Bogus lawsuits cost victims time, money
It's a nightmarish scenario: Someone files a trumped up lawsuit against you without even knowing. A judge then rules against you in your absence and you end up owing thousands of dollars. It happened to dozens of victims and Mark Woychik was one of them.
"Once he's got you, he will never let you go," he said.
Woychik is talking about the man who was selling his dream piece of property.
"It was a beautiful little five acre piece of land on a hillside with a southern exposure. I fell in love with the land," he said.
Woychik trusted the soft-spoken seller. But now, $25,000 in legal fees later, he knows that was a serious mistake.
"We have spent countless hours, time, money trying to get justice. Not only trying to get justice but trying to get him out of our life," said Woychik.
"Bernard Seidling would file bogus small claims actions in various courts throughout the state. He filed a lawsuit in a county in which the victim did not reside," US Postal Inspector Dean Kowalefski explained.
Inspectors say Seidling did it to Woychik, who by the time he learned a court had ruled against him in his absence, was facing a judgement of more than $5,000.
"The victims didn't know they were being victimized. They wouldn't find out until they wanted to sell their home or buy a car," said Kowalefski.
"He preys on people who can't afford lawyers and if they don't get a lawyer, and they roll over and try to walk away, he will come after them for the last penny," added Woychik.
Authorities say Seidling did it to 77 different victims, attempting to extort them out of more than $370,000.
"There is absolutely no doubt, that he was after the money," said US Attorney John Vaudreuil.
In the end, Seidling was sentenced three years in federal prison and fined $10,000. But Woychik is convinced that's not the end of this story.
"I have no doubt that after those three years are up, he's coming after me," he said.
Meantime, authorities say you can protect yourself from this sort of scam by regularly checking your credit report and running your name through the online listing of court cases in Florida or Georgia, depending on where you live, to make sure you're not the subject of a court action you don't know about.
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