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Mail fraud, a felony, carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000 when individuals are involved and up to 30 years in prison and/or $1,000,000 in fines when a financial institution is involved.

People need to work to preserve dignity. And if this path is closed, some of them try to find something else, sometimes crossing the line.

Debt Relief and Credit Repair Scams Federal Trade Commission

Debt relief service scams target consumers with significant  debt by falsely promising to negotiate with their creditors to settle or otherwise reduce   repayment obligations. These operations often charge cash-strapped consumers a large up-front fee, but then fail to help them settle or lower their debts – if they provide any service at all. Some debt relief scams even tout their services using automated "robocalls" to consumers on the Do-Not-Call List.

The FTC has brought scores of law enforcement actions against these bogus credit-related services, and the agency has partnered with the states to bring hundreds of additional lawsuits.

Further, in 2010, the FTC amended its Telemarketing Sales Rule to protect consumers seeking debt relief services, like debt settlement or credit counseling.

The Rule prohibits for-profit companies that sell these services over the telephone from charging a fee before they actually settle or reduce a consumer's debt. It also prohibits debt relief providers from making misrepresentations and requires that they disclose key information that consumers need in evaluating these services.


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[Jun 04, 2020] The basic tool of neoliberalism subjugation of people is always the same -- debt

Notable quotes:
"... Possibly, the model for the new economy is the prison economy where one can get away with paying subsistance wages, if that. In any case, I think many oligarchs like the idea of workers pleading for work to avoid poverty, hunger and the jackboot on their necks while they rake in the wealth. ..."
Jun 04, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

karlof1 , Jun 3 2020 20:14 utc | 37

31 Cont'd--

And those reading outside the Outlaw US Empire excepting most of Asia and Russia, what Hudson describes is being done to you, too, although the mechanisms of financial control differ somewhat. Hudson has written a lot about the EU situation, but the basic tool of manipulation's the same--debt. Here's the Hedges/Hudson Interview from December 2018 which is 28.5 minutes. If this were a collegiate course, I'd assign this and all the other videos I've posted over the past week as homework so everyone can be clear about what's being done, how and why.

Blue Dotterel , Jun 3 2020 20:53 utc | 41

I think the oligarchs and Trump are well aware of what they could do to save or improve the mainstream economy. It seems, however, that they want to break the US economy, possibly to bring in their own somewhat feudalistic or worse alternative.

Trump, himself, might even imagine that breaking the workers and turning the economy into something paying third world cheap labor wages for workers will bring back manufacturing. Who knows? MAGA for him may be meant solely for the oligarchs. It certainly seems that way.

Possibly, the model for the new economy is the prison economy where one can get away with paying subsistance wages, if that. In any case, I think many oligarchs like the idea of workers pleading for work to avoid poverty, hunger and the jackboot on their necks while they rake in the wealth.

[Jan 16, 2020] The US strategy is to control your economy in order to force you to sell your most profitable industrial sectors to US investors, to force you to invest in your industry only by borrowing from the United States.

Jan 16, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

Daniel , Jan 16 2020 21:18 utc | 36

There is a lot of talk here and in comment sections at forums about how the American Empire is going to collapse soon due to its blunders and Russia and China gaining military superiority over it. This kind of talk is a type of magical thinking and has no basis in reality. The United States' most potent weapon isn't military, it's economic, and through it the US government controls the world. That weapon is the US Dollar and ever since Nixon took it off the gold standard it has been used to further the Empire's imperial hold on the global economy. The economist Michael Hudson in an article called A Note To China (link at bottom) explains how this works:
The U.S. strategy is to control your economy in order to force you to sell your most profitable industrial sectors to US investors, to force you to invest in your industry only by borrowing from the United States.

So the question is, how do China, Russia, Iran and other countries break free of this U.S. dollarization strategy?

There are a lot of articles on alt.media sites about how China and Russia are de-dollarizing their economies in order to resist, and eventually end, the US domination of the global economy that is preventing them from maintaining independent economic policies that benefit their citizens rather than global elites and US central bankers.

Russia managed to put a stop to overt US economic imperialism after the looting spree in the post-Soviet 1990s decimated Russia's ability to provide for its citizens and degraded the country's ability to maintain economic independence. But it still ultimately got caught in the neoliberal trap. Hudson again:

Yet Russia did not have enough foreign exchange to pay domestic ruble-wages or to pay for domestic goods and services. But neoliberal advisors convinced Russia to back all Ruble money or domestic currency credit it created by backing it with U.S. dollars. Obtaining these dollars involved paying enormous interest to the United States for this needless backing. There was no need for such backing. At the end of this road the United States convinced Russia to sell off its raw materials, its nickel mines, its electric utilities, its oil reserves, and ultimately tried to pry Crimea away from Russia.

China, Hudson argues, by accepting the advice of American and IMF/World Bank economic "experts" and through Chinese students schooled in American universities in American neoliberal theory is in great danger of falling into the same trap.

The U.S. has discovered that it does not have to militarily invade China. It does not have to conquer China. It does not have to use military weapons, because it has the intellectual weapon of financialization, convincing you that you need to do this in order to have a balanced economy. So, when China sends its students to the United States, especially when it sends central bankers and planners to the United States to study (and be recruited), they are told by the U.S. "Do as we say, not as we have done."

He concludes that:

The neoliberal plan is not to make you independent, and not to help you grow except to the extent that your growth will be paid to US investors or used to finance U.S. military spending around the world to encircle you and trying to destabilize you in Sichuan to try to pry China apart.

Look at what the United States has done in Russia, and at what the International Monetary Fund in Europe has done to Greece, Latvia and the Baltic states. It is a dress rehearsal for what U.S. diplomacy would like to do to you, if it can convince you to follow the neoliberal US economic policy of financialization and privatization.

De-dollarization is the alternative to privatization and financialization.

Loosening the Empire's hold on economic and geopolitical affairs and moving to a multipolar world order is a tough slog and the Empire will use everything it can to stop this from happening. But at the moment even countries under American sanctions and surrounded by its armies, with the possible exception of Iran, aren't really fighting back. That's a bitter pill for many to swallow but wishful thinking isn't going to change the world. After all, the new world has to be imagined before it can appear and right now it's still global capitalism all the way down.

Link to article: https://michael-hudson.com/2020/01/note-to-china/

The article in full, and Hudson's work generally, is well worth reading. He is one of only a few genuinely anti-imperialist economists and he is able to explain in layman's terms exactly how the US-centric global economy is a massive scam designed to benefit US empire at the rest of the world's expense.



Ian2 , Jan 16 2020 22:03 utc | 39

I was thinking about winston2's comment in the previous thread. A good way for China and Russia to respond is to go after those in the MIC; the CEO, lobbyists, financiers, etc... If they follow the money and take them out, I suspect we all would see a dramatic turn of events. No need to publicize their early retirement. Make it messy and public but not to the point of taking out innocents.
Patroklos , Jan 16 2020 22:20 utc | 40
@ Daniel | Jan 16 2020 21:18 utc | 36

Yes, Michael Hudson is excellent, mostly because he's rare economist, that is, one who begins from the premise that the 'economy' is a set of historically-situated and specific modes of exchange and forms of human relations. Aristotle located what we call the economy in ethics and politics; we follow the fairytales of neo-classical economics and global capital by imagining that it has some scientific autonomy from human social relations. Marx was right in following Aristotle's insight by critiquing the very idea of an autonomous economy, which the chief ideological fiction of late capitalism. Sam Chambers and Ellen Meiksens-Wood are also excellent critics of this obstacle to reimagining a viable alternative to the economy as it is propagated by the US neoliberal global apparatus.

Inkan1969 , Jan 16 2020 22:34 utc | 42 S , Jan 16 2020 22:37 utc | 43
@Daniel #36:
The United States' most potent weapon isn't military, it's economic, and through it the US government controls the world. That weapon is the US Dollar and ever since Nixon took it off the gold standard it has been used to further the Empire's imperial hold on the global economy.

