Archive for Consumer Affairs

IRS PHONE CALL SCAM CONTINUES

I was called by a client who got that “You owe $4,000 in back taxes — pay us now or you will be arrested” call. She put me on a conference call with the guy, and I read him the riot act. If you get one of these calls, ask for the person’s name, phone number, IRS Identification Number, and for the IRS phone number — he’ll probably hang up, but if not call the IRS to see if he is legit.

In the near future the IRS WILL be turning collections over to private entities, but not yet.

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CELL PHONE NUMBERS ARE NOT BEING RELEASED TO TELEMARKETERS

There is an email being circulated that has reached viral status, claiming that soon a cell phone, phone book will be printed, and that phone book will make everyone’s cellphone numbers available to telemarketers. The concern is that telemarketers will call cell phones and either we will answer and be charged for the phone time by our cellular provider, or the telemarketer will leave a message on our phones and when we retrieve the message we’ll be charged.

It is illegal for telemarketers to use auto-dialers to call wireless phone numbers. An auto-dialer lets the telemarketer spend time only talking on the phone, while a computer program makes the calls, and puts the caller on hold until the salesman is ready to talk. Very few, if any, aggressive telemarketers can do their jobs without auto-dialers.

Although I cannot confirm its legitimacy, there is a website that offers to give you the name of the owner of a cell phone number if you connect to the site, and pay a 99 cent fee. The website is “Intelius” – but please remember that I do not know if it works. I entered my cell phone number, and it correctly identified Southern Illinois as the origin of my number, and required me to pay to get the name of the person with the listing. Telemarketers probably won’t be interested in paying a dollar to get cell phone numbers.

The viral email referred to, states that in order to avoid having your cell phone number available to telemarketers, you have only a few days to register your cell phone with the Federal Do Not Call List. That warning is false. You can register anytime you wish by logging on to www.donotcall.gov, or calling 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register.

And one other website that I can recommend is www.snopes.com. Anytime you receive an email that you are not sure about, and would like to find out whether it is legitimate, log onto Snopes and you should get a clear, reliable, unbiased analysis of the accuracy of the email. I offer thanks to Snopes for making much of the information in this article available.

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NOTARY PUBLIC

A Notary Public is a state official, who is authorized by law to legally certify that the person signing a document, has provided the notary with proof that the name being signed is the name of the signer. This proof is established either through the notary’s personal knowledge, or with a legal identification card that provided the notary with a sample of the signer’s signature, and his photograph. A notary’s function is to protect against fraud by acting as an impartial witness that the signer is authentic, and is not signing against his or her will.

Sometimes you will need a notarized document that will have to be sent to a different state where there is no state record that a particular Illinois notary is actually a state appointed notary public. In order to obtain proof the notary is qualified, you can contact the Illinois Secretary of State, or the local county clerk.

For a notary to notarize (sign and provide her seal) a form document, it must not have any blank lines. If you have a form document you need notarized, simply insert the words, “not applicable” to the spaces that do not apply to you.

Notaries usually certify signatures on the following kinds of documents: quit claim deeds, trust documents, property transfers, wills, powers of attorney, legal affidavits, loan modifications, and visa and passport documents.

Many people make the mistake of concluding that by obtaining a notary certification; somehow the document that is being signed becomes legally binding, or is proven to be accurate and true. In reality, a notary’s certification has nothing to do with the substance of the document being signed. The notary seal does not say that the document is true, or that it is false. The notary only certifies that the person alleged to have signed the document, actually signed it.

Remember that if you need a document notarized, not to sign it until you are in the presence of the notary.

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USE YOUR LIBRARY TO GET LEGAL FORMS AND INFORMATION

To those of us who use the internet, we recognize that with a little experience, and a good internet connection, most of the public information in the world is only a click away. Another way of stating this point, is that with an internet connection, you have access to all the information in all the encyclopedias ever published, all the phone numbers and addresses in all the current (and some old) phone books, nearly every user’s manual and parts list to every product in your home – and here’s the point germane to this series of articles – the internet provides you access to a blank form for nearly every public document you could need to file – tax forms, divorces, deeds, and the subject of my last two articles: Power of Attorney forms.

Most of us are adept at using the internet. I am of the age that if not for my profession, I would not have had the schooling, or motivation, or influence to learn to use the internet. When I was in law school, we were aware of the ability to use computer based legal research, but it was a new field. Now that I have been writing this article, I understand how frustrating and foreign the use of a computer is to the older generation (and remember I include myself in this group). I was basically forced to learn to use a computer and the internet to serve my clients, and if not for them, the internet would be as complicated to me as a V8 engine.

When your V8 breaks down or is not working properly, you have to pay a mechanic hundreds of dollars to find out what is wrong and get it fixed. When you need to use the internet, you do not have to pay a lawyer or accountant or internet expert to get on line. There is a secret that you need to become familiar with. Your local library has internet access, usually free to the public, and they have experts available to help you find whatever you need on the internet.

