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Telephone Communication Protection Act (TCPA)

In 1991, the United States Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).  The primary goal of the TCPA is to protect individuals from harassing telemarketing phone calls.  More specifically, the TCPA is designed to prevent the annoying pre-recorded calls that you receive from unknown numbers at all hours of the day.  Common pre-recorded messages will sound something like this:

“Congratulations, you qualify for an all-expense paid trip to sunny Florida.  To redeem your gift, press 1.”

“Did you know that you can save on your electric bill?  Press 0 to speak to one of our representatives.”

These pre-recorded messages can be for anything including cruises, utilities, vacations, emergency bracelets, professional services, etc.  If you have received one of these pre-recorded phone calls, you may have a lawsuit against the company who initiated the phone call.  But first, you need to gather more information.  Make sure you capture an image of the caller ID that shows the time, date, and phone number.  You can take a picture with your cell phone, or capture a screen shot.  Next, follow the command prompts by pressing “1,” “0,” or whatever you are directed to do.  Once you are connected to a live person try to get that person’s name and who he or she works for.  Once you have that information, we can start doing the research to determine who called you and whether or not you have a claim.

There is no reason for you to suffer the harassment of telemarketing phone calls.  Thanks to the federal government, you can make money from them, if you gather the right information.  A violation of the TCPA could be worth up to $1,500.00 per phone call.  At Morrow and Artim, P.C., we don’t charge you for our representation, so you only pay us once we prevail.  Our fee would come from the “victory” proceeds.  If you think you are receiving unwanted phone calls of this nature, give us a call.  We will determine whether your case is ready, or what you need to do during the next phone call to secure the claim.

Posted in Other

Sued By Calvary SPV?

You’ve just been served with a lawsuit from Calvary SPV, and your first question is …. “who is Calvary SPV?” and your second question is “what do I do now?”.  Let’s address each question in some detail.  For the first question, Who is Calvary? its a pretty simple answer.     Calvary SPV is a very large debt buyer who purchases delinquent credit card accounts for pennies on the dollar and then tries to collect 100% of what is owed.  They purchase these accounts at a substantial discount and then come after consumers like you for the full balance.  These purchases are often made electronically such that a large volume of credit card accounts can be transferred at the touch of a button.  We frequently see sales of 5,000, 10,000,  20,000 or more.  This is a perfectly legal endeavor and it happens on a daily basis.  Credit card companies like HSBC, Capital One, Bank of America and Chase often sell their defaulted credit card accounts rather than pursing individuals through the collection process.  At the time of this writing, Calvary is in what we at our firm call one of the “big 4″…the four largest  debt buyers that we deal with (along with LVNV, Midland Funding and Portfolio Recovery Associates).

The second question, “what do I do now” has a few correct answers, but some are more correct than others.  Let’s start with the WRONG answer.  The wrong answer is to put your head in the sand and do nothing.  Believe it or not, this is a very common response from consumers and frankly I cannot understand it.  If you are being sued, the last thing that you want to do is ignore the lawsuit.  The next WRONG answer is to contact a debt settlement company.  This is also a very common response and I can understand the thinking here.  You hear a great radio ad about this company that can help you get out of debt.  You’ve been meaning to call them and now that you are sued, this is the perfect time to call.  Again, this is the WRONG answer.  Debt Settlement companies, at least 99% of the ones that my clients have dealt with, are not worth the exhorbitant fees that you pay them, or worse yet, are scams.  Granted, there are a few debt settlement companies out there that are legitimate, but in my experience, they are few and far between.  The next WRONG answer is to contact Calvary SPV directly yourself.  This, quite frankly, may be worse that doing nothing.  This puts you in the position of dealing with a debt buyer directly without representation.  You will be taken advantage of, that is a fact.

Now, for the RIGHT answer, you should consult with a consumer attorney, especially here in Pennsylvania.  Any good consumer attorney is going to tell you to defend, defend, defend.  It sounds self serving, I know, but it is the correct course of action 99% of the time.  I mentioned earlier that Calvary buys thousands of these accounts at a time.  Well, when they make these purchases they make them on an AS IS basis.  This means that they have no way of knowing if the information that they receive from the original creditor is legitimate, accurate, or authentic.  On top of that, how much information do you think they get for something that they paid 2 cents on the dollar?

