After her husband died in March 2010 from colon cancer, 68-year-old Linda Long, of Cape Coral, Fla., began to receive phone calls from a collection agency trying to intimidate her to pay a credit card bill that was under her deceased husband’s name.

She received LOTS of phone calls from the collection agency, as many as 10 per day, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.

This week, a Florida judge ruled that “collection attempts by West Asset Management, an Omaha, Neb., firm working on behalf of Bank of America, amounted to harassment,” according to the story. “The ruling clears the way for the plaintiff to get punitive damages from the collector, a unit of West Corp., and Bank of America, which is the second largest U.S. bank by deposits. A civil jury will determine the size of the award next year.”

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/gwmullis

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/gwmullis

The problem was that the collection agency violated the law, according to the judge’s ruling. When someone dies, surviving family members are usually not legally obligated to pay back any outstanding debts unless they co-signed a loan, under federal and state laws.

In Mrs. Long’s case, that meant that she wasn’t legally obligated to pay back the $16,651 balance on her late husband’s credit card, which was issued only in his name.

“The case could set a precedent across the U.S. and discourage lenders from using collectors to get money from surviving relatives on debts left behind by the deceased, according to other state-court judges,” the Journal story reported.

This case could have happened to anyone and there are lessons to be learned from Mrs. Long’s difficult experience. This scenario is not uncommon today, according to a related Wall Street Journal story earlier this month.

First, don’t let collection agencies harass you. Talk to a qualified and compassionate attorney to find out your legal rights and obligations anytime you are contacted about a debt that is being pursued against you or a loved one.

If your name is not on a bill, then you probably don’t have to pay it. The collection agencies may even tell you that, but they still might pressure you to pay under the pretense of stopping their harassing onslaught.

That, however, is not appropriate, according to the Florida court ruling.

Times continue to be difficult for many people due to the continuing economic recovery, so unscrupulous collection agencies are apparently using intimidating methods to try to get people to pay debts, even if they are not obligated to pay them.

By knowing your rights and your responsibilities in such cases, you can protect yourself and avoid unwarranted legal hassles for yourself and your family.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, the first call you should make is to a lawyer who can help you stop the harassment.

If you need us, the attorneys of MyPhillyLawyer are here to help you.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

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