But at the moment even countries under American sanctions and surrounded by its armies, with the possible exception of Iran, aren't really fighting back.

The dynamics of Russian reserves composition tell us that Russia is fighting back:

                    % Reserves
Date       Dollar  Euro  Yuan Other  Gold
30.06.2017   46.3  25.1   0.1  12.4  16.1
30.09.2017   46.2  23.9   1.0  12.2  16.7
31.12.2017   45.8  21.7   2.8  12.5  17.2
31.03.2018   43.7  22.2   5.0  11.9  17.2
30.06.2018   21.8  32.0  14.7  14.7  16.8
30.09.2018   22.6  32.1  14.4  14.3  16.6
31.12.2018   22.7  31.7  14.2  13.3  18.1
31.03.2019   23.6  30.3  14.2  13.7  18.2
30.06.2019   24.2  30.6  13.2  12.9  19.1
vk , Jan 16 2020 22:50 utc | 44
@ Posted by: Daniel | Jan 16 2020 21:18 utc | 36

Exclude me from this squad. I's always from the opinion that the USA would collapse slowly, i.e. degenerate/decay. I won't repeat my arguments again here so as to spare people who already know me the repetition.

However, consider this: when 2008 broke out, some people thought the USA would finally collapse. It didn't - in great part, because the USG also thought it could collapse, so it acted quickly and decisively. But it cost a lot: the USA fell from its "sole superpower" status, and, for the first time since 1929, the American people had to fell in the flesh the side effects of capitalism. It marked the end of the End of History, and the realization - mainly by Russia and China - that the Americans were not invincible and immortals. It may have marked the beginning of the multipolar era.

--//--

The world (bar China) never recovered from 2008. Indeed, world debt has grown to another record high:

Global debt hits a record high in 2019 at 322% of GDP, or $267trn

The world governments - specially the governments from the USA, Japan and Europe - absorbed private debt (through purchase of rotten papers and through QE) so the system could be saved. But this debt didn't disappear, instead, it became public debt. What's worse: private debt has already spiked up, and already is higher than pre-2008 levels. The Too Big To Fail philosophy of the central banks only bought them time.

--//--

Extending my previous link (from the previous Open Thread) about money laundering:

No tax and chill: Netflix's offshore network

The global TV subscription streaming company, Netflix made $1.2bn in profits in 2018, of which $430m was shifted into tax havens, reports Tax Watch UK.

The estimated revenue from UK subscribers was about $860m, but most of this was booked offshore in a tax haven Dutch subsidiary. Netflix claims its UK parent company got only $48m in revenue. When the costs of Netflix UK productions were put against this, Netflix was able to avoid paying any tax at all to the UK government. Indeed, it received tax reliefs for productions in the UK from the government.

Ghost Ship , Jan 16 2020 23:10 utc | 45
Why nobody should go to Moscow fuck with Russia.

A simple question requires a simple answer. Russia's defence expenditure in PPP terms is probably in excess of $180 billion per year which buys a shedload of "capable military equipment".

Bob , Jan 16 2020 23:26 utc | 46
8 On can only hope that the "Gharles De Gaulle" get destroyed and that the french military at least take some initiative to get rid of Macron.
karlof1 , Jan 16 2020 23:40 utc | 47
It should be noted that the point Hudson's trying to make in his "Note to China" is to warn China of what if faces by using historical examples. As S points out @43, Russia's Ruble is very sound and its dollar and T-Bill holdings are extremely low. The message to China and the entire SCO community is to cease supporting the Outlaw US Empire's military by supporting its balance of payments by buying T-Bills. The sooner the SCO community, or just the core nations, can produce a new currency for use in trade, the sooner a crisis can be created within the Outlaw US Empire--essentially by turning the "intellectual weapon of financialization" against the global rogue nation foe.

[Dec 14, 2018] The Predatory Lending Machine Crushing Small Businesses Across America by Zachary R. Mider and Zeke Faux

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... They got around lending regulations by calling what they did "merchant cash advances," not loans -- a distinction judges recognize though there's little practical difference. ..."
Nov 20, 2018 | www.bloomberg.com

How an obscure legal document turned New York's court system into a debt-collection machine that's chewing up small businesses across America.

Story by Zachary R. Mider and Zeke Faux Data analysis by David Ingold and Demetrios Pogkas

Look out, the stranger on the phone warned. They're coming for you.

The caller had Janelle Duncan's attention. Perpetually peppy at 53, with sparkly jewelry and a glittery manicure, Duncan was running a struggling Florida real estate agency with her husband, Doug. She began each day in prayer, a vanilla latte in her hand and her Maltese Shih Tzu, Coco, on her lap, asking God for business to pick up.

She'd answered the phone that Friday morning in January hoping it would be a new client looking for a home in the Tampa suburbs.

The man identified himself as a debt counselor. He described a bizarre legal proceeding that he said was targeting Duncan without her knowledge. A lender called ABC had filed a court judgment against her in the state of New York and was planning to seize her possessions. "I'm not sure if they already froze your bank accounts, but they are RIGHT NOW moving to do just that," he'd written in an email earlier that day. He described the lender as "EXTREMLY AGGRESSIVE." Her only hope, the man said, was to pull all her money out of the bank immediately.

His story sounded fishy to the Duncans. They had borrowed $36,762 from a company called ABC Merchant Solutions LLC, but as far as they knew they were paying the money back on schedule. Doug dialed his contact there and was assured all was well. They checked with a lawyer; he was skeptical, too. What kind of legal system would allow all that to happen 1,000 miles away without notice or a hearing? They shrugged off the warning as a scam.

But the caller was who he said he was, and everything he predicted came true. The following Monday, Doug logged in at the office to discover he no longer had access to his bank accounts. A few days on, $52,886.93 disappeared from one of them. The loss set off a chain of events that culminated a month later in financial ruin. Not long after her agency went bankrupt, Janelle collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, vomiting bile.

As the Duncans soon learned, tens of thousands of contractors, florists, and other small-business owners nationwide were being chewed up by the same legal process. Behind it all was a group of financiers who lend money at interest rates higher than those once demanded by Mafia loan sharks. Rather than breaking legs, these lenders have co-opted New York's court system and turned it into a high-speed debt-collection machine. Government officials enable the whole scheme. A few are even getting rich doing it.

Janelle and Doug Duncan

"Somebody just comes in and rips everything out. It's cannibalized our whole life"

The lenders' weapon of choice is an arcane legal document called a confession of judgment. Before borrowers get a loan, they have to sign a statement giving up their right to defend themselves if the lender takes them to court. It's like an arbitration agreement, except the borrower always loses. Armed with a confession, a lender can, without proof, accuse borrowers of not paying and legally seize their assets before they know what's happened. Not surprisingly, some lenders have abused this power. In dozens of interviews and court pleadings, borrowers describe lenders who've forged documents, lied about how much they were owed, or fabricated defaults out of thin air.

"Somebody just comes in and rips everything out," Doug said one evening in August, pulling up a stool at a Starbucks and recounting the events that killed the Duncans' business. After a long day spent selling houses for another company, the name tag pinned to his shirt had flipped upside down like a distress signal. "It's cannibalized our whole life."

Confessions of judgment have been part of English common law since the Middle Ages, intended as a way to enforce debts without the fuss and expense of trial. Concerns about their potential abuse are almost as old. In Charles Dickens's 1837 novel The Pickwick Papers , a landlady who's tricked into signing one ends up in debtors' prison . Some U.S. states outlawed confessions in the middle of the 20th century, and federal regulators banned them for consumer loans in 1985. But New York still allows them for business loans.

For David Glass, they were the solution to a problem: People were stealing his money. Among the hustlers and con men who work the bottom rungs of Wall Street, Glass is a legend. Before he was 30, he'd inspired the stock-scam movie Boiler Room . Later busted by the FBI for insider trading, he avoided prison by recording incriminating tapes of his old colleagues. Even his enemies say Glass, who declined to comment for this story, is one of the sharpest operators they've ever dealt with.