There are limited times when I tell a consumer to settle with Calvary.  The first is if there is an urgency to clean a credit report, say for a job or home purchase.  The second is where the debt is very small.  If they are suing you for $500-600, it may be more cost effective to settle at a discount rather than to defend.  Having said that though, you should still consult with a consumer attorney on any Calvary lawsuit.

As always, we offer free consults on debt buyer lawsuits.  Call our office at 412-823-8003 or email your inquiry using the contact page on this site.

 

Posted in Other

National Collegiate Student Loan Trust

We’ve seen a tremendous influx of filings by National Collegiate Student Loan Trust across Pennsylvania.  National Collegiate Trust (NCT) is a company that buys delinquent private student loan accounts and then tries to collect on those accounts.  We have handled dozens of these cases over the last few months.  They are similar to the defense of credit card lawsuits, which we have been doing for years, in that these cases are based upon documents…and the debt buyer doesn’t always have access to all of the documents.

National Collegiate isn’t just one company or one trust, its a conglomerate consisting of many separate trusts with National Collegiate Funding as the parent company.  We have seen them buy private student loans from PNC Bank, JP Chase, Bank of America, Credit One and a few others.  For the most part, these loans are usually several years old and many of our clients have never made a payment on these loans.  The older the better, when you are working on the defense side like we are.

The lawsuits filed by NCT are generally defective, at least initially.  As mentioned previously, these lawsuits are based upon documents.  Loan agreements, signed applications, terms and conditions, payment histories… these are some of the documents that NCT needs to prevail in a lawsuit against you.  If you have received one of these lawsuits and they have some of these documents, it doesn’t mean that you are going to lose.  To the contrary, you still have a fantastic chance at winning.  Other than documentation, there are numerous defenses that can be presented.

Contact my office for a free consult if you have a National Collegiate case.  If we can help you, we’ll tell you.   If we can’t help you, we’ll also tell you that too.  We don’t beat around the bush simply to have a client retain us.  We tell you the straight truth with all of the facts and let you make an informed decision as to how you want to proceed.

 

Posted in Other

What is a Writ of Execution?

A Writ of Execution is bad news.  This means that you were sued, that you lost, and that you didn’t voluntarily pay the judgment.  The creditor is taking steps to get the money that it is owed.  A Writ of Execution may allow the creditor to garnish a bank account, levy on personal property, or levy on a vehicle, among other actions.  What can be done about this?  It depends.  If the creditor crossed all of the T’s and dotted all of the I’s, meaning, that they did everything properly, including sending you the proper notices and properly serving you with the lawsuit, then there may not be much that you can do about a Writ of Execution.  A review of the court paperwork, including the Complaint, the Important Notice and the Default Judgment can potentially lead to having the judgment stricken, if there are errors present, most likely, errors in the notices that the creditor is required to send to you.  Another avenue to attack a Judgment/Writ is to argue that the service was defective, that is, if you were never served, or if you were improperly served.

The odds that service was bad, or that you can attack a judgment or writ are small, but they are there.  We successfully attack dozens of judgment each year.  On the other hand, there are hundreds of judgments that we review where we are simply unable to do anything.  To find out if you can attack your judgment/writ, simply contact our office with a copy of all of the aforementioned documentation for a free case review.

Posted in Other

Property Tax Appeals Allegheny County

Until recently, 2002 was the last time county officials performed a Property Tax Assessment on property in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  For years people speculated about when a new assessment would take place.  In December of 2011, it finally did, and when the new numbers came out, a lot of people’s property taxes shot through the roof.

If your property taxes increased in December of 2011 and you disagree with the assessment, you need to contact an attorney immediately to begin the Appeal Process.  The tax assessments in this county do not involve much more than someone driving by your house and picking a value for your property.  However, based on the interior condition of your home, and recent comparable home sales in your neighborhood, the assessed value may be too high.

You have two options when filing an appeal, the informal and formal process.  The informal process was originally created to correct small errors in assessed building characteristics (like square footage).  However, over time, the informal process has come to serve the same purpose as the formal process, i.e. an opportunity to have your property taxes lowered.  Today, there are really only two differences in the informal and formal process.  First, the informal process is faster.  Second, there will not be an attorney present on behalf of the taxing organization at the informal hearing to cross examine you based on your evidence.  Only an attorney experienced in property tax appeals will be able to advise you on which process is best for you.

