Although debtors’ prisons are illegal, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to serve jail time as a result of their debt, reports NPR affiliate WBEZ. Collection agencies are resorting to some unusually harsh tactics to force people to pay their unpaid debt, some of whom aren’t aware that lawsuits have been filed against them by creditors. Robin Sanders of Illinois was driving home when an officer pulled her over for having a loud muffler. instead of sending her off with a warning, the officer jailed Sanders for failing to pay a $730 medical bill.
Here’s how it happens: a company sells off its debt to a collection agency. The agency sues the debtor, requiring a court appearance. A notice to appear in court is supposed to be given to the debtor. If they fail to show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest. The Federal Trade Commission got 140,000 complaints related to debt collection in 2010. That’s nearly 25,000 more than the previous year.