In 2009, while still on probation, Glass and a friend named Isaac Stern started a company called Yellowstone Capital LLC. (ABC, the firm that wiped out the Duncans, is one of more than a dozen corporate names used by Yellowstone's sales force.) Operating out of a red-walled office above an Irish bar in New York's financial district, these salespeople phoned bodegas and pizzerias and pitched their owners on loans. The rates sometimes exceeded 400 percent a year, and daily payments were required, but borrowers were desperate.

... ... ...

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, banks were cutting back on lending just when small businesses most needed cash. Companies such as Yellowstone stepped in. They got around lending regulations by calling what they did "merchant cash advances," not loans -- a distinction judges recognize though there's little practical difference. The same people who'd pushed stock swindles in the 1990s and subprime mortgages a decade later started talking small businesses into taking on costly debt. The profits were huge , and the industry grew. Last year it extended about $15 billion in credit, according to an estimate by investment bank Bryant Park Capital.

Yellowstone would hire anyone who could sell. A nightclub bouncer sat next to ultra-Orthodox Jews fresh out of religious school. The best brokers earned tens of thousands of dollars a month, former employees say; others slept at the office, fought, sold loose cigarettes, and stole from each other. A video posted on YouTube shows Glass firing an employee. "Get the f--- out of my firm," he yells. "Why are you still sitting there, fat ass? Get out of my company!" To keep the troops focused, management would stack a pile of cash on a table and hold a drawing for closers.

Glass's problem was that some borrowers took Yellowstone's money with no intention of paying it back. Lawsuits against deadbeats proved pointless, dragging on for months or years. Then a lawyer who worked for Yellowstone and other cash-advance outfits came up with the idea of requiring borrowers to sign confessions of judgment before receiving their loans. That way, at the first sign of trouble, lenders could start seizing assets, catching borrowers unawares.

In May 2012, Yellowstone became what appears to be the first company in the industry to file a confession in court. Others copied the trick. The innovation didn't just make collections easier; it upended the industry's economics. Now, even if a borrower defaulted, a company stood a chance of making a full recovery. By tacking on extra fees, it might even make more money, and faster, than if the borrower had never missed a payment. In some cases, the collections process became a profit engine.

Confessions aren't enforceable in Florida, where the Duncans signed theirs. But New York's courts are especially friendly to confessions and will accept them from anywhere, so lenders require customers to sign documents allowing them to file there. That's turned the state into the industry's collections department. Cash-advance companies have secured more than 25,000 judgments in New York since 2012, mostly in the past two years, according to data on more than 350 lenders compiled by Bloomberg Businessweek . Those judgments are worth an estimated $1.5 billion. The biggest filer by far, with a quarter of the cases: Yellowstone Capital.

The Duncans' ordeal began in November 2017 with an unsolicited fax from a broker promising term loans of as much as $1 million at a cheap rate. The couple had owned their agency, a Re/Max franchise, for three years and now had 50 employees, but they still weren't turning a profit. A planned entry into the mortgage business was proving more expensive than expected. Doing some quick math, Doug figured he could borrow $800,000 to fund the expansion, pay off some debt, and come out with a lower monthly payment. The spam fax felt like a gift from God.

On the phone, the broker said that to qualify for a big loan, Doug would first have to accept a smaller amount and make a few payments as a tryout. He sent over the paperwork for a cash advance, not a term loan -- and included confessions for both Doug and Janelle to sign. Without talking to a lawyer, they did. Why not? Doug thought. They intended to pay the money back on time.

The advance turned out to be for $36,762, repaid in $800 daily debits from their bank account starting the day after they got the money. This would continue for about three months, until they'd repaid $59,960, amounting to an annualized interest rate of more than 350 percent. A small price to pay, Doug figured -- soon he'd have all the money he needed in cheaper, longer-term debt. But when he followed up the next month to inquire about the status of the bigger loan, he got no response. The trouble started soon after.

A few hours after learning that their bank accounts had been frozen, the Duncans met with a local attorney, Jeffrey Dowd, in a law office squeezed between a nail salon and a transmission shop. Their bank, SunTrust, refused to tell them who was behind the freeze. It wasn't clear why Yellowstone would target them. Their contact there was still pleading ignorance; the lender had collected its $800 payment as recently as the previous business day. Janelle was on the verge of tears.

A broad-shouldered man with a white goatee, Dowd handles everything from wills to lawsuits for small-business owners in the Tampa suburbs. After assuring the Duncans he'd get to the bottom of it, he logged on to his computer. He soon found a legal website showing that Yellowstone had won a judgment against the Duncans a few hours after Janelle received the warning phone call. The lender had gone to a court in the village of Goshen, 60 miles north of New York City.

"I hereby confess judgment," read the documents Doug and Janelle had signed. Attached was a statement signed by the same person at Yellowstone who'd assured Doug everything was fine. It said the Duncans had stopped making payments.

That wasn't true. The Duncans' bank records show that Yellowstone had continued to get its daily $800 even after going to court. The company's sworn statement also inflated the size of the couple's debt. But by the time Dowd found the case, it was already over. A clerk had approved the judgment less than a day after Yellowstone's lawyer asked for it. No proof was demanded, no judge was involved, and the Duncans didn't have a chance to present their side in court.

Beau Phillips, a Yellowstone spokesman, said in an email to Businessweek that the company was within its rights, because the Duncans had blocked one payment and never made up for it. The Duncans respond that if a block had taken place, it must have been a computer error. Why stop paying and then resume the next day?

The court papers revealed the name of Yellowstone's lawyer, and on a whim, Dowd searched for her other cases and found more than 1,500 results. The Duncans' predicament was no aberration. "It was like a rabbit hole," Dowd says. He dove in, clicking on case after case after case.

The Long Reach of a Rubber Stamp In one month, a single clerk's office in Orange County, New York, issued 176 judgments against small businesses in 38 states and Puerto Rico

... ... ...

Note: Judgments issued based on merchant cash-advance filings in Orange County in July 2018 Source: Bloomberg News analysis of New York State Unified Court System documents

Goshen, N.Y., is a bucolic stop on the harness-racing circuit, just west of the Hudson River. Not far from the track, in the Orange County Clerk's office, women with ID lanyards around their necks sit behind Plexiglas windows, processing pistol permits and recording deeds. One clerk prints out proposed judgments sent electronically by cash-advance companies and makes them official with three rubber stamps.

Orange is one of a handful of counties in upstate New York that together handle an outsize share of the nation's cash-advance collections. Industry lawyers pick offices known to sign judgments quickly; there's no need for the borrower or lender to have a connection to the area. In even smaller Ontario County, cash-advance filings make up about three-quarters of the civil caseload. No matter how abusive the confessions might be, clerks have no choice but to continue processing them, says Kelly Eskew, a deputy clerk in Orange County.

To obtain a judgment, a lawyer for a cash-advance company must send in the confession along with a sworn affidavit explaining the default and how much is still owed. The clerk accepts the statement as fact and enters a judgment without additional review. Once signed, this judgment is almost impossible to overturn. Borrowers rarely try. Few lawyers will take on a client whose money is already gone, and getting a ruling can take months -- too long to save a desperate business. It's a trap with no escape.

Clicking around a database of New York state court records, Dowd did find some cases in which cash-advance borrowers had sought to overturn judgments. They'd almost always failed. New York judges took the view that debtors waived their rights when they signed the papers. Dowd concluded it would probably cost the Duncans $5,000 to retain a lawyer to travel to Orange County. He advised them not to bother.

It's possible that if the Duncans had tried to overturn the judgment, they would have discovered that the confessions they'd signed were later altered. The signed originals contain an apparent drafting error, failing to identify the Duncans' company as subject to the judgment, a flaw that might have prevented Yellowstone from seizing their money. In the version filed in court , someone had replaced the first two pages of each confession with the mistake corrected. Asked by Businessweek about the discrepancy, Phillips didn't provide an explanation.

