On January 27th, 2009, I try to use my debit card at the local Duane Reade to pay for a purchase. My card was declined. I know I have money in my account, so why is my transaction being denied?
I contact Citibank (who, I must say for the record, Citibank is not very helpful to its customers. Their attitude is basically "hey, you fight it out its not our problem" and "it will take 5 to 7 days to do anything". More on this later). Citibank informs me that there was a lien put on my account and I need to contact "Pressler & Pressler" to find out why and resolve.
I immediately contact Pressler & Pressler at the number provided by Citibank. I speak with a representative who said they need to verify some information first. "What is your name?" so I answer this question. "Do you still reside at (address here)" so I respond "Yes". "Where do you currently work?" and I said "Whoaaaa... why do you need to know this?" Only after this did the person identify himself as a Debt Collection Agency and stated he was a "Paralegal" and our conversation was being taped (etc. etc.).
I asked all the usual questions.. the first being "Can you tell me why my bank accounts have been frozen by your company?". I was informed that Pressler and Pressler had a 'default judgement' against me from the Civil Court of NYC in regards to an outstanding debt I owed to some entity known as "Strategic Assets Inc.". My next obvious question was "Who is Strategic Assets Inc.? I have never heard of them before." I was informed they are a company that buys debt from other companies. Confused, I asked "What debt is it that I am supposed to owe?" and I was informed that I had an account with "Plains Commerce Bank" in 2001 with a balance of $3,320.00 (not including interest and fees).
I ask him to repeat the name of the bank as I search hard in my memory for anything familiar, but his answer of "Plains Commerce Bank" once again did not sound familiar in any way/shape or form to me. So my next obvious question "Who is Plains Commerce Bank and how do I owe them $3,320.00?". The response was "this is your debt, you should know it already. I know what my debt is, why don't you know what yours is?" I sense this conversation is not going to be a very information or pleasant one.
After back and forth with this representative, they could not give me any real information about this debt. "This just came into our office so we do not have that information here. All I can tell you is you owe $3,320.00 to Plains Commerce Bank for card # (some credit card number) and the last date of transaction on record is from 7/2/2001."
My next (obvious) question was "Why is this the first I am hearing of any of this?" I was informed that I have known all along because they have sent me notifications all along to an address which I have not lived at in 7 years. I explain this little fact to the person who just earlier knew that my address was at my current residence (not the one from 7 years ago) and he admitted "we recently did some research and found your new address". He claimed that court papers were delivered to my old address which were never returned and other documentation which was never returned. Then he said "finally we received something back from someone at that address who said 'Wait you keep sending these things to the wrong person.' and thats why we did research to find your new address".
In my mind I'm finding the whole thing a bit... dubious? This person further informed me that the court papers were sent "certified mail" to that address and were not returned. Since I did not show up to court on the date specified by the summons, they won a default judgement against me and I am legally required to pay them in full. I grow more suspicious.
After this uncomfortable phone conversation, I decided to pull my credit reports to see if Plains Commerce and/or the Credit Card Number and/or the Balance of the debt appeared anywhere. I see all my credits listed from the time frame in question (Amex, Chemical, etc) but no where can I find Plains Commerce Bank. So next I try to match by the credit card number provided and there was no match to be found. Finally I looked to see if I had any balance on any debt that resembled this amount and still no match. By this point I am 99.95% positive this is not my debt. So I call Pressler & Pressler again.
Once more I get a representative on the phone that does not identify who he is, but he wants to confirm my information with the following questions:
(1) What is your name?
(2) Do you still reside at (address here)
(3) Where do you currently work?
This time on #3 my response was "You do not need to know that!". He sounded annoyed (similiar to the first person I spoke with) that I would not answer but begrudgingly went into his scripted response that he is a paralegal and this is to collect a debt. This person seemed a little nicer however as I explained the situation to him clearly. I have never heard of Plains Commerce, I never had a credit card with the numbers ####-####-####, I have never heard of Strategic Assets Inc, and I have never heard of Pressler and Pressler, until that very day.
I further explained how I had not lived at my old address in 7 years and that I never had the chance to dispute the charges or be heard in court... I also asked what proof they had this debt is mine. He seemed a TAD bit sympathetic about the address fiasco, but as to the debt he said "we have your social security number and name that is our proof". He placed me on hold for about 5 to 7 minutes while he 'spoke with his supervisor' and was trying to find out how much I had in my bank account at the time of it being frozen and if it was enough to cover the full debt I owe. My response was I had no real idea since checks were written against my account and since I have no access to it now, I can not check to see which were cleared and which had not. I also said I was scheduled to have a direct deposit from work (my paycheck) deposited into the account today and I had no idea if it would go in now or not. He told me to call my bank and have them "fax" the balance AS OF TODAY (he was very clear about "AS OF TODAY". My suspicion is he got hungry at the sound of more money being put into my account so more they can pull out). Our conversation ended.
The next day I once again speak with Citibank trying to retrieve as much information as I can about my checking and savings accounts. It was rather hard to make sense of it all. Citibank claims that Pressler and Pressler withdrew XXX from this account, XXX from this one and another amount of $125.00 from the same account. I was concerned because both Pressler and Pressler representatives I spoke with the day before claimed they did not withdraw any funds. "We only put a freeze on the accounts.", yet Citibank is saying those monies were, in fact, withdrawn from my account leaving me a negative balance.
