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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/

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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.

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Telephone Consumer Protection Act in news and courts

Victoria’s Secret and the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) made recent news in connection with the violation and litigation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The TCPA is one of the lesser-known federal consumer rights laws. Many consumers know they have rights when it comes to phone calls and text messages, beyond a do-not-call list. In fact, consumer’s rights are easy to learn and violations are easy to spot when you know what to look for. The TCPA restricts telemarketing calls and the use of automatic dialing systems, prerecorded voice messages, text messages and faxes. The restrictions protect consumers from unsolicited advertisements and individuals with whom we do not otherwise have an established business relationship. Violations of the TCPA are often litigated in class action lawsuits and a recent SCOTUS opinion better protects plaintiff consumers.

Victoria’s Secret customers may be more cautious when agreeing to receive the company’s ad texts.

The TCPA restricts how a company such as a clothing retailer may contact and communicate by text messaging. Consider the variety of occasions in which your favorite store could obtain, verify and retain your phone number. The click-wrap text at a point-of-sale purchase could include language in which you agree to receive a single or limited number of text messages to receive offers and information. What happens when you opt-in and consent to receive special deal texts, and you get more than you expected?

Victoria’s Secret is the named defendant in a proposed class action lawsuit for over texting. The plaintiff, a man from California alleges Victoria’s Secret violated the TCPA when it sent him just short of 100 text messages in one day. The opt-in message agreement the plaintiff entered into with the retailer was to receive no more than six text messages a month. The automated telephone dialing system used by Victoria’s Secret sent the plaintiff 97 text messages on one day in November 2015.[i]

The restrictions of the TCPA apply to a text messaging ad campaign.

The law generally prohibits phone calls to people, made by automatic telephone dialing systems or an artificial or prerecorded voice. There is an exception to the TCPA, if the call is placed for an emergency purpose or the caller has the prior express consent to initiate what some call “robo-calls.” The prior express consent element of the exception may be derived from the underlying existing relationship with the caller, such as between bank and credit card holder or cell phone provider and customer. In various communications sent to us by our service providers and banks, we might find fine print, which says we consent to receiving text messages when we agree to an offer or simply continue using the service.[ii]

Going beyond the limits of the consumer’s consent may violate the protective restrictions of the TCPA. The California plaintiff has a right to a private action against Victoria’s Secret and may be able to recover for any actual monetary loss in connection with the TCPA violation, as well as a statutory amount of $500 for each violation. If the plaintiff can prove that Victoria’s Secret willfully or knowingly violated their opt-in agreement and the TCPA, the court may award triple the damage award.[iii]

Class action litigation in TCPA cases and the recent SCOTUS landscape opinion.

SCOTUS
Supreme Court of the U.S.

The U.S. Navy contracted with a marketing company to send text messages to 18 to 24-year-olds who opted-in to receiving text messages. The company allegedly exceeded the scope of its op-in list of recipients and messages were sent to unintended recipients, well beyond the recipient age range limits.

In the Navy case, a full settlement offer was made to a named plaintiff, and the SCOTUS ruled that the defendants cannot rely on a settlement offer to one plaintiff, to argue that the claims of that plaintiff are then moot, because of the settlement offer, and seek dismissal of those claims. The SCOTUS relied on contract law principals to conclude that unaccepted settlement offers and unaccepted offers of judgment do not deprive a plaintiff of their interest in a lawsuit.[iv]

Companies defending against TCPA class action suits could previously expect to attempt to defeat a subject class action by offering a full settlement to the class representative. Under the new SCOTUS ruling, an unaccepted settlement offer will not prevent a consumer plaintiff from continuing to prosecute their claims against the TCPA violator, in individual and class action litigation.

Telemarketers using auto-dialers to call and text you their advertisements expect you to do nothing when they violate the TCPA. Prove them wrong. The Zamparo Law Group can help.

Zamparo Law GroupThe Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm, representing consumer plaintiffs harmed by telemarketers violating the TCPA and other similar federal and state laws. Zamparo Law Group in the northwest suburbs of Chicago sues and wins against the companies who refuse to follow the law and instead, use illegal tactics to market their products and services.

