Category: News

Rite Aid wants TCPA (pre-recorded phone call) lawsuit dismissed

Rite Aid pharmacy patients were mad as Hell over pre-recorded phone calls they received on their cell phones, reminding them to get a flu shot for the upcoming influenza season. A law firm filed a punitive class action lawsuit against the major pharmacy chain, for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) for using the pre-recorded calls to promote the sale of flu shots to pharmacy consumers. Notice how different it sounds when you compare “notifying patients of a healthcare condition” versus “advertising flu shots to pharmacy consumers.” Rite Aid officials defend their actions, arguing they did nothing wrong, and are protected by exceptions to the TCPA law prohibiting automated and pre-recorded communications to cell phones. Whether the argument that an exception should apply to Rite Aid is a matter for a jury, and the outcome may influence how other healthcare pill and product vendors conduct their business.

What is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act?

The TCPA, passed by Congress in 1991 limits the use of automated dialing equipment, artificial and pre-recorded phone messages used in commerce, without prior written consent[i]. The TCPA also covers the use of text messages and fax machines. The TCPA specifically prohibits solicitors from calling people’s homes during certain hours, from calling people on the National Do Not Call Registry, from calling homes using pre-recorded or artificial recordings, for example. Violations of the TCPA may be worth $500 per violation when consumers and subscribers report and take action against companies and entities that ignore the TCPA.

When Rite Aid made pre-recorded phone calls to its customers, attorneys representing those customers, argue that Rite Aid violated the TCPA provisions prohibiting pre-recorded calls by using them to sell flu shots. Rite Aid representatives disagree, stating that even if the pre-recorded calls were used for a marketing purpose, they are shielded from TCPA liability under the healthcare-related exception, making the calls permissible and not against the law.

A Healthcare Rule exemption to the TCPA rules prohibiting pre-recorded phone solicitation

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency that created the TCPA rules, created an exception to the application of the rules against pre-recorded phone calls and the other covered activities, where they apply to the healthcare industry. Health care messages may be sent without prior written consent. To be covered, the “health care messages” must be consistent with the HIPAA. The only problem is that the HIPAA privacy rule does not specifically define, “health care messages.” Despite the lack of a clear definition of “health care messages” there are several accepted subjects of communication that fall within the Healthcare Rule exception.

Healthcare messages regarding patient appointments and examinations, hospital instructions, lab results, prescription notifications and instructions for home healthcare have been accepted as appropriate health care messages. These activities are either logistic or instructional and are based on current or recent healthcare services. These are not marketing messages. The issue before the federal court, regarding Rite Aid’s use of pre-recorded messages is whether the pre-recorded calls were related to or necessary for healthcare services, consistent with HIPAA, and whether the exemption for health care messages applies to a reminder to obtain a flu shot.

Do you think Rite Aid’s messages were health care messages, within the exemption?

In a recent news article about this case it is reported that Rite Aid responded to the lawsuit and argued, “that immunization reminders, such as the one at issue, are the precise healthcare messages to which the Healthcare Rule applies.[ii]

Rite Aid also argues that even though it believes consent was not required to place (what it is calling) a healthcare-related call, that it otherwise had consent because the people called had previously given the Rite Aid pharmacy their phone numbers and by signing for prescriptions when they had them filled, they were giving express written consent to being notified.

If the federal district (trial court level) court finds that Rite Aid acted beyond the Healthcare Rule exemption, there could be significant punitive fines in the class action lawsuit. The determinations as to what constitutes health care messages are tricky, and if you allow one type of communication, what will happen with others – for example, so long as there is a reasonable tie to health care, are other marketing calls to be allowed?

As the telecommunication laws catch up with technology, the Zamparo Law Group will keep following and writing article summaries to keep us all up to date so when we see something wrong, we can say something and report it to the proper agencies and authorities.

If you are the victim of a violation of a consumer rights law, such as the TCPA, take good notes and call the Zamparo Law Group for a case review to find out if you have a legal right to recovery of damages. The lawyers at the Zamparo Law Group are advocating for consumers like you!

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 47 U.S.C. § 227

[ii] Lexology, Is Rite Aid Immune from TCPA Liability? Jun. 8, 2016.

Advertising Material

The CFPB seeks new rules for payday lenders, protecting consumers from unfair lending

Nobody likes payday loan shops, unless they are the one who owns it and gets rich off the people they prey upon. Many years ago when people borrowed money from the mob, they got hurt if they didn’t pay. Today, some folks under water with payday loan shops might prefer physical injury over the incredible fees and charges they pay for the convenience of a short-term loan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) focuses its latest in a series of efforts to give relief to consumers who suffer from the after effects of payday loans. The proposed rulemaking follows a 2014 CFPB study of payday lending practices which highlighted the frequency in which borrowers we able to extend their repayments, repeatedly, and owed more money in fees than the principal amount they originally borrowed. Meanwhile, payday loan industry representatives speak out against the CFPB and its proposed new rules.