Altered Documents The confession of judgment signed by the Duncans ( left top ) and the one filed by Yellowstone in court
Image of the confession of judgment signed by the Duncans.
Image of the confession of judgment filed by Yellowstone in court.

Borrowers have accused Yellowstone of forgery before. Just in the past year, a Georgia contractor presented evidence in court that a confession used against him was a complete fabrication, and a Maryland trucker complained to Yellowstone that a key term in his confession had been changed after the fact, as had happened with the Duncans. The company backed off from those borrowers but faced no further consequences. Phillips declined to comment on the accusations.

While Dowd didn't challenge the ruling against the Duncans in court, he did think he could get SunTrust to help them. He told the bank that one of the couple's accounts held funds that didn't belong to them because it was used to collect rent on behalf of landlords. Dowd says a banker at the local branch wanted to help but was overruled by higher-ups. The account remained frozen. A spokesman for SunTrust declined to comment.

When Dowd finally reached Yellowstone's lawyer, she referred him to a marshal who she said was handling the case. Dowd was confused. Why would a U.S. marshal be involved? His clients weren't fugitives. He called the phone number, and somebody with a Russian accent answered.

The person on the phone wasn't a federal official. Dowd had reached the Brooklyn office of Vadim Barbarovich, who holds the title of New York City marshal. He'd stumbled onto an arcane feature of the city's government that's become another powerful tool for cash-advance companies.

New York's 35 marshals are government officers, appointed by the mayor, who collect private debts. They evict tenants and tow cars, city badges dangling from their necks. When they recover money, they get a fee of 5 percent. The office dates to Dutch colonial days, formed by a decree of Peter Stuyvesant's council . Fees for the biggest jobs were initially set at a dozen stivers, less than one-tenth the price of a beaver pelt.

Barbarovich's office is in the immigrant enclave of Sheepshead Bay. Before he was appointed in 2013, he'd tracked inventory at a Brooklyn hospital and volunteered as a Russian translator. He's now the go-to marshal for the cash-advance business and has gotten rich in the process. Last year, city records show, he cleared $1.7 million after expenses.

As soon as Yellowstone had obtained its judgment against the Duncans, it had sent a copy to Barbarovich, who issued legal orders demanding money from Atlanta-based SunTrust and another bank in Alabama where the couple kept their personal funds. By law, New York marshals' authority is limited to the city's five boroughs, but a loophole vastly extends their reach: They're allowed to demand out-of-state funds as long as the bank has an office in the city, as SunTrust does. A few big banks refuse to comply with the orders, but most just hand over their customers' money.

SunTrust proved accommodating. Three days after freezing the Duncans' accounts, it took $52,886.93 and mailed a check to Barbarovich, enough to satisfy the judgment plus the 5 percent marshal's fee. Almost all of it was rent money the Duncans were holding for landlords, not their own funds. Barbarovich didn't respond to questions about the couple's case but said in an email that he follows the rules when issuing a demand for money. Phillips, the Yellowstone spokesman, said no one told the company that the money belonged to third parties until seven weeks after it was seized. Even then, Yellowstone refused to return it.

The Duncans scrambled to make up the shortfall. Doug got another, larger cash advance from a different company to keep afloat. The daily payments on that loan were too much for them to handle, though, and they were soon short of cash again. Sensing trouble, employees fled.

One evening, Janelle thought she was having a heart attack. Her pulse raced, her limbs went numb, and she grew nauseous. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital. Her heart was fine. Her insurance claim was denied.

Unlike the Duncans, most of the dozens of borrowers interviewed by Businessweek really did fall behind on their debt payments. Their experiences were no less wrenching. They spoke of divorce, of lost friendships, of unpaid medical bills.

"You can't defend yourself," says Richard Schilg, the owner of a human resources company in Ohio who borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars with at least six advances. "As long as you still have a business, as long you have a personal checking account, they're going to hound you. Your life is ruined by their contract." Schilg says he always tried to honor his debts. But his access to money has been so restricted by cash-advance judgments that he's had to sell furniture to buy food.

He's one of many borrowers who've received nasty threats from debt collectors. "I will make this my personal business to f--- you," a Yellowstone executive named Steve Davis told Schilg on a voicemail heard by Businessweek . Davis texted another: "I will watch you crash and burn." Asked about the messages, Davis says, "People defraud us. When that happens we have to do what's best for us."

Jerry Bush, who ran a plumbing business with his father in Roanoke, Va., signed confessions for at least six cash advances from companies including Yellowstone, taking one loan after another as his payments mounted to $18,000 a day. In January, Davis called him while he was accompanying his wife to a chemotherapy appointment and threatened him with the confession in a dispute over payment terms. Davis denies menacing Bush, but according to Bush's account of their conversation, Davis said he would pursue Bush until his death and take all of his money, leaving nothing to pay for his wife's treatment. Bush also says Davis then offered to send flowers to Bush's wife.

Jerry Bush

"I wake up every morning afraid what else they will take. And every morning I throw up blood"

In August, Bush closed his business, laid off his 20 employees, and stopped making payments on his loans. Yellowstone never filed its signed confession in court, but other lenders went after him over theirs. One sunny day that month, he walked to a wooded area near his home, swallowed a bottle of an oxycodone painkiller, and began streaming video to Facebook. To anyone who might have been watching, he explained that he'd taken out cash advances in a failed attempt to save his business. Now the lenders had seized his accounts, Bush said, his voice wavering. One had even grabbed his father's retirement money.

"I signed 'em, I take the blame for it," he said. "This will be my last video. I am taking this on me." He asked his friends to take care of his family, then sobbed as he told his wife and teenage son he loved them.

Someone who saw the video alerted the police. They found Bush unconscious in the woods a few hours later -- he credits them with saving his life. But the pressure from his confessions of judgment hasn't relented. "I wake up every morning afraid what else they will take," he says. "And every morning I throw up blood."

Bush's contracts with Yellowstone show that the company advanced him a total of about $250,000 and that he paid them back more than $600,000. Davis, who parted ways with Yellowstone in August, says he didn't mistreat Bush or other borrowers and always followed the company's protocols. "You know why people put the blame on me is because I'm successful," he says. "It's just haters."

As for the Duncans, each morning at their house still begins with a prayer and a Bible verse. Their retirement savings evaporated with their agency, but they've been able to keep their house. They continue to believe God has a plan for every one of his children, but they've learned to trust some of those children less. "If we don't have peace from God, and we live in outrage, it destroys us," Janelle says. "So I'm choosing to have hope to start again, and we're relying on the Lord to replace what the enemy has stolen and turn it around for good."

By seizing their bank deposits, Yellowstone had managed to collect its money ahead of schedule and tack on $9,990 in extra legal fees, payable to a law firm in which it owns a stake. In about three months, the company and its affiliates almost doubled their money. At that rate of return, one dollar could be turned into 10 in less than a year.

Everyone else involved in the collection process got a slice, too. SunTrust got a $100 processing fee. Barbarovich's office got approximately $2,700, with about $120 of that passed along to the city. The Orange County Clerk's office got $41 for its rubber stamps. The New York state court system got $184.

To date, no state or federal regulator has tried to police the merchant-cash-advance industry. Its lawyers designed it to avoid scrutiny, sidestepping usury laws and state licensing requirements by keeping the word "loan" out of paperwork and describing the deals as cash advances against future revenue. And because the customers are technically businesses, not individuals, consumer protection laws don't apply, either.

With regulators sidelined and lawmakers oblivious, Yellowstone and its peers keep growing. After Glass stepped back a couple of years ago from day-to-day operations -- his criminal record was making it harder to find investors -- Wall Street investment bankers arranged a $120 million line of credit to finance more advances. In 2016 the company moved from its grimy downtown Manhattan offices to a shiny building in Jersey City, pocketing $3 million in state tax incentives . On Instagram, a top salesman shows off flights on private jets, a diamond-encrusted watch, and a Lamborghini. Yellowstone advanced $553 million last year, its highest total ever.