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] Data Privacy and Security Insider, Victoria’s Secret hit with TCPA class action for text messages, by Kathryn Rattigan, Feb. 2, 2016.

[ii] Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. § 227 (b)(1), Restrictions on use of Automated Telephone Equipment

[iii] Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. § 227 (c)(5), Private Right of Action

[iv] U.S. Supreme Court Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, No. 15-857 Decided January 20, 2016.

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Federal law requires debt collectors to provide validation notices to consumers

When debt collectors call and attempt to collect a debt they claim you owe them, you have a right to ask for proof of the debt they claim you owe. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act[i] (FDCPA), the debt collector has an obligation to provide written verification of the debt. In fact, within five days of contacting you, every collector must send you a written “validation notice” including the name of the collector, the amount they claim you owe, and your options to dispute the debt if you believe it is not believe you owe the money.[ii] If you want the collector to stop calling you, they must cease their debt collection efforts if you send them a letter indicating that you dispute any portion or the entire amount of the debt.[iii] Despite the clear and well-stated collection practice rules stated in the FDCPA, debt collectors violate Federal law and consumers can sue them and win in court.

Suzanne Husted’s story: fighting back against bad debt collectors

Like many people who experience a cash flow crisis from time to time, Suzanne Husted chose to take out two payday loans, each for $300, and paid them back within a few months. Husted took and repaid the payday loans about 10 years ago. One day recently, Husted started receiving phone calls from two different debt collection companies claiming she still owed $2,400 in principal and interest for the payday loans. She was threatened with being sued and hauled into court if she did not pay.

Assuming the collectors had bad information upon which they relied, Husted asked them to verify when she took out the payday loans. They responded and said she took the loans in 2010 and 2011, half a decade after Husted actually obtained and repaid the loans. Shockingly, when Husted asked for written verification of the loans, she was told she would only see that information when they file lawsuits against her. Husted started sending payments, in fear of being sued, for money she did not owe.[iv]

Consumers have a right to receive a debt validation notice from a creditor.

Federal consumer law is very clear, “Every collector must send you a written ‘validation notice’ telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice must also include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.[v]” If a creditor asks you for money and you do not think their records are correct, ask for the validation notice. There is a good reason a third party collector might not cooperate in sending you validation notice – they have no documentable proof you owe the debt!

Buying and selling lists of debts is big business in the debt collection industry. One of the top consumer complaints about debt collection practices is that debt collectors are trying to collect money the consumer either paid or no longer owe, or debts the consumer never incurred in the first place. An innocent consumer might find it shocking that debt collectors might knowingly try to collect on debts they cannot prove, but it is an unfortunately common practice.

Most common complaints against debt collectors
Image Source: http://bit.ly/1WMJVd4

Thousands of consumers complain and fight back when collectors refuse to provide debt validations.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) receives tens of thousands of complaints about deceptive and fraudulent debt collection efforts. The failure to provide debt verification is a top complaint among consumers and their lawyers who file individual and class action lawsuits against bad debt collectors who violate consumer laws such as the FDCPA. To learn more and read about the worst offenders, read our recent blog article, Report Summary: The most reported abusive and deceptive debt collection companies on the Zamparo Law Blog.

If you receive a suspicious debt collection call, keep a good record. Always make a note of the date and time of a collection call and ask the caller for their name or operator identification number. Ask detailed questions about the debt they claim you owe, and ask for verification. Your time and damage from harassment are compensable by law. You may be entitled to sue for individual damages as well as statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

Fraudulent and deceptive collectors are counting on you not to do anything to stop them. Prove them wrong, and let them know consumers will fight for their rights. The Zamparo Law Group can help.

Zamparo ImageThe 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

 

[i] The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p

[ii] Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information, Debt Collection.

[iii] Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information, Debt Collection.

[iv] Los Angeles Times, Business Column, When collectors call, demand proof of your debt, by David Lazarus, Jan 26, 2016.

