How Debt Collection Laws Help Pennsylvanians

Past due bills debt

When you owe money to a debt collection agency, its employees have the right to contact you and try to recoup that debt.

But those rights only go so far. Here in Pennsylvania, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act regulates what debt collectors, or law firms acting as collectors, can do, and bars them from engaging in deception while trying to recover money that is owed.

Continue reading How Debt Collection Laws Help Pennsylvanians

How to Report a Robocall

You’re at home relaxing after work when your phone rings.

You don’t recognize the number on the caller ID, but your smartphone tells you that it’s someone from your town.

Maybe a neighbor, you think. Or someone from work. It might be important.

Only it’s not a neighbor, it’s someone calling from hundreds – if not thousands – of miles away. And it’s not important, at least not to you. The caller is trying to sell you a product you neither want or need.

Plus, you don’t always get the satisfaction of telling someone “Stop calling me,” because many of these calls are pre-recorded messages, sent out to millions of other phone numbers using auto-dialer technology.

Robo Call Center

Welcome to the world of robocalls.

These calls are a nuisance, so much so that the FCC considers them the agency’s chief priority when it comes to consumer protection.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to stop these unwanted calls. It may not be as easy as pushing a “Report Robocall” button on your phone, but it’s still fairly simple.

How to report robocalls

Nearly all automated calls to mobile phones are illegal in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but that hasn’t stopped telemarketers and debt collection companies from using auto-dialers to reach consumers.

In some cases, the caller will deliberately falsify the information sent to your caller ID to mask their identity, a practice known as spoofing.

Caller ID Block

The FCC has taken a variety of actions against these companies, including:

  • Issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in fines
  • Allowing phone companies to block certain kinds of calls that are likely to be illegal before they can get to consumers
  • Giving customers the ability to use call blocking or labeling services
  • Working with phone companies on caller ID authentication

If you believe you’re received and illegal call or text, you can file a report robocall complaint with the FCC here. The commission also offers these tips to stop unwanted robocalls and protect yourself from phone scams:

Unknown Caller
  • Try not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. If you do answer, hang up right away.
  • It may not be obvious right away that the call is spoofed. Remember that a caller ID displaying a local number doesn’t always mean that you’re getting a local call.
  • If you pick up the phone and the voice on the other end – either a person or a recording – tells you to hit a certain button to end the calls, just hang up. Remember, there’s no magic “report robocall” button. Having you press a button during your call is something scammers do to identify future targets.
  • Never give out personal information – your Social Security number, passwords, bank account numbers, etc. – to an unexpected caller (or if you’re just uneasy with the call).
  • If you get a call from someone claiming to represent a company or government agency, hang up and look up a phone number on their website or one of your bills to verify the phone number. Your bank or an organization like the IRS will typically contact you in writing before calling.
  • Set a password for your voicemail. Some voicemail services are set up to let users access their messages by calling their own number. A hacker could spoof your number and get into your voicemail if you haven’t created a password.
  • Be wary of callers who immediately ask for information.
  • Talk to your phone company about their available call block technology. You can download mobile apps that can block unwanted calls.
  • Register your number for the Do Not Call List. Reputable telemarketing companies will review the numbers on this list and take care to avoid them.

And if these steps still haven’t stopped unwanted calls, it might be time to take legal action. The consumer protection attorneys at Flitter Milz are experts on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and have helped several New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents who have been victims of unethical telemarketing practices. Contact us today to find out how we can help you fight for your rights.

Help! A Solar Company Forged My Signature on a Contract

“Abuse.” “Dishonest.” “Fraud.” “Racketeering. These are the type of words you’d expect to see used to describe an organized crime family, not a company claiming to provide clean, renewable energy.

Nevertheless, this was the language New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas used last year in filing a civil complaint against Vivint Solar, accusing the company of deceptive business practices.

We’d like to tell you this is an isolated incident. But sadly, there are a growing number of scams coming out of the world of solar. Forged signatures, unlawful access to credit reports may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solar scams.

How solar scams play out

You’re at home one day when a salesman knocks on your door. But he claims that what he’s selling – solar panels – won’t actually cost you any money.

