In the latest example of aggressive debt collector tactics, an Illinois woman found herelf jailed over a bill she didn’t even owe in the first place.
Breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay of Herrin, Illinois was put in debtors' prison over a $280 medical bill that was sent to her by accident, the Associated Press reports (h/t The Daily Mail). Even after Lindsay was told she didn't have to pay the bill, it was sent to a collection agency. Eventually state troopers took her from her home in handcuffs. Lindsay ended up having to pay $600 to settle the charges.
Episodes like Lindsay’s are becoming increasingly common as the number of debts referred to third-party collection agencies has doubled since 2000. Because one third of U.S. states currently allow debtors to be imprisoned, thousands of Americans have been jailed because they can't pay their bills.
Indeed, the problem has become so widespread in Lindsay's state of Illinois that a bill to prevent debtors from going to jail will be heard this Tuesday in the Illinois state Senate after passing the House of Representatives.
That's because other Illinois residents have faced a fate similar to Lindsay's. Disabled roofer Jack Hinton, for example, was put in an Illinois prison for not settling a $300 bill with a lumberyard, according to the AP.
But the problem spans other states. In Colorado, Kelly Wiedemer spent four days in jail last summer for unpaid traffic fines.
Some people are fighting back. In California, for example, the number of lawsuits accusing debt collectors of "violating federal law" has exploded in the last seven years, according to the Sacramento Bee.
While collection agencies are responsible for the most consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission of any industry, it’s not always due to imprisoning debtors. In Oregon, 85-year-old Anne Sessions sued Wells Fargo in February after a debt collector continued to badger her, eventually calling in a fake report that she had threatened suicide. As a result, Sessions was left with over $1,000 worth of hospital bills when police required that she was evaluated.