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Debtors' Hell -- Preying on red-ink America
Debtors' hell -- About this series
This Boston Globe Spotlight Team investigation into the world of consumer debt in the United States found a system where debt collectors have a lopsided advantage, debtors are often treated shabbily by collectors and the courts, and consumers can quickly find themselves in a life-upending financial crisis. Audio AUDIO: Spotlight reporters talk about the series

Debtors' Hell -- Preying on red-ink America

No mercy
for consumers

Millions of Americans live in a debtor's hell from which it can be virtually impossible to escape.
Harsh judicial reviews
for bare-knuckled collector

Debt collector Daniel Goldstone's tactics have led to sharp rebukes from two federal judges and an order from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that he be disbarred for at least 8 years.

Debtors' Hell -- Peter Damon
(Michele McDonald / Globe Staff)

Dignity faces a steamroller

Small claims courts have mutated into a system that ignores individual rights and shows favoritism toward debt collectors and their lawyers. Audio AUDIO: Listen to today's story
Pop-up INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Small claims forms are murky
 COURT DOCUMENTS: Peter Damon  Marc Marcelin

Debtors' Hell -- Connie Sorenson

Enforcers' might goes unchecked

Constables, appointed by cities and towns to serve court papers and execute orders, carry badges and have arrest powers -- yet are untrained and unmonitored. And many do the dirty work of property seizure for some of the most aggressive debt collectors in the state. Audio AUDIO: Listen to the story
Many constables have criminal records
In Boston, 88 of the 186 constables have criminal arrest records of one kind or another, and seven were appointed to their posts despite criminal convictions.
Property seizure laws dated and ignored
A Globe review found that many laws on property seizures are vague and antiquated, and in recent years, legislative action has left debtors' property more vulnerable, not less.

Debtors' Hell -- National crisis, official silence

Regulators, policy makers
seldom intervene

As the debt collection business in America continues to boom -- $66 billion worth of delinquent credit cards alone were purchased last year -- many debtors find themselves with their backs to the wall, laden with bills they can't pay and lacking protection from a seemingly unconcerned government.
  
A bitter remedy for overdue medical bills
Credit card companies aren't the only businesses that employ aggressive debt collectors; your doctor, dentist, or oil company may use them, too.
Legislators among collectors' targets
Among the hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents who have been sued for bad debts are at least eight current state representatives.
Subscribe to this podcast (it's free) to receive each day's installment, including the main stories and sidebars, four debtors' stories in their own words, tips from specialists on how to handle debt, and a roundtable discussion by the members of the Spotlight Team as they discuss the series.


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The Spotlight Team would like to hear from readers who have first-hand information about debt collection abuses.
Call 617-929-3208.
You can leave a confidential message at 617-929-7483.
Or e-mail debt@globe.com.