Month: November 2015

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, responsibilities and remedies for consumer reporting violations

Decisions based on consumer reports of credit and financial histories directly influence the rates consumers pay for utilities, loans, insurance, and chances of being hired by employers. Approvals of rental applications, professional licensing and personal relationships when individual’s daily lives are affected by the collection of credit-based decisions and judgments.[i]  According to a 2015 study by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 23 percent of consumer reports contain inaccurate information.[ii] The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the consumer reporting law regulating the collection, dissemination and the use of consumer credit information.[iii] The FCRA is enforced by the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and through private party lawsuits.

The FCRA regulates consumer reports, “any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for (a) credit or insurance to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes; (b) employment purposes; or (c) any other purpose authorized under 604 [§ 1681b].[iv]

Responsibilities and remedies for violations of the FCRA apply to users of consumer reports, furnishers of information, employee background checks and the activity of the consumer reporting agencies.

TransUnion, Equifax and Experian are the three major credit reporting agencies that collect and disseminate consumer credit information from furnishers who share reports with users, all defined by the FCRA. Additionally, there are dozens of nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies that focus on specific information. The consumer reporting agencies must keep procedures to provide the most accurate information about a consumer and provide that consumer with information about them, to verify that the consumer data is accurate. When consumers dispute and receive removals of negative credit information, that information may not be listed on any future reports without notifying the consumer within five days. There is also a limit of how long negative information may be listed on a consumer report. Most negative information must be removed within seven years, and 10 years when bankruptcy information is reported.

Creditors, defined by the FCRA are furnishers of consumer reporting information, with financial relationships with the consumer, such as credit card companies, auto finance and mortgage banking institutions. The Act requires creditors to provide complete and accurate information to the credit reporting agencies, and the creditors must investigate consumer disputes they receive from credit reporting agencies. Creditors have 30 days to respond to a consumer dispute and must verify, correct or delete the information on the consumer’s report. If a creditor reports negative information about a consumer to a consumer-reporting agency, the creditor must first provide the consumer with notice, within one month, and the notice is usually language about the creditor reporting negative information, which is located on monthly statements and communications.

Users of consumer reports are individuals and organizations with access to consumer reports who use the information contained in consumer reports to review background information to make decisions on insuring or lending money or credit to a consumer. A consumer report user may only obtain consumer reports for purposes identified as permissible under the Act, and that user must notify the consumer when an adverse decision or action is based on the review of the consumer report. When notifying the consumer, a report is required by the Act to identify the company or credit-reporting agency providing the reported information, so that the consumer may verify or contest the information in their report.

Employer conducting employment background checks require written consent of an applicant who must be told how the employer wishes to use and not misuse the information they obtain. If an employer decides against a hiring decision, they must furnish a copy of the credit report used and notify the applicant of their opportunity to dispute the information contained in their credit report before the employer makes their final adverse decision.[v]

Remedies for FCRA violations include actual and statutory damages, attorney’s fees and court costs as well as punitive damages.

It can be difficult determining the value of actual damages suffered by a consumer, when their consumer report information or rights are compromised under the FCRA, and statutory damages are allowed to identify a damage amount to award to a victim of a violation. In addition to the actual or statutory damage allowance, the attorney’s fees incurred by the individual plaintiff’s attorney are recoverable against the offender, as well as court costs incurred in litigating the claims for violations.

When a FCRA violation is done willfully, punitive damages may also be awarded to the individual or class of individuals in class action, with the intent in punishing and deterring an offender from continuing to violate the FCRA. Punitive damage awards can be significant, worth millions of dollars, and are often reported in the news which is good for consumer awareness and can urge more consumers to pay attention to credit and consumer reports.

There are many definitions, rules and exceptions set forth in the FCRA and the law interpreting its application in a variety of situations. An experienced consumer rights attorney working frequently with FCRA clients and cases can help violated consumers enforce their rights.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm that files lawsuits against violators of the FCRA and federal and state consumer protection laws. Teaching consumers how to spot consumer rights violations is important because informed consumers can stand up to those who violate the law.

To learn more about consumer protection law and the Zamparo Law Group, please visit the firm’s website. You may also ask for a free case review. The Zamparo Law Group is connected on social media, please follow us and share our resources we share on our Facebook page. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] Forbes, A Bad Credit Score Affects a Lot More Than Credit, by Heather Struck, Jul. 20, 2011.

[ii] Report to Congress Under Section 319 of the Fair and Accurate Transactions Act of 2003.

[iii] Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681

[iv] §603 – 15 U.S.C. § 1681a, Definitions; rules of construction.

[v] See Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information, Employee Background Checks.

