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2010 – Morrow and Artim review

2010 was a prettygood inaugural year for Morrow & Artim.  On the plus side, we won almost every single case that we handled. We helped consumers successfully defeat the claims of collection agencies to the tune of about 25-30 victories per month.  We saved those consumers over $1,000,000 in allegedly defaulted credit card debt. 

On the negative side, we lost 2 credit card cases to original creditors and we lost 2 credit card cases to collection agencies/junk debt buyers.  Both of the collection agency lawsuits were appealed.  We won one of those cases on appeal and the other one is still pending.  UPDATE:  We won the second case on appeal. 

In terms of the FDCPA claims that we agreed to represent clients on, every single case that Clay Morrow handled  either ended in a settlement or in a courtroom victory.  Kudos to Clay for a successful 2010.

In terms of the Lemon Law claims that we handled, every single case that we worked on either resulted in a settlement or a courtroom victory with the exception of one single case.  Our lone Lemon Law defeat occurred because our client simply didnt want to pursue his claim any further and failed to show up for the scheduled hearing.

Posted in Other

Reduce debt by 70% and other false claims

The advertisements for debt settlement companies are all over the radio and television.   “Information the Credit Card companies don’t want you to know” and  “You are entitled to lower your credit card debt by 70%”.  “We can lower your payments substantially and cut your debt in half”.  “Be debt free in less than a year”. The words fraud and scam come to mind when I hear these phrases.

If you have ever heard the saying that its too good to be true, then it likely is. These ads fit that description exactly. You are not “entitled “ to lower your credit card debt under any law  that I am aware of.  “We can cut your debt in half”, well, only in very extreme and lucky circumstances.  Cutting the debt to 70% is a more reasonable goal (unless you are dealing with a debt buyer and not the original creditor. You can get a better reduction, but you should not pay anything to them) and this sort of reduction only applies where you can pay a lump sum or make substantial monthly payments.  “Be debt free in less than a year”? Only if you file bankruptcy or hit the lottery.

The truth of the matter is that these claims are false, misleading, and in my opinion, fraudulent. These claims are merely a sales pitch to get you to hire a debt settlement company. They know that you are having financial difficulties and will do anything to get out of it. The worst part about these false claims isn’t that they can’t back them up and make them come true. No, the worst part is that they charge you an outrageous fee when you sign on with the company, usually a large percentage of the debt (I have seen upwards of 20%) and an additional monthly fee.  The fee is typically paid up front, before any creditors are paid.

Here’s how the debt settlement companies work. They promise to reduce your debt. You hire them. They arrange for you to make payments to their account. When the account builds up enough money, they contact creditors one by one and try to settle cases. To be blunt, this is a horrible idea.  What do you think is happening while you are paying into the account? The creditors are getting upset and are filing lawsuits against you, all the while, the interest continues to accrue at a rate approaching 30%.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Mike owes $25000 in debt to credit card companies. He hires XYZ debt settlement company to work on his debt problems. They establish an account, he pays $500 per month to the account. Since their fee is 20% (that would be $5000 here), and they get paid first, the first 10 payments are solely to pay the debt settlement company. I have to shoot out a common sense question here, is that money well spent? How much interest accrued during that 10 months? How many lawsuits were filed during that 10 months?  Even though they may tell you otherwise, signing on with a debt settlement company does not stop a creditor from filing a lawsuit. To the contrary, it may expedite the filing of the lawsuit because many creditors do not work with debt settlement companies.

The moral of the story here is to contact a consumer attorney in your area if you are faced with credit card debt. There are a number of issues that need to be reviewed, including who the creditor is, how old the debt is, who is representing the creditor, whether the debt has been sold, on and on. Perhaps negotiation is the way to go. On the other hand, perhaps defending a lawsuit is the way to go. Bankruptcy is always an option to consider. Spend the time to consult with a consumer attorney if you are struggling with credit card debt.  Hire the debt settlement company, and you are simply burning money.

Posted in Other

Another Debt Settlement Scam

Potential Client X sent an email to me today advising that she was in trouble.  She has several credit cards in default, so she hired a debt settlement company to assist her. (This is always a HUGE mistake as all debt settlement companies are either scams or not worth the exhorbitant fees that you pay them). The company is charging her 20% of her outstanding debt and have asked her to make monthly payments of $500 into their account. Because her total debt is about $40000, their fee is going to be $8000!  (I wish that I could charge that much, but my conscience doesn’t allow me to do that).  The best part (maybe the worst part) is that the company gets its money first.  The first 16 monthly payments go to the settlement company before they do any work.  Isn’t that just great!  Of course, all of the credit card companies are going to wait this out until the company gets its fee, right? 