Is there a significant trap in the payday loan process? The CFPB reports suggests so.

The 2014 payday study, CFPB Data Point: Payday Lending, conducted by the CFPB Office of Research, notes that more than half of payday loans are due within two weeks of the issuing date, with an annual interest rate of approximately 390 percent; most of the consumers repeatedly extend their repayments, incurring more debt and owing more fees than they borrowed. In 80 percent of the auto title loans, where borrowers secure the loans by putting their vehicles on line, the borrowers have to extend the loans because they cannot afford to pay them. Half of all the loans are renewed and the borrowers are in loans more than “ten loans long.” Key findings of the report also state that the majority of monthly payday loan borrowers are government benefit recipients.

The people who can least afford high interests rates are already facing financial difficulties that lead them to payday loans. These borrowers may not have the credit rating or access to affordable loans that others may enjoy.

The CFPB assesses data regarding payday loans to better highlight the realities of higher risk lending. The opening language of the study states that the CFPB is focused on “providing an evidence-based perspective on consumer financial markets, consumer behavior, and regulations to inform the public discourse.”

The CFPB proposed rules set forth objectives in counteracting predatory payday lending practices.

There are two main loan categories considered in the proposed rules, loans shorter than 45 days and loans longer than 45 days, that have more than a 39 percent all-in annual percentage rate, and are either secured by the borrower’s vehicle or the payments are automatically deducted from their account or income. For both these loan categories, the new rules would require the lender to independently determine whether the borrower can afford to repay the loan.

Abusive and unfair short term and payday loan practices would also be identified under the proposed new rules. In addition to identifying bad practices, the rules would restrict lenders from loaning money to borrowers who already have outstanding loans. Additional restrictions would prevent lenders from making multiple payment attempts, trying to draw the payment from the borrower’s account, after two consecutive payments that declined when processed, and this saves already unable-to-pay borrowers from additional fees and charges from the payday lender.

Lenders say the rules would cripple their industry and block the access to money that borrowers need, often in emergencies.

The negative economic impact of the proposed new rules on payday lenders could be significant. Recent news articles noted, ““Thousands of lenders, especially small businesses, will be forced to shutter their doors, lay off employees, and leave communities that already have too few options for financial services,” said Dennis Shaul, the chief executive of the Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group for payday lenders. According to the group’s website, “More than 19 million American households count a payday loan among their choice of short-term credit products.”[i]

With an average fee of $15 on every $100 borrowed, payday lenders have significant fees at stake and as lender experts suggest, the new CFPB rules run some payday lenders out of business. Those with financial interests in the outcome of the proposed new rules may be keeping a close eye on the presidential election, as the Democratic presidential candidates generally support stricter consumer finance rules and restrictions.

The Zamparo Law Group follows several rulemaking propositions and developments with the CFPB and will frequently share news that affects consumers, in particular, the development of rules for better practices in the short term and payday lending industry.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] New York Times, Payday Loans’ Debt Spiral to Be Curtailed, By Stacy Cowley, Jun 2, 2016.

Image Source Payday Loan Giant May Go to Prison for Racketeering http://bit.ly/1UkqCV8

Advertising Material

New CFPB rulemaking on arbitration clauses may be delayed by the House

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a government block to the new rulemaking that would carve out specific language allowing consumers access to the courts, instead of otherwise being bound by mandatory arbitration agreements in contracts among consumers and financial institutions. The House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee is marking up the bill to fund the CFPB,[i] Until spending bills are passed, the CFPB is prohibited from issuing the final rulemaking language in its regulations regarding mandatory arbitration agreements.

As we reported in our article last week, THE CFPB ANNOUNCES NEWS OF POSSIBLE RULEMAKING TO GET AROUND ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS, the CFPB “was considering whether to ban arbitration agreements from being used to compel arbitration of consumer class actions and whether to require the reporting of certain information concerning consumer arbitrations to the Bureau to facilitate monitoring.[ii]

CFPB Rulemaking is on hold due to the House Appropriations Committee, its process and requirements.

In the draft of the Appropriations Committee spending bill, there are certain requirements the CFPB must satisfy before any proposed new rules can be issued. The Appropriations Committee also wants the CFPB to change its current form of governance, from a single agency director, to a board of directors, which has been previously proposed.

