Tag: Consumer Rights

Credit Bureau Reporting: New rules require more transparency and information management

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), establishes rules for credit reporting agencies (CRAs) directing how consumer information must be reported. CRAs include agencies like the major credit bureaus, tenant screening companies and check verification services. The information used in consumer credit reports is used by third parties in making determinations about a consumer’s eligibility for credit, insurance rates, employment and housing.[i] The Furnisher Rules for information collection and use in connection with the FCRA is codified in a section of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), titled, Part 660 – Duties of Furnishers of Information to Consumer Reporting Agencies.[ii] The Furnisher Rules require CRAs to establish and implement reasonable policies and procedures for consumers to make direct disputes of information, as well as policies to ensure the accuracy and integrity of furnished information.

About the National Consumer Assistance Plan

The three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are participants in the National Consumer Assistance Plan, which is designed to improve the collection of complete and accurate consumer information, as well as to make the process of information collection and management transparent to consumers. The plan includes provisions for updates to the mandatory reporting requirements and procedures for collecting consumer data.

The plan impacts the organizations who furnish data to the credit bureaus, namely collection agencies, debt buyers and as well, those who are reporters of authorized user data. Some of the new rules under the plan take effect on June 15, 2016, and others are effective September 15, 2017.[iii] The plan rules and changes were provided to data furnishers in March to help in transitioning to the new requirements to accomplish accuracy and transparency goals in the best interests of consumers.

Examples of new requirements on credit bureaus

Collection agencies and debt buyers are required to implement data reporting changes before the effective dates as follows:

  1. Report the name of the Original Creditor and Creditor Classification Code – 06/15/2016
  2. Do not report a debt that did not arise from a contract or agreement to pay – 06/15/2016
  3. Report a full file monthly – 06/15/2016
  4. Do not report Medical Debt collection accounts less than 180 days old – 09/15/2017
  5. Report a delete for accounts that are being paid or were paid in full through insurance – 09/15/2017

Additionally, all data furnishers must report using the newly established minimum reporting requirements for consumer personally identifiable information before September 15, 2017, and as well before that date, all reporters of authorized user data must report the full date of birth for new authorized users on all accounts.

Click here for the link to the detailed grid of furnisher rules and effective dates.

The impact of the new rules on CRAs

Changes under the Plan rules should reduce the number of consumer complaints and lawsuits filed against CRAs. The new rules help direct the CRAs to be in compliance with the FCRA requirements. The more transparent process and accuracy measures can prevent the mistakes and credit reporting violations that cause harm to consumers, leading to litigation and FTC investigation and enforcement.

New rules and policy directives often draw critics and the National Consumer Assistance Plan is no exception. Critics of the plan suggest that the implementation of the rules by the CRAs may involve confusion and error in direction. The unintended consequences of new policies and rules often present challenges to organizations working to achieve compliance with rules. Some CRAs could refuse to comply with the rules or purposely make their own interpretations suiting their perceived best interests.

In the event you as a consumer, detect that a CRA such as a collection agency is violating the new rules and the FCRA, you may have a right to sue them and file a complaint with the FTC. The Zamparo Law Group is advocating for consumers whose information is not kept or recorded correctly as required by consumer laws.

As consumer laws change, the Zamparo Law Group publishes articles and resources to help consumers better understand the laws designed to protect them from harm. When the credit bureaus fail to follow the law, the Zamparo Law Group is there to help consumers fight for their rights and recover after harmful violations by the bureaus and other CRAs.

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] FTC website, FCRA’s Furnisher Rule: It’s all about accuracy and integrity.

[ii] CFR, Duties of Furnishers of Information to Consumer Reporting Agencies, Title 16 → Chapter I → Subchapter F → Part 660

[iii] Furnisher Data Reporting and Process Requirement Changes, To All Data Furnishers March 2016.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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Proposed Legislation: The Restoring Statutory Rights Act

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced new law to correct the unfair impact of forced arbitration clauses on consumers. There are several reasons consumers are gravely disadvantaged when large companies and service providers easily win in arbitration. Forced arbitration agreements are derived in concept from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), enacted in 1925. The FAA was not originally intended to be used to compel consumers to settle disputes in arbitration when they would otherwise have access to the courts. The new law, the Restoring Statutory Rights Act, would protect consumers and change the course of the law. This legislation is timely and many consumer rights advocates are upset by the recent U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions upholding forced arbitration agreements imposed on consumers.

Consumers are significantly disadvantaged by forced arbitration clauses.

Forced arbitration clauses are found in the fine print of contracts, in click through agreements online, and in the literature sometimes included in a consumer’s monthly billing statement. In many cases, the consumer is never asked whether they voluntarily consent to having any disputes settled in binding arbitration. Simply by continuing to use a service or make payments on a home or car, the consumer may be consenting to the arbitration clause. Most consumers are unaware that they are limited in arbitration and they will never see a courtroom or judge, even if they have a significant complaint against the lender or service provider seeking to collect a disputed amount of money. In one case we wrote about in Arbitration clauses prevent consumers from suing in court, but might not end the fight, a consumer was sued and lost in arbitration over a debt he did not owe.

Adding another layer of disadvantage on the consumer, the companies writing forced arbitration clauses into their consumer agreements are also the ones to select the panel of arbitrators. There are limits on the rules of law and procedure in arbitration. There is no jury in arbitration, no elected or appointed judge, simply a panel of arbitrators who are not necessarily lawyers or people with legal experience.

The Federal Arbitration Act was never intended to force individual consumers into arbitration.

The FAA statute was written to help companies with equal bargaining power an opportunity to use voluntary arbitration for dispute resolution.[i] The law was not written to compel individual consumers to arbitration, especially when they are forced into arbitration by a clause in the fine print they never read. Recent SCOTUS decisions interpreted the FAA statute as applying to individual consumers who are forced to settle disputes in arbitration and have no right to go to court with their own claims against consumer protection violations or other wrongdoing by the company suing them.

The Restoring Statutory Rights Act could protect consumers from binding arbitration.

Congress is asked to pass the Restoring Statutory Rights Act[ii] to redirect a legal path going in the wrong direction, in the opinion of its authors and supporters.[iii] Lobbying for the necessary changes in the law to protect consumers from abusive and unfair collection practices and lawsuits, there will likely be strong support for this proposed legislation among individual consumers and small business owners. The new law would directly correct some of the current problems and inequities in arbitration.

  1. The Restoring Statutory Rights Act would make claims by individuals and small businesses, arising out of violations of state or federal law or constitution, exempt from the FAA statute, allowing these claims to proceed in a traditional court of law.
  2. State and federal courts can apply the laws in their jurisdictions to contract interpretations, arbitration clauses and challenges to the enforceability of forced arbitration clauses, if the Restoring Statutory Rights Act becomes law.
  3. The enforceability of an arbitration clause would be a decision for the court, not the arbitrators, under the Restoring Statutory Rights Act.

U.S. CongressContacting your U.S. Senator to ask them to support the Restoring Statutory Rights Act is a step you can take to help fight back against forced arbitration.

The Zamparo Law Group follows legislation and legal decisions affecting consumer rights. As there are new developments that could affect consumers, we will share the news on our social media pages.

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 National Law Review, Federal Arbitration Act Trumps State Law Again, Jan. 14, 2016.

[ii] U.S. Senate, Restoring Statutory Rights and Interests of the States Act of 2016.

[iii] The Hill, New bill aims to restore rights lost in forced arbitration clauses, by Lisa Gilbert, contributor, and Sonia Gill. Feb. 11, 2016.

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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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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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