[v] The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §1692g, Validation of Debts.

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Report Summary: The most reported abusive and deceptive debt collection companies

The Alliance for a Just Society is an organization dedicated to addressing economic, racial and social inequalities. This month, the group published an extensive research study, profiling the companies with the most complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for debt collection complaints. Federal law requires third party debt collectors to follow certain strict guidelines controlling how they are allowed to collect debts, and our article, Consumer protection overview of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), published on the Zamparo Law Group, Consumer Protection Blog explains the law in detail.

Some of the common complaints about debt collectors include: (1) Continued attempts at collecting debts not actually owed; (2) Improper communication tactics; (3) Disclosure of verification of the debt; (4) False statements or representations about debts; (5) Improper contact or sharing of consumer information; and (6) Threatening or taking illegal actions against individuals.

When a debt collector violates the FDCPA, our law firm can help clients enforce the law and seek a court’s award of actual damages suffered, statutory damages and attorney’s fees. Many people assume the aggressive debt collectors make significant money (a $13 billion industry in the U.S.[i]) using abusive tactics, and they may consider it a cost of doing business, to sustain lawsuits and judgments entered against them in Federal court. To help stop these unethical collection companies, we should learn and be aware of how they violate the law, and share this information with other consumers who may be victims of abusive and deceptive collection practices.

Most common complaints against debt collectors
Image Source: http://bit.ly/1WMJVd4

The following summary highlights and lists four of the worst offenders, identified by the Alliance for a Just Society in their January 2016 report, Unfair Deceptive and Abusive Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics. Notice in the review below, the most common consumer complaints are the continued attempts at collecting debts not owed.

  1. Encore Capital Group, Inc.[ii]

The CFPB received more than twice the complaints about the Encore Capital Group than any other debt collection company, totaling more than 6 percent of all the debt collections complaints in the CFPB database. Between July 7, 2013 and August 7, 2015, the CFPB received 4,684 consumer complaints. Encore is the second-largest debt collector, pursing collections of 7.5 percent of the debts in the U.S.; their President and CEO’s 2014 executive compensation was $5,190,334.

The three most common issues raised by consumers were: (1) Continued attempts to collect debt not owed; (2) Disclosure verification of debt; and (3) Communication tactics.

Example of a consumer complaint: “I have been receiving numerous calls from [Encore subsidiary] Midland Credit. They are looking for someone else, not me, for over a month. Sometimes it is automated and they just ring the phone; I called them back XXXX times and asked them to take off my number — calls keep coming. Today I spoke to a person that said he would remove it from the automated calls and now the manual calls have begun.”

  1. PRA Group, Inc.[iii]

The CFPB received 2,216 complaints about the PRA Group between July 7, 2013 and August 7, 2015. PRA is the third-largest debt collector, pursing collections of 6.9 percent of the debts in the U.S.; their Chairman of the Board, President and CEO’s 2014 executive compensation was $5,606,441.

The three most common issues raised by consumers were: (1) Continued attempts to collect debt not owed; (2) Communication tactics; and (3) Disclosure verification of debt.

Example of a consumer complaint: “My XXXX died owing a credit card debt. The debt collectors say I now owe the debt. My name is not on the application for credit nor have I benefited from the credit card. The debt collectors reported it to the credit reporting corps. And it appears on my credit report as a debt I failed to pay and fraud. I am applying to refinance my home and I am being denied because of the report. I have no other blemishes on my credit report. I can’t sleep with the fear of losing my home.”

  1. Enhanced Recovery Company, LLC.[iv]

The CFPB received 2,016 complaints about the Enhanced Recovery Company between July 7, 2013 and August 7, 2015. Enhanced Recovery pursues collections of 2.7 percent of the debts in the U.S.; their President and CEO’s 2014 executive compensation is not publicly available.

The three most common issues raised by consumers were: (1) Continued attempts to collect debt not owed; (2) Disclosure verification of debt; and (3) False statements or representation.