A stack of cash about to be raffled off to a lucky Yellowstone employee. SOURCE: FACEBOOK

In April, on the same day Janelle Duncan was selling the last of her office furniture, Yellowstone executives marked the company's ninth anniversary with a luncheon in Jersey City. In a celebratory email marking the occasion, Stern, the co-founder, wrote, "I am continually blown away at the success and achievements we continue to have."

[Jul 13, 2018] Godfather Of Payday Lending Stripped Of $64 Million, Sentenced To 14 Years

Notable quotes:
"... A former Main Line investment banker known as the "Godfather of payday lending" for preying on low-income borrowers was sentenced Friday to 14 years in federal prison and stripped of over $64 million in assets, reports philly.com . ..."
Jul 10, 2018 | www.zerohedge.com

"In this industry, to build a big book, you have to run afoul of the regulators" -Charles M. Hallinan

A former Main Line investment banker known as the "Godfather of payday lending" for preying on low-income borrowers was sentenced Friday to 14 years in federal prison and stripped of over $64 million in assets, reports philly.com .

Lawyers for 77-year-old Charles M. Hallinan argued that the prison term might as well be a "death sentence" given his age and declining health, however District Judge Eduardo Robreno gave no quarter as he rendered his verdict after a jury convicted him of 17 counts, including racketeering, international money laundering and fraud.

"It would be a miscarriage of justice to impose a sentence that would not reflect the seriousness of this case," Robreno said. "The sentence here should send a message that criminal conduct like [this] will not pay."

In all, government lawyers estimate, Hallinan's dozens of companies made $492 million off an estimated 1.4 million low-income borrowers between 2007 and 2013, the period covered by the indictment.

Robreno's forfeiture order will strip Hallinan of many of the fruits of that business, including his $1.8 million Villanova mansion , multiple bank accounts, and a small fleet of luxury cars , including a $142, 000 2014 Bentley Flying Spur. In addition, the judge ordered Hallinan to pay a separate $2.5 million fine. - philly.com

When given the opportunity to address the court before his sentence was handed down, Hallinan remained silent.

Hallinan's case calls into question the legality of business tactics engaged in by predatory lenders across the country - such as Mariner Finance , a subsidiary of former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner 's private equity firm Warburg Pincus.

Many of the loans Hallinan made had exorbitant interest rates which greatly exceeded rate caps mandated by the states in which the borrowers live, such as Pennsylvania's 6% annual cap.

In court Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubnoff argued that there was little difference between the exorbitant fees charged by money-lending mobsters and the annual interest rates approaching 800 percent that were standard on many of Hallinan's loans. - philly.com

"The only difference between Mr. Hallinan and other loan sharks is that he doesn't break the kneecaps of people who don't pay his debts," Dubnoff said. "He was charging more interest than the Mafia."

Hallinan "collect[ed] hundreds of millions of dollars in unlawful debt knowing that these businesses were unlawful, and all the while devising schemes to evade the law," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sara L. Grieb and Maria M. Carrillo.

Hallinan's attorneys argued that Hallinan should receive house arrest after a recent diagnosis of two forms of aggressive cancer.

"What is just, under the circumstances?" Jacobs asked. "If there is going to be a period of incarceration, one that makes it so that Mr. Hallinan doesn't survive is not just."

Judge Robreno largely ignored the plea, though he did give Hallinan 11 days to get his medical affairs in order before he has to report to prison.

Hallinan's orbit

Many of those whose careers Hallinan helped to launch are now headed to prison alongside the "godfather" of payday lending, " a list that includes professional race car driver Scott Tucker, who was sentenced to more than 16 years in prison in January and ordered to forfeit $3.5 billion in assets," reports Philly .

Hallinan's codefendant and longtime lawyer, Wheeler K. Neff, was sentenced in May to eight years behind bars.

Hallinan got into the predatory lending business in the 1990s with $120 million after selling his landfill company to begin making payday loans over phone and fax. He rapidly grew his empire of dozens of companies which offered quick cash under such names as Instant Cash USA, Your First Payday and Tele-Ca$h.

As more than a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, effectively outlawed payday lending with laws attempting to cap the exorbitant fee rates that are standard across the industry, Hallinan continued to target low-income borrowers over the internet.

He tried to hide his involvement by instituting sham partnerships with licensed banks and American Indian tribes so he could take advantage of looser restrictions on their abilities to lend. But in practice he limited the involvement of those partners and continued to service all the loans from his offices in Bala Cynwyd. - philly.com

" He bet his lifestyle on the fact that we would not catch him. He lost that bet ," said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William M. McSwain. " Now, it's time for Hallinan to repay his debt with the only currency we will accept: his freedom and his fortune, amassed at his victims' expense ."


1982xls -> HilteryTrumpkin Tue, 07/10/2018 - 14:59 Permalink

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/republicans-kill-obamas-awful-operat

https://reason.com/blog/2017/08/18/good-bye-and-good-riddence-to-operat

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/apr/5/eric-holder-anti-gun-op

EmmittFitzhume -> 1982xls Tue, 07/10/2018 - 15:03 Permalink

Charles Shylock Hallinan

MasterPo -> EmmittFitzhume Tue, 07/10/2018 - 15:06 Permalink

Just some pond scum floating on top of the swamp.

Most people have no clue what is about to be revealed, and it will rock their world. But for those of us that were red-pilled early on, it is heartening to see.

#WWGOWGA

[Just caught the picture of the mansion.

"There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,

He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;

He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house." - Mother Goose

That Mom Goose sure called 'em like she saw 'em...]

Mr. Universe -> Four chan Tue, 07/10/2018 - 15:27 Permalink

64 million in stripped assets. I wonder how much of that is going back to those who were fleeced? How much goes to .gov? Oh and inquiring minds want to know, what happened to the other 400 million plus?

charlewar -> Mr. Universe Tue, 07/10/2018 - 15:31 Permalink

All goes to the govt. The small fish need sue what's left.

A Sentinel -> charlewar Tue, 07/10/2018 - 16:56 Permalink

This is an evil business.

finally someone got tagged for ripping off us plebs.

any_mouse -> A Sentinel Tue, 07/10/2018 - 17:19 Permalink

So you think.

Did any peons receive any restitution?

Maybe a buck each from a class action brought on by Saul's Legal Team.

Parasites. Parasites with Political, Financial, and Social control.

Think of the damage a parasite could do, if that parasite could control what the host sees, hears, thinks, feels, and even control the muscles. You would be in pain, but not feel it. You could be poisoning yourself with bitter poison, while believing it is sweet honey.

COSMOS -> CriticalUser Tue, 07/10/2018 - 18:07 Permalink

In all fairness this dude is pocked change compared to the tribe bankers.

http://theweek.com/articles/479867/federal-reserves-breathtaking-77-tri

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/secrets-and-lies-of

None of the schmucks pulling off trillion dollar heists went to jail.

Giant Meteor -> COSMOS Tue, 07/10/2018 - 18:23 Permalink

Sure, sure, point taken. But I don't believe that is a valid defense .. I get it, believe me. But I suspect if some higher profile cases with equilvalent outcomes aren't soon undertaken, some enterprising folks may soon take matters into their own hands .. And one could not blame them really ..

MoreFreedom -> Mr. Universe Tue, 07/10/2018 - 16:27 Permalink

One thing's for sure. There won't be any payday lenders operating in Pennsylvania, and poor people who need short term loans to deal with unexpected bills won't be getting any help, and instead will be suffering from the very high interest effective interest rates of late payment penalties. In defense of Hallinan, he didn't force anyone to sign up for these loans, he didn't break any kneecaps, and I'll bet his customers default on their loans at a high rate. There is also the legal question of from where the loan is made; given he had partners on Indian reservations and operated over the internet on behalf of those partnerships. Seems to me, the government is just grabbing this dying man's money. I'll bet he appeals the conviction to a higher court.

