Saturday, June 8, 2013

Original Creditor or Collection Agency Forged Signature on Documents. Now What?

Hi Lee,

Your blog is wonderful, thank you. And, I REALLY need your advice.

I have a $3,100 bill from OC for a business debt that the company claims I signed a PG. I told them I didn't PG and it wasn't my responsibility. In 10/2012, they dinged my credit.

I'm currently refinancing a large jumbo loan and it appears the OC now either sold or hired a CA to collect. The CA has now dinged my credit, and the amounts are slightly different and it appears as 2 separate debts.

I spoke with CA and they provided me with the contract and I believe my signature was forged. 

However, because of the size of the loan and the dramatic payment reduction I will receive monthly, I simply need this taken off my credit immediately, and would be willing to pay for delete if I could get this removed. However, based on this blog I don't suspect this will be a possibility. In addition, if the CA agrees to PFD how can I get the OC to remove the entry?

Is there another option? Time is of the essence, so hiring an attorney and filing suit over $3,100 is not a good option either, IMO.

Please advise, thanks!



First of all, thank you for the compliment. If this blog has helped even one person, all the effort has been 100% worth it.

Now, for the meat and potatoes of the problem...even if the collection agency agreed to a pay for delete (and you never know, they might. $3100 is nothing to sneeze at), you couldn't get the original creditor to delete its entry. The pay-for-delete only works for the collection agency. The original creditor doesn't benefit and, as a result, its entry will still remain for the full reporting period. Unless, of course, you become a financial and/or publicity threat to the company. There are three ways I can think of to take care of this problem without following through with a lawsuit. Keep in mind, this is just what I would do if I were in your situation. This does not constitute legal advice.

Potential Solution #1

If you know for a fact that you didn't sign a personal guarantee and your signature was clearly forged, this is fraud. A handwriting expert would quickly be able to tell whether the signature was a forgery or whether you signed it and simply forgot (even when we sign things in a completely different way, there are still personal handwriting markers that remain). You and I both know that you don't have the time to deal with a messy lawsuit right now – but neither the original creditor nor the collection agency know that. And this is to your advantage.

If it were me, I'd hire a handwriting expert to analyze both my signature and the signature on the personal guarantee. If he/she finds that the signatures were made by two different people, ask the handwriting expert to put those findings in writing. If you're having trouble locating a handwriting expert, check with the closest university.

Now its time to take a trip to an attorney's office. Don't worry, you don't have to sue, you just have to put together an airtight and scary-as-hell threat. Explain what's going on to the attorney and ask to hire him/her to notify the collection agency and original creditor of the handwriting expert's findings and demand that they cease collection efforts immediately and remove all negative information connected to the fraudulent personal guarantee from your credit report. Provide the attorney with two copies of the handwriting expert's letter. Along with his own letter, he'll need to send a copy of the handwriting expert's findings. This demonstrates to the original creditor that you have proof against them. If you have proof and they have nothing but "But she/he signed it, your honor. Honest!" then you're more trouble than you're worth. They won't want that to go to trial.

It could be a problem if the OC is unorganized and careless. Then the threat may fall through simply because one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. That's always a possibility. You, however, will come at them with two things that give any company pause – legitimate proof of wrongdoing and an attorney. Nothing says "I mean business" like a lawyer touting proof of fraud.

You may run into an attorney who insists upon actually suing the company and who refuses to send his own demand letter coupled with the handwriting expert's findings because he claims it won't work. If this happens,  watch out! If you have a solid enough case that the attorney wants to take it to trial, then you very clearly have a solid enough case to attempt to resolve the issue outside of court. In this scenario, its very likely that the attorney knows a good case when he sees it and wants to convince you to sue because he'll make more money from a lawsuit than a letter. The good news is that, since attorneys who play in my field make so much less money than, say, a corporate attorney or defense attorney, they often legitimately want to help people. I'm just saying watch out for dishonesty in the legal profession. I guess that's akin to saying "Watch out for sharks in the ocean," huh?

Potential Solution #2

Although you have no desire to deal with a lawsuit right now, that doesn't change the fact that, with a forgery, you have every right in the world to file one. Solution #2 requires that you use your handwriting expert's analysis to file a lawsuit for fraud against the original creditor and/or collection agency. It's important not to focus solely on the original creditor just because they are the ones whose documentation reflected the forgery. If you request validation, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act dictates that a debt collector cannot pursue further collection activity until it provides that validation. And guess what? It isn't unheard of for debt collectors to forge debtor's signatures on documents. The forgery could have been born anywhere.

Neither the original creditor nor the collection agency wants to go to court. They don't like going to court for frivolous lawsuits and they hate going to court to defend themselves against a claim as serious as fraud--especially when the plaintiff has an expert providing him/her with solid documentation that supports that claim.

It's very likely that both the original creditor and the collection agency would decide that removing that $3100 debt from your credit report is a lot cheaper and less time-consuming than bringing in an attorney and defending themselves against a claim of fraud. I've seen collectors back out of lawsuits that had a lot less merit and delete their credit report entries simply to spare themselves the time and money required to successfully defend against a lawsuit. You don't have to have an attorney to do this, but notification from an attorney packs a much scarier punch that a lawsuit you file on your own.

The only major issue that comes into play here other than time is money. Handwriting analysis isn't cheap and neither are lawyers--even if you only use them for a short period of time. Unfortunately, the cheapest way (filing this lawsuit yourself, going to court, requesting discovery documents, etc.) is the most time-consuming and you'll have to sacrifice money for time in order to get the credit problem taken care of so that you can refinance your home.

Potential Solution \#3

Report all of this to your attorney general and ask for help. Send a copy of the forged signature and your real signature. One well-placed call from the attorney general can usually make the bad guys go away--at least for a while. Also, file an online complaint with the FTC on both the original creditor and the collection agency. While the FTC won't settle your claim for you, they will investigate if they get enough similar complaints.

I understand your urgency to get this taken care of to ensure that you can refinance your home, but even if things go well there is no guarantee that this issue will be cleared up by closing. I would consider putting off refinancing until after you've cleared up this mess. Without the time constraint looming over you, you'll have time to aggressively pursue the lawsuit that you so desperately deserve to file. These people should not be allowed to get away with this.

Best of Luck,