of debt collection cases in Cook County.

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