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Editorial - Swanson reins-in debt collectors

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Cheers to attorney General Lori Swanson for making Minnesota the first state in the nation to tackle the pernicious problem of debt collectors hounding people for old, forgotten debt.

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She has obtained a consent agreement with Midland Funding, LLC, one of the country's largest debt buyers, which has offices in St. Cloud.

Midland has agreed to pay $500,000 to the state and to resolve outstanding and future consumer complaints made to the Attorney General's Office.

Midland buys old, charged-off debt from banks and credit card companies, including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, from phone companies like Verizon Wireless, and from other debt buyers. Midland is one of the largest debt buyers in the country.

Midland has paid more than $2.1 billion to purchase about 40 million accounts with a face value of about $66.4 billion, or an average of three cents on the dollar to acquire the debt.

Like other purchasers of old debt, long written off by the original creditors, Midland uses aggressive court action to collect on that debt -- often without doing due diligence to make sure the person being sued actually owes the money.

It's up to the person being sued to prove they already paid the debt or never owed it in the first place, and sometimes not enough information is provided to mount a legitimate defense.

In many cases, people ignore the court subpoenas, sometimes believing them to be scams, and the debt company wins an automatic judgment in court -- then takes aggressive collection action to get the full amount of the original debt.

Midland agreed to pay the $500,000 to settle a lawsuit Swanson filed against the company last year for filing unreliable "robo-signed" affidavits in collections lawsuits and sometimes targeting the wrong people for payment of old bills.

Under the agreement, Midland agrees stop suing people on debt that is beyond the statute of limitations, to change the way it serves lawsuits, to not sue people for debt it does not own, to be specific about facts it claims in lawsuits, and to send a copy of the judgment request to the individual at least 10 days before it pursues a default judgment.

"This lawsuit was about respect for the legal system. In its rush to   quickly collect old debts that it purchased for just a few pennies on the dollar, the company ignored legal requirements designed to protect the rights of an individual in court," Swanson said.

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Jeers to Detroit Lakes residents who don't shovel their sidewalks.

The season of snowy, icy sidewalks is here --give some Christmas cheer to postal carriers and newspaper delivery people by making sure your sidewalks aren't a danger to society.

It's not just the right thing to do -- it's the law. City ordinance requires homeowners and renters to clear and de-ice their sidewalks within 72 hours, and business owners to get rid of their snowy, icy sidewalks within 24 hours after a weather event.

If the deadlines aren't met, the city will step in and take care of those sidewalks itself, then bill the property owner for the work. The minimum charge is $200 and it will be set as a special assessment against the property, due at tax time.

And don't shovel that snow into the street. If there is enough to create a traffic hazard, that too is against city ordinance.

It's also illegal for any person not acting under a contract with the city to dump snow on city property.

Don't forget about people in wheelchairs and scooters when you're clearing snow -- they need a wide path to use the sidewalk, and they need those curb breaks cleared to get to the sidewalk in the first place.

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