The Meat Grinder

When the debt-collection machine comes for its pound of flesh

On the 38th floor of a Minneapolis skyscraper, Spokane attorney Kirk Miller begins to interview a so-called “robo-signer.”

Miller, a young, tireless consumer law attorney, is after information about the robo-signer’s work at Midland Credit Management, an arm of Encore Capital. Every year, Encore buys billions of dollars in credit-card debts and then sets out to collect — filing hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against the debtors.

That’s where robo-signers, like the one Miller is deposing, come in.

The woman tells Miller she was paid $12.50 an hour to sign affidavits for those lawsuits. Those documents testify to the veracity of the debts owed and are used to garnish wages, empty bank accounts and repossess property — so their accuracy is essential.

But on busy days, the woman says, she would sign 300 such affidavits in an assembly-line-like process. In batches, she’d sign the documents, the person next to her would notarize them, and another would stuff them in envelopes to be mailed to out-of-state law firms. There, someone would print out a legal package, attach documentation, have a lawyer sign it and finally mail it to local courts like Spokane County Superior Court.

“Did you ever read completely through any of the affidavits you signed?” Miller asks the robo-signer.

She answers simply: “No.” “That was what floored me,” recalls Miller, 35, with a shock of bright red hair. “I expected they didn’t review the documentation, and they didn’t understand how interest rates were calculated … but I was floored when she said she never even read a single one of the affidavits.”

Rest here…