Kansas City woman could walk away a millionaire because of collection firm

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Woman Could Walk Away a Millionaire After Suing Debt Collector

Two years ago, a Kansas City woman was sued for not paying a credit card debt that wasn't hers. Now, after a counterclaim, Maria Guadalupe Mejia Alcantara could walk away a millionaire.

The Kansas City Star reports Alcantara was awarded $251,000 in damages and the jury "assessed $82 million in punitive damages against the debt collection firm."

If that assessment is upheld and there's no settlement, half of that amount will go to a victims compensation fund. Alcantara and her lawyers will receive the other half. Talk about a big win.

So here's what happened: The person who was generating the debt was not Alcantara but a man living in Kansas City, Kansas. The Star explains the debt collection firm, Portfolio Recovery Associates, was informed of this mistake but kept pursuing Alcantara for about 15 months.

A judge ruled in favor of Alcantara last October and said Portfolio Recovery "abused the discovery process and repeatedly violated this court's discovery orders."

The jury determined the damages on Monday. Portfolio Recovery called the verdict "outlandish" and has promised to appeal.

Others have had similar issues with debt collectors — in fact, CBS has even published ways to "protect yourself" from debt collectors. Its first warning is about being "tagged" with another person's debt. The outlet explains "people with common names, victims of identity theft and those who share a family name with a debtor" are at high risk for this mistake.

But according to the Federal Trade Commission, if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the 30-day period and disputes any portion of the debt, the debt collector "shall cease collection of the debt ... until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt."

Alcantara's attorney told The Star the attorney general's office received 88 similar complaints about Portfolio Recovery between 2006 and 2014.

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