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Using court documents to track debt buyers in your state


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Audrey Dutton at the Idaho Statesman found a burgeoning industry in Idaho: the debt-purchasing business, which grew from five companies in 2008 to 99 this year. With that growth came an increase in lawsuits against debtors. She writes:

“Debt buyers are companies that make their money from ancient bills. They pay pennies on the dollar for a chance to collect on debt that original creditors have given up on. Such debt gets sold in giant packages worth thousands to millions of dollars.

Court records, interviews and complaints to state regulators paint a picture of a thriving debt-buyer industry that files thousands of lawsuits each year and is rarely challenged by debtors.”

She learned through court records that at least two companies had gotten legal judgments of more than $1 million.

Today’s Tips: Use court documents to track debt buyers in your state.

Audrey says she compiled a list of companies that might be suing Idaho consumers and plugged those names into the Idaho court records database. She used the case numbers to get the files at the county courthouse.

Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton

“I was surprised at how little information the companies had to give to show the claim was legit,” she says.

She created a spreadsheet to track of how many lawsuits the debt buyers filed, how many they won, and what the dollar amounts were.

To use PACER to find cases, Audrey says to search for Federal Debt Collections Practices Act lawsuits against debt buyers. She says you can search individual debt buyer company names or do a query for cases with the cause of action “15:1692 Fair Debt Collection Act.”

Outside of the courthouse, reporters can get copies of complaints filed against debt buyers from the state agency that regulates the debt industry. In some states that may be the Attorney General’s office or the Department of Finance, she says.


In Basics, Featured, Personal finance.

Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Would love a quick tutorial from Audrey on how to search Pacer by cause of action. I have been playing around on Pacer for half an hour and even the advanced search doesnt appear to provide this option. I consider myself midly web and search-savvy, and I’ve used Pacer before, so this is driving me nuts! – Matt

  2. Anonymous says:

    I figured it out by contacting Pacer. A staffer responded promptly to an email.
    Her response: "The cause of action would only be available at a court’s ECF website under Reports and(Civil) Cases. We make the list of all courts available at our home page http://www.pacer.gov under Court Links."
    Sure enough, it worked!

  3. I’m glad the PACER reps were able to help. It really is a great tool to access files.

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