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Automatic telephone dialers, consent, business relationships and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991[i] (TCPA) restricts telemarketers engaging in telephone solicitations, limiting the use of automatic dialer systems, pre-recorded or computer voice messages, SMS text messages and fax machines. More than 20 years ago when the TCPA was written, our technology did not include smart phones and text messaging features like the ones available today. Over time and recent years the courts have expanded language in the TCPA to consider the use of auto-dialer software in connection with mobile phone and communication technology.

Cell phones are becoming more common as primary phone numbers over land line phones. Telemarketers are able to reach consumers on cell phones much easier than calling them at home on their land line just before dinner. Text messaging to cell phones is also an attractive way to connect with a consumer, when many reports suggest that 90 percent of text messages are read. Today the TCPA protects consumers from telemarketers, collectors, creditors and anyone engaged in sales and marketing from calling and sending us text messages without our consent or being in a existing business relationship.

Consent and existing business relationships are considerations in determining violations of the TCPA.

The law requires a company using automatic dialing software to call or send text messages to have prior written consent, often an element of an existing business relationship with the customer. For example, your cell phone carrier’s service agreements include language where you, the customer gives the cell phone carrier consent to call or text you on your phone. The same language may include an “opt out” provision where you, the customer can withdraw the consent to be contacted. If the cell phone company otherwise did not have your consent, they would violate federal law, the TCPA, by contacting you using an auto-dialer device.

There is a difference between prior express consent and express written consent, which is a higher standard and requirement imposed on marketing firms who want to use an auto-dialer to contact potential customers with offers. Sometimes an auto-dialing system includes the use of a pre-recorded voice message that starts playing when you answer the phone. The TCPA requires an interactive option to opt out of being included on a call list within the first two seconds of a pre-recorded auto-dialed phone call. The next time the phone rings and the voice of a pop culture icon or politician tells you to hold the line for some amazing information, it might be smart to write down the date, time and number that called you and whether you gave anyone consent.

Consumers are encouraged to keep telephone logs and make note of unauthorized robo-calls.  

Habitually writing down or keeping a going record of incoming phone calls is a good practice, especially if you want to help catch and stop companies from violating your rights to not be called and messaged on your cell phone or at home on your land line phones. Companies make large profits engaging in telesales and credit collection firms rely on auto-dialers and technology to try and call and reach as many targeted people as possible. If these companies fail to follow the law our phones could be ringing off the hook and being “blown up” by text messages all day and night long. Many times the plaintiffs in TCPA violation cases are part of a larger class of wronged people, and the class action lawsuits with huge jury verdicts matter.

Violations of the TCPA, when auto-dialers are used to contact people without prior required consent are $500 per call, and if and when the violations are willful, the damages may be trebled to $1,500 per call. If a large company buys or otherwise has a list of phone numbers, imagine a seemingly infinite list, an auto-dialer can generate so many phone calls that TCPA damages for violations can be in the billions of dollars. Where there is large profit to be made there is large exposure to liability for not following federal law, the TCPA.

Do you get calls on your phone for other people, or was your number recycled? The TCPA applies to situations in which you might not even realize the caller is violating federal law.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm that files lawsuits against violators of the TCPA and federal and state consumer protection laws. Teaching consumers how to spot consumer rights violations is important because informed consumers can stand up to those who violate the law. If you have been receiving calls or messages from individuals to whom you did not give consent to contact you, it is possible there is a violation of the TCPA and the attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group are available to talk to you.

To learn more about consumer protection law and the Zamparo Law Group, please visit the firm’s website. You may also ask for a free case review. The Zamparo Law Group is connected on social media, please follow us and share our resources we share on our Facebook page. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 277

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Consumer protection overview of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Consumers and debt collectors are the primary parties considered in the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA), (the Act), written to protect consumers from unfair business practices by third party debt collectors. The FDCPA protects consumers of goods in the marketplace for personal consumer use, where a debt is due, and a debt collector attempts to collect the amount due. The FDCPA only applies to the actions of debt collectors who are third parties with right to collect the debts of another. The FDCPA does not apply to original creditors collecting debts originally owed to them. Third parties, usually credit references, are referred to by the Act and there are limitations to how a debt collector can make contact with a third party of the debtor, when attempting to collect a debt.

There are three main legislative objectives of the FDCPA:

  1. Stopping, preventing and remedying unfair consumer debt collection practices;
  2. Protecting legitimate and rule abiding debt collectors from competitors with unfair debt collection practices; and
  3. Establishing a congressionally enacted uniform body of law controlling the legal collection of consumer debts with statutory standard practices.

