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article imageWoman battles to collect $10 million judgment from debt collector

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By Leigh Goessl     Apr 27, 2012 in World
Wheeling - A West Virginia woman was fed up with a debt collection company that had threatened to take her family's property when they were not even in debt.
She took the case to court and won. Last year the woman received a judgment of $10 million in the lawsuit in which she had claimed harassment and illegal collection practices.
Diana Mey, of Wheeling, W. Va., won the substantial judgment against a debt collection agency, reported ABC News. This is the largest award ever given against a debt collector.
The debt collection company that was ruled against had been allegedly harassing her, spoofing local law enforcement telephone numbers and verbally abusing her. The defendant, nor any legal representation for the company, even showed up for court.
Now she's fighting to collect the money awarded to her.
The problem started two years ago. A debt collector working for a company called Reliant Financial Associates (RFA) began to call her house and implied her home might be taken due to a debt owed. RFA is what's called a debt buyer, which is a niche market where a company buys old debts for pennies and then tries to collect on the debt from the debtor, making a huge profit.
ABC reported the message left by RFA said:
I'm calling in regards to a preliminary asset liability investigation. They are in the process of serving some court documents in regards to case 29369... They have some information now pending questions at the property,... Springdale Avenue, in Wheeling, West Virginia. It is in your best interests to contact the department. You are required to contact 866-764-9779.
The woman knew she didn't owe any debt, so this was upsetting. "They threatened to take legal action against our property and it wasn't even our debt," Mey said.
She noted on the caller ID that the call had originated from her local sheriff's department; this number showed up numerous times as the mysterious hang-up calls persisted. Mey contacted local officials and asked if they'd tried to reach her, and it was confirmed the agency did not.
At one point she picked up the phone and was subjected to a string of vulgar and sexually explicit language.
Fortunately, Mey caught this on tape as she is in the habit of recording her calls. Back in the late 1990s she had won a class action lawsuit against a vinyl-siding vendor that had been harassing people. People Magazine named her one of the "Most Intriguing People of the Year." She'd been taping phone calls since that initial case.
About the phone calls she'd recently been receiving, Mey told ABC News, "I was so frightened. I felt violated, but then I realized, you know, I'm taping this call. I pulled myself together and I thought, I can get through this. Just keep on talking buddy because we're gonna get plenty of your voice on tape."
At first she did not equate this with the debt collection letter she had received earlier, but later learned through an online search that RFA was known for spoofing phone numbers and posing as official agencies.
Debt collectors often use shady methods to try and collect money. Additionally, it is not uncommon to hear about them targeting individuals who do not owe any debt. The reasons for this may vary and could be due to identity theft or to shady manipulations. In some cases carelessness can be a factor, such as what has occurred with the Bank of America with poor record-keeping.
ABC's "Nightline" learned that California-based RFA is a fictitious name for a company called Global AG, LLC.
An attorney for the company representing RFA told "Nightline" his clients did not make the obscene phone calls. "My clients say it is not their policy to engage in conduct that violates the law," he said. He characterized the $10 million judgment as "unfair."
Whether or not Mey gets her money remains to be seen, but it's doubtful. However, what she did accomplish was significant because it sets a precedent and also can potentially help others by shutting these rogue operations down.
"I'm a mom, and I'm a housewife, and I'm an accidental activist," Mey said. "I don't know that I'll ever collect a dime, but if I can get their operation shut down, that would make me very happy."
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