The sad part, if it could get any sadder, is that the company told potential Client X that the credit card companies would not sue her because they were involved now. They mentioned that if a lawsuit did come, that they would take care of it.

Well, the lawsuit from Citibank did arrive. Potential Client X notified the company and they advised her that they would handle it.  They advised her to send an extra $125 per month to make payments to Citibank.  Potential Client X complied, only to find that while the funds did go to Citibank, the debt settlement company did not respond to the lawsuit and a judgment was entered against her for the full amount plus attorney fees. They told her that they thought Citibank would like to have 6 months of payments and then they would review her case, because ” that’s how they have handled things in the past”.

This entire fiasco could have been averted if Potential Client X had contact my office, or the office of another consumer attorney, rather than the debt settlement company.  Moral of the story, all debt settlement companies are a waste of your time and money.

 

Even if they get a reduction of 40%

Posted in Other

Fair Debt Collection under the FDCPA

We hear about unsavory collection agencies on a daily basis. They either make illegal threats, such as wage garnishment, pressing fraud charges or jail time, or, they harass you by calling you names like deadbeat, ignorant, loser and so forth.  Then, they contact your family and friends to try to get them to pay the debt for you, or, they contact your neighbors and employer with questions about the debt. 

All of the above actions are illegal under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDPCA for short) is a federal law that governs what a debt collector may do or say when it is attempting to collect a debt.

A debt collector may not threaten to take any action that is illegal, period. In the above examples, wage garnishment is a big one that we see quite often. To be clear, a debt collector may not garnish your wages in Pennsylvania for a credit card debt. There are no ifs, ands or buts to that statement. Therefore, if a debt collector makes such a threat, it is illegal and you may have a claim against them for their unfair practices.

Again, referring to the above examples, we hear of debt collectors who contact family, friends, employers and neighbors about outstanding debt. This type of activity is usually illegal, but not always.

To explain, generally, a debt collector may not speak with or contact anyone else about your debts. For the most part, an employer may never be contacted about a credit card debt. With regards to friends, family and neighbors, the same is true but with one general exception.

If a debt collector cannot find you, they may contact others to ascertain your location and contact information.  Again, they have this permission only if they cannot find you. They may not speak with others about the nature of their business, they may not tell anyone that you allegedly owe a debt.  Their sole purpose in contacting a friend, neighbor or family member can be only to locate you.  If the debt collector has a valid address and phone number for you, they have no reason or right to contact anyone else about your alleged debt.  Such an action would be illegal.

If one of the above examples should happen to you, please know that you have rights under the FDCPA. Our firm, specifically through my partner, Clay Morrow, can bring a claim against the debt collector for its illegal activities. Generally, you are entitled to a statutory damage amount $1000 AND you receive your reasonable attorney fees for prosecution of the claim. In that regard, we do not charge an up-front fee to pursue these claims on your behalf.

If a debt collector has threatened you, or discussed your alleged debt with someone else, please contact our office right away so that we can begin a claim for you.

Posted in Other

My New Partnership

As of January 1, 2010 I am pleased to announce that I have formed a new partnership with one of the best consumer attorneys in Pennsylvania, Clay Morrow.  Clay and I have been working together on cases for quite some time now and we decided that it was best to form a partnership that would better serve our clients.

Clay has been practicing consumer law in PA for over 20 years now and has seen just about everything that there is to see in that arena. Clay is a member of NACA, which is the National Association of Consumer Attorneys, and is quite active with that group.

Clay will handle all claims that are filed against debt collectors. These claims are often based upon illegal threats or activities that debt collectors engage in when they are trying to collect a debt from you. Clay bases most of these claims on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) which provides consumers with an array of rights and protections. Clay is able to handle these claims on a no-cost basis, which means that you typically do not have to pay our firm a retainer to pursue an FDCPA claim against a debt collector.  Our firm will earn its fee and have it paid by the offending debt collector.

I will continue to handle the defense of collection agency and credit card lawsuits as I have in the past. What I have found in my experience in handling these matters is that there is often a violation of the FDCPA that is made either before the lawsuit is filed, or, in the lawsuit itself.

So in a nutshell, I will act as your shield in defending you, and Clay will act as your sword in attacking these violating debt collectors.

