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What to do when you get a fake court summons or phone call

Chloe Meltzer | October 19, 2022

Know the difference between a real Summons for debt and a fake one.

Summary: Have you received a court Summons for a debt you supposedly? SoloSuit can help you know if it's real and how to respond.

Being served with a court Summons is always nerve-wracking, whether it comes in the form of a phone call or in the mail. If you've been summoned for a debt you do not recognize, you should verify the Summon's authenticity. That being said, it can be difficult to recognize if a debt is yours if you have multiple outstanding debts already. They seem to stack up in an overwhelming fashion. Rather than give up, be sure to verify the Summons document you received, or ask for verification on the phone before you take any more action. If the Summons is real, SoloSuit can help you respond and win in court.

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit: A Student Solution To Give Utah Debtors A Fighting Chance

How to recognize if a Summons is fake

If you are receiving a call from a “debt collector” it may be impossible to know whether or not they are who they say they are. Alternatively, if you receive a Summons in the mail, it can be difficult to know if it is official or not. Most fraudulent debt collectors threaten consumers with the need to arrive in court if they do not pay, which can lead to payment out of fear. Rather than be sucked into the lies, take these steps if you suspect you've been served with a fake court summons or phone call.

Look at the wording on the Summons

When you first receive a Summons in the mail, there are a few clues that can immediately tell you whether or not it is real. The language used on the actual Summons may be able to help you verify its legitimacy. If you have received a fake summons, you might notice limited legal terminology used.

There should be some sort of confirmation of pending actions between you and the “debt collector” or original creditor. The verbiage could even identify specific actions that already exist. Look for the following verbiage to get a better idea if the Summons is real:

  • Disability Accommodations: The summons should outline all provisions that will be available within the courtroom to accommodate disabled people. This might include a translator, someone who is a lingual expert, or accommodations for those with a visual or auditory disability.
  • Venue: There should be a box on the summons explaining the “venue” (location) of the court date. This will include the city and state, and any other important information. It would also include the location of the alleged incident. If it is a debt lawsuit, it may simply mention your city and state.
  • Deadline for Response: When you receive a legitimate court summons, you will also be given a deadline for when you need to respond. This deadline is specific to the issued complaint that comes along with the Summons. It will also explain how to contest the charge and the penalty if you do not respond in a timely manner.

Check for the signature line

Another easy way to check the legitimacy of a Summons is to look for a a dated signature from the clerk. Then, Google your local courthouse to see what the name of your court clerk is. If you find that the names do not match, you will know it is fake.

You can also look for the contact information for the court, which is where you should go next. Although you may see a different signature, it is important to double-check and verify the debt with the court clerk.

Verify legitimacy with the court clerk

The easiest way to verify if a debt is fake is to contact the court. This is the most efficient option. If the court Summons is real, then it will have had to be processed through the court. They will also have a copy on file. If it is fake, then there is no chance that there is a copy in the courts.

When you arrive at the court clerk, you can give them the name of everyone involved, as well as the docket number printed on the Summons. You should immediately have confirmation of whether or not the case is legitimate. If you do find that it is fake, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Ask questions

When most consumers are sued for a debt they feel as though they have no power in the situation. Debt collectors specifically will try to intimidate you, but they truly have no power until they obtain a judgment in court.

If you have had a Summons sent to you in the mail, it does not mean that a debt collector can garnish your wages (especially a fake one). If a debt collector makes threats regarding garnishment or legal action, this is actually illegal. If the debt ends up being legitimate, as long as you go to court to fight it, you will have an opportunity to negotiate a settlement or even have the case dismissed based on affirmative defenses.

Regardless, do not let a debt collector, or a fake debt collector, intimidate you. Ask them questions and force them to prove your legal responsibility for the debt. This might involve asking them for proof of an original contract signed by you.

You don't have to hire an attorney

Although you might consider using an attorney, it is not always necessary. Going to the court clerk and asking them to verify the debt should typically be enough. It should be easy to have your docket number or case number looked up. If it does not appear, then you know that the Summons is fraud. The only time you should consider an attorney is if you have attempted to contact the court clerk without success. If they happen to be backed up and are not giving you the information you need, then you may consider asking the help of an attorney to make the process move a bit quicker.

What to do when you get a fake court Summons or phone call

When you receive a fake court Summons, verify that it is actually fake, and then report it. This is illegal in most states. For instance, California Penal Code 527 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to “sell, offer to sell, print, publish or distribute a fake court order.” Do not fall victim to a fake debt collector—fight it, report it, and most importantly, do not pay it.

Respond to a real Summons for debt

If you find that the Summons is real, the first step to winning the lawsuit is to file a written Answer in court. SoloSuit can help you do this. Here are 6 helpful hints for drafting a winning Answer:

  1. The Answer isn't the place to tell your side of the story in detail: At this stage in the lawsuit, the burden of proof is not on you. This means that you don't have to elaborately explain your side of the story. In fact, doing so can actually hurt your case. Let the plaintiff (the person or company suing you) prove their claims. All you have to do is respond to each claim listed in the Complaint.

  2. Deny Deny Deny: Most attorneys recommend that you deny as many of the claims against you as possible. Denying is kind of like saying, “prove it,” which requires more work and documentation on the debt collector's end. If the debt collector doesn't have enough evidence to prove you owe the debt, it will likely dismiss the case altogether.

  3. Include defenses: You should include a section in your Answer where you state your affirmative defenses. These are reasons debt collectors do not have a case against you. For example, the debt may be past the statute of limitations, you may be sued in the wrong state or county, and you may not have received a Summons notifying you of the lawsuit. These are all common affirmative defenses that can strengthen your case.

  4. Use standard formatting or “style”: Your Answer should be clean and professional, with standard font, font size, and formatting. It should include a caption that states the court information, parties, and case number.

  5. Include certificate of service: The certificate of service is a short statement at the end of a legal document that certifies the document was actually sent to the opposing party. It should include the address that was used and the manner in which it was sent. So, you should certify that you sent the Answer to the attorney representing the plaintiff with the address listed on the Summons document.

  6. Sign it: Almost all courts require a signature at the end of the Answer. Without an Answer, the court will most likely reject the document. Make sure to double check whether your court accepts electronic signatures or not.

To learn more about these 6 tips, check out the video below. SoloSuit's founder explains how to effectively draft an Answer to a debt lawsuit:

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

Respond with SoloSuit

"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James

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