Thanks primarily to Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, virtually every library in the United States has computers connected to the internet, available for patrons to use. In the past, libraries had access to only the books housed in their building, and every book was listed in a card catalogue. Later the libraries formed library systems, shared the books among all the libraries in the system, and the library helped you search through maybe all the libraries in the state to find the book you wanted. Today the librarians will do the same thing, but using their internet connections can help you search nearly all the information in the world.

Don’t be intimidated by the internet. Most of the people in this world have no home internet access. Call your local library and explain that you know nothing about the internet, but that you would like help finding information about, “______” or that you need to get a particular government form. Ask them when would be the best time to visit the library to get some help searching the internet. They will suggest when the librarian is not on break, or when the kids are not there playing video games on computers, or chatting with friends using social media (Facebook, etc.). Those computers are research tools and you have a right to use them, and the right to the help of the librarians whose salaries you pay through your taxes.

And this brings us to the point of this article. I came to realize that the forms to create a Power of Attorney documents mentioned in my last articles are not easily available if one has no internet connection – so just visit your local library, mention the citations I have provided in the articles, and the librarian can help you print one. I called a government agency a few days ago, and if you do not have access to the internet, and do not want to visit the library, to get a draft of the Power of Attorney for Health Care form, you can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 217-785-2083 and they will mail you one.

There are more websites than I can mention available to help you through legal problems – none as good as consulting an attorney – but if you cannot afford to pay a professional, find a reputable site, and do your best. I can recommend www.law.siu.edu/selfhelp/ , the Southern Illinois University Law School Legal Clinic’s website for help with divorce, child support, visitation, custody, name changes, child guardianship, credit history, small claims, enforcing money judgments, power of attorney, adult guardianship, service of process, immigration, employing non-citizens, suing as a poor person, how to answer a complaint, defending a foreclosure, landlord tenant rights, eviction, Illinois gun laws, and expungement.

While you are researching an Illinois legal matter you might want to visit these sites: IllinoisLegalAid.org, IllinoisLegalAdvocate.org and IllinoisProBono.org.

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FORCED PLACE INSURANCE AND WELLS FARGO

If you have a mortgage through Wells Fargo and have paid “forced place insurance” in the past, you may have been over-billed. Forced place insurance is home insurance that is paid for by the mortgage company after you have failed to pay home insurance in accordance with your obligation to do so as created by your mortgage agreement. If you don’t pay your home insurance on time, there is a grace period during which the home can be insured before the policy lapses. The mortgage company will not let a home they could acquire through foreclosure, go uninsured. Before the insurance can be cancelled, the mortgage company forces you to accept the insurance company and policy that they choose, and your monthly mortgage payments increase by the extra amount you pay for forced place insurance – which in virtually all circumstances costs much more than the home insurance coverage you can acquire on the open market.

A law firm is considering a class action lawsuit to collect money for Wells Fargo mortgage holders who have paid excessive prices for forced place insurance. In a class action lawsuit you simply tell the attorney that you want to be included, and wait for a settlement, should he win. If you are not included in the lawsuit, you can still sue Wells Fargo, but you will have to find your own attorney. To find out more about this lawsuit, contact info@ktmc.com, or call 888-299-7706.

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THE ILLINOIS LEMON LAW

I’ve had several inquiries about the Illinois Lemon Law in the last few months. Those of us, who are old enough, remember in the late sixties and seventies, seeing cars with lemons painted all over them, or with the word lemon repeated maybe fifty times all over a new car. There was a time when Detroit was turning out bad cars on their assembly lines, day after day. If you bought one of these cars that was flawed at the point of manufacture, you were stuck with it. Rumors suggested that disgruntled employees purposely sabotaged cars for days leaving thousands of cars that were lemons, or that simple design flaws, or defective products may have left tens of thousands of the same make and model flawed.

Eventually most states passed lemon laws that were directed at providing a way to correct the wrong that was done when a consumer purchased a defective new car that was not readily repairable by a dealer. The law is directed only at vehicles, and only new ones.

If you purchase a new car or light truck or van (under 8,000 pounds), and the vehicle is out of service for 30 or more business days, you can make a claim under the law. It does not cover used cars, motorcycles or boats. The law only covers vehicles in their first twelve months or 12,000 miles of use, whichever comes first, after a new purchase.

Of course virtually all new cars with less than 12,000 miles will still be under warranty, but if the dealer chooses to repeatedly try to service the vehicle rather than replace a lemon, you can make a claim under the law. Work through the problem with the dealer first, but don’t forget, that your rights under this law expire in twelve months, or 12,000 miles.