Posted in Other

Pittsburgh Credit Card Lawsuits

As the second largest city in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh receives hundreds of Credit Card and Collection Agency lawsuits each week.  Because of the high volume of cases, there have been several court rulings regarding these cases, to keep an even flow and to prevent them from clogging the Pittsburgh court system.

The most important rule is the 120 rule issued by Judge Wettick.  This rule applies to credit card or collection agency cases that are defective.  (As per my other posts, almost all of these lawsuits are defective initially).  Judge Wettick’s ruling is essentially that the credit card companies and collection agencies have 120 days to correct the defects inherent within their lawsuits.  If they are unable to correct the defects, the case is dismissed (which means thrown out of court). 

If they make a minor correction, that cures a few defects, but not all of them, then objections can be filed a second time.  If this occurs, then Judge Wettick gives the collection agency or credit card company an additional 30 days to make corrections.  Typically, Judge Wettick does not afford further opportunity to these companies. 

The ruling has obvious benefits to the court system.  The collection attorneys know what they need to have to proceed with a case, and the consumer attorneys such as myself who are defending against these lawsuits know exactly how the court will rule on a given case.

Posted in Other

Should I use a Debt Settlement Company?

I am amazed at the number of people who choose to hire a debt settlement company.  I realize that you are being bombarded with advertisements that claim that they can help, but the truth is that most of these agencies are scams, or, in a better light, simply not worth the money.

The scams are quite frequent.  I have had a number of clients contact me with the same claim, that they have paid several monthly payments, sometimes up to 18 months worth,  only to find that the settlement company has done nothing or worse, gone out of business. 

Other clients contact me and say that the settlement company did help them.  When I hear that, I always dig further.  Client X called me a few months ago and told me that a debt settlement company got a $20,000 credit card debt reduced to $12,000, which he thought was a great deal.  Then I asked him about payments and he told me that he had made 19 $1000 payments to the company.  I asked him to do the math and I could see his jaw drop through the phone.  He was charged $7000 to obtain a net  $1000 reduction on his claim.  To make matters worse, we found out that they have given him bad advice on a claim that they could not settle.  (That is why he contacted me). 

He received a lawsuit from a collection agency that the debt settlement company could not settle.  The debt settlement company advised him to send a letter to the court explained his financial difficulties.  Fortunately, he contacted me before sending the letter.  Had he sent that letter, he would have lost the  case for sure.  Instead, we filed objections to the lawsuit (for a very, very small fraction of the $7000 that he was charged on the other claim) and had the claim dismissed.

If you are facing a collection agency claim, generally the last place that you want to go is to a debt settlement company.  Call my office at 412-823-8003 or 1-888-536-6644 for a free, no obligation review of your claim.

Posted in Other

What happens in a debt collection lawsuit?

The lawsuit is filed, either at the District Justice or the Court of Common Pleas. If the lawsuit is filed at the local DJ, the collection agency is hoping that you do not attend the hearing, because they will then automatically win. After they obtain the judgment, they will transfer it to the Court of Common Pleas and begin execution proceedings. It is in your best interests to notify the District Justice that you are going to defend yourself immediately upon receiving the notice of the lawsuit from them. You should have an attorney represent you at that hearing, and you should not attend.  In magistrate cases, the collection agency almost never has the proper documentation to beat you in court.  They actually need you to attend so that they can question you and use your testimony against you. Have an attorney go in your place and the results should be in your favor.

If the lawsuit is filed in the Court of Common Pleas, you will receive a visit from your county Sheriff’s Department. A Deputy Sheriff will serve the paperwork on you at your home. Upon receipt of the lawsuit, you will have twenty (20) days to file a written response to the lawsuit that is called either an Answer or Preliminary Objections.

If you fail to file the written response in the allotted time, you will have a judgment entered against you without the benefit of having a hearing. As you can see, it is of the utmost importance to respond to the lawsuit immediately, to preserve your rights to defend yourself in a court of law. That is the key to beating a collection agency, i.e. to defend yourself in court, preferably with the right attorney. There are a number of issues that the collections agency must prove to obtain a judgment against you, and they typically cannot do so, again, as long as you properly defend yourself. You must force them to produce all of the documentary evidence in their claim against you, and then poke legal holes in their case.  A knowledgeable consumer attorney can file the proper responses to the lawsuit and you very likely will never end up in a courtroom.

Contact our office at 412-823-8003 or toll free at 1-888-536-6644 for a free telephone consultation if you have any questions regarding collection agency lawsuits in Pennsylvania.

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.