Home > Managing Debt > “Fake Court” Collections Victim Wants Money Back

Comments 3 Comments

When Marilyn Johnson’s husband died, she couldn’t afford the entire bill for the funeral, leaving her with an unpaid debt of $2,142 to the funeral home. The bill went to a debt collector, and soon Johnson found herself facing a judge in a courtroom.

By then, Johnson owed $4,047 in debt plus fees, the judge said. Johnson had a choice. Either pay the money now, or go to prison.

To prevent that, Johnson’s son, Howard D. Johnson III, signed over the title to his car, a green 2002 Chevy Cavalier, to Unicredit America Inc.

“If I didn’t come up with the title to my car, they were going to put my mother in jail,” Johnson told the Erie Times-News.

Later, he discovered some disconcerting untruths: The “judge” wasn’t really a judge. And the court was just a regular office, converted to resemble a courtroom. Johnson and his mother had been duped by Unicredit, an Erie, Pa.-based debt collection company that ran the fake courtroom as a scam to intimidate people into paying their debts. Lawrence D’Ambrosio, Unicredit’s lawyer, told Johnson and his mother they were in Superior Court and the woman at the front of the room, dressed in black and seated on a high bench, was a judge.

[Resource: Top Ten Debt Collection Rights for Consumers]

“No one has seen anything like this before,” Johnson’s lawyer, Andrea Amicangelo, told Credit.com. “I had the opportunity to see the courtroom in operation, and in fact it looked nicer than some of our real district courtrooms. Some of our courtrooms are in strip malls, so it wouldn’t be unusual for an individual to go someplace that doesn’t look like a courthouse.”

Now Johnson is asking a real judge to give his car back. Unicredit America faces a lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Attorney General for fraud, intimidation and impersonating law enforcement officers. In addition to the fake judge, Unicredit allegedly sent people dressed up as sheriff’s deputies to drive to debtors’ homes and deliver fake summonses, as we reported here.

Unicredit President Michael Covatto, who did not appear at Unicredit’s previous court hearing, attended a hearing this week in Erie County Court, according to this Times-News report.

Image: Jonathon Narvey, via Flickr.com

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Bettie Fletcher

    Hello, I have receive several calls this man telling me that I will going to jail if I didn’t pay this payday loan from cash advance America on loan. I told him I never did a payday loan online with cash advance America, they got my information because I did an online before but not with them and that company has been paid and I guess he think I’m stupid enough to sent him my pic id, credit card number and other stuff. I told him to stop calling me. This is the number ( 360) 326-2386 this his name as he say Gary Kelso. They always say you need to get your lawyer to call or get on the phone, I have deal with people if I owe them they never threaten to take me to court or nothing like that, I will set up an payment arrangement if I did not have all the money. These people really get on my nerve I’m thinking about change my phone number and etcc. Thank you! I hope you all can stop them they are sick. Thank you! Bettie Fletcher

  • Christopher Maag

    Thank you for sharing your story, Betty! That sounds like a definite scam. Good for you for not responding.

  • Elizabeth Runkel

    I have also been a “victim” of Unicredit America. I was unable to pay my mom’s full funeral bill too, and was placed with Unicredit for collections. They were very abusive, and wouldn’t accept any terms I could do. Ultimately, I received a judgement notice and actually have it on my credit report as such. I live in North Carolina and my mom was very sick and had to move with us here for her end days. They played on the fragile emotional state that and I finally just couldn’t deal with them.

    I am now trying to finance my home and I can’t because of this “judgement” on my credit history. I called the Attorney General’s Office and they said that I have to contact a lawyer in order for it to be considered to be a part of this investigation. Really? And how am I suppose to pay for that too? Shouldn’t the state have a “class action” lawyer that will group all of these issues together??

    If anyone knows of anyone I can contact, I would really appreciate it! I have all my paperwork and a copy of the “judgement” too.

    Thanks!

  • Pingback: NSP – Jun 25, 2011 | MarcStevens.net()

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team