Armed with this new information, I contact Pressler & Pressler again. This was to be the most uncomfortable and nasty of all communications with them to date. It started off the same as always "What is your name?" and "Do you still reside at?" and "Where do you currently work?" and I refused once more to tell them where I worked. This representative got more agitated than the other two combined... and his tone became immediately argumentive, accusatory, demeaning and flat out nasty. He completely refused to listen to anything I had to say and kept talking over me with "You owe this debt why haven't you paid it? When are you paying it? This is your debt why do you claim you don't know about it? I know my debt, Sir, why don't you know yours? This is all on you, Sir and we expect payment." and so on. Finally I lost my cool and told him I am going to fight this and that he could do himself as I slammed the phone down.
It wasn't until this point that I started to research "Pressler & Pressler" online and learned how this is an all-too-common experience with them. So I spoke with a Lawyer whom had sued and won against Pressler & Pressler before who gave me some good advice and information I needed to pursue this matter.
I went to court on February 1st, 2009 to get a copy of the papers served against me with regard to this case. I learned many interesting things from reading the papers so i went to speak to another lawyer. There was a free counsel with a "Pro Se" attorney who works for the courts who was very familiar with the name Pressler & Pressler. After discussing the facts with him and showing him what documentation I had gathered up thus far, I went tos tand in line once again, this time to file an "Order to Show Cause". One of the interesting facts to the papers filed was no real proof of debt. It was mearly some woman who claimed to work for "Strategic Assets Inc." that "is familiar with their bookkeeping" and asserts I do owe the debt."
One other interesting point to make is the way the summons was served. On the phone I was told the summons was sent certified mail. In the court papers they claim a process server tried 3 times to serve the papers and finally affixed them to the door. It further stated that a neighbor on the same floor in apt 11H had verified my address. What makes this interesting? That building is a Luxory Coop located in Manhattan. It has 24 hour doorman and conceirge service. During any one of the three claimed attempts to serve papers, the process server (Alan Feldman) would have been informed that either I do not live there, or if the doorman was around from 2002, would have informed the process server I had long since moved out. The other interesting fact is, there is no apt 11H in that building.
Lastly, the "Name" of the neighbor. I searched high and low on the internet people find databases for a match for that name ANYWHERE in Manhattan and not even one showed up. But the most interesting part of all this was that Pressler & Pressler was not the firm that filed the suit. It was a firm called "Coville & Genovese, P.C." in Sunnydale, NY. (Another name I had never heard of before). Not surprisingly, a search for them on the internet revealed that just 10 days after they received a default judgement against me, they were being sued in federal court for Fair Debt Collections Act violations.
So I wait around the court for an hour and a half to be heard by a judge to either grant or deny my motion. It was granted due to improper serving of summons. He asked for proof of lien on my bank account which I provided so he would expedite the proceedings. They are scheduled for 2/11/2009. I was provided with 3 copies of the order. One was for my records, one was to be overnight mailed to "Coville & Genovese, P.C." and the third I was to bring with me to court on the 11th. I asked "What about Pressler and Pressler? They are the actual law firm that has my bank accounts frozen." and the woman paused confused for a moment. She stated "This is odd. Coville & Genovese never contacted the court about these changes. You still need to mail this overnight to Coville & Genovese, but I would make a copy and overnight it to Pressler & Pressler as well." I took this advice. While I have no access to my money, luckily I had at least the $31.00 to cover FedEx'ing both law firms with the paper work provided by the court.
I checked the next day (2/12/2009) and saw something odd. Pressler and Pressler received their copy and signed for it at 10:29am. Coville & Genovese, P.C. returned an exception. "Wrong Address. Company Moved". My first thought was "Wow... I hope that law suit against them in federal court landed them in jail!".
I faxed a copy of the Order to Show Cause which states that All Actions Must Be Stayed Until February 11th, 2009 to Citibank. I spoke briefly with a representative who said it would take about 5 to 7 business days to take effect" and she would not give me any reason why it should take THAT long to gain access to *MY* accounts/money again.
On February 4th, 2009 @ 5:22pm I received my first ever communication FROM Pressler and Pressler (to this point I have had to initiate all communication with them) basically leaving a voice mail saying they are a collection agency attempting to collect a debt and stating that if I am not (my name) that I should hang up in 3 seconds. I have a top of the line answering machine, but it is not smart enough to know to hang up. It then states that because I did not hang up, I acknowledge that I am (my name) and I must call them at their toll free number. I did not call them back.
In fact, I was under the impression that the Order to Show Cause which stated Plantiffs must stay all collection acts until 2/11/2009 meant Pressler & Pressler was not allowed to contact me to try to collect said debt (a Violation of law, no?). Also, I never received a 30 day letter from them (once they learned of my new address) to give me any way to dispute or discuss the supposed debt I owe (another Violation of law, no?).
So here I sit typing on RipOffReport.com with $6.37 left to my name waiting for my court date to face off with the thugs and goons of Pressler and Pressler. I am pulling together all documentation I can to prove that I was never served a summons, that I have lived at my current address since 7/2002 (bank statements, utility bills, etc) and await proof that this debt is or ever was mine. Also, there is the question about Statute of Limitations on a debt from 2001.
While I am fairly confident this will be resolved in my favor, it's been a major source of grief, aggrevation and inconvenience. I have lost 1.5 days from work thus far, the expenses of fedex'ing two slimey law firms (Pressler & Pressler and Coville & Genovese) @ $15.25 each, bank charges ($125.00 from Citibank for this action, and several 'overdrawn' fees at $34.00 a piece). This has cost me over $1,100 already before even going to court (and this does not include legal fee's as I am doing this Pro Se) nor does it include any funds which may have already been Withdrawn physically by Pressler & Pressler from my bank accounts.
In the end, even if I win this round, I am out a lot of money and will probably end up having to file a seperate suit against Pressler and Pressler to demand payment for the expenses I've incurred thanks to this.
I will update this once a decision is reached on 2/11/2009. In the mean time does anyone have any helpful advice on how to counter-sue P&P for damages?
New York, New York