Example of a consumer complaint: “I received many calls from a debt collector, to the point where I had to change my phone number. This is a debt that is from 6+ years ago, which I don’t have proof that I paid but in fact did pay. They have gone ahead and reported it in my credit reports. I tried calling XXXX last time in an effort to solve this issue and was threatened that if I did not pay they would contact my XXXX and contact my employer (which they repeatedly called and that’s how we found out it was a false collection agency).”

  1. Citigroup, Inc.[v]

The CFPB received 1,553 complaints about the Citigroup between July 7, 2013 and August 7, 2015. Citigroup’s top paid executive, the Co-President’s 2014 executive compensation was $15,892,220.

The three most common issues raised by consumers were: (1) Continued attempts to collect debt not owed; (2) Communication tactics; and (3) Disclosure verification of debt.

Example of a consumer complaint: “Letter sent to me pertaining to my DEAD husband’s account. My husband died on XXXX XXXX, 1991 (almost XXXX years ago). I believe the account was paid off, but I might be wrong. But I do believe there is a statute of limitations with debt collections. I would consider XXXX years within that limit. Also, it was sent to my current address that has never been associated with my dead husband at all. I am not listed on this account at all.”

The remaining debt buyers and collectors on the Alliance for a Just Society list[vi] are:

  1. Expert Global Solutions.
  2. Resurgent Capital Services L.P.
  3. Capital One Financial Corp.
  4. Synchrony Financial.
  5. Convergent Resources, Inc.
  6. JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  7. Allied Interstate LLC.
  8. Bank of America Corporation.
  9. Navient Corp.
  10. Dynamic Recovery Solutions, LLC.
  11. Wells Fargo.

If you are experiencing similar complaints about these or any other debt collector, the Zamparo Law Group can help protect you and your consumer rights.

Zamparo ImageThe 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 FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn pages. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.

[i]Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: CFPB Annual Report 2015.” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mar. 2015, p. 7.

[ii] See the Unfair Deceptive and Abusive Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics (hereinafter “Consumer Complaints Profile Report”) at page 10.

[iii] Consumer Complaints Profile Report at page 12.

[iv] Consumer Complaints Profile Report at page 14.

[v] Consumer Complaints Profile Report at page 16.

[vi] Alliance for a Just Society, Unfair Deceptive and Abusive Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics, Jan. 2016.

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The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act helps prevent people from tracking you down.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) of 1994[i] 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.[ii]

High profile stalking and murder cases highlighted a need for safeguards protecting drivers.

The DPPA was passed after a series of instances of abuse of personal information held by the government. An abortion doctor, Susan Wicklund, was the target of abortion protesters and activists who obtained the doctor’s home address from running her license plate number in a public database. The group of protesters picketed outside Wicklund’s home for a month and followed her daughter to school. At one point the protesters placed cement barricades in the doctor’s driveway to prevent her from going to work. In response to this and other cases of abuse of drivers’ private information, the DPPA was signed into law.

In 1989, before the DPPA was law, actor Rebecca Schaeffer was killed by a fanatic follower and stalker who found her home address through DMV records in California. Public outrage led to the bill’s introduction in Congress in reaction to the shocking ease in which a murderer could track someone down. In 1989, a report on the actor’s death discussed how the killer obtained her information, “For as little as $1, a person can go into any of California’s DMV offices, fill out Form 70 stating who they are, what person they want information on, the reason, and how they intend to use it. Even if they lie, the information is delivered on the spot.[iii]

Illinois License PlateThe DPPA identifies requirements for the permissible use of driver information.

The law states that, “A State department of motor vehicles, and any officer, employee or contractor thereof, shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available to any person or entity: personal information…about any individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record…[iv]” Personal information, “shall [only] be disclosed for use in connection with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft, motor vehicle emissions…[v]” Permissible users identified in the DPPA include law and government agents working in their professional capacities. A list of examples also identify the merchants and individuals doing work in the normal course of the sale, licensing and insurance of drivers and vehicles as permissible users with qualified access to driver information.