Find your manufacturer’s Industry Third Party Dispute Resolution Program (either your owner’s manual or the dealer will have the necessary information). Keep meticulous records of the problems with the car, the dates you identify the problems and all contacts with the dealer. With the price of new cars, if you buy a lemon, it would probably be prudent to consider working through a lawyer to protect your claim. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office may also be able to help.

If you win your claim, you should get a replacement vehicle of value similar to your lemon, or the dealer will buy it back from you at its value after normal depreciation.

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NATIONAL “DO NOT CALL” LIST NEEDS YOUR HELP

I have written before about the do not call list. My home has been on the list for years, but in the last year, I have been getting regular illegal calls from businesses that disregard the federal law, and call anyway. I don’t think that our government really cares, but as a former Ralph Nader worker (from back before he gave away a presidential election), I believe it is the obligation of us all to do what we can to stop these calls.
The National Do Not Call Registry website has two pages for us to enter information about these scofflaws who keep calling even after you have been on the list for 30 days.

The website address is https://complaints.donotcall.gov

The site is not very user friendly, so here are some of the particulars about how to enter a complaint I’ve learned as I enter my complaints regularly:

1) When you enter your phone number, use no spaces or periods or dashes (it adds the dashes automatically). Enter your number all the way to the left of the field for the phone number, or it will not accept the number.
2) When entering the date the call was received, you MUST enter back slashes (the vertical lines on your keyboard that lean at the top, to the right, “/”) to separate the month, day, and year. The month must be entered as two digits (for April, enter, “04”), two digits for the day, and the year cannot be “13”, it must be four digits (“2013”).

The website only lets you enter one complaint at a time. After entering one, if you want to enter another, just close the link, and reopen the site.
When I get a call from one of these illegal callers, I always have tried to talk to someone, but the businesses instruct their employees to give out no information over the phone. I have explained that before I will agree to do business with the caller, I need to know the business name, phone number, or website address – at that point the caller immediately hangs up.

I keep a notepad by my phone and when I get a call, I note the name on the caller ID, the phone number, the date, the time, any conversation that occurs if I talk to someone, and I always call the number back after the employee hangs up, and I follow the recording’s instructions to be put on the “company” do not call list. I call the federal “Do Not Call List” monthly and give them the information.
It’s your duty as a citizen.

Don’t take these illegal calls without fighting back.

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How to Stop Nuisance Charity Solicitation Calls

I’ve been on the “do not call” list for years and still get charity nuisance calls. Following are my suggestions for stopping those calls. Remember, the Do Not Call List will not stop charity calls:

It is important to understand that the charity probably does not even know that you are being called. The phone solicitation is usually contracted out to a firm that makes calls for many companies as their only business. The callers are usually people unaffiliated with the charity, people who don’t give a hoot about the charity or you. They only care about looking busy when their bosses walk by, or when their statistics are periodically reviewed.

1) When a charity calls you, tell the caller that you want to be taken off their calling list.
2) When that doesn’t work, during the next call, get the caller’s name and phone number, and tell her that your lawyer advises you to never make donations over the phone without doing so. Then ask to speak to the caller’s supervisor, so you can be doubly sure you are dealing with a legitimate caller. Get the supervisor’s name and the name of the company the calls are being made from and the name of the charity. Tell the supervisor that you have been continually harassed (it is a good idea to tell her the dates, times, and calling number from a pad of paper you keep next to your phone, and using your caller ID) and that you will make no more donations until the calls stop for (suggest a period of time, maybe six months).
3) If the calls continue, go directly to the charity. The last time I did this, the charity which was one involving Native Americans, listed in a solicitation letter, only the contact phone numbers of two Attorneys General. I called and each said all they do is verify whether the charity is listed with that state. So if you have no phone number, search the internet for a home office for the charity. Contact that office, and tell them about the harassment, who is doing it (use your notes) and that you will not donate ever again until the calls have stopped.
4) Contact: Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512, or at www.dmachoice.org. Tell them that you want your name removed from both the profit and nonprofit lists.
5) Contact the Illinois Attorney General at: http://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov or call 800-243-0618. There you can file a consumer complaint if you have the correct address of the charity that is harassing you.

Be very careful who you donate to. Be sure you keep records of the address you mail checks or phone numbers if you decide to make phone donations (I strongly advise against phone donations). Tell the charity that you do not want your name provided to any other entity, and you want to know what number to call to stop the calls if their charity starts calling you at home. If you decide to donate by phone, don’t do so during a phone solicitation call, ask the solicitor for the address and phone number of the charity, then make your donation directly to the charity.

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NATIONAL DO NOT CALL REGISTRY

1) You can register on-line at www.donotcall.gov.

2) You can register by phone, calling 888-382-1222, from the phone you want to register.

3) You can expect the calls to stop in 31 days.

4) You CAN register cell phone numbers.