Solar panels, he says, will pay for themselves. In fact, you might even make money. All you have to do is sign his tablet. And while it may not seem like it, you’ve become the target of a solar panel scam.

It might be that he’s signed you up for a contract you don’t need or want or added a neighbor or relative’s name to the contract.

And with your forged signature, solar companies will sometimes pull your credit report without your consent, a violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The rise of solar energy scams

Solar Panel Installation

In the New Mexico case, the state accused Vivint of using deceptive business practices by tying them into 20-year contracts that force them to buy the electricity produced by the panels at exorbitant rates.

The attorney general says the company’s sale model allows its workers to overstate how much consumers could save by going solar. Some people were told they could see their energy bills cut in half by going with Vivint.

And it’s not just Vivint. According to USA Today, the Better Business Bureau processed dozens of complaints in New Jersey alone over the past few years. They came from customers who say they were misled by solar companies about things like their ability to cancel contracts and the amount of money they could save.

You’re the victim of a forged signature. Solar companies should have to answer for their fraud.

Before you sign up for a solar contract, it’s a good idea to ask the following:

  • What if I want to sell my house?
  • How can I get out of my contract?
  • What will it cost to get out of my contract?
  • Will my monthly rate per kilowatt hour or monthly leasing charge for the solar panels automatically go up each year?

You should also consult with an attorney, especially if you think you’ve already become a victim of a solar panel scam.

If you discover that a solar company has pulled your credit report without your permission, the law firm of Flitter Milz can help.

We’ve heard complaints about unscrupulous solar companies from consumers around the country. Our lawyers can work with you to determine if your rights have been violated.

Whether a solar company forged your signature or wasn’t upfront about its contract, we can make sure your rights are protected. Contact us today to learn more.

Repossessions: Know What to Expect – Before, During and After

A Record 7 Million Behind on Car Loans”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/13/19

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that, “A record seven million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments.  Despite a strong economy, economists are warning that Americans are struggling. Although a car loan is the first payment people make because a vehicle is critical to getting to work, when car loan delinquencies rise, it is a sign that many American are under duress.”

BEFORE a Repossession:
1) Prepare yourself.
We all know that when a borrower falls behind on payments or breaks the terms of an auto loan agreement, the lender, whether it’s the bank, finance institution or credit union, is entitled to repossess the vehicle.  These terms are stated in the loan agreement, or Retail Installment Sales Contract, that is signed at the time of purchase.

Repossessions can occur at any time of day or night — while at the supermarket, taking the kids to school, at a relative’s home for holiday dinner, or while  asleep.  Even if a borrower anticipates a repossession may occur, it never happens at a good time.  Prepare yourself.

With a little forethought, you may be able to ease the stress caused by a car repossession.  If you’ve fallen behind and believe your car may be up for repossession, make a plan to handle daily chores for you and your family. 

  • Ask for help.  Contact your family, friends and neighbors and find out who may help. Inquire about their work schedules and daily commitments. Let them know you may have an emergency coming up and need their assistance.
  • Organize carpools and babysitters. Develop a network of friends that can step in to cover demands of the household.
  • Arrange for delivery. Call your supermarket or pharmacy to find out if they are able to make deliveries to your home.  Inquire about the cost and delivery schedule.

2) Clean out the car.  
Before your vehicle is taken, gather items from your car and store them in a safe place.  If your car is taken unexpectedly, you may not have a chance to remove all of your personal items.  Often, the repo man may not allow you time to remove everything. And, remember, once out of your possession, these belongings may be lost – forever

Pre-Repossession Check List
_____ Buyer’s Agreement
_____ Loan Agreement
_____ Odometer Statement
_____ Vehicle Registration
_____ Warranty Agreement
_____ Auto Insurance Policy & Card
_____ Auto Insurance Payment Record
_____ Vehicle Service Records
_____ Loan Payment History from Lender
_____ Loan Payment Records
_____ All Correspondence from Lender             

Vehicle Photographs
_____ Car Interior & Exterior   
_____ VIN# from Inside Door
_____ Odometer Reading
                   
 Removal of all Valuables
_____ Wallet/Purse/Cash/Paycheck
_____ Medications/Prescriptions
_____ Work-related items
_____ Laptop computer
_____ Phone
_____ Child Car Seat

DURING a Repossession:

The lender will hire a repossession company to retrieve vehicles scheduled for repossession. The repo-man cannot use physical force, threaten you, or enter your property without permission.  If you believe the repo-man mishandled the repossession, take steps to document the event.