Any individual covered by the DPPA, who knowingly discloses or makes personal information available to another outside the coverage of the law, may be charged with a violation of the law and subject to criminal fines and civil liability.

Penalties and civil lawsuits are available for violations of the DPPA.

Under the penalties section of the DPPA, “Any State department of motor vehicles that has a policy or practice of substantial noncompliance with this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty imposed by the Attorney General of not more than $5,000 a day for each day of substantial noncompliance.[vi]

Private individuals may file a lawsuit in a U.S. district court against, “a person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for a purpose not permitted under this chapter.[vii]” If the individual proves a violation of the DPPA, the court may award actual damages up to $2,500 as well as punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other relief as the court determines necessary to remedy the privacy violation.[viii]

Zamparo ImageThe Zamparo Law Group, P.C. will enforce the law and protect your privacy rights.

If your personal information is illegally obtained, you may call the Zamparo Law Group and ask for a free case review. The Zamparo Law Group attorneys will advise you of your rights under DPPA and help determine if you have a case to bring against the wrongdoing individual or agency.

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.

 

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

[ii] EPIC.org Electronic Privacy Information Center, The Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and the Privacy of Your State Motor Vehicle Record.

[iii] Franks Reel Reviews, The Death of Rebecca Schaeffer, by Frank Williams.

[iv] 18 U.S.C. § 2721 (a)(1).

[v] 18 U.S.C. § 2721 (b).

[vi] 18 U.S.C. § 2723 (b).

[vii] 18 U.S.C. § 2724 (a).

[viii] 18 U.S.C. § 2724 (b).

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About the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act

The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act[i] (ICFA),identifies unlawfully deceptive business practices and provides legal remedies for consumers, borrowers and people doing business who are damaged by fraud and deception in the conduct of trade or commerce. The automobile sales, repossession and repair industries are historic in the incidence of fraudulent and deceptive practices where consumers too often rely on bad practices and faulty or missing disclosures of important information a consumer needs to make an informed decision. The ICFA covers commercial activity in a variety of product and service issues. The penalties for violating the ICFA include criminal and civil penalties and liability when a fraud or deception victim makes a complaint to the state or files a private lawsuit against the wrongdoing individual or business.

The ICFA defines unlawful practices as follows: “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices, including but not limited to the use or employment of any deception fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation or the concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact, with intent that others rely upon the concealment, suppression or omission of such material fact, [omitted[ii]] in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful whether any person has in fact been misled, deceived or damaged thereby.[iii]

Examples of unfair or deceptive acts include chain letters and pyramid schemes.

Chain referral sales techniques are prohibited under the ICFA[iv]. Chain letter referrals involve a seller convincing a buyer to make merchandise purchases and receive a discount if that buyer offers up the names of other potential customers to the seller, and where the seller is actually makes sales to those buyers, at which time the original discount offered to the buyer becomes effective, often in the form of a credit or commission reduction in the originally stated price.

A pyramid sales scheme[v] involves an operation or plan where a person in exchange for money or something of value (most often the promise of income from others you bring into the plan) is to participate in the same plan or operation of signing other people up in the operation of plan, and income is not primarily a function of the actual sale of goods or services sold. In some examples, there is a fee to join the plan, and when the person who joins, gets others to sign up, they receive a percentage of the others who sign up and pay their fee. The person at the top if the pyramid wins and makes money on everyone below or after them in the pyramid, and this is illegal in Illinois under the ICFA.

Failures to disclose information, providing false reports and threatening conduct are also illegal.

Consumers rely on accurate legally required disclosures in the sale of certain items, such as automobiles. Auto dealers must make certain disclosures about the vehicles they sell and when, for example, they fail to disclose to buyers that a vehicle suffered certain damage, there is a violation of the ICFA[vi]. Where inspection reports are required by state or local municipalities, the reports must be accurate. In the sale of homes, especially older homes, there is a potential for payoffs and fraud. In the example where a false termite inspection report was provided in a home inspection, the false report[vii] is an ICFA violation.

