How, may you ask, can a woman who has been dead since 1995 sign documents more than a decade later? Normally, one would hazard to guess that stamps with her signature on them were still in use (this is more common than you would think in foreclosure land). That would be plenty troubling.
But this little account comes from the debt collection realm, a cesspool of bad practices. Here, the credit card company Providian (acquired by WaMu in 2005) had employees signing affidavits in the name of Martha Kunkle for over a decade. Debt collection agencies continued to use these bogus affidavits. From the Wall Street Journal:
In 2008, Judy Montoya, an employee at Portfolio Recovery Associates, testified in a debt-collection suit filed by the company that its “legal specialists” sign as many as 200 affidavits a day. The company’s spokeswoman said such employees sign an average of 100 affidavits a day and are guided by “a very rigorous set of policies and procedures.” Ms. Montoya couldn’t be reached to comment.
Questions about Martha Kunkle first popped up in 2008 after her name appeared in thousands of affidavits generated by a unit of Providian National Corp. The credit-card issuer sold an undisclosed number of delinquent account balances to Portfolio Recovery Associates and other debt collectors, which then sued the borrowers to collect the debt…..
Concerns about Ms. Kunkle’s affidavits were raised in 2008 by lawyers for Jeanie Cole, one of thousands of Montana residents sued by Portfolio Recovery Associates to collect debts. After failing to locate Ms. Kunkle, lawyers for Ms. Cole interviewed her daughter, who worked at Providian in a document-processing division.
The daughter testified in a deposition that other Providian employees used the name Martha Kunkle when signing affidavits. Along with other employees, the daughter was responsible for signing affidavits. After countersuing Portfolio Recovery Associates for alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Ms. Cole was the lead plaintiff in a 2008 federal-court suit in Montana alleging the company targeted 16,000 borrowers using “false and misleading” affidavits.
Last year, Portfolio Recovery Associates agreed to settle the Montana suit. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the company’s spokeswoman said it admitted no wrongdoing. She wouldn’t say how many borrowers were sued using documents signed by Martha Kunkle.
And it is not clear that this practice has stopped:
After being sued for fraud, Portfolio Recovery Associates decided in early 2008 that any documents bearing Ms. Kunkle’s name had “defects” and shouldn’t be used when trying to collect debts, a company spokeswoman said.
Last July, though, lawyers for Portfolio Recovery Associates sought a court judgment in a lawsuit against a Seattle woman for $2,892.10 in credit-card debt and interest that she allegedly owed. It was a cookie-cutter case, except for one thing: To vouch for the debt’s validity, the Norfolk, Va., company included an affidavit signed by Martha Kunkle.
The wording is ambiguous, but I would assume the affidavit is dated 2010, which means at best the continued use of Kunkle’s signature has not been fully eradicated.
How much of this sort of thing has not even come to light? Some people ignore debt collection letters to their peril, assuming if it is from a creditor they don’t recognize, or an obligation they paid off, that they can ignore it. The use of robo signers is an abuse precisely because someone with actual knowledge of situation is supposed to affirm in the affidavit that the plaintiff’s records really do show that the debt is owed and the amount listed is accurate. So the robo signers allow financial firms to skip a step that also served as a quality control on their procedures. That throws the cost of correcting mistakes and malfeasance on borrowers and the court system, in effect socializing the collateral damage of cost cutting run wild.
The fact that the perps themselves are not mortified to have been caught out demonstrates how much this country is in thrall of “might makes right” rather than the rule of law.