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Woman Sues Debt Collector, Wins $83 Million

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A Missouri jury ordered a debt buyer to pay nearly $83 million to a Kansas City woman it pursued for a $1,000 credit card bill she didn’t owe, NPR affiliate KCUR reports. The jury found Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC guilty of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, for which it will pay $250,000 in damages, as well as maliciously prosecuting the woman, Maria Guadalupe Mejia, over the debt that did not belong to her. For the malicious prosecution, the jury awarded Mejia $82,990,000 in punitive damages.

PRA Group Inc., which owns Portfolio Recovery Associates, sent an email statement to Credit.com:

“This outlandish verdict defies all common sense,” wrote spokesman Michael McKeon. “We hope and expect the judge will set aside this inappropriate award, and we plan to file motions to make that request formally in the near term. Any fair reading of the facts of this case makes plain that a verdict of this size is not justice by any means, and cannot stand.”

Portfolio Recovery, one of the nation’s largest debt buyers, sued Mejia in February 2013 over the credit card debt, though the actual debtor turned out to be a man in Kansas City, Kansas, with a name similar to Mejia’s. The company pursued Mejia for the debt for 15 months after she first received notice of the lawsuit. In a written statement to KCUR, Mejia said, “The lawsuit terrified me.”

Fear is a common consumer response to debt collectors, whether the debt is legitimate or not. The first thing consumers should do when they hear from a debt collector is ask the collector to validate the debt in writing — it’s crucial to know your debt collection rights as a consumer, so you don’t end up paying a debt you don’t owe or letting the collection account unnecessarily damage your credit standing. (You can see if a collection account is affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

If you’re unsure of how to approach a debt collection situation, you may want to consult a consumer law attorney, who may review your case for free, to help you understand whether the collector is violating your rights.

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  • heavyw8t

    I hope she hasn’t started spending that money yet because I believe a higher court will overturn this decision. That award is extreme. No amount of alleged harassment is worth $83 million. My first guess is that this alleged victim is an opportunist who looked for a way to get free money and took advantage of it. Of course that may just be my cynical perspective, but that amount seems excessive.

    • Rolo Tomassi

      So she made up a fake person with a similar name, applied and received credit cards under that name, ran the debt up on those cards, refused to make payments, let the debt go to collections, somehow magically made the collection agency confuse the fake name with her real name, file dozens of complaints to the collection agency specifying the debt was not hers, let the collection agency file a lawsuit against her, file a counter lawsuit, and win a $83 million award.

      • B613

        Really, dude!!! You being watching too much Fox News.

        • Ann


          You are missing the point!
          Try to keep up!

      • Ann


        Like someone could scheme their way into this situation and become an opportunistic money grabber.

    • Noe Beltran

      You obviously haven’t ever dealt with debt collectors, they’re the scum of the earth. How can you go after an individual in court over a 1k debt that wasn’t even hers? It’s because these scum companies rely on their big check books to push us little people around … Well, I hope they learn a lesson but I really doubt it… And i wish that you never have to go through the harassment that lady went through but I kind of hope you do so you live her experience and see what’s really like.

      • heavyw8t

        I have dealt with debt collectors probably more than you have. After the very first phone call, I write them a “do not contact by phone – contact by US Mail only letter and that stops the calls. I can throw mail away any time. However, when I HAVE had to deal with them, it was always my debt so I understand the frustration of being bothered for a bill that was not hers. But really, how much did they bother her to have a court award that much? I have had one of those parasites call me as often as 5 times a day when I was screening calls. And again, “press 7 to delete message”. Once I got a call, I then also blocked the number so they could call all they wanted and my phone never rang. Again, in my case it was always my debt, and I cleared up every one of them eventually. Now I have nobody in a position to ever call me as I don’t owe anybody money.

    • Ann

      What do you think this (actual, not “alleged”) victim should have done?

      Her actions do not represent an opportunistic search for free money. What she did was fair and reasonable. She did not sit on the jury that gave her that award, nor could she have anticipated it.

      Do you think she should have just meekly paid the incorrect debt or humbly submitted to any treatment the company dished out?

      There wasn’t any better way to get them to stop except to go to court, which she did. It’s what you would have done too.