The proposed new rule would allow consumers to file lawsuits against financial institutions, including credit unions, if they engage in wrongdoing. The rule cures the current problem where consumers are limited to binding arbitration clauses, making litigation and class action lawsuits unavailable as stated in the arbitration clauses many consumers never read nor knew they were accepting.

Some challenge the CFPB and its motivation for arbitration rulemaking, opening the door for consumers to sue financial institutions.

There are disagreements among legal scholars as to whether arbitration is more or less helpful to consumers, when other options include joining class action lawsuits. While critics cite the smaller dollar amounts awarded to consumers when they join together in suing a financial institution, individual arbitration decisions are more like a cost of doing business, than they are a legitimate threat to a large financial institution. Class action lawsuits have the teeth to affect these big banks and can force them to change their conduct and policies.

The CFPB conducted its own studies and released them to Congress: Arbitration Study, Report to Congress, pursuant to Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act § 1028 (a). The 728-page study examined data concerning the pre-dispute arbitration process, to determine whether consumer rights and remedies are unfairly restricted.

Critics of the CFPB’s proposed rules, suggest that its report to Congress is slanted to favor the CFPB in allowing more consumers to sue financial institutions through the Bureau, whose job is to enforce consumer rights laws and take action against predatory companies. Meanwhile, supporters of the new rules agree that allowing consumers to join class actions or individually sue financial institutions is the proper way to facilitate justice, as opposed to being restricted by arbitration agreements preventing individuals from having their day in court.

While the Appropriations Committee works on its markup of the spending bill and the requirements of the CFPB in arbitration rulemaking, financial institutions continue using arbitration clauses to block access to courts. The new CFPB arbitration rules are likely to take effect in 2017.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] Credit Union Times, House Bill Would Delay CFPB Arbitration Rules, By David Bauman, May 24, 2016

[ii] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Spring 2016 Rulemaking Agenda, Current Initiatives, Arbitration

Image Source: House Appropriations Committee http://1.usa.gov/1ptJEtv

Advertising Material

The CFPB announces news of possible rulemaking to get around arbitration agreements

Customers and banks do not always get along. When the customer feels wronged, they have few options to fight back to hold the bank accountable. A customer who believes the bank over charged them with fees for overdrafts and other charges could file a lawsuit against the bank but the cost and effort involved may outweigh the potential recovery. If however, the bank engages in over charging fees to a large group of customers, that group can join a class action lawsuit. Class actions can force banks to change their practices and the financial penalties the banks face are substantial. Before running to the nearest consumer law attorney to join a class action lawsuit, beware of binding arbitration clauses that may be a barrier to fighting for your rights. When you began your relationship with the bank, or afterwards if you accepted their notice of amended terms of service, you may have agreed to your disputes against the bank settled in binding arbitration, not a traditional court of law where you can join a class action lawsuit.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proposes new rules to address arbitration in response to consumer advocacy efforts to help individual consumers who are being limited to access to the courts.

News of the injustice done to consumers by banks and financial institutions using arbitration agreements as shields from consumers, and a few U.S. Supreme Court Decisions urged consumer advocates to call for action to address the threat of harm and lack of legal options for consumers. In 2011 and 2013 the Supreme Court upheld the widespread use of arbitration agreements in the fine print of consumer and bank agreements, holding consumers to the decisions of the arbitration panel often provided by the very bank the consumer opposes. For more information, read our article, Arbitration clauses prevent consumers from suing in court, but might not end the fight.

The CFPB made an announcement on May 5, 2016, that it proposed making its own rules to limit the use of arbitration clauses in contracts for customers of banks and finance companies under the legal oversight of the CFPB.

Here are some excerpts of the proposed new rules:

  • “Arbitration could not block class actions without court action. First, the proposed rule “would prohibit providers from using a pre-dispute arbitration agreement to block consumer class actions in court and would require providers to insert language into their arbitration agreements reflecting this limitation.”
  • Companies would be required to submit arbitration claims filed and awards issued to the CFPB for review and possible publication. Second, “the proposal would require providers that use pre-dispute arbitration agreements to submit certain records relating to arbitral proceedings to the Bureau. The Bureau intends to use the information it collects to continue monitoring arbitral proceedings to determine whether there are developments that raise consumer protection concerns that may warrant further Bureau action. The Bureau intends to publish these materials on its website in some form … to provide greater transparency into the arbitration of consumer disputes.”[i]

The CFPB publishes a section of its website dedicated to its power to make rules to enforce federal consumer financial laws, “to ensure that all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services that are fair, transparent, and competitive.[ii]” The CFPB states that the process through which rulemaking occurs, takes into account the experiences and needs of consumers. Policy making and advisory groups and panels review information and make reports to one another up the chain of authority. The CFPB outlines its rulemaking plans with respect to arbitration blocking consumers’ access to courts in their May 5, 2015 blog article, CFPB proposes prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses that deny groups of consumers their day in court.