And does anyone believe US attorney Dubnoff who claims (which begs the question how he knows) that Hallinan charges more interest than the Mafia?

My other bet: Timothy Geithner won't be prosecuted for using the same tactics. And the poor will suffer more. While the article makes hay of Hallinan's wealth, he sold a waste management company (and I wouldn't be surprised there was political corruption involved in its growth given he lived in Philly) for $120 million and was already rich.

For a perspective in support of pay-day lenders, read these two Reason articles:

http://reason.com/blog/2017/04/13/payday-lenders-check-cashers-servon

http://reason.com/archives/2017/02/18/living-without-banks

Full disclosure: The only money I ever borrowed was a few thousand for a student loan, and for my home mortgage.

vato poco -> MoreFreedom Tue, 07/10/2018 - 17:11 Permalink

that's a good post on an issue that's too easy to go all knee-jerk on. +1 for you.

I've got a coupla terrific young relatives that I'm schooling in financial knowhow - because their parents are knuckleheads about money - and lesson #2 was 'payday loans are financial crack.'

but.

but the guy's lawyer WAS right to a degree: nobody made those victims/dumbasses sign up for them, and then not pay it back, thus flinging them into the ol' vicious downward spiral. also, there's this little fact: kids, if you find yourself lacking funds for a sudden unexpected financial expense, call it $500, you can 1) bounce a check 2) take a cash advance on your credit card, assuming you have any room left on it or 3) do the payday lender thing. let's say you only need the $ for 10 days, then ... I dunno .... then your tax refund check arrives.

cost of bouncing check (fees, etc), and bear in mind the bank will clear the big check first, thus making several other small checks bounce = $100? more?

cost of credit-card cash advance = $50, plus or minus

cost of payday loan vig = $15, plus or minus

they're kinda like handguns: just a tool. whether that tool saves your butt or ruins your life is entirely up to you, the adult. (the kids do not like this lesson very much - something about trying to avoid responsibility?)

the world is not necessarily all black and white. that said, I do hope that POS dies of treatable rectal cancer botched horribly by prison docs, resulting in a long, drawn-out, horribly agonizing death in a pink diaper

Giant Meteor -> MoreFreedom Tue, 07/10/2018 - 18:00 Permalink

An interesting take. A friend to the poor . Never quite looked at it that way, and now, I have a tear in my eye . The poor fellow, friend to the poor working stiff.

Fucking friends like that . But at at least he wasn't breaking their knee caps and all. A real humanitarian!

[Dec 13, 2016] Learn to spot the telltale signs of debt-relief scams - The Washington Post

Notable quotes:
"... The real plan: Make money off desperate people. "For many consumers, more than half of their monthly payment went towards defendants' fees," the FTC said. "For consumers who were in the program longer than 18 months, defendants also charged a $49 monthly 'maintenance fee.' " ..."
Dec 13, 2016 | www.washingtonpost.com

People are so desperate to get out of debt that they will believe anything and anyone promising relief. They often turn to debt-relief companies promoting plans that can supposedly solve their problems. But for many, not only does the relief not come, but the steep cost of the plans - sometimes thousands of dollars - can also dig them in deeper.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission announced a $7.9 million settlement with one debt-relief operation that the agency said scammed people by making false promises. The company waived its rights to "challenge or contest" the charges, according to the settlement.

What the FTC found was troubling. And if the right knowledge is power, let's look at the anatomy of how this one scam worked.

The promoter: DebtPro 123. Unfortunately, this company is not alone. Just look for company names intended to lure you into thinking that they feel your pain and want to help eliminate your debt in just a few short years.

The pitch: According to the FTC complaint, DebtPro 123 told folks that its "debt resolution program would completely resolve consumers' credit card and other unsecured debts (including department store accounts, personal loans, medical bills, student loans, and accounts with collection agencies)."


It also told consumers: "DebtPro will reduce a client's total debt by 70 to 80 percent on average including all fees" and "With settlements as low as 10 percent, this means when all is said and done, a client's savings could be as much as 20 cents on the dollar including our fees."

Now really, doesn't that statement sound too good to be true?

And it was.

What would you say if you were told this? "With honest and informative advice, outstanding customer service, and a proven debt settlement process, we can ensure our clients become debt-free quickly and comfortably and get back on the path of financial freedom."

I homed in on two words: "quickly" and "comfortably."

Unless you come into some big bucks, the process of paying down your debts is long. It is painful. And if someone tells you different, don't believe it.


Oh, and there was the debt calculator to help the unbelievers. It was designed to back up the ridiculous claims of a quick debt reduction.


The two phases of the program: In phase one, customers put money in a "Creditor Fund/Settlement Account." They were told they needed this pot of money for negotiations with their creditors. In phase two, customers were assured that the company was working on their case to get all their debt terms changed.

During these phases, customers were advised to stop paying their bills and to stop all communications with their creditors. Bad move. Often in these cases, people find out later that nothing had been done on their behalf and that fees, interest and penalties had been piling on while they waited on relief.

The FTC complaint said DebtPro made reference to its "legal department." And, in phrasing that's mimicked by other such companies, DebtPro told its clients: "The attorneys will communicate directly with your creditors and debt collectors via the mail and telephone. They will audit your bills and the collection methods being used by the creditors to determine if your consumer rights have been violated."

Other promises: Your credit will be better because the firm will work to remove negative information from your credit files. Except it failed to make clear that if the information was true - that you didn't pay your bills as agreed - this information can't be removed. By law, most negative credit information can stay on your reports for seven years.

The real plan: Make money off desperate people. "For many consumers, more than half of their monthly payment went towards defendants' fees," the FTC said. "For consumers who were in the program longer than 18 months, defendants also charged a $49 monthly 'maintenance fee.' "

The failed promises

Debts weren't reduced quickly. In fact, in many instances, the debt-relief company didn't start settlement negotiations until after the client had received letters from creditors warning of an impending lawsuit for failure to make debt payments.

Settlements weren't significantly less than what was owed. Negative information was not removed. And there was "no legal department, 'legal in-house counsels' or any attorneys on staff," the FTC found.

People ended up with more debt, some lost their homes, and others had their wages garnished or had to file for bankruptcy protection.

Now that you know the inside deal, don't get suckered into this type of debt-relief scam.

Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or singletarym@washpost.com. Questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary .

fisher1

10/19/2015 7:08 AM EDT

How about a column on the D-list celebrities which tout questionable sites like debt-relief companies, reverse mortgages and so on - do they do any online research before pocketing their fees?

Vic Martinsons

10/18/2015 8:23 PM EDT

There are companies, like Settle4Less, that do not charge the consumer any fees and doesn't require them to deposit money into a special account. The consumer is never told to stop paying their debts during the settlement process. No claims are made regarding credit score improvement or that the process will be successful.

fraseriver

10/17/2015 1:55 PM EDT

Collection companies buy your debt at auction for as little as two cents on the dollar. They then use Robo calls to harass you forever...If you are unable to pay the debt go to the nearest library and research ways and means to get these vultures off your back .


acepaperman

10/17/2015 11:03 AM EDT [Edited]

Depending on what state you live in, making the people who hold unsecured debt come after you is the least expensive route. Small claims court is the one they will try if they try at all, and that usually has severe limitations. Most of these companies are headquartered in some "business friendly" state which means they have to hire attorneys from your state to pursue you, which will make it prohibitively expensive and Superior court is ludicrously expensive for the creditor. If you can ride it out, you might not have to pay anything,. Hiring a debt relief company is probably the most expensive way to do it.

jgl707

10/17/2015 8:43 AM EDT

if it sounds too good to be true......


mickT

10/16/2015 11:23 PM EDT

Sounds like a Washington Post neo-con scam. "For only a few trillion dollars, if you help us take out Saddam, the world will be better."

If only you support our policy of "taking out Bashar, and the freedom loving Salafists will turn Syria into a liberal haven".

I guess the debt relief people are invading their turf on b.s.ing the American people and they are mad.

