This article was written by Lemberg Law staff, and reviewed by Sergei Lemberg, the managing attorney of Lemberg Law.
If a debt collector serves you with a summons that you suspect is fake, you should verify its authenticity by reviewing the document and checking with the county clerk.
Is it legal for a collection agency to deliver a fake summons?
Most people live a lifetime and are never served with a court summons. If someone shows up at your front and hands you a summons from a debt collector or if you receive a debt collection summons via certified mail, your first instinct may be to panic or to feel pressured to pay. Given that most people don’t know what a legitimate summons looks like, it’s wise to first take steps to verify whether or not the summons is authentic.
Unfortunately, delivering a fake summons in an attempt to pressure a consumer into paying a debt is a common practice. One debt collection agency went so far as to hire people to dress up as sheriff’s deputies to go to consumers’ homes and workplaces to deliver fake subpoenas ordering them to appear before a fake judge in a fake courtroom (See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Unicredit America). Delivering fake court summons violates federal law. Section 807 of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from using or distributing any written communication that is falsely made to look like or represent a government-issued or -approved document, like a court summons. In other words, it is illegal for debt collectors to use this tactic to pressure you into paying.
How can I tell if a summons is fake?
A fake summons may have one or more initial indicators that should prompt you to investigate its legitimacy:
- Are there spelling errors?
- Is there inconsistent or suspicious wording?
- Does the summons provide court details like an address and phone number?
- Is there a docket number and a date and time to appear in court?
- Has the county clerk signed the summons and stamped it with a seal?
The information on an official court summons will differ depending upon where you live, but if your examination of the document leads you to suspect that the summons is fake, you should contact your county clerk’s office right away. If the summons lists a court docket number, the office should be able to look up this number in their system and verify its authenticity. If the summons does not have a court docket number or the case is so new that it has not yet been processed in the court’s system, you should be able to visit the county clerk’s office, show them the summons you received, and have them confirm that the document is a legitimate summons.
It is important to note that you should never assume that a summons is fake without verifying its authenticity with the county clerk. If the summons is real and you fail to appear in court as required, you are likely to have a judgment issued against you. This can lead to your wages being garnished.
What should I do if the summons I received is fake?
If the county clerk confirms that the summons you received from a debt collector simulates or falsely represents to be a court issued, approved, or authorized document, you may be a victim of unfair debt collection activities. You are entitled to legal remedies under the FDCPA, including monetary damages, court costs, and attorney fees, and should contact a consumer attorney to exercise your rights under the law.
If you need assistance in determining whether the summons you received from a debt collector is legitimate or fake, or would like to pursue your legal remedies under the FDCPA, Lemberg Law’s knowledgeable debt collection abuse team is happy to assist you. Call us at 475-277-1600 ☎ NOW or complete our online case evaluation form.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Unicredit America, Inc., Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, No. 14914-2010.
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