Not only the information involved in a commercial transaction receives the attention and force of the ICFA, the process in which the deal is handled may also be protected. In the example where a homeowner and their contractor were in dispute over an invoice for services, the plumber[viii] violated the ICFA by threatening to rip our newly installed pipes and turn off the water service unless the homeowner paid the bill.

Violations and ICFA damages are sought in both Illinois criminal and civil courts.

The office of the Illinois Attorney General has broad power to investigate and enforce the elements of the ICFA to protect the safety of Illinois residents and consumers from fraudulent, unfair and deceptive business practices.[ix] The Attorney General can investigate suspects and defendants charged with violations, requiring them to submit written statements as the office also conducts discovery, issues subpoenas for individuals and documents and conducts prosecution hearings and trials. There are harsh penalties for contempt when an individual or organization fails to comply with the Attorney General.

In civil cases for damages, a private citizen, often hires a consumer rights lawyer to file an individual lawsuit for damages as result of a violation of the ICFA protections against consumer deception and fraudulent practices. The violated consumer may recover compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees if they succeed in proving an ICFA violation.

In order to establish and prove a consumer fraud or deceptive practices violation the plaintiff must prove that there was, (1) a deceptive act or practice, (2) the defendant in the case relied on the plaintiff’s deception, and (3) that deception occurred in trade or commerce, (4) where the defendant suffered actual damages, proximately caused by the deception. For example, if you sell me a car from your dealership with a bogus damage disclosure, and the wheel falls off, leading to a car wreck, I can hire a lawyer, sue you and likely win money in court to pay for the damages, injuries, to punish you and pay for my lawyer.

Zamparo Law GroupThe Zamparo Law Group, P.C. will enforce the law and protect your consumer rights.

If you are involved in a bad business deal or transaction and believe that the other party violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, you may call the Zamparo Law Group and ask for a free case review. The Zamparo Law Group attorneys will tell you if your bad business deal is covered by the ICFA and whether you have a cause of action against another individual or organization that you may be able to win or settle in or out of court.

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.

[i] The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 ILCS 505/1 et seq.

[ii] Omitted: “or the use or employment of any practice described in Section 2 of the “uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act”, approved August 5, 1965.”

[iii] ICFA 815 ILCS 505/2, Sec. 2 Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

[iv] ICFA 815 ILCS 505/2A

[v] ICFA 815 ILCS 502/1(g)

[vi] Totz v. Continental DuPage Acura, 236 Ill. App. 3d 891 (1992).

[vii] Warren v. LeMay, 142 Ill. App. 3d 550 (1986).

[viii] Ekl v. Knecht, 223 Ill. App. 3d 234 (1991).

[ix] ICFA 815 ILCS 505/3-6

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What exactly is “Consumer Law?”

When we tell people that we are lawyers, they inevitably ask, “What kind of lawyer are you?” When we say that we are consumer lawyers, they quickly move on to another topic of discussion. We find that few people—other lawyers included!—have an accurate conception of what consumer law is. Even other monikers like “consumer rights law” and “consumer protection law” still leave people at a loss concerning what we do.

It’s true: “consumer law” can be a bit confusing because it encompasses so many areas of the law. Generally, however, it deals with issues arising out of consumer credit transactions and deceptive sales practices. These seemingly simple areas involve a host of laws including federal laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Driver Privacy Protection Act, and state laws prohibiting unfair and deceptive business practices, mortgage foreclosure, and fraud, just to name a few!

  1. Defending Debtors’ Rights

Stopping harassment, defending collections lawsuits, providing consumer credit counseling, and working to settle and eliminate consumer debt short of bankruptcy.

  1. Credit Reporting

Fighting the effects of identity theft and employment background check errors, correcting improper credit reporting; advising about bankruptcy, and stopping unauthorized credit inquiries.

  1. Mortgage Lending

Defending foreclosure suits, fighting foreclosure “rescue” scams; stopping predatory lending.

  1. Telephone Consumer Protection Act

Stopping abusive patterns of excessive and harassing collection calls to cell phones without consent.

