Debt Arrest Warrant
I was in court this week, and a situation that I had become jaded with was unfolding in front of my eyes. At the defense table was an elderly man, flanked by a translator and a bailiff within reach, standing while being addressed by the judge. This man was literally shaking. He looked at the judge and simply said – I can’t pay them anything. The judge, who likely hears this more often than he can count, said to the man “We don’t send people to jail for not having enough money. Not in this country.” With that, the shaking stopped and the man looked very relieved. It was clear – his big fear was that some debt arrest warrant could be issued if judgment was entered. So I wanted to take a moment and tell everyone about the dreaded debt arrest warrant.
It’s lost on consumers what can happen to them if they can’t repay their debts
As a consumer attorney, I very frequently consult with individuals seeking to negotiate their debts, consolidate them through bankruptcy, or fight a lawsuit that has been filed against them by a debt buyer. Oftentimes, this initial consultation will yield some of the most distressing forms of debt collection – the fake debt arrest warrant. A simple google search for “debt collector arrest warrant” shows over 1.6 million results.
I remember the first time I encountered this. It was with a consumer who was at their wit’s end. I asked them what was so troubling, hadn’t they told them that they could not afford to pay them anything? the consumer told them that exact same thing, but the debt collector responded by sending them something via e-mail. I was then shown an arrest warrant – it bore the seal of a court in New York – apparently signed by an attorney working for the prosecutor’s office. I now understood exactly why this individual was so troubled – it looked real.
If you cannot pay your debts, a few different things can happen.
Typically, a debt arrest warrant is not issued. In fact, you generally cannot go to jail for your debts. You may see the delinquent debt being reported negatively on your credit. You may have a credit union terminate your relationship with them. You may see an increase in phone calls and written correspondence from the creditor or a debt collector acting on their behalf. The debt may be sold to a debt buyer or a third-party for pennies on the dollar to try to make some profit for that company. You may be served in a breach of contract type lawsuit where the debt collector or creditor will seek a money judgment against you.
These are just a few of the common examples of *what could happen to you*. But, going to jail is not typically not going to be on that list*.
What can you do?
First, ask for a copy of the warrant. Then, consult with an attorney immediately. At this point, despite catching on to the debt collectors game, you may be able to find things out about the debt that can aid your defense tremendously. It may even help put you on the offensive against the debt collector.
Second, take good notes. Are they calling you? Detail the call, number it came from, and the contents. Ask them to stop calling (if you want). Are they swearing at you over the phone? Make sure you note that. Ask that they communicate with you in writing.
Third, research your debt. Is it legitimate in the first place? After the breaches over at the credit reporting companies, your personal information may have been compromised.
Keep checking in with your attorney. Each communication may be a potential step for you into leveraging your position with this debt collector that is using illegal tactics.
When can you go to jail?
Believe it or not, if a debt collector or creditor gets a judgment against you, and you are ordered to fill out a fact information sheet and you fail to do so, the court can hold you in contempt for violating its order. If the judge is so inclined, this can include a bench warrant for your arrest or a writ of bodily attachment.
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