The proposed CFPB rule affecting arbitration with financial institutions is important news and The Zamparo Group will continue a review the new rule and news regarding its potential adoption and implementation in further consumer news articles on this site.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] Mondaq, CFPB Proposes New Rule on Mandatory Consumer Arbitration Clauses, By Lisa M. Ledbetter and Sanjay Narayan, May 18, 2016.

[ii] Consumerfinance.gov (CFPB website) Rulemaking.

Image Source: www.autoremarketing.com, Cordray Reiterates CFPB Rulemaking Process http://bit.ly/1NyvYj4

Advertising Material

CFPB shuts down law firm using automated lawsuit generator

The automated lawsuit generator used by the debt buying collection firm and a law firm makes automated dialers seem like going on a walk in the park with an old love interest. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had no love for these law firms when it issued a Consent Order, on April 25, 2016, stopping them in their tracks. What is being called a high-volume lawsuit machine, violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), was not supervised by any lawyers, and it did not produce reliably credible lawsuits. The order was issued to stop the debt buying law firm of Pressler & Pressler, LLP and New Century Financial Services, Inc., who have both engaged in firing off automatic lawsuits at creditors for years, often based on “flimsy or nonexistent evidence.[i]

Collection efforts and lawsuits filed near the statute of limitations

States have limitations on the time in which they can file a lawsuit to enforce a debt, seeking an enforceable judgment, with which the law firm can go after your bank accounts, assets, income and tax refunds to collect on the judgment amount. We often hear stories about collection agencies making threats of lawsuits, something they cannot do if they are not lawyers. In this case, however, the lawyers were the ones who bought up and tried to collect on debts.

Stated in a recent Time article, “For years, Pressler & Pressler churned out one lawsuit after another to collect debts for New Century that were not verified and might not exist,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a press release. “Debt Collectors that file lawsuits with not regard for their validity break the law and violate the public trust. We will continue to take action to protect borrowers from abuse.[ii]

Automated lawsuit generators undermining the integrity of the legal system

If a debtor fails to pay by a set due date, a computerized system can automatically populate the name, address and vital data necessary to produce a summons and complaint for the amount the computer believes is owed, and these lawsuits can be printed in bulk, filed online, and otherwise populate the court docket, all without a lawyer reviewing everything to make sure the lawsuit is proper.

The law firm filing automatically generated cases did not ensure an attorney reviewed the petitions before they were filed with courts, rather they used, “untrained support staff, which spent less than 30 seconds a piece in some cases to verify the claims of each lawsuit.[iii]” When activity like this is allowed to occur, where lawyers are not reviewing lawsuits being filed, and a computer makes the judgment call to file the lawsuit, there is a breakdown in the integrity of the legal system because no reasonable person could rely on the authenticity of the documents or proceedings.

The CFPB found violations of the FDCPA and the CFPA 

After investigating and reviewing the allegations against and practices of Pressler & Pressler law firm and its debt-buying firm (collectively “respondents”), the CFPB issued a consent order, in agreement with the respondents, setting forth the findings, penalties and the further orders of the CFPB.

The CFPB findings state, “Respondents’ debt-collection litigation activities relied substantially on a non-attorney support staff that far outnumbers the Firm’s attorneys, along with a proprietary collection software system that the Firm uses to automate, review, and ensure compliance with its processes for receiving and preparing new lawsuits for its clients.[iv]

Finding that the respondents engaged in deceptive practices, the CFPB enjoined and restrained the respondents from continuing certain activities, such as:

  1. Prohibiting Debt-Collection Litigation Activities Without a Reasonable Basis;
  2. Prohibiting the Use of Deceptive Affidavits;
  3. Prohibiting Certain Pre-Judgment Discovery Practices; and
  4. Additional Conduct Provisions

The CFPB ordered fines to be paid to the bureau in the amount of $1 million for the law firm and $1.5 million for the debt buyer. In addition to the fines, there are significant and ongoing reporting and compliance requirements the respondents must satisfy.

The CFPB and the Zamparo Law Group are advocating for consumers and fighting back against deceptive and abusive collection firms that use tactics like computerized lawsuit generators.

If you believe a bill collector is trying to collect a debt you do not owe, and if you are receiving what seem like improper threats of lawsuits and documents that look like court filings, you might be a victim of a consumer law violation. The Zamparo Law Group can advise you of your rights and whether you have a case and what it may be worth.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] Time.com, Money, It Just Got Harder for Debt Collection Agencies to Auto-Sue Borrowers, by Ethan Wolff-Mann, Apr. 25, 2016.