[Nov 13, 2016] Consumer Watchdog Sues Debt-Relief Firm Connecticut Consumer Advocate Protector Watchdog Ct Consumer Complaints Ct consume

Notable quotes:
"... The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit against a debt relief firm that has challenged the constitutionality of the consumer watchdog, alleging the company charged illegal fees and deceived customers. ..."
"... The CFPB lawsuit against Morgan Drexen Inc. and its CEO, Walter Ledda, alleges the firm overcharged 22,000 of its customers millions of dollars in upfront fees tied to debt-relief services. ..."
Aug 27, 2013 | ctwatchdog.com
By LowCards.com

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit against a debt relief firm that has challenged the constitutionality of the consumer watchdog, alleging the company charged illegal fees and deceived customers.

The CFPB lawsuit against Morgan Drexen Inc. and its CEO, Walter Ledda, alleges the firm overcharged 22,000 of its customers millions of dollars in upfront fees tied to debt-relief services.

The agency said Morgan Drexen advertised its customers would not be charged any up-front fees, but ended up collecting them by disguising the fees as costs for bankruptcy-related services.

"This company took advantage of people who were struggling. The company charged consumers illegal fees and deceived them about the services provided," CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement.

Story by Michael Crittendon for the Wall Street Journal.

[Nov 13, 2016] Debt-Relief Scheme Cost Consumers $67 Million in Illegal Fees by Jonathan Floyd and David N. Anthony

Notable quotes:
"... The CFPB alleges that "Defendants' marketers lure consumers into signing up for debt settlement services by falsely promising that consumers will be represented by local attorneys and that they will negotiate with consumers' creditors to settle their debts. Defendants are debt settlement veterans who joined forces after federal law changed to prevent fraud by banning the taking of up-front fees before settling consumers' debts. In an apparent attempt to circumvent that new law, Defendants began claiming that they provide legal representation," but continued charging consumers up-front fees for debt relief services. ..."
"... The CFPB estimates that 21,000 consumers across the country have paid more than $67 million in unlawful advance fees to World Law, who ultimately provide little or none of the services promised to consumers. According to the agency, 99 percent of World Law's customers were made to pay illegal upfront fees, including a $199 initial fee, a monthly attorney service fee of $85, and other "bundled legal service fees" that ranged from 10 to 15 percent of the consumers' outstanding debt. ..."
Sep 30, 2015 | www.consumerfinancialserviceslawmonitor.com

On September 2, the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida granted multiple motions for temporary restraining orders (TROs) by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the matter of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Orion Processing, LLC, Bradley James Haskins, World Law Debt Services, LLC, and World Law Processing, LLC. The CFPB originally filed a Complaint under the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act based on Defendants' violations of the CFPA and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The TROs include an asset freeze, injunctive relief, and other equitable relief against both World Law and its principals.

The CFPB alleges that "Defendants' marketers lure consumers into signing up for debt settlement services by falsely promising that consumers will be represented by local attorneys and that they will negotiate with consumers' creditors to settle their debts. Defendants are debt settlement veterans who joined forces after federal law changed to prevent fraud by banning the taking of up-front fees before settling consumers' debts. In an apparent attempt to circumvent that new law, Defendants began claiming that they provide legal representation," but continued charging consumers up-front fees for debt relief services.

The CFPB estimates that 21,000 consumers across the country have paid more than $67 million in unlawful advance fees to World Law, who ultimately provide little or none of the services promised to consumers. According to the agency, 99 percent of World Law's customers were made to pay illegal upfront fees, including a $199 initial fee, a monthly attorney service fee of $85, and other "bundled legal service fees" that ranged from 10 to 15 percent of the consumers' outstanding debt.

According to the CFPB, World Law and its affiliates made false representations about the quality and level of service World Law purported to provide. Consumers rarely, if ever, met or communicated with actual lawyers and, "[a]s a result, consumers paid millions of dollars in illegal fees and suffered additional harms, including being subjected to collection calls, lawsuits, late fees and lower credit scores," the agency said.

According to court documents, World Law, Orion Processing, and Family Capital have all entered into bankruptcy.

[Nov 13, 2016] CFPB Wins Final Judgment Against Morgan Drexen for Illegal Debt-Relief Scheme Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Mar 18, 2016 | www.consumerfinance.gov
Court Rules that Morgan Drexen and Walter Ledda Charged Illegal Upfront Fees and Deceived Consumers

WASHINGTON, D.C. -

At the request of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal district court entered a final judgment this week against debt relief company Morgan Drexen, Inc., resolving a lawsuit filed by the CFPB in August 2013. The Bureau's lawsuit against Morgan Drexen alleged that the company charged illegal upfront fees and deceived consumers. The court found that the company violated federal law, prohibited Morgan Drexen from collecting any further fees from its customers, and ordered it to pay $132,882,488 in restitution and a $40 million civil penalty. This decision follows a stipulated final judgment against Morgan Drexen's president and chief executive officer, Walter Ledda, that the court approved in October. The court found that Ledda violated federal law, banned him from providing debt relief services, and required him to pay restitution and a civil money penalty.

"The CFPB's victory sends a strong message that debt relief companies break the law when they defraud struggling consumers, and those actions have consequences for which we will hold them accountable," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "The court's orders against Morgan Drexen and Mr. Ledda ensure that they will never again violate the rights of consumers, and the significant penalties imposed reflect the severity of this illegal conduct."

Debt Relief Scheme

Morgan Drexen is a nationwide debt relief company that was founded by Walter Ledda in 2007. The CFPB sued Morgan Drexen and Ledda in 2013, alleging that they had violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act by charging illegal upfront fees for debt relief services and misrepresenting their services to consumers.

The Telemarketing Sales Rule prohibits deception in telemarketing and generally prohibits debt relief providers from charging a fee for any debt relief service until they have actually settled, reduced, or otherwise altered the terms of at least one of the consumer's debts.

When consumers signed up for Morgan Drexen's services, the company presented them with two contracts, one for debt settlement services, and the other for bankruptcy-related services. Based on its investigation, the Bureau brought suit alleging that consumers who signed up sought services for debt relief and not bankruptcy, that little to no bankruptcy work was actually performed for consumers, and that the bankruptcy-related contract Morgan Drexen presented to consumers was a ruse designed to disguise impermissible upfront fees for debt relief work.

Falsifying Evidence

In January 2015, weeks before trial was scheduled to start, the Bureau learned that Morgan Drexen had created and altered bankruptcy petitions that it submitted to the court as evidence of having provided bankruptcy services.

The CFPB informed the court of its findings and filed a motion seeking the sanction of default judgment against the company. After hearing testimony from Ledda, other Morgan Drexen representatives, and a whistleblower who exposed the company's conduct, the court issued an order in April 2015 finding that Morgan Drexen misled the court and "acted willfully and in bad faith by falsifying evidence." On the basis of its findings, the court sanctioned Morgan Drexen by entering default judgment against the company.

Shortly thereafter, in June 2015, the court issued a permanent injunction against Morgan Drexen in which it deemed that the company had charged consumers illegal upfront fees for debt relief services and violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule and Dodd-Frank Act by deceptively describing its services. The court prohibited the company from collecting any more money from customers and banned it from charging upfront fees for debt relief services. Morgan Drexen sought bankruptcy protection the day after the court issued its order, and a trustee was appointed to administer the company's shutdown and to maintain proper communication with affected consumers.

Final Judgments Against Ledda and Morgan Drexen

The court's March 16, 2016 final judgment against Morgan Drexen memorializes its June 2015 conclusion that the company violated federal law, and its ruling that the company may not collect any more advance fees for debt relief services, or any more fees at all from its customers. The final judgment also orders Morgan Drexen to:

Because Morgan Drexen has declared bankruptcy, any payment of this judgment will occur through the bankruptcy process.