      And if you ever do, I hope the jury goes off like a rocket on the bad guys and gives you a bundle too.

  • mirkins

    How does Portfolio Recovery Associates pick the people they guess wouldn’t know about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or how to correspond with a collection firm to get it to stop? When we got a new phone number, we also got some collection calls for the previous person who used that number, but I recorded the times and dates of the calls, and wrote letters asking for confirmation that *I* owed the debt, and the calls stopped. Some calls stopped right after I spoke to a live person and asked him or her to verify I personally owed the debt, and referenced the $1000 payout for FDCPA violations: “Sorry, I’m removing this number from our records right now.” I didn’t go to court, didn’t get a huge payout, not even $1000.

    • Ann

      Considering the size of this award, you may have played your cards wrong.

      Letting them go ahead with a malicious prosecution might have been your best bet! LOL!

      • chagso336 .

        They went all in with a straight not knowing someone had full house lol

  • Livinlikeu

    Portfolio can pay the 83 million. These banks then debt collectors make our credit card fees and interest quadruple what is really owed. I hope they have to pay it. See how they like it. Trying to collect a grand now owe 83 million lol.

  • Alonzo Howard

    I read a story once where a couple won a settlement against
    a company that put negative information on their Credit Report. I am not interested in that kind of
    settlement or action. My story:

    I signed up for a free 30 day trial of Windows 7 Training online. In signing up, I entered my credit card information with the intent to cancel prior to the end of 30 days. Upon completion of the sign up however, I was never able to log in to the course. I contacted the company to advise them that I was never able to log in. The lady
    that I spoke with offered me a username and passcode to log in with. I told her I was no longer interested in the course. She insisted that I take the username and password and log into the course. I
    finally gave in, and listened as she provided me the login details. I never wrote them down, knowing that I was
    not going to log in. I never even went
    to the site again!

    A charge of 129.00 was deducted from my card on behalf of
    the company. I called and ended up speaking again to the same lady, inquiring as to why my card had been
    charged—even though I had told her I wasn’t interested in the course and had never logged in. She proceeded to tell
    me that would be my monthly charge for using the course…

    …I cancelled the card to prevent additional charges. She then contacted me, demanding full
    payment for the course. After I told her
    that I had long informed her that I was not interested, she then threatened to
    add the full charge of the course to my credit report, and there it is, a charge of over 3300.00 in collections.

    This was nothing more than a “bully” move by this company to
    collect money from me for services that WERE NOT rendered. I never used their service, but this lady
    wanted to force me to take and pay for this course.

    What can I do? I doubt speaking to her would be reasonable.
    Also, if I have to speak with her, can I record her? I would like the “full effect” of ourconversation, her determination and forcefulness to be heard…

    …I really need to get this charge off my Credit Report

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      If the company offered you a free 30-day trial but you cancelled during that time period then it would seem that you don’t owe them any additional payment. But did you read the terms and conditions carefully? Were you required to do something specific to cancel? Have you researched to find out if there are other similar charges against this company? I am not saying they are right and you are wrong; just that you want to cover your bases here.

      If you feel they are in the wrong then you can dispute the collection account on your credit reports and if it’s not removed talk with a consumer law attorney and/or get the CFPB involved. Be sure to keep good records of everything (copies of your credit reports, correspondence etc.) in case you do need to take legal action to clear up your credit. This article may help: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes.

  • http://www.ScentsWarmers.com/ trista de leon

    Good for her!!!!!!! stand up for yourself and face them!

  • PAL

    For several years I was contacted to pay student loans for a woman with my same name, middle names were different. We lived in the same small town, went to the same college, though years apart. Each time I had proven who I was, even going to the college for help, tracking down an address for this woman, the account was sold to another collection agency because she didn’t pay the debt. I would have to go through the belittling abusive process all over again. This went on for years, the 1990’s. It is past time innocent people are helped and that these tactical abusive powers are halted.

  • Clifton Bennett

    This must be why they no longer give the people they sue the court date that way they will win the case every time and there is no way to fight the lawsuit in court.

  • DianaManwaring

    Good for her! I hope she was able to make them pay every last cent. Bastards!

  • DianaManwaring

    Good for her! I hope she was able to make them pay every last cent. B a s t a r d s!!!

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