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29

Jul 2010

Before bankruptcy: beating a warrant in debt

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy, warrant in debt / 64 comments

Bill, not his real name, is filing bankruptcy with me in October.  (He needs a couple more months to finish everything to get his bankruptcy approved.)

Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Robert Weed

Virginia Bankruptcy Lawyer Robert Weed

In the meantime, he received a warrant in debt.  Midland Credit Management, a big debt buyer, was suing him on a old Chase card.  He didn’t want to get a judgment and a garnishment while we were waiting for the right time to file the bankruptcy.

Bill knew, from my warrant in debt website, that he had to go to court on his return date, and tell the judge he wanted a trial.  He had an easy basis for saying he wanted a trial.  “I never heard of Midland Credit Management.  I don’t know who they are or what this is about.”

He asked for a bill of particulars, and Midland’s lawyer asked for grounds of defense.

When Midland submitted their bill of particulars, they wrote they had bought the debt from Chase, and Bill owed Chase $4822.

For Bill’s grounds of defense, he wrote to the court and Midland’s lawyer that there were no documents showing that Midland really bought the debt from Chase; and that Midland had no evidence of how much he owed Chase–they would need a witness from Chase to prove that.

Bill was nervous on his warrant in debt trial date, but it was easy.  When they called his name, the lawyer for Midland said, “Your Honor, this is our first dismissal of the day.”  The Judge then turned to Bill and scolded him slightly to be financially responsible.  Then he  said, you won today,  you are free to go.

Bill handled this on his own, but I had given him some tips.  One thing I said, if this is still America, you’ll win.  Nice to know this still is America.

Under Virginia law, Midland would be able to bring the same warrant in debt a second time.  But they won’t be able to move fast enough to beat our October bankruptcy filing.  (And they probably couldn’t prove it then, either.)

When we get to October, his bankruptcy will go fine.

PS  Here’s an update on March 30, 2011.  The Attorney General of Minnesota announced he is going after Midland, and their parent company, Encore.  He says they used robo-signed affidavits to sue people on in Minnesota.  In other words, Midland claimed they reviewed their records and had proof so-and-so owed them money–but nobody actually looked to see whether they really had that proof.  This press release would be something to bring to the attention of the Judge, if you go to court and fight Midland on one of these.

PPS.  Washington Post had a good article on beating Midland in May 2014.

In Northern Virginia, Encore’s Midland unit has filed 16,878 lawsuits from 2003 to March of this year in the district courts of five counties. The company won nearly two-thirds of those cases through judgments against consumers who either failed to appear in court or simply agreed to pay the amount.

Almost 20 percent of those people wound up having their wages garnished, according to a review conducted by The Washington Post. Debts range from as little as $53 to as much as $23,786.

The Post article includes a comment from a guy who calls himself “rogerramjetz.”  He says he used to work as a collection lawyer on exactly those cases.

A guy gets a credit card with an Account Agreement that charges him $137 to open the account the first time he uses the card, and the card has a $250 credit limit. He then buys a $35 iron and a $45 coat at Walmart with the card. He now owes $217 the next month, and when he doesn’t pay the bill, he accrues an interest charge of $5 at 29% interest. When he doesn’t pay the next month, the card accrues a late charge of $35, $5 in interest, and an overdraft fee of $35 a month, totaling $297. The following month, interest is $6, and the late fee is $35 and the overdraft fee is again $35. A year and a half after the initial $80 purchase, the account shows a $1600 balance to Providian Bank. Totally legal.

Providian then sells the debt to Midland for $0.17 on the dollar, or around $200, and gives the last statement the guy received for $1600 as evidence of the debt. Glasser & Glasser in Norfolk is promptly retained to sue the guy for $1600, with interest at 29%, and accrued interest since the default a year before totaling $500, while the Account Agreement is invoked for a “33.3% reasonable attorney’s fee, totaling $533” and court costs of $63.00. An affidavit from Midland and Providian is generated, and a sheriff delivers the Warrant in Debt to the guy.

Total sued for? $2,693, but we will gladly settle for a lump sum of eighty cents on the dollar, or $2,154. For an iron and a coat at Walmart. Or we will take a judgment and garnish 25% of your wages until paid, and in three years the balance will double again at 29% interest.

How do I know this? I worked for Glasser as local counsel.

“Roger’s” example may be extreme but it shows how small debts can lead to fairly big garnishments, with late fees, over limit fees, later over limit fees, legal fees and the rest are added in–the just 29% interest alone doing it’s magic.

What’s the lesson:  Many credit cards in bankruptcy have already been money makers for the credit card companies.   And if you are getting sued by people you never heard of, it’s time to talk to a lawyer.

 

 

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12

Jul 2010

Before bankruptcy: outlaw debt collectors

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy / 3 comments

People who need  to file bankruptcy are often abused by debt collectors.

CNN Money reported Saturday that complaints against debt collectors to the Federal Trade Commission are up 50% from 2007 to 2009–and up another 15% this year.

“Harassing phone calls, abusive language and physical violence are becoming a bigger part of business as debt collectors struggle to round up money from people who don’t have it,” CNN reported.

People who need  to file bankruptcy sometimes feel too guilty to complain about these illegal threats.  My firm sues five or six debt collectors a month.  Two of three for harassment before bankruptcies are filed.  And another two or three for what they did after bankruptcy.   (There are a handful of lawyers nationally who sue debt collectors a dozen times a month, months after month. )

Most of what we sue on are what the collectors call “technical violations.”  Usually continuing to call after being told to call the bankruptcy lawyer.  Also, sending letters threatening to sue, when they don’t really intend to sue.   (We sometimes see otherwise law-abiding companies make seriously illegal threats when they are talking in Spanish to Spanish-speaking consumers.)