The court's October 2015 final judgment against Walter Ledda contains similar findings and injunctive and monetary relief. In that judgment, the court found that Ledda and Morgan Drexen violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Dodd-Frank Act by charging consumers illegal upfront fees for debt relief services, and by making deceptive statements about the company's services. Under the terms of the final judgment, Ledda will:

The court also imposed a $99 million equitable money judgment and $20 million civil money penalty against Ledda, both of which are in large part suspended based on Ledda's inability to pay. If Ledda fails to make any of the required payments or turn over his assets, or if the CFPB discovers Ledda misrepresented his financial condition, the full $99 million judgment and $20 million penalty will become due immediately.

Attorneys Found In Contempt

After the court's June 2015 order prohibiting Morgan Drexen from charging fees for debt relief services, two attorneys, Vincent Howard and Lawrence Williamson, took the reins of Morgan Drexen and continued the company's unlawful conduct. Among other things, Howard and Williamson:

When the CFPB learned of Howard and Williamson's actions, it filed a motion requesting that the court hold the attorneys and their law firms in contempt of the court's order. In October 2015, the court found that the attorneys' conduct had violated the court's order, and held the attorneys and their law firms in contempt. The court ordered the attorneys to return all payments they had received from former Morgan Drexen consumers since the court's June 2015 decision to ban Morgan Drexen from receiving such fees. The court also ruled that the attorneys will be fined $10,000 a day for each day they continue to accept fees from former Morgan Drexen consumers. The attorneys have appealed this order.

A copy of the court's final judgment against Morgan Drexen and Walter Ledda can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201603_cfpb_final-judgment-against-defendant-morgan-drexen-inc.pdf

A copy of the civil minutes regarding the judgment can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201603_cfpb_civil-minutes-regarding-the-final-judgment-against-defendant-morgan-drexen-inc.pdf

A copy of the court's contempt order concerning the attorneys can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201603_cfpb_order-holding-vincent-howard-lawrence-williamson-howard-law-pc-the-williamson-law-firm-llc-and-williamson-howard-llp-in-contempt.pdf

Important information for customers of Morgan Drexen is available at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/debt-settlement-company-morgan-drexen-is-no-longer-in-business-what-you-should-know/

###

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov .

[Nov 13, 2016] Mail and Wire Fraud An Abridged Overview of Federal Criminal Law by Charles Doyle

It is available as PDF on Internet from fas.org
Nov 13, 2016 | www.amazon.com

This is an abridged version of CRS Report R41930, Mail and Wire Fraud: A Brief Overview of Federal Criminal Law, by Charles Doyle, without the footnotes, appendix, quotation marks, or citations to authority found in the longer version. Related CRS reports include CRS Report R40852, Deprivation of Honest Services as a Basis for Federal Mail and Wire Fraud Convictions, by Charles Doyle.

[Nov 13, 2016] Debt Elimination Schemes

Using a debt negotiation, debt settlement, debt consolidation, or debt elimination company is usually not a good idea.
www.nolo.com
  • If you are experiencing financial difficulty, you may be tempted to use a debt relief company to help take care of your bills. Often times, settling with your creditors is a good alternative to filing bankruptcy. However, before you hire a company to help with your debts, you should first understand the differences in services that debt relief companies claim to offer, as well as the potential risks involved. This article discusses three basic types of debt relief schemes.

    Debt negotiation, or debt settlement, programs work by modifying your existing credit cards, loans, or other debts, in the following ways:

    Lump sum settlements and payment plans are frequently accepted by creditors. You can directly negotiate with them yourself, without having to use a debt relief company.

    Disadvantages to Using a Debt Settlement Company

    If you do decide to hire a debt relief company, use caution. Here's why.

    Large Up Front Fees

    Debt settlement companies often charge large fees up front for its services.

    Companies Take the Money and Run

    While it is not uncommon for debt relief companies to charge upfront fees, some disreputable companies will then disappear and never perform the promised services. Or companies promise to use some or all of the fee it charges you to pay your debts, but then pocket the money instead of paying your creditors.

    Go with a company that provides detailed disclosures on how the fee is charged and spent. Some debt settlement companies agree to defer their fee until after a settlement or payment plan has been reached.

    Payment Defaults

    A debt relief company may tell you to stop making payments to your creditors. If you have already fallen behind on payments, then this is not an issue. But if you are current on your payments, this poses a dilemma.

    Some creditors won't give you the best deal if you are a "good consumer." They have a policy of refusing to reduce balances or interest rates below a certain amount unless a borrower is in default, the theory being that you are in good financial shape if you are current on your payments. They will not agree to major reductions of balances, finance charges, or payment plans unless you show a financial hardship by way of a default, often of 90 days or more. Creditors sometimes call this being "90 days out."

    A debt relief company may exploit this industry secret by advising you to default on all of your debts for 90 days, and then use this money to pay the debt settlement company instead. But by intentionally defaulting, you risk damaging your credit history and incurring default-rate finance charges and late fees.

    If you are already having financial trouble, then this might not be a big issue for you. However, if you are not already in default, you should avoid this strategy. Here are some tips to effectively maneuver the default tango using a debt relief company:

    Related Ads Communication Shut Down

    Unfortunately, some debt relief companies will take the money and run, never once speaking with the creditors that they agreed to negotiate with on your behalf. A debt relief company may make you feel so comfortable that you stop communicating with your creditors. Don't. Stay in close communication with your creditors during the negotiation process.

    (Learn more about debt negotiation firms and debt management companies .)

    Debt Consolidation

    Some debt relief agencies offer to consolidate your debts for you. They promise to pool all of your debts together so that you make a single payment, to be shared by all of the creditors. While a consolidation of your debts can potentially save you a lot of money, there are many disadvantages.

    Debt Elimination

    Treading into fantasy territory, there are some companies that claim to completely eliminate your debts. Not to be confused with debt elimination plans that provide for controlled spending and a structured payoff of your debts, a debt elimination scheme usually involves an upfront fee for a document that purports to be a legal declaration that the debt is eliminated. Unless the person advising you is an attorney or there is some legitimate legal basis for not paying a particular debt, you should immediately walk away from any such promises.

    Consider Other Debt Relief Options

    Getting the right kind debt relief is not easy. It involves time, careful planning, and full consideration of your legal rights and financial abilities. Many debt relief schemes, even if done perfectly, may not fully address all of your problems. Despite the allure of their promises, you could wind up in worse legal and financial shape than when you started. Instead, consider other options for getting your debts under control, including:

  • [Nov 12, 2016] Debt Relief and Credit Repair Scams Federal Trade Commission

    Debt relief service scams target consumers with significant credit card debt by falsely promising to negotiate with their creditors to settle or otherwise reduce consumers' repayment obligations. These operations often charge cash-strapped consumers a large up-front fee, but then fail to help them settle or lower their debts – if they provide any service at all. Some debt relief scams even tout their services using automated "robocalls" to consumers on the Do-Not-Call List.

    Auto loan modification scams falsely promise that they can reduce consumers' monthly car loan or lease payments to help them avoid repossession. The FTC also works to make sure consumers get a fair deal in the auto marketplace.

    Credit repair scams also frequently target financially distressed consumers who are having credit problems. These operations lure consumers to purchase their services by falsely claiming that they will remove negative information from consumers' credit reports even if that information is accurate.

    The FTC has brought scores of law enforcement actions against these bogus credit-related services, and the agency has partnered with the states to bring hundreds of additional lawsuits. Further, in 2010, the FTC amended its Telemarketing Sales Rule to protect consumers seeking debt relief services, like debt settlement or credit counseling. The Rule prohibits for-profit companies that sell these services over the telephone from charging a fee before they actually settle or reduce a consumer's debt. It also prohibits debt relief providers from [making misrepresentations and requires that they disclose key information that consumers need in evaluating these services.]

    [Mar 14, 2016] FTC Action: Scammer Banned from Debt and Mortgage Relief Business, Telemarketing

    FTC Names Two New Defendants in Phony Debt Relief and Credit Repair Scheme Federal Trade Commission

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