  • Prepare a written statement with date, time, repo company & agent, & events.
  • Photograph the scene.
  • Repo agent’s truck and license plate.
  • Your vehicle, interior, exterior and odometer reading.
  • Damaged property, i.e. garage door, fence, other vehicles, lawn, etc.
  • Obtain witness statements.
  • Request the police come to the scene. Obtain a police report.

Police Involvement:  Keep the Peace or Breach the Peace?

It’s not uncommon for the police to become involved during a car repossession. Sometimes the repo agent or the borrower will ask the police to be there to diffuse a potentially volatile situation. The police may assist in keeping the peace.  

If the police get involved in the repossession of the vehicle, they may have crossed the line from keeping the peace, to breaching the peace.  The police may not threaten arrest, or damage to the vehicle, or command the vehicle or keys be turned over.  If this occurs, the borrower’s Constitutional rights may have been violated and a lawsuit against the police, repo agency and/or lender may be filed.

AFTER a Repossession:

The borrower is entitled to receive notices from the lender after a vehicle is repossessed.  The first letter is a repossession notice called a Notice of Intent to Sell Property, which details terms for the borrower to retrieve the vehicle.  This notice will detail payments required, the time period for payments to be paid to the lender, and the repo lot location for retrieval of the vehicle and any personal property.

If the borrower is unable to get the vehicle back, the lender will arrange to sell the it at an auction or a private sale.  Once sold, a second notice is sent to the borrower confirming the selling price of the vehicle and any remaining balance due on the loan. This notice is called a Deficiency Notice.  

FREE LEGAL HELP:

Flitter Milz is knowledgeable about the laws governing repossessions of cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and RVs.  If your vehicle has been repossessed, CONTACT US.  We will review the details of your case at no cost to you, and evaluate whether your consumer rights were violated. 

What Can I Do If My Car Was Repossessed by Mistake?

When you default on a car loan, your lender can repossess your vehicle. Most defaults come from someone failing to make their monthly payments. If you’re up to date on your payments and your car was repossessed, then clearly, a wrongful car repossession has occurred.

But even if you have missed payments, lenders and repo agents need to follow the law. If your vehicle has been unlawfully repossessed, you may be able to sue your lender and the repo agent.

Here’s what lenders and repossession companies need to do to stay within the bounds of the law:

  1. Before they repossess your car, the repo company needs to notify your local police. If you wake up to a missing car, call the police and your lender to confirm whether the car was stolen, or simply repossessed.
  2. Repo agents are not allowed to “breach the peace” while doing their job. This means they can’t threaten you or use physical force. Nor can they access locked/fenced-in areas of your property without permission. Finally, repo agents must leave your property when asked.
  3. Repo agents cannot damage your property. If you see this happen, document it and get statements from witnesses.
  4. After your vehicle has been repossessed, you might be asking “Can I get my car back after repossession?” Your lender is required to send you a notice that outlines what you need to do to recover your car. This is what’s known as a “Notice of Intent to Sell Property.”

Did the police obey the law?

It’s not uncommon for the police to become involved during a car repossession. Sometimes the repo agent will ask the police to be there to defuse a potentially volatile situation. Other times the consumer might call the police on the repossession company.

However, there are limits to what the police can do. They aren’t allowed to assist the repo agent by ordering you to hand over your keys or threatening to arrest you.

If the police do any of these things, they may have gone from keeping the peace to breaching the peace and violating your rights. You may be able to bring a suit against the police, along with the repo agency and your lender.

What should I do while my car is being repossessed?