When the consumer is obviously reading from instructions given by his bankruptcy lawyer, most callers know to be careful.

Recently a handful of my bankruptcy clients have gotten threats of immediate arrest.  These are for payday loans that have been sold to outlaw debt collectors.  These outlaws clearly know they are illegal and don’t care.

We sued one of those outfits last falls and got a $10,000 judgment for our client–but there’s no chance to collect it.  (Although they had several US addresses, this outfit may not be in America at all.)

Suing to stop violations only helps when you are suing (mostly) honest people.   Really abusive collectors are just criminals.    Outlaw debt collectors use the telephone to threaten criminal arrest to extort payment.  They violate the Federal extortion statute, 41 USC 875(d).  They can (and should) be imprisoned for two years.

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01

Jul 2010

Watch Out for "Avoid Bankruptcy" Scams

Posted by / in Before Bankruptcy / 9 comments

Bankruptcy should be a last resort.    Most people want to look at all the alternatives before they file bankruptcy.  That makes some people easy victims of “avoid bankruptcy” scams.

I’ve talked to three people in the last ten days who sent ten thousand dollars or more to “debt negotiators.” They stopped when the sheriff brought court papers.  At that point, each one realized they had been scammed.  And they realized it was time to talk to a bankruptcy attorney.

Yesterday, I met Linda–not her real name.  This is her story.

When she signed up with this debt negotiator,  she had $98,000 in credit card debts. They were all current.  She had stayed current by living on the credit cards all month, and then her entire paycheck went to make the minimum payments.  She knew this couldn’t go on.

Ten months later, she got court papers for her$20,000 Bank of American credit card.  She had sent $11,119 over the ten months to the debt negotiator, and they had settled two credit cards for her.  One for $629 and one for $2190.   So, she had paid $8300 in legal fees, to get rid of $2819 in debts.  Not a good deal.

There’s a lot of income in Linda’s family, so she may end up in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

She is prepared for the worst case, which is this.  She may have to pay the bankruptcy court $300 per month for five years and have to pay me $3323.  That’s $21,323 to get rid of debts that now (with late fees) are over $110,000.   That’s a good deal.

Best case would be a chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Again about $3400 in legal fees, and the whole $110,000 would be wiped out at once.  That’s really a bargain.  If she had seen a bankruptcy attorney when she first contacted the scammers instead, she would have been an easy chapter 7.  Why is that?  What messes up her income eligibility is the new part time job her husband took on the weekends to try to make the payments.  Without that job, eligibility would have been fine.

I’d like to go after these debt negotiators for false advertising and get that money back.  (At this point it would go to the bankruptcy court to pay a little to the credit cards–but that was what Linda was trying to do with it.)  When I checked, I saw how careful they are to avoid any claim of false advertising.  Look at this:

“Some companies “promise” results and advertise exceptional settlements as commonplace. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution is different; we make no promises and will not guarantee you we can negotiate your debts to a certain percentage. We are experienced attorneys and trained legal advocates and adhere to the following minimum performance standard: If we do not reduce your debt by at least 35% of what you owe, we will refund your fees for settling that particular debt and still resolve the debt on your behalf.”

If you read that carefully–they are bragging that they “make no promises” and “will not guarantee.”  Well, they are telling the truth about that.  So its hard to make a false advertising case against someone who says they promise nothing.

I don’t know what to do.  These outfits have loads of money to spend on advertising, because they charge so much and do so little.   The best I can do is warn you.  If it seems too good to be true, it isn’t true.

My recommendation, if you want to try to avoid bankruptcy and work out lower payments, is Money Management International. They know what the credit card companies will agree to, because basically they were set up by the credit card companies. And they will try to give you an accurate estimate of what they can get your payment, including their fee, down to.

There are a number of other companies that are honest and do the same thing.  The National Foundation for Credit Counselling certifies counselors who a trained and tested on being able to help people, rather than scam them.

People who say they can do better than an NFCC member, in nearly every case, are lying.  What if you talk to Money Management or another reputable credit counselor and they cannot give you the help you need?  Then it’s time to talk to a bankruptcy attorney.

PS.  Just was sent this link to a Government Accounting Office study of these “avoid bankruptcy” outfits.  Thanks to Robert Brandt, a bankruptcy attorney in Alexandria VA, who saw my comments and passed on the study.

PS May 15, 2015

Thomas Macey and Jeffrey Aleman, the two lawyers behind Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, were suspended from the practice of law, by the Illinois Supreme Court, yesterday.   US Justice Department lawyers, who are also chasing Macey and Aleman, said, we’re not done with them, yet.

PPS  March 18, 2016

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau won $40 million in fines, against Morgan Drexen, one of the biggest debt settlement operations.  They were also ordered to refund $133 million to the consumers they scammed.  You can read about that, here.  It’s not clear how much they will be able to collect.  This shows the CFPB trying to shut down the worst of these scammers.

Also, this week, we collected $1500 from Global Client Solutions.  Global handles the payments for nearly all of the hundreds of debt settlement operations.  They are one of six defendants we are suing on behalf of one of our clients, named Cary.  So far we haven’t heard form the other five.  They are due in court in mid April.  Cary got scammed out of $1133.  We’ve gotten $750 back so far (we got the other $750 for doing the work.)  Virginia law gives her triple damages, so we’re trying to get to $3400.

PPS Federal Trade Commission Shuts Down Some More Scams

The Federal Trade Commission shut down another set of these debt settlement scammers today.  Here are the details.

 


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