Category Archives: Consumer Rights

Legitimate debt collector or fraudulent data colletor?

Data collection scams and debt