In order to win your appeal and have your taxes lowered; you must be able to show that your property was over-valued.  There are a number a ways to do this.  You may bring pictures to you hearing.  You may bring a list of comparable properties in your neighborhood that recently sold for less than your assessed value.  Or, you may hire an independent assessor to appraise your property.  You will want to keep the presentation of your evidence and your argument short and concise.

Finally, there is another benefit to appealing your Property Tax Assessment as soon as possible.  Recently, Judge Wettick indicated that he may permit the 2012 Assessment to continue, but will not enforce the new assessment for tax purposes until 2013.  This will give you time to bring your appeal, and you will have an extra year before you will have to start paying your higher taxes.  This gives you a year to appeal your assessment, hopefully win, and never have to pay the new assessed value.

If you wish to appeal your assessment, you should contact our law office as soon as possible.  We will set up a consultation to review your recent assessment and the specifications of your property.  We will also look at the paperwork you have received from the county and help answer any questions you may have regarding your assessment.  We will advise you on whether we think an appeal will help, or potentially hurt, your future property taxes. Give us a call at 412-823-8003

Posted in Other

What can a collector do to me?

This is the number one question at my law office right now, everyone wants to know what the creditor can do to them.  I usually do not answer this question until I ask several of my own questions first.  Who is pursuing you?  That is the most important quesiton that I ask in every case.  If the answer is ” a collection agency” or “A debt buyer”, then I do not ever answer the client’s initial quesiton of “what can they do to me” because it will never matter.  If you are being sued by a debt buyer, then you MUST hire a consumer attorney, whether its my firm or another firm, because you are very likely to prevail in court and then it will never matter “what they can do to you”, as they will not be able to do anything after we beat them.

Now having said that, not every case that my office handles is a winner.  There are times when an original creditor will beat us and the question “what can they do to me” has merit.  The first thing is that if you do not file an appeal, their judgment can become final in the Court of Common Pleas.  That judgment will accrue interest at the rate of 6% essentially forever.  After judgment, they can attempt to garnish a bank account, if they know where you bank, and if the account is not a spousal account (spousal joint accounts cannot be garnished by a collector unless the judgment is against both husband and wife… this protection applies to ALL spousal assets).  The collector can also try to place a levy on your personal property (to expose it to public sale) but this route is taken in less than 20% of all judgment cases, in my opinion.

The collector CANNOT garnish wages in PA for this type of debt.  That being said, they can garnish a bank account that has wages in it.  Once a wage is deposited into a bank account, it is no longer a wage.

The collector can also send out what are called “Discovery requests” in the form of interrogatories.  These are questions asking you to list all of your assets.  Unfortunately, you must answer these questions or you can be subject to sanctions from the court.  Once the creditor learns of any assets after using these forms, they can try to execute on these assets using a Sheriff and a Writ of Execution.

This is pretty much the gamut of what we see being done by collectors.  If you are facing a credit card or other collection lawsuit, please contact my office for a free consultation.

 

Posted in Other

District Justice vs. Court of Common Pleas

I get asked quite often about the difference between the District Justice and the Court of Common Pleas.  The differences are many.  The most important difference is that the District Justice is an elected official.  Anyone can be a District Justice, that is, anyone who can win the election.  In most instances, District Justices ARE NOT attorneys.  There are a few who are attorneys, but I would estimate that less than 10% are attorneys.  The District Justice claim is capped at $12,000.  If your claim is over $12,000 then you must proceed to the Court of Common Pleas.  Claims at $12,000 or below may be filed in either court.  The proceedings in front of a magistrate are usually very informal.  Rules of evidence are followed, but to a lesser degree in many instances.

The Court of Common Pleas is divided into two divisions —  Arbitration and regular court.  Arbitration is mandatory for all claims that are $$25,000 or less (this number varies from County to County, but $25,000 is the norm).  At arbitration, your case is heard by three attorneys picked at random from the community who act as judge and jury.  In regular court, a Common Pleas Judge will be assigned to your case.

