This happened late last week, and the biggest thing I want to know about it is how Pennsylvania snagged the coveted attorneygeneral.gov URL, but I should give it some attention here. Basically, all of the scumminess associated with foreclosure processes is also present in debt collection, by a factor of ten. This is almost unbelievable:

Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced that a consumer protection lawsuit has been filed against an Erie debt collection company accused of using deceptive tactics to mislead, confuse or coerce consumers – including the use of bogus “hearings” allegedly held in a company office that was decorated to look like a courtroom.

Corbett said the civil lawsuit was filed by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection against Unicredit America Inc., with corporate and business offices located at 1537 West 39th St., Erie, also identified as the “Unicredit Debt Resolution Center.”

“This is an unconscionable attempt to use fake court proceedings to deceive, mislead or frighten consumers into making payments or surrendering valuables to Unicredit without following lawful procedures for debt collection,” Corbett said. “Consumers also allegedly received dubious ‘hearing notices’ and letters – often hand-delivered by individuals who appear to be Sheriff Deputies – which implied they would be taken into custody by the Sheriff if they failed to appear at the phony court for ‘hearings’ or ‘depositions’.”

It’s unconscionable, but sadly a part of the new fabric of America, that debt collectors managed to pull off this scam for so long, inventing fake courtrooms, fake attorneys, fake judges, fake subpoenas and fake sheriff deputies to intimidate and bully debtors into giving up assets. Basically, that amounts to theft.

And it does signal the end of the American dream. I don’t agree with everything in the Der Spiegel piece, but the overarching theme is correct – Americans were taught that they could have it better than their parents, through hard work and initiative. And that’s not necessarily true anymore. We have an economic system tilted to the benefit of a several-block radius in Lower Manhattan known as Wall Street. We have a political system bought and paid for by those corporate interests. We have a legal system where power and influence can buy justice. And we have a culture of accountability that’s in tatters. So out of all of that, you get scam artists making fake courtrooms and stealing from people, basically assuming the robes of justice themselves in the absence of any competition.

It’s inequality, not just income inequality but inequality of opportunity, upward mobility and justice that drives this. In these times, it couldn’t be more important for community groups to band together, work with their neighbors and build a collective voice. It’s almost the only hope left.