Side line scarcely does justice to his working day, he is fully employed – suing the companies that try to collect on the substantial debts that he owes.
In 2005, he owed more than $100,000, tied up in the now vilified sub-prime industry. With his creditors patience exhausted, and his debts handed over to, shall we say, muscular, credit collection agencies, he was close to panic. Then he discovered, not Smirnoff, but Debtorboard, an on-line forum of couch lawyers, well versed in the many laws designed to protect debtors in the US.
Armed with a tape recorder and sheafs of paper detailing the consumer rights laws, he settled down on his couch and waited for the next collector to call. A company called ADT Security was first into the Cunninham Fly Trap. They were trying to collect $450 owed for a security system he had cancelled when he first fell into debt.
“Can you garnish my wages if I don’t pay?” he asked.
“Yes,” the voice on the other end of the line said.
“Can you put a lien on my house?”
Bingo, the debt collectors had just violated Texan law which prohibits garnishing wages or putting a lien on his house. Two months later a successful lawsuit saw him with a $1,000 cheque, enough to pay the original debt and a profit.
Then he discovered that the firm had actually paid out $3,500, most of which went to the lawyer, so he decided to act for himself in future. Over the next four years, he successfully sued various of his creditors for misrepresenting the amount he owed – worth up to $1,000 a time, and for making pre-recorded and auto-dialled calls to his home – especially lucrative at $1,500 per call. He filed claims that agencies had failed to investigate his claim that his credit file contained inaccurate information, at $1,000 a go. Altogether he made 15 separate lawsuits without the aid of a lawyer and received settlements in excess of $20,000.
He has been so prolific, and successful that the credit agencies are now turning to a database to see whether Craig is on their list of accounts to collect – it could be cheaper to overlook the debt!
He wrote to the company running the database, and asked for a copy of his credit report. They responded, not with a copy of his credit report, but with a lawsuit of their own.
It alleged: “The defendant subscribes to and makes postings to a Web site in which consumers share information and promote litigation against the collection industry…The defendant has now conspired with others on the Internet to incite civil litigation against plaintiff for the exclusive purpose of extorting money from the plaintiff.”
Cunningham promptly pointed out that they had filed the lawsuit in the wrong venue, Atlanta, not Texas, and furthermore, since he had never threatened to sue them, they had no reason to sue him. The court agreed with him.
The original debt with Time Warner for $79.84 has now been through the hands of so many different collection agencies, with multiple violations along the line, that Cuningham is currently suing the latest one for a cool $200,000. If successful, it should wipe out his original debts and leave him with a tidy profit – and a reputation as a ‘debt-terrorist’.
It depends on how you define success. Debt collectors point to all the settlements they are forced to make because it’s cheaper than fighting a frivolous suit. To Cunningham and other similar litigants, any payment is a victory.
“Does if make sense to spend $10,000 to win this suit or pay the litigant $500 to settle? Depending on the situation, it becomes a business decision at some point.”
CMI, the latest firm to find themselves holding a ‘Cunningham Debt’ – the original Time Warner $79 – has now asked the Texas court for a protective order from Craig!
“Plaintiff Craig Cunningham (herein “Plaintiff”) has filed suit against a business, Credit Management, LP (herein “CMI”), and twenty-seven (27) of its employees in their individual capacities,” reads the motion for a protective order filed in December 2009. “Defendants move for a protective order to protect Defendants from the annoyance, oppression, undue burden and expense of objecting and responding to improper, repetitive and irrelevant discovery requests.”
Man bites Dog indeed.
h/t to Saul – Cub Reporter.