  1. Unfair and Deceptive Business Practices

Holding businesses accountable for playing fair in the marketplace.

credit card sharksWe once met a client who had been searching online for a lawyer regarding a debt harassment issue that had plagued him for over five years. His searches, frustratingly, consistently led him to personal injury attorneys. Finally, a friend told him to look up “consumer” attorneys. He immediately found our firm and found the help he needed. Don’t let this be you! If any of the above describe what you’re dealing with, contact us today.

As consumer lawyers, we are proud to advocate for and protect the rights of everyday people from all walks of life. We look forward to serving you, too.

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.

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Stopping scam and spam phone calls and text messages

Do you receive unwanted phone calls and text messages from strange numbers, day and night? Have you added your number to the National Do Not Call Registry but receive calls anyways? Advances in communication technology and software make it easier than ever for scammers and spammers to inundate you with sales pitches and offers you did not solicit. Many telemarketers use computerized autodialing systems that do not check to see whether your number appears on the National Do Not Call Registry. Being aware of your consumer rights is important. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Zamparo Law Group can help protect and enforce your rights.

Consumer protection laws generally allow certain types of non-sales phone calls where your permission is not required:

  1. Political subject matter;
  2. Fundraising by charitable organizations;
  3. Individuals and organizations with general information;
  4. Debtors to whom you may owe money;
  5. Surveys from research and business groups;
  6. Individuals and organizations with whom and which you do business.

Keeping track of incoming phone calls is useful when you work to protect the privacy of your phone numbers. Some people pay a surcharge to their phone providers to keep their numbers unlisted. An unlisted phone number however is only as private as you keep it, and by listing that number on websites and social media can open the door to a private number landing on an autodialing call list.

To avoid the risk of more communications, it is a good idea not to return a call to an unwanted spam call made by a live caller or a “robocaller.” Instead, make a record of the call and report a violation to the FTC. You may notice phone numbers that appear many times, and the Zamparo Law Group attorneys may be able to help you take legal action against violators of your consumer rights.

Register with the National Do Not Call Registry and submit complaints of violating sales calls.

It is quick and easy to add your home and cell phone numbers to the Do Not Call Registry by either visiting donotcall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222. From the website, click the registration link to add your home and mobile numbers to the Registry. You can add three numbers at a time, and your email address, where a verification email will be sent and contain a link to click and finish the process. After 31 days of your numbers being added to the National Do Not Call Registry, you may submit a complaint with the FTC.

Landline and cell phone numbers are added to the Registry quickly and you can use this verification link to make sure your numbers are included. You may also review the Registry to find yours and other phone numbers that may not be called and texted by sellers and telemarketers (note: you will have to register and create a profile to access the Registry).

What to do about unwanted text messages from numbers you do not recognize.

Not everyone has unlimited text messaging and many people pay per text message. It is generally illegal for companies to send you text messages without your permission. However, there are exceptions and it is lawful for an individual or company to send you text messages if you (1) have a prior existing business relationship, or (2) the text is a non-commercial survey or fundraising message.

The FTC recommends you delete unwanted texts, do not engage or respond, do not give out personal information via text, place your cell phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. Additionally, if you use AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile or Bell, you may forward the unwanted text, free of charge to 7726 (SPAM ). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also publishes information about unwanted text and email communications as well as a link to file a complaint online.

Are Debt Collectors are calling you and violating your consumer rights?

This short video by the FTC explains your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). A debt collector may only call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., and when they do, they may not curse, insult or lie to you, or demand more money than you owe. They also may not claim the paperwork they send you are legal forms if they are not. Debt collectors may not invent consequences for not paying your debt. If your employer does not allow you to receive collection calls at work, the collectors may not contact you there. If you want to exercise your right to stop debt collectors from calling you, you can, and it can be done by sending them a letter.

Attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group can help you fight for your consumer rights and collect damages.

Whether there are statutory damages allowed by law or there is a class action lawsuit you might be able to join, the consumer rights attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group can tell you how they may be able to help you collect damages where the law allows.

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.

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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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