[ii] See HNi above.

[iii] See HNi above.

[iv] US CFPB Administrative Proceeding, In the Matter of: Pressler & Pressler, LLP, Sheldon H. Pressler, and Gerarld J. Felt, Apr. 25, 2016.

Advertising Material

Drivers Privacy Protection Act: High-speed license plate readers, legal but concerning

High-speed license plate cameras and the storage and use of license plate data causes concern for privacy. Law enforcement and privately contracted individuals with high-speed cameras are able to drive by, scan the immediate area, and locate license plates on vehicles that may be part of a criminal investigation or a hotlist of stolen vehicles, for example. Storing and sharing the data cases many people to ask whether this activity is legal. The Drivers Privacy Protection Act is the primary consumer protection law that would apply, but in many instances, there is no violation of the law. However, as the use of this type of technology expands and is applied to other uses, some against the interests of consumers, the laws could be updated to cover high-speed cameras used to scan, save and share collected license plate information.

High-speed cameras can be used to solve crimes and repossess vehicles.

Police cars and repossession spotter vehicles equipped with special high-speed cameras may be watching and taking pictures of your license plate. As reported in a recent article examines this technology, “There might have been dozens of other cars in your lane, too many for an ordinary camera to snap a picture of every one. But the police camera got them all. Even if your car was just parked at a curb, the camera would have grabbed that picture and recorded it when it was taken.[i]

License plate readers (LPRs) on police vehicles could help law enforcement find stolen vehicles; locate suspects and persons of interests, in their criminal investigations, for example. Repo drivers with a hotlist of vehicles on their list can quickly be alerted when they drive past the vehicle with a license plate match. Insurance companies may also benefit from LPRs when investigating garage fraud, the practice of registering vehicles other than where they are actually kept, such as a relative’s address in the suburbs or out-of-state where the insurance rates are less.

The purpose of Driver’s Privacy Protection Act is the protection of drivers’ private information.

Adopted in 1994, following the stalking and murder of actress, Rebecca Schaeffer, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act was enacted to protect the privacy of a drivers’ identity. Schaeffer’s killer obtained her address through the California Department of Motor Vehicle records.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA)[ii] of 1994 is part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and it governs the privacy and disclosure of personal information gathered by state motor vehicle and driver licensing departments. The DPPA also applies to the authorized recipients of personal information under the law and it requires recordkeeping requirements. The “personal information contained in an individual’s motor vehicle records can include the driver’s name, address, phone number, Social Security number, photograph, height, weight, gender, age, certain medical or disability information, and in some states, fingerprints.

For more information on the DPPA, please read our article, The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act Helps Prevent People from Tracking You Down.

Should high-speed license plate data collection be illegal under the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act?

Advocates for the use of high-speed cameras in license plate data collection state that license plate cameras, LPRs, gather information on license plates and vehicles, not people. Executive chairman of Digital Recognition Network, Todd Hodnett, stated in a recent news article, “There are plenty of parties out there that are opposed to LPRs for various privacy issues. Never once have I ever seen one of them come forward with the fact that connecting license plate-recognition data to personally identifiable information is protected by law.[iii]

Consumer rights advocates may disagree with representatives from data collection companies using high-speed cameras to collect license plate data. The link between a license plate number and its owner may be the subject of future litigation and legislation, as more consumers stand up for their privacy rights and in opposition to state and private companies engaged in this form of data collection. Once the data is collected, it could fall into the wrong hands. Once a hacker or insider opens the bridge between license plate information and the owner (and their private information), we all have cause for concern.

Right now, the DPPA does not concern repo drivers, when they are hired by banks to repossess vehicles, where the bank already knows the names of the borrowers and all the information they voluntarily submitted to the bank when applying for an auto loan. Repo drivers aside, the privacy and security risks associated with high-speed license plate recognition and data collection are still compelling.

The Zamparo Law Group follows news and trends that affect consumers and our rights under state and federal laws. Advocating for consumers is our mission at the Zamparo Law Group.  

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] The Buffalo News, High-speed license plate cameras spark privacy concerns as they help solve crimes, by Matthew Spina, Apr. 10, 2016.

[ii] Drivers Privacy Protection Act. 18 U.S.C. § 2721 et. seq.

[iii] The Buffalo News, License plate camera data’s private use raises questions, Apr 10, 2016.