Posted in Other

Our New Associate

The Law Firm of Morrow and Artim, P.C. would like to announce that Attorney Matthew E. Becker has joined the firm as an Associate Attorney.  Mr. Becker’s practice will focus on Criminal Defense, Consumer Protection, and Credit Card Defense.  He believes that aggressive representation is the best way to defend his clients’ rights and money.  Before joining the Pennsylvania Bar, Mr. Becker attended the West Virginia University College of Law where he concentrated his studies on the practical side of the law.  Aside from competing in mock trials and earning the top score for Appellate Advocacy, Mr. Becker interned at The Harrison County Public Defenders’ Office in Clarksburg, WV where he defended indigent Criminal clients from Preliminary Hearings to Trials.  He then worked in the West Virginia University College of Law Clinical Law Program where he continued to represent clients with legal issues both in and out of the courtroom.

Today, Mr. Becker brings his wide range of experience to better serve those who need an attorney.  He has successfully represented clients at Preliminary Hearings, Magistrate Hearings, Arbitrations, and Trials.  He prides himself on giving his clients the attention they need to fully understand the often confusing legal process and their options at every step of the way.  If you are looking for an aggressive attorney to fight for you, give Mr. Becker a call.

Posted in Other

District Justice Lawsuits

There has been a growing trend with the collection agencies towards filing their credit card lawsuits at the local magistrate or district justice.  My belief is that this is a cost savings measure on their part.  Statistics show that approximately 85% of the people who are sued by collection agencies on credit card debt do not defend themselves.  The cost savings for the collection agencies works like this:  At the DJ level, there is no hearing unless the defendant notifies the court that they intend to defend the case and would like a hearing.  In other words, if the plaintiff (collection agency) files a lawsuit at the local DJ, and the defendant fails to respond, then the DJ automatically enters judgment against the Defendant, without even having a hearing.  The plaintiff company does not need to send a representative/attorney to court in this instance.

Our best advise, obviously, is to have a consumer attorney representing your interests even at the district justice level, whether its our firm or another firm.  As we have mentioned in previous posts, collection agencies are rarely prepared to do battle at the district justice level and our chances of success are extremely high.  If you are facing a collection agency or credit card lawsuit, please contact our office at 412-823-8003 or 1-888-536-6644 for a free case review.

Posted in Collection Agencies, Lawsuits, Other

Debt Settlement Companies and Lawsuits

In previous posts, I have advised all of you to avoid Debt Settlement Companies like the plague.  In my experience, I have found that they either are outright scams, or, they simply charge way to much for the service that they provide.  Lately, we have found a new issue with a few of these companies and it has really been making me angry.  We are only 11 days in to this month, and I have already received 3 calls from potential clients who allowed a debt settlement companies to prepare or assist in preparing a response to a lawsuit.  In each case, I had to explain to the potential client that the responses that they allowed the debt settlement company to prepare were hurtful to their lawsuit.  All three of these clients likely would have won their lawsuits had they hired us from the start.  Unfortunately, they allowed these companies to prepare the responses, which were improper and/or inadequate, and which put the client in a disadvantaged position.  The sad part is that the responses were prepared by attorneys for the debt settlement company.  (Note: not any old attorney can prepare a response to a credit card lawsuit, and this is especially so when the attorney is not licensed in Pennsylvania). 

In each case, I had to advise the client that their case had been undermined by the inappropriate response of the out of state attorney that was retained by the debt settlement company.  It would now cost more in legal fees to try to correct or minimize the damage that had been done versus if they had hired us from the beginning.  The message here:  DO NOT LET A DEBT SETTLEMENT COMPANY ASSIST YOU IN PREPARING A RESPONSE TO A LAWSUIT.

Posted in Lawsuits, Other

Credit Card Lawsuits

If you are faced with a credit card lawsuit, whether its an original creditor or a junk debt buyer, contact my office at 412-823-8003 right away. We offer a free, no obligation review of any credit card based lawsuit that is filed in PA.

FDCPA Attorneys

Many Debt Collectors threaten people, that's a fact. Threats of wage garnishment, jail, fraud charges and contacting employers, friends and relatives happens every day to people just like you. The truth is that most of these threats are illegal. If a debt collector is threatening you, contact our office at 412-823-8003 for a free initial consultation.
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