I started getting mail from law firms this week about a lawsuit filed by Portfolio Recovery Associates. I’m not sure who that is or why I am getting this mail. What does this mean?

A. First of all, who is Portfolio Recovery Associates? If you default in payments on your credit cards to banks such as Capital One, they will try to collect on this debt for a period of time. If those efforts are unsuccessful, Capital One may choose to sell your debt to a third-party as opposed to continuing to try to collect. Enter Portfolio Recovery Systems. They are a debt buyer that buys distressed debt from original creditors at a discount. Portfolio will try to collect for a period of time. If those efforts fail, it is likely that they will file a lawsuit against you.

Lawsuits are public records. It is very common for attorneys to research court records so that they can identify defendants that may become future clients. They will mail defendants an attorney advertisement in the hopes that you will contact them to retain their services and represent you in the lawsuit. As long as the attorney makes certain disclosures, this is permissible. If you are getting attorney advertisements in the mail, you have likely been sued. So what’s next?

If the county you live in has information available online, you can search your name to confirm whether or not you have been sued. Then you can determine who has sued you and the status of the suit. It will also put you on alert that you will likely be served with a Summons and Complaint soon. When you do get served, you have some important decisions to make.

First, you must keep in mind that once you get served with the lawsuit, the clock starts ticking on your deadline to file an answer to the lawsuit. If you fail to do so, the Plaintiff will get an easy default judgment against you. That’s the worst-case scenario. Depending on your financial situation, you may be able to reach an agreement to settle the matter without having to get involved in the trial. If that doesn’t happen, you will need to get an answer to the lawsuit filed with the court.

This whole process can be intimidating. Most debt settlement attorneys will offer a free consultation. Even if you decide against hiring an attorney, it is tremendously beneficial to have that initial consultation so that you know what you are dealing with and can come up with a plan.

Daniel R. Gamez, an attorney focusing exclusively in debt settlement, is licensed to practice in all state and federal courts in California and Texas. Mr. Gamez owns and operates the Gamez Law Firm in La Jolla, CA. For more information, please contact Daniel Gamez at 858-217-5051, daniel@gamezlawfirm.com or visit gamezlawfirm.com.