A debt collector is suing this Oregon woman. He says she has no idea where the debt came from

PORTLAND, Hours. Regina Fleming describes herself as frugal. West Linn’s mother is extremely attentive to her family’s finances.

I drive a car with over 300,000 miles because I don’t want a car payment, Fleming explained.

Which helps explain why Fleming was so surprised upon learning she was being sued over consumer debts. In November, a company called LVNV Funding LLC filed a lawsuit against Fleming in Clackamas County Circuit Court seeking about $2,100 in unpaid bills, along with interest and fees, dating back to 2018.

For something to just show up randomly is a big red flag, Fleming said. I would know if this was my debt.

Adding to the mystery, the information listed on the bill attached to the court records was out of date, according to Fleming. The documents included a California address and last name that Fleming hadn’t used in years.

I don’t know if it was a store credit card. I don’t know if it was one transaction, multiple transactions. To this day, no one has told me what the debt is, said Fleming, who wonders whether she legitimately owes the debt she’s being sued over.

Instead of giving up, Fleming decided to fight back. Most people don’t. According to a 2022 Pew Charitable Trust report, more than 70% of debt collection lawsuits end in default judgments against defendants.

Fleming said no attorney would take his case because the dollar amount is too low. The fees would exceed the value of the debt. The Pew Charitable Trust report also found that fewer than 10% of consumers facing debt collection lawsuits have lawyers.

So, Fleming did his research online. He spent more than 100 hours writing and printing papers at the public library. She also relied on ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot.

I’ve actually used ChatGPT a lot to help me with this, Fleming said. I would go in and say, am I looking for information on this or, how would I put this in a legal document?

RELATED: Lawyers blame ChatGPT for tricking them into citing bogus case law

There are legal organizations that offer free representation to low-income people, but they tend to focus on things like evictions, foreclosures, and domestic violence assistance.

Dealing with professionally trained attorneys representing a collection firm can be daunting, Fleming admits.

They know people won’t be able to get lawyers. They know people won’t be able to fight back, Fleming said.

Credit: KGW

Regina Fleming is fighting a debt collection lawsuit. Fleming wonders if she is legitimately owed the debt she is being sued for.

LVNV Funding, the company that is suing Fleming, said it bought the debt from Synchrony Bank, according to court documents. Consumer debt can be resold, changing hands multiple times. Fleming said he has never done business with Synchrony Bank and wonders if this is a case of mistaken identity or even identity theft.

LVNV Funding declined to comment on this story.

Over the past decade, Oregonians have filed approximately 4,000 complaints with the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Office for debt collection. Of those complaints, 43 percent involved creditors attempting to collect undue debts, according to federal data.

RELATED: It’s Like a Robbery: A debt collector wrongfully wiped out an Oregon man’s entire bank account

Consumer advocates explain that it’s difficult for consumers to hold collectors accountable for debts they don’t owe.

If they don’t owe the debt, then it’s not their debt under current Oregon law, unfortunately there’s no clear path, said Chris Coughlin, policy director for the nonprofit Oregon Consumer Justice.

Coughlin suggests that the most important thing consumers can do is respond to a lawsuit. That means writing a response or appearing in court, whether you think you owe the debt or not.

Don’t ignore it, Coughlin explained. You have 30 days to respond.

When consumers don’t respond, they lose the case by default. Then, a debt collector may be able to garnish paychecks or withdraw money from your bank account.

Bullies target weak people who don’t fight back or can’t fight back on their own, Fleming explained.

Three years ago, the New Mexico attorney general filed a lawsuit against LVNV funding as part of a nationwide crackdown led by the Federal Trade Commission, dubbed Operation Corrupt Collector. LVNV Funding has asked for the case to be dismissed. In May, a judge ruled in favor of the LVNV loan, granting a summary judgment.

Meanwhile, the company continues to go after consumers. A review of court documents showed that last year LVNV Funding filed more than 2,600 debt collection lawsuits against Oregon consumers, including Regina Fleming.

It was hours and hours and a lot of anxiety, explained Fleming.

With unpaid debt claims and a pending lawsuit, Fleming was forced to reevaluate. Her family had planned to move to a bigger house, but instead they will stay in their apartment. Fleming admits she could have found a way to pay and the lawsuit would have gone through.

I refuse to turn around and give up, Fleming explained. Until people start to stand up and fight against these things, it’s going to keep happening over and over and over and over.

The Federal Trade Commission has offered the following advice for consumers being sued by a debt collector:

  • Answer the cause, which you may need to do in writing or by appearing in court or both. Documents that say the debt collector is suing you will tell you what to do.
  • Check your records debt information and any information you may have obtained from the debt collector, including any validation information debt collectors must send you.
  • Identify any problems with the lawsuit. It is the responsibility of the collectors to prove the claims made in the lawsuit. They must prove that you are the person who owes the debt, the amount of the debt is accurate, including any interest or fees, and you owe the debt to them and not someone else. If the debt is old, make sure the time for the debt collector to sue hasn’t already run out.

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