Advertising Material

Consumer complaints, rising with with new technologies, help warn the public

Technology and the increased access to consumer complaint information may correlate with recent consumer complaint data collected and summarized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC’s mission is to “prevent business practices that are anti-competitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers; to enhance informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process; and to accomplish this without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.” The FTC collects information received about debt collection, identity theft, and improper scams. In response to the analysis of consumer complaints, the FTC compiled a new agency data book, full of state-by-state statistics, as well as they increased enforcement efforts, to take action against companies that violate the laws protecting consumers from illegal debt collection practices and other similar fraudulent behavior. Compared to years past, when consumers were violated and felt alone, today we can easily identify other victims and patterns of negative and abusive behavior, which is increasingly easy to report and fight back through the FTC and attorneys who sue and win individual civil and class action lawsuits.

Frequent consumer complaints about debt collection, tax identity theft and general scams

Reviewing the FTC Annual Summary of Consumer Complaints, one might think debt collection efforts and disputes are at an all time high, rising to the top spot among consumer complaints, with 897,655 recorded FTC complaints, representing 29 percent of the total number of complaints. According to the FTC report, a new mobile app contributed to a significant increase in complaints through mobile devices. The takeaway is when it is easier for consumers to file a complaint, more consumers are likely to do so. When more consumers make complaints, other consumers can find that information and learn to avoid doing business with companies who do not follow consumer laws.

In second and third place, respectively, are consumer complaints about tax identity theft and general scams operated by the typical bad actors. Tax identity theft is particularly threatening because victims usually have no idea there was an identity theft until after the IRS rejects their tax return, telling them they have already filed and received their refund. The FTC report indicates identity theft accounts for 490,220, 16 percent of consumer complaints. To learn more about tax identity fraud and identity theft please refer to our blog article titled, Identity theft awareness, prevent fraudulent use of personal information.

The general, imposter scams make up 11 percent of consumer reports to the FTC, totaling 353,770 complaints in 2015. The FTC publishes consumer information used to spot government imposter scams, where imposters pretend to be government officials as they contact taxpayers and try to get them to pay them directly for taxes or fees they owe. Government imposter scams often target less sophisticated consumers and may involve threats of jail if they do not immediately pay the money the imposter says they owe. When consumers report the details of the scams, the FTC and similar agencies and law firms representing individual clients, are better able to warn the public about the types of scams being used to defraud innocent consumers.

About the new FTC agency data book

The Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January – December 2015 is 104 page PDF resource based on consumer complaints received by more than a dozen state and federal agencies to whom consumers report fraud and bad actors and scammers. These agencies share information through the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database only available to law enforcement. The collection of information started in 1997 and the Consumer Sentinel Network has increased its efforts since its inception and today it receives almost 12 million complaints the FTC sorts into 30 complaint categories. The information in the data book is compelling and worth a review, to become more aware of the typical threats to consumers.

FTC enforcement efforts against unscrupulous companies violating consumer laws

The FTC summary addresses the increased enforcement efforts underway in 2015, involving federal, state and local cooperation in sharing information, investigating and prosecuting defendants engaged in illegal debt collection, and banning those offenders from the industry.

The purpose of the FTC is to enforce consumer rights laws, such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act). For more information, please review our blog article group explaining enforcement of the FDCPA. The joint efforts of agencies engaged in FTC enforcement help bring consumer law violators to justice, and face being banned and paying significant penalties. As more summaries of reports of consumer law violations are promoted to the public, there is an increased opportunity for individual consumers to help law enforcement take down individuals and companies who use deceptive, unfair and abusive debt collection practices.

Being vigilant in addressing consumer fraud: Good consumer habits

The attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group frequently advocate for consumers who have been injured by consumer rights violators. Many victims are already cautious consumers, and are still victimized despite their best precautions. The best defense against consumer fraud can be early detection and damage mitigation. Knowing your finances exactly, and having quick access to all your financial information and records is important. Good record keeping of financial statements may also be important in the event your identity is stolen. In the event of FDCPA abuses, early action in following the right legal procedures is important. There are so many formats of consumer fraud abuse, and it if something does not seem right, it is a good idea to say something and ask an attorney to review your situation.

The Zamparo Law Group can help consumers fight for their consumer rights. Being knowledgeable and aware of consumer law is important. When you see something, say something. We fight and win in court, individually and in class action lawsuits.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

Advertising Material

 

Image Source: Consumers Union website https://consumersunion.org/end-robocalls/

Campaign to stop robocalls: Consumers Union has a plan to fight illegal robocalls

To date, more than 600,000 consumers from coast to coast signed the online petition on the Consumers Union website, sharing their stories, and fighting to end robocalls. Despite our efforts to sign up on the National Do Not Call Registry and pay extra fees to our phone companies to restrict access to our phone numbers, we all receive annoying and unwanted robocalls from telemarketing companies telling us we won a free trip to an exotic location, to others offering payday loans, always interrupting us from anything we would rather be doing than receiving these calls. Consumers Union is a nationwide entity with offices located in New York, Texas, Washington D.C., and California. The company’s mission is, “Unleashing the world-changing power of consumers.[i]

The law on robocalls:

  1. Without express written consent, many telemarketing calls are illegal;
  2. Political and nonprofit groups need consent to call mobile phone numbers;
  3. It is however, legal for political and nonprofits to call landline phone numbers;
  4. Emergency and health-related robocalls are legal to both landline and mobile numbers.

