"Did you know that most of the time you get a cell phone, you are agreeing that no matter what happens you won't take the cell phone company to court? Did you know that many employers now require that too, if you want them to hire you? Did you know that even some car dealers won't sell you a car unless you agree you won't sue them if they rip you off? It's true, but it doesn't have to be that way."
Please read the rest, then take action as suggested in the blog!
If you have any questions on this issue, your are welcome to contact me.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that the Ohio Attorney General has sued a company called "The Modification Group LLC" and one of its officers, Robert Walker. According to the suit, the company claimed it would help consumers get mortgage loan modifications, but charged high fees, did not help consumers properly, and violated multiple consumer protection laws.
If you have been victimized by a mortgage modification company, a debt negotiation company or debt collector, you can complain to the Ohio Attorney General. You can also phone me to arrange a free initial consultation.
This is an example of what a state attorney general's enforcement of consumer laws looks like. In this case, it was the Texas Attorney General going after the people behind a debt relief "scam". Be very careful about ads you hear on the radio or tv for "debt negotiation", "debt relief" etc. Some of these ads even claim to be associated with the federal government.
Part of what I do as an attorney is suing these deceptive debt relief companies for consumers who have paid them money and got little or nothing in return.
This seems like an extreme example, but this kind of abuse in debt collection goes on a lot. It needs to be stopped. I'm happy that I can occasionally get compensation for some victims of collection abuse, but realistically, collectors make too much money to stop, even if they have to pay a victim here and there.
The FTC and state attorneys general need to shut down the worst offenders, and in appropriate cases, prosecute some of these people and send them to prison.
This LA Times article gives an example of an attempt to collect an old debt. If you get sued on an old debt, contact an attorney to find out if the age of the debt is a defense. You might also have a claim against a debt collector for suing on a time-barred debt.
I don't often get to actually have a trial on a collection case, because most collection suits in my practice are dismissed, when I defend the consumer.
In one recent case, though, we had a trial, and won. Then the collector filed an appeal, and we won again.
A debt-buying company sued my client to try to collect on an old car loan. The collector's witnesses did not know enough about their own evidence. Much of their evidence was not admissible. The collector was not able to prove they owned my client's account.
The Court of Appeals agreed with us and ruled that the trial court properly dismissed the collection law suit. The case citation is: John Soliday Financial Group, LLC v. Pittenger, 2010-Ohio-4861 (Fifth District).
At first glance, I'm disappointed to see a bunch of former bankers appointed to the Implementation Team for the new CFPB. These bankers are supposed to set up the framework for how the Bureau will protect consumers from -- you guessed it -- financial institutions such as banks.
Nothing like sending the fox to guard the henhouse.
A while ago, I promised to give you some examples of the types of cases I do. Please keep in mind that although I am very good, I don't win all of my cases. Most of them; but not all. Each one is different. Here is a summary of a recent win.
On behalf of a client, I recently obtained a judgment for over $56,000 against a group of debt settlement companies, for unfair and deceptive acts.
The details are below, but first some background on the debt settlement industry:
Most of the companies you hear advertising on TV, or see on the internet, are in my view, scams. They convince you that hiring them is better than bankruptcy or getting advice from an attorney. They set you up with a "plan" that involves paying a monthly amount for three years or so. The first several thousand (or up to twelve thousand in one recent case) gets paid to the scammers. Then they attempt to negotiate reduced balances on one or more unsecured debts of yours. Sometimes they actually accomplish a settlement of one or more accounts at a significant discount. But sooner or later (usually after they've made their fee), it becomes apparent that they are not helping you. Often I get called after one of the creditors files a collection law suit, and the settlement company throws in the towel. That's what happened with my client in this case.
So what's wrong with these companies? Well, they overstate what they can do. They promise or strongly imply that they will get settlements on all of your accounts, and that you'll save money by paying the settlement company. They fail to inform you that some creditors have a policy of not working with settlement companies. They often misrepresent what will happen in the event of a collection law suit. Sometimes they falsely claim that they will supply legal representation. For Ohioans, they almost always violate Ohio laws that prohibit certain charges and unfair and deceptive acts and statements.
Not too long ago, the Federal Trade Commission issued a rule restricting the activities of these companies and the way they charge for their "services". You can read the FTC press release here. It's important to note that Ohio already had some consumer protections in place before this new rule.
I believe that debt settlement scams are one of the fastest-growing areas of consumer fraud.
But I also want you to know that there are legitimate credit counseling services out there too. They just don't charge more than a small monthly fee, and they give good advice. I also want you to know that each case is different. If you think you have been victimized by a debt settlement scammer, you might have a good case or you might not, for a variety of reasons. If you're not sure, you should consult with a qualified attorney. While you're at it, you may need some advice on how to deal with the debt at this point.
Ok, so here are the details of this case:
The debt settlement scammers told my client that they could get reductions of her debt of 40 to 60%, and set up a payment schedule based on a 60% reduction. They told her very clearly that she would be provided independent legal services. They lied to her, saying that law suits are "not typical" in the program; they implied that a wage garnishment could be avoided; they told her her credit score would improve through their program; they gave bad information to her about debt collection laws.
After some time in the program, a creditor sued my client on one of the debts in the program. The settlement companies recommended that she "go to court" (whatever that was supposed to mean) and tell the court that she could not afford to pay the debt. This was not good legal advice, and it did not come from a lawyer qualified to give the advice. The settlement companies did not suggest that my client consult with an attorney.
The court entered a judgment against my client in the collection suit, and her wages were garnished. Then a second creditor filed another collection law suit against my client, and she found me shortly thereafter. My client paid over $4,200 to the settlement companies before she realized it was a scam.
We filed a suit against five companies, alleging unfair and deceptive acts, negligent misrepresentations, and civil conspiracy. (These companies tend to hide their identity, and have several related corporate shields set up to try to deflect law suits and government regulation.) Two of the companies immediately wanted to settle the claims, and we worked out a reasonable settlement. The three remaining companies failed to respond in a proper, timely manner, and the court entered a default judgment against them for actual damages, punitive damages, and my client's attorney fees -- a total of $56,534.94, plus court costs and interest.
Here are the companies we have a judgment against:
Accredited Financial, Inc, a California corporation
Accredited Financial Services LLC, a Delaware company
HPM, Inc., a corporation believed to be based in California.
We'll be attempting to collect this judgment, so if you know where any of the companies bank, or have other assets, please feel free to drop me a line.
Above is the new website for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is headed by Professor Elizabeth Warren (who I previously recommended for the post here). Ohio's former Attorney General Richard Cordray will head the Enforcement Division (as I previously blogged here).
So far, the website is mostly an introduction to the Bureau, but already includes some interesting complaints by consumers.
In the future, consumers will be able to submit complaints to the CFPB via a website.
You may want to check the CFPB website again later, when more content is added. Hopefully the Bureau will live up to the high expectations set by Prof. Warren and Mr. Cordray.