Debt collection is big business and one of the most effective tools collecting companies use is the court system. According to an investigative series by ProPublica, the practice of debt buying firms turning to the courts really began to take off in the late 1990s. It peaked in the mid 2000s but continues to be a lucrative revenue source for debt buyers still today.

Our Chicago-area readers may be interested to know how this system works. Generally speaking, the debt buying firms buy up credit card accounts in default for pennies on the dollar. They turn over those accounts to their lawyers for action. Very often that action involves going to court seeking judgments against the debtor.

Even with certain limitations in its ability to access case files, the independent, non-profit news operation says it was able to conclude that about 4 million Americans saw their wages garnished to recover consumer debts in 2013. Most of the time, the targets of these court actions were people in the $15,000 to $40,000 annual income range and within that bracket, black families were targeted more than white families.

One of the other telling things that the ProPublica report discovered is that while the debt collectors had legal representation, defendants usually did not. And it happens that the way the system works is that if the suit is based on mistaken information, it’s up to the defendant to catch it – not the plaintiff.

Life is not a rose garden. Many people are struggling from paycheck to paycheck just to survive. Demands from creditors and judgments from courts tend to make matters worse. If you are faced with debt trouble and harassment from collectors, you owe it to yourself to seek a free initial consultation about your options for legal protection from an experienced bankruptcy attorney.