Robocalls are a big problem and disturb consumers who do all they can to prevent unwanted calls.

Robocalls are a compelling problem, causing significant irritation to consumers, including the consumer rights lawyers who also receive these annoying calls. It is one thing to come home to a digital answering machine or voicemail full off robocalls from telemarketers, but it is another to receive those calls on cell phones, especially when busy, driving, or doing anything else where being disturbed is a problem. Many consumers elect not to give out their cell phone number, and others give to everyone and use it for business. In either scenario, most of us program saved numbers and contacts in our phones and we can be distracted by numbers we do not recognize.

New technology allows the robocallers to mask and hide their source location, so we cannot track them down. Similar technologies are used to assign area codes to phone numbers (spoof numbers), and it might appear to be a local call coming in, when it may actually be a computer calling you from overseas in an unknown location. If you think you can call the number back and have a word with them, good luck. Being annoyed is one thing, being scammed is another. According to the Consumer’s Union, “telephone scammers target vulnerable consumers, including the elderly. Consumers lost some $350 million to scams in 2011, according to the latest available FTC data.[ii]

Consumers Union calls on the phone companies to reduce the number of robocalls.

The technology exists but it not always used where it could be effective to the benefit of consumers. In Canada there is a service called Primus Telemarketing Guard, which identifies and intercepts telemarketing phone calls, similar to the SPAM filters we use to protect us from online viruses and emails posing security risks. Why can’t U.S. landline providers offer a similar technology? There is a service offered by Internet-based phone providers, called Nomorobo, however the phone companies do not directly offer the service to customers. Cell phone users can download and purchase apps that block telemarketing calls, but they are not offered directly by the service providers.

Consumers Union, collecting petitioners from all over the U.S., to present to phone companies, telling them that consumers want action and services and technologies directly from providers, to help combat robocalls and consumer fraud. Consumers Union states, “The FCC has authorized phone companies to use blocking technologies. Now we’re harnessing your outrage to demand the phone companies offer free, effective call-blocking solutions. And we’ll fight every effort to expand the use of robocalls to cell phones.”

Spreading the word among other consumers is helpful, in drawing awareness to problems and solutions to help protect consumers from unwanted communication, telemarketing and fraud schemes.

When you sign the online petition on the Consumers Union website, you receive an email encouraging you to share the campaign with more people, as Consumers Union states, “As individuals – filing complaints with the FTC, or trying to block unwanted calls on our own – we can be ignored. Together, we can be powerful.[iii]

DISCLAIMER: The Zamparo Law Group has no affiliation with Consumers Union, and this article is not an endorsement or makes any claim to the propriety of the company or its owners or affiliates. Having said that, the Consumers Union and their petition has reached news desks and has achieved considerable attention. The Zamparo Law Group, advocating for consumer rights, reports and shares consumer protection news.

The Zamparo Law Group can help consumers fight against robocallers and win in court, individually and in class action lawsuits.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] ConsumersUnion.org, About, Mission

[ii] ConsumersUnion.org, End Robocalls, Problems

[iii] Consumers Union autoreply email in response to signing petition, subject line: Can you share EndRobocalls.org with your network?

Image Source: Consumers Union website https://consumersunion.org/end-robocalls/

Advertising Material

Image Source: Consumer Affairs, Fed Action Halts Debt Relief Marketing Operation. http://bit.ly/1mKzYA2

Debt relief companies posing as law firms, leader of fraud faces 20 years

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Consumer Protection Branch frequently announces news and alerts to warn consumers of fraudulent business operations. Investigations and prosecutions of wrongdoers can involve federal, state and local agencies working together to share information and bring individuals to justice. In consumer fraud cases there may be criminal and civil penalties and fines imposed on organizations and their owners who make false promises to consumers and take their money, often without providing any services, or certainly not what was offered to the consumer. Certain consumers are specifically targeted based on their age, race, and income bracket. When something seems too good to be true, it may be. Spotting and reporting consumer fraud is an important first step in stopping scammers and preventing others from trying defraud consumers.

Scammers masquerading as debt relief companies are common, and this one falsely claimed to be a law firms and companies run by lawyers.