There FDCPA contains multiple requirements debt collectors must follow exactly or be in violation of the Act, triggering remedial penalties.

Violations of the FDCPA include several prohibited actions that are abusive or harassing, false and/or deceptive, and unfair and unconscionable acts. These violations of these congressional prohibitions can lead to financial and marital instability, bankruptcies, loss of work and invasions of individual privacy. When a debt collector breaks one of the following consumer debt collection rules, they are subject to the legal penalties and fines and attorneys fees when a lawsuit is filed in the local federal court within one year of the date of violation.

Abusive or Harassing Acts by a debt collector, Violating the FDCPA are generally prohibited.[i] Acts or threats of violence or criminal activity violate the Act. Using obscene, profane or racially motivated language is a violation of the Act. Publishing or advertising a list of bad debtors, or threatening to put a consumer debtor on such a list is an Act violation. Debt collectors making excessive telephone calls to a debtor, or third party, or making their phone ring repeatedly to harass them are violators of the Act. A violation of the Act also occurs if the debt collector makes phone calls to the consumer debtor and fails to make meaningful disclosures of their identity.

False and/or Deceptive Acts by a debt collector, Violating the FDCPA are generally prohibited.[ii] If a debt collector falsely represents himself or herself as a lawyer, there is a violation of the Act. Debt collectors are prohibited from threatening criminal prosecution for nonpayment, or they violate the Act. Debt collectors also may not threaten lawsuits, garnishments or property seizures if they have no real legal ability to do so, for example, when the debt is old and past the statute of limitations to collect on the debt, and if the debt collectors do make those threats, there is an Act violation. Threatening to report false credit information is also prohibited and a debt collector violates the Act in making that credit reporting theft.

Unfair and Unconscionable Acts by a debt collector, Violating the FDCPA are generally prohibited.[iii] Debt collectors may not collect any monies from consumer debtors except for the amounts authorized by law, and extra fees and charges for payments of full or partial amounts cannot be charged to the consumer debtor or there is a violation of the Act. Post-dated checks also have special rules if they are accepted by debt collectors. First, is a debt collector agrees to accept a post-dated check, they must give the consumer debtor a minimum of three days written notice before endorsing and depositing the check for collection. Second, a debt collector may not ask for or accept a post-dated check under the debt collectors’ threat of criminal prosecution.

In addition to several bad debt collector acts that lead to Act violations there are FDCPA regulations and duties to comply with the rules for communication among debt collectors and consumer debtors.

The FDCPA regulates how a debt collector must communicate with a consumer owing a debt. The original communication in which the debt collector makes contact, they must specifically speak or state the language: “This communication is from a debt collector in an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” All subsequent communications must include a spoken or written statement, “This communication is from a debt collector,” or “This is an attempt to collect a debt.” [iv] In addition, there are five-day notice requirements a debt collector must satisfy to legally inform a consumer debtor of the nature of details of the debt they seek to collect.

Enforcement of the FDCPA rights and remedies for consumers involves damages, fines and the compensation for actual and statutory attorney fees where applicable.

Within one year of an act by a debt collector in violation of the Act, the consumer debtor, or third party receiving an abusive amount of phone calls, for example may file a lawsuit against the debt collector in a federal district court.

The remedies for violations of the Act include the following:

  1. A court’s award of actual damages suffered by the consumer debtor;
  2. Statutory damages allowed by the Act, up to $1,000; and
  3. Actual amounts of attorneys fees incurred and/or allowed by the Act.

In some cases, a violation of the FDCPA can be used as leverage in settlement efforts where debt collector may agree to accept less money than originally sought if the consumer debtor agrees to not file a lawsuit for violations of the Act.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs harmed by debt collectors violating the FDCPA and other similar federal and state laws. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the collection companies who refuse to follow the law and use illegal tactics to force consumers to pay the debts they are hired to collect. To learn more about consumer protection law and the Zamparo Law Group, please visit the firm’s website. You may also ask for a free case review. The Zamparo Law Group is connected on social media, please follow us and share our resources we share on our Facebook page. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

[i] 15 USC § 1692d

[ii] 15 USC § 1692e

[iii] 15 USC § 1692f

[iv] 15 USC § 1692e(11)

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Roger Zamparo Jr. Attorney

Consumer Protection Podcast: Roger Zamparo walks us through an issue spotting exercise in a variety of consumer protection laws, state and federal.

Roger Zamparo recently presented an overview of consumer protection law and litigation on the podcast hosted by the Illinois Professional Licensing Consultants. The program titled, Spotting consumer protection issues and litigation with Roger Zamparo, highlights sources of consumer protection law and several examples of how unfair and deceptive business practices affect consumers.