5) You cannot register a business phone number, only personal phone numbers.

6) Registered numbers are never removed from the list without your permission, unless you give up the phone number.

7) Political organizations, charities, and legitimate phone surveys will still be able to call you after you are on the list.

8) Third party telemarketers calling on behalf of charities can be stopped from calling you by demanding to be taken off the caller’s calling list, or the telemarketer may be subject to a $16,000 fine.

9) For 18 months after buying something from a merchant, that merchant can solicit your business by phone. If you ask the company to stop calling you, they must do so, or face the possible $16,000 fine.

10) If you have been on the do not call list for 31 days, and receive a call from a telemarketer that you believe is in violation of the law, you can report the violation to www.donotcall.gov, or to 888-382-1222.

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PART TWO OF NEGOTIATING PARTIAL CREDIT CARD SETTLEMENTS

If you read the last article, you understand the basics of negotiating partial credit card settlements. Now that you know the basics, it is time to start the card game. And I feel obligated once again to advise you not to do this yourself, but to hire a lawyer that you know, and that has a good reputation. But if you decide to do it yourself, you’ll benefit by understanding some of the tactics successful negotiators have used.

Before you begin, you MUST have the money you will use to settle the credit card debt immediately available. Don’t have it in an IRA, stock fund, mutual fund, pension fund, or any other kind of form of money that is not available to send to a creditor any day you work out a deal.

In this scenario, let’s say that you owe your Bank of Iran credit card $10,000. You have been making minimum payments for several years, but the amount due stays right around the maximum $10,000 limit. You lost your job about a year ago, have quit making the minimum payments since, and Uncle Joe says he’ll loan you $3,000 if it will help you pay-off the debt. It would probably be best to confirm that Uncle Joe will give you that money any day you ask for it, rather than taking it now and putting it in your bank while several creditors might be trying to get the money.

WARNING – If the Bank of Iran sues you, and gets a judgment, they can “freeze” your bank account, and you and Uncle Joe both could lose the $3,000 if it is in your account. But in order for the bank to do that, unless the fine print of your credit card contract permits (I’ve never seen one that did, nor have I ever met anyone who ever read all that fine print), the Bank will have to get a court order to access your account.

Now that you have a third of the amount you owe on the credit card, and the funds are liquid (you can get them any time you want), it is time to play a card. Call the credit card company, tell them that you can get money from a relative, and would like to pay off the card in full if the company will agree to reduce the amount owed. Start at an offer of 20%, and the representative (get his name and phone number, and always work with him when you call) who answers the phone will probably refuse to accept the offer. Remind the operator to make, along with the note on his computer that you have made the offer, a note that you are considering filing bankruptcy – and if you file, because the credit card is unsecured (you pledged no collateral to get the credit), and you have no significant equity, property, or money – that your filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, could result in the credit card company getting nothing. Politely remind the operator that you can get the $2,000 anytime they want to make a deal, and if they do, to give you a call.

If the credit card company doesn’t call you within 30 days, or if they do call you, you can expect that they will agree to settle the debt if you can pay 50% of the amount owed, or $5,000. Explain that Uncle Joe said that he will give you $3,000, and that’s all you can pay (or if you’re ready to fold your hand, and can get the full $5,000 – take the deal). If you persist with the $3,000 offer, the representative will refuse. Remind him that you have the money and can send it to him any time he wants.

Give it a few weeks, and if you don’t get a call from the company, call them. Again make the $3,000 offer to the representative, remind him you can use the money from Uncle Joe to file bankruptcy, or give it to the Bank of Iran. If the operator again refuses, ask for his supervisor.

Either during your conversation with the supervisor, or at a later time, the credit card company may agree to your offer – if you agree to wire the money to the Bank of Iran right now. Remind the company that you have been advised never to send money by wire, but that you can over-night to them a cashier’s check, if they will make the offer to settle the debt in full in writing (have them send you a fax). If you decide to send the money – and remember that I advised you to hire a lawyer to handle this dangerous transaction – make a notation on the check where the Bank will sign it, “Bank of Iran account (list #) paid in full, never late.” This is called a qualified endorsement that you may be able to use to clear up your credit rating regarding this credit card. When the Bank of Iran accepts the check, they are doing so in acceptance of the condition you have written as the qualified endorsement.

But, here’s why bankruptcy is the preferred method of settling such matters, especially if there are many different credit companies involved – remember that $7,000 debt the Bank of Iran is agreeing that you do not have to pay? Uncle Sam will consider that $7,000 of income for that year, and you will be charged taxes for that $7,000 amount. If you are in the 15% tax bracket, that’s over a thousand dollars that you will owe in addition to your regular taxes for that year (so remember that when you’re borrowing the money from Uncle Joe). When you file bankruptcy, you are not taxed on debts that are discharged.

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