A California man recently pleaded guilty to allegations of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in the operation of companies, Nelson Gamble & Associates and Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight LLP. The DOJ press release reports that, “Nelson and his employees portrayed the debt relief companies as law firms and attorney-based companies that would negotiate favorable settlements with creditors. Clients made monthly payments expecting the money to go toward settlements. Nelson and his co-conspirators instead took at least 15 percent of the total debt as company fees, within the first six months of payments going almost entirely toward undisclosed up-front fees.[i]

The DOJ and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service[ii] (USPIS) spokespersons commented on their efforts to protect consumers against fraud schemes: “This scheme victimized people already in financial distress…the Justice Department is committed to protecting consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable to fraud schemes designed to prey upon people already in perilous economic conditions,” stated U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker; “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to vigorously pursue those who use our nation’s mail system to commit fraud or other illegal activity,” said Acting Inspector in Charge Daniel Brubaker.[iii]

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed its civil case against Nelson and his companies in September 2012 and the case was settled by agreement in August 2013. Information obtained in investigations showed Nelson operated his scheme from February 2010 through September 2012, for which he faces a potential 20-year prison sentence.[iv] While the DOJ and FTC news releases do not mention any privately filed civil complaints against Nelson, there may be several consumer protection laws he and his group violated, for which the individuals filing private lawsuits can collect actual damages, statutory damages and private attorney’s fees.

Make note of common telemarketing and sales pitches with amazing claims.

In its consumer protection news report, the FTC discussed how Nelson and his group robo-called phone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry in attempting to sell their debt relief services. The FTC complaint cites language in a website operated by Nelson, “Nelson Gamble works with the utmost diligence to obtain the best possible outcome for our clients, with over $90 million of debt settled in the past 12 months – and over $800 million since our inception,” using “proven tactical methods to settle debt by 50% to 80%…in three years or less.[v]” Nelson and his cohorts likely assumed that most of the consumers they were targeting would have access or ideas on how to research the claims made by these companies.

Make the call to report potential crimes and consumer protection violations to stop the scammers.

If you receive an offer from a company that sounds too good to be true, do some research. If a debt relief company is able to knock out 50 to 80 percent of your debt, are all bankruptcy lawyers going out of business? If you believe you are communicating with a potentially fraudulent company trying to swindle you, tell someone. The next person they call could be your elderly mother or another family member, friend or neighbor; there is no telling who is on the robo-call list.

The Zamparo Law Group receives phone calls and emails from consumers who believe their rights and the laws were violated by telemarketers and debt-relief-type companies that make claims that sound too good to be true. The attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group can tell you whether you have a legal right of action and whether higher federal, state or local authorities and agencies may be appropriate to contact. If you have a case, the Zamparo Law Group can get to work advocating for your consumer rights.

The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, California Man Operating Phone Room in Debt Relief Scam Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Consumers, Release Date Feb. 1, 2016.

[ii] The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigates the use of the mail system to commit fraud or other illegal activities (the U.S. mail was used in connection with this fraud).

[iii] See DOJ press release, HNi above.

[iv] Federal Trade Commission, Cases and Proceedings, Nelson Gamble & Associates LLC, et al.

[v] See HNiv above.

Advertising Material

Zamparo Law Group Mortgage News

Ocwen Transferring Mortgage Servicing to Nationstar, Green Tree, and Others

Upon hearing that Ocwen is selling big chunks of its mortgage servicing portfolio to multiple separate companies including Nationstar and Green Tree, we thought we would take a moment to address mortgage servicing and some of the problems we have seen when mortgages are transferred from one servicer to another. (A “servicer” is a third party to whom the originator of a mortgage assigns the job of taking payments and sending statements, etc., if it is not interested in tending to the loan itself.)

We have seen the following issues adversely affect consumers when the servicing of their mortgage loan is transferred from one entity to another:

  • Mistakes regarding escrow payments such as demanding extra escrow amounts when they were not required before, or incorrectly calculating what amounts are actually due;
  • Mistakes regarding mortgage modifications including refusing to honor modifications entered into by the borrower and previous servicer and failure to complete a pending modification if a borrower is in a trial period; and
  • Failure to provide various federally-mandated notices and disclosures.

When these mistakes are made, servicers may believe that the loan is in default and initiate burdensome and sometimes downright harassing collection tactics. If any of the above describes your situation, we invite you to call us today.

Even if you haven’t experienced problems like the above, stay on the lookout for letters regarding the transfer of servicing of your mortgage, especially if you currently work with Ocwen. Keep correspondence from your present servicer, especially the final statement you receive before the loan is transferred to the second servicer. If you have questions or feel like a mistake has been made, we can offer a free consultation to discuss what avenues for resolution may be available to you.

Advertising Material