Zamparo Law Group

The Zamparo Law Group defends consumers from deceptive and unfair business practices, abusive collection tactics, identity theft, and a host of other anti-consumer behaviors.

Topics covered in this podcast interviewclick here to listen now!

  • What is consumer protection law and how do attorneys help you recover from harm?
  • Does an injured victim pay attorneys fees or collect at the end, like in personal injury law?
  • What are the sources of law identifying conduct resulting in a consumer protection violation?
  • A brief overview of fair debt collection laws and what types of wrongs to watch for.
  • How the fair credit rules work and what the credit reporting agencies should do to protect you.
  • About the Driver Privacy Protection Act and concern about motor vehicle records.
  • What the Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires of telemarketers.

Roger Zamparo received a B.A. from Ohio University and his J.D. from The John Marshall Law School (where he is currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees). In his 35-year litigation practice, he has represented individuals and corporations in both state and federal courts. He has concentrated on several areas, including consumer law and legal malpractice. Please contact the Illinois Professional Licensing Consultants at (224) 847-3202 to be connected with Roger Zamparo if you have a consumer protection question or need to consult on your legal matter.

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Zamparo Law

Consumer Rights

At the Zamparo Law Group, P.C., we focus on helping consumers enforce their rights under a variety of state and federal laws. These include…

  • The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act
  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act

Because of various provisions in many of these consumer protection laws, our services can often be provided to consumers at a much lower cost than traditional legal services, and sometimes for free (court costs excluded). We welcome the opportunity to meet with you and to discuss your rights under the law.

Contact Us for a free case review today or dial (224) 875-3202 now, and ask to speak to a consumer rights attorney.

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Credit Reporting Errors

Credit reports, or consumer reports, have broad-reaching implications that touch on many aspects of our daily lives. We recommend that everyone check their credit reports at least once a year by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, the only truly free source for the most accurate information the main consumer reporting agencies maintain in your file.

The consumer protection attorneys of the Zamparo Law Group, P.C. can guide you through the process of disputing inaccurate information or helping you address identity theft, making sure your credit reports accurately reflect your credit history.

Contact Us Today If You Have…

Been denied credit or had to pay higher interest rates because of inaccuracies on your credit report.
Been turned down for a job because of inaccuracies on your credit report.
Discovered inaccurate information on your credit report.

Contact Us Today If a Consumer Reporting Agency (Credit Bureau) Has…

Confused you with someone else.
Reported inaccurate information about you in your credit report.

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Mortgage Foreclosure - Zamaparo Law

Foreclosure

Mortgage foreclosure can be a scary, emotional thing to endure.

The consumer protection attorneys of the Zamparo Law Group, P.C. have decades of experience in foreclosure law and are strong allies for consumers caught up in foreclosure proceedings.

We can help you navigate the waters of this emotional area of law without losing sight of ultimate goals.

Contact Us Today If You Have…

Fallen behind on your mortgage.
Been sued in a mortgage foreclosure case.

Contact Us Today If Your Mortgage Lender/Servicer Has…

Made a mistake with your payments.
Force-placed hazard insurance on your property.
Misapplied escrow payments.
Called you repeated throughout the day.
Called other members of your family.

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Debt Collection

The collection of old debt has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States and many consumers are subject to unfair and abusive collection tactics at all stages in the collection process.

The consumer protection attorneys of Zamparo Law Group, P.C. can advise you of your rights when you are involved in debt collection and can help you protect yourself from harassment.

If you are being harassed by debt collectors, use this Collection Communications Log to keep track of when and how you are being contacted. It is one of the best ways to build a case for debt collection harassment.

Contact Us Today If You Have…

  • Received harassing phones calls about debt.
  • Been contacted about a debt discharged in bankruptcy.
  • Received countless phone calls at inconvenient hours of the day and night.
  • Received summons for a lawsuit.
  • Had your bank account frozen.
  • Had your wages garnished.
  • Been contacted by a collector at work.
  • Been contacted by a collector on your cell phone.

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Zamparo Law Identity Theft

Identity Theft

Every year, millions of people are affected by the intentional misuse of their personal information. “Identity Theft” can take place within families just as easily as it can result from international computer hacking scandals.

Protecting yourself is the first step, but if you’re already a victim, the consumer protection attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group, P.C. can help you undo the negative effects of identity theft and help you get back on track.

Contact Us Today If You Have…

  • Been the victim of identity theft.
  • Been denied credit because of identity theft.
  • Had to pay higher interest rates because of identity theft.

Contact Us Today If an Identity Thief Has…

  • Opened accounts in your name…
  • Stolen money from your accounts…

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