Bankruptcy expert Leon Bayer answers real-life questions.
I just received an arrest warrant for an unpaid debt. I had no idea I could be arrested for something like this. I am scared. What should I do?
Here is a copy of what I received. (View the arrest warrant here. There are two pages.)
No, you cannot be arrested if you don’t pay a debt. The arrest warrant you received is a fake. By using this scare tactic, the debt collector has violated federal and state law.
Can I Be Arrested for Not Paying a Debt?
If you simply default on a debt, you cannot be arrested. The creditor can call you, send you letters, or sue you (as long as it stays within the bounds of the law when it does so), but it cannot have you arrested.
There is one caveat. If you fail to follow a court order, the court can send you to jail. If that court order relates to an unpaid debt, it might feel like you are being sent to jail for failure to pay a debt. (To learn how this happens, see The New Bill Collector Tactic: Jail Time.) This is a disturbing trend, but not one that applies in your situation.
The Warrant Is a Fake
If it weren’t so egregious, the “warrant” would be laughable. It’s full of weird language and grammatical errors. Not the type of document you’d get from a real federal court. Plus, it’s full of inconsistencies – for example, Ronnie is from the “State Attorney Office” (there is no such thing) and yet the arrest warrant is from a federal court.
In any event, neither the state nor the federal government would be “pressing charges” against you (or arresting you) for nonpayment of a debt.
State and Federal Fair Debt Collection Laws
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using false representations to get you to pay a debt. (Many states have fair debt collection practices acts as well.) The arrest warrant that you received is pretty egregious in its false representations:
- it pretends to be an arrest warrant from a federal district court
- it says that the charges are “violation of federal banking regulation” – not paying a debt is not a violation of a federal banking regulation
- Ronnie Willson is impersonating an employee of the State Attorney’s Office
- the warrant has a fake judge’s “signature”
- the warrant implies that if you don’t pay the debt, you will face ten years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000
By the way, apparently you aren’t the only one to get an arrest warrant from Ronnie. See:
My advice to you? Ignore it.
Leon Bayer is a Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney. He is a partner at Bayer, Wishman & Leotta, a California law firm specializing in bankruptcy. The opinions and advice in this blog post are from Mr. Bayer alone, and should not be attributed to Nolo. By answering a question on this blog, Mr. Bayer does not become your lawyer.