Advice to keep in mind: ‘Don’t sign and don’t talk’

What the heck does that mean? It’s shorthand for advise I give to all of my clients in consumer protection cases:
1. Don’t ever sign anything without fully understanding what you are agreeing to.
2. Don’t ever talk to collection agencies on the telephone unless you are recording the conversation after getting their consent to the recording on the tape. Otherwise, everything is by e-mail, fax or letter. Period.
Following these two simple rules will make life a lot easier. Here’s the story of a recent case illustrating these two rules.
A relative borrowed some money from an elderly aunt for a down payment on an expensive RV. The aunt agreed, but insisted upon a written document promising a payback of the money. The aunt was legally blind. The relative told the aunt that the RV salesperson would come to her home with the papers to sign, guaranteeing the repayment of the borrowed money, but only that and nothing more.
It seemed like she signed a lot of papers just to guarantee her loan to the relative. The salesperson said they were “routine” and didn’t explain them. The relative stepped outside (conveniently) during the signing process. Being legally blind, she obviously didn’t read what she was signing. Instead of simply a note guaranteeing her repayment, she signed papers actually buying the RV and being on the hook for an RV loan of tens of thousands of dollars.
The relative without any money was the co-buyer and got the RV.
Naturally, the relative failed to make any payments on the RV loan. A collection agency soon called the aunt demanding money or they would “take everything she had,” “ruin her credit” and “she would lose her home.” It was only then that she realized that she’d been tricked into signing for the whole RV instead of just a note promising that the relative would repay her the money they had borrowed. Over a four-month period, she got more than 340 separate calls from the collection agency; some days she got up to six calls per day. She kept answering her phone and talking to them. She began giving them her credit card information to pay them just so they would leave her alone.
She finally had had enough and contacted us. We were able to not only get her off the RV title and loan, but got her credit cleared, got all of her money back including the original loan, and got her a very substantial settlement for the cheating and harassment.
So, lessons learned: never sign anything without knowing what you are signing. Should RV dealers go to an elderly, legally blind person’s home and have them sign legal documents without explanation? Of course not, but she shouldn’t have signed anything without having a trusted friend, advisor, or even an attorney check them out first. Secondly, if called by a collection agency for any reason whatsoever should you talk to them, try to reason with them, or try to work something out on the phone? Never (unless you have their consent and record the conversation).
Tell them not to call and follow that up with a letter or e-mail demanding that they not call, and that they need to put whatever they want to tell you into writing. Save all voicemails from that point forward. Always save copies of both your and their communications as evidence. Follow these two steps and things will go much easier on your stress level and your pocketbook.

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