During the repossession, make a record of everything that’s happening. This includes:

  • Date and time of the repossession
  • The name of the car repossession company and agent and the license number of their tow truck
  • The name and badge number of the responding police officers
  • A copy of the police report
  • Names and contact info for witnesses
  • Photos of any property damage and video of the entire event

Make sure you remove your personal property from your car, as well as any documents relating to the sale of the vehicle, including your retail installment sales contract, buyer’s agreement, and registration and insurance information.

Again, your lender is required to send you the notice of intent to sell your car after the repossession to allow you enough time to recover your vehicle before it is auctioned off or sold to a private buyer.

Your car has been taken, and now you’re wondering “Can I get my car back after repossession?” Let the attorneys at Flitter Milz help you figure out where to go from here.

If your lender or the repo agency mishandled your case, our consumer protection attorneys are ready to fight for you. Contact us today so we can review your case. You’ve tried to play by the rules with your car payments. There’s no reason your lender shouldn’t do the same.

What is a Consumer Law Attorney?

There was a time when consumers in America were essentially helpless when it came to dishonest business practices and defective products.

It was only in the last 40-50 years that we’ve seen the advent of laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Truth in Lending Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which give a legal voice against the banks and credit bureaus that have the ability to negatively impact a consumer’s credit profile.

And although these laws are designed to help consumers, they aren’t always followed or enforced. That’s where a consumer law attorney can help.

What is a consumer law attorney?

A consumer law attorney is a lawyer who focuses on protecting the rights of ordinary citizens who have been cheated, threatened or otherwise abused in the course of doing business.

Some of these lawyers are attorneys who work for government agencies that handle consumer affairs, or for public interest groups. Others go into private practice to handle individual consumer claims or larger class action suits.

It’s a field that touches virtually everyone in the country. We all interact with banks and credit companies. We all run the risk of being denied a loan due to inaccurate credit reporting, contacted by an abusive debt collector for someone else’s debt, or victimized by a car repossession when payments are misapplied.

But who can we turn to when things go wrong?

Consumer lawyers understand consumer credit law.  They know when a consumer’s rights have been violated by the credit bureau, debt collector or bank, and will fight for your rights in court…and in most cases, the “Bad Guys” pay the consumer’s legal bill.

What kind of cases do consumer law attorneys handle?

An attorney who specializes in consumer law might handle all types of cases. Some of the most common practice areas include:

1.    Debt collection

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from unscrupulous attempts to collect unpaid bills.

Debt collection companies are not allowed to threaten you with action they can’t/don’t intend to take. Nor can they contact your relatives or co-workers about your debt, give you false information or keep calling you after you send them a written request to stop. And when a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can take them to court.

There are many ways to identify debt collection harassment, but attempting to stop this behavior can be difficult, especially as you try to manage your day-to-day life.

If you don’t feel confident enough to go after a debt collector in court, a consumer law attorney can take up your cause and determine whether the collection agency violated the FDCPA.

2.    Car repossession

A bank, credit union or finance company can repossess a vehicle if the borrower has fallen behind on payments.

Yet under the law, lenders and car repossession companies still must operate within the law. There are rules detailing how and when they can begin repossession proceedings, how the repossession must be conducted by the repo agent, what kind of notices they must give after the repossession and how a sale of the car should be handled.

If any of these rules were ignored or overlooked during or after the repossession, you may be able to take legal action, even if you had fallen behind on your payments. A consumer law attorney can help you navigate this complicated legal territory.

3.    Credit reports

Your credit history can determine everything from what kind of car you drive, to the job you have, to  where you live, which is why it’s important that all the information on your credit report is accurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)protects consumers from inaccurate or outdated credit report listings, duplicate listings of the same account, mis-merged files, and other errors.

If you discover any inaccuracies on your report, or that your report was accessed without your permission, you should send a written dispute to the credit bureau in question (Equifax, Experian or Transunion). If they don’t correct the information, or provide you with information about who obtained your report, a consumer law attorney can help you determine whether your rights have been violated and help you dispute errors in your credit report.

4.    Unwanted calls

If you’ve been getting unwanted calls to your cell phone from a telemarketer, bank or collection agency, you can write to them to revoke your permission to get calls or texts.

If the auto-dialed calls, or “robocalls”, continue, the caller may be in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, (TCPA) which allows consumers to receive between $500 and $1,500 for every call they get after revoking their consent. A good consumer lawyer understands your rights under the TCPA and how to effectively defend them in court. Who can I call about a consumer law issue?

If you’ve been the victim of a car repossession, unscrupulous debt collectors, robocalls or an inaccurate credit report, the consumer law attorneys at Flitter Milz can help you seek justice.

Our attorneys understand consumer protection law.  Their experience in bringing cases under the FDCPA, FCRA and the TCPA have enabled consumers to standup to abusive collection tactics, credit reporting accuracy and privacy violations, unwanted “robocalls”, and unlawful vehicle repossessions. Contact us for a free legal evaluation and we’ll get to work on making sure you get the protection every consumer deserves.

Speak with our attorneys today about your consumer rights.

How to Report Telemarketers

It’s been a long day, but you’re finally home. Dinner is ready. Work is a distant memory.  That TV show you like is on tonight. Or, your new book is waiting to be read. For the next few hours, you can just relax.  And then —

Your phone rings. And it’s not just any call interrupting your evening. It’s a…telemarketer!

The advent of the Do Not Call registry was supposed to put an end to this, but like cockroaches and horror movie villains, telemarketing calls are surprisingly hard to escape.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  There are ways you can avoid unwanted calls.  Read on to learn how to get yourself off telemarketers’ lists and how to report do no call violations.

Find Out Who is Calling

If you want to get the calls to stop, you’ll have to make contact.  Simply hanging up might be misinterpreted – did a child answer the phone? – or convince the telemarketer to just keep calling back until you answer.

Be polite – as tough as that might be – find out who is calling.  Make a note of the time and date of the call, plus the caller ID.  Having this info will make it easier to file a complaint.  If calls continue after you’ve requested the caller stop, the telemarketer could be in violation of your consumer rights.

Callers are required by law to tell you if they are making a sales call or are calling from a charity.  They also need to explain what they are selling or if they want a donation. If the caller won’t answer your questions, you might be dealing with a scam.  In that case, you should report the calls to government agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General.  So, before hanging up, be sure to document the call in the event that you need to submit a complaint.

Ask to be placed on their “Do Not Call” list

Every telemarketing organization is required by law to have an in-house “do not call” list.  Tell them – politely but firmly – that you want to go on that list:  “Please put me on your internal do not call list.”

Keep insisting.  If the caller won’t comply, ask to speak to his or her supervisor.  Don’t relent until you get a chance to speak with someone in authority that will honor your request.

Ask if they’re working on behalf of another company.  If so, find out the name and location of that company and ask to be placed on their do not call list as well.  Find out how long it will take to have your name added, as some companies don’t always update the lists right away.  In addition, you should write the company and request removal of your name from their call list. Be sure to keep a copy of your dated letter.

How to Report Do Not Call Violations

Once you’ve been placed on the do not call list, companies have the right to call you one more time. If this happens, make a note of the time and date of the call and the name of the caller.

Tell the caller you’re on the do not call list and let them know that any new calls you receive from them in the next 12 months may give you the right to file suit against them.

If you’re still getting unwanted calls, there are some steps you can take:

  • File a complaint with the National Do Not Call Registry, which you can find at: www.donotcall.gov, or call: 888-382-1222.  This registry is managed by the Federal Trade Commission.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission by calling: 888-225-5322
  • File a complaint with your state Attorneys General.

Remember, never give out personal or financial information to a telemarketer.

If you’ve taken all these steps on how to report do not call violations and the unwanted calls haven’t stopped, or you’re getting auto-dialed “robo” calls to your mobile phone that you’ve never consented to, it may be time to take legal action.

The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act allows consumers to recover $500 to $1500 for every call they received after asking to be removed from a company’s list.

The attorneys at Flitter Milz are experts on TCPA law and have helped several Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents who have gotten unwanted calls or been the victim of unscrupulous telemarketers.

If you’re one of these consumers, contact us today to discuss your legal rights.

 

Toll Free:  888-668-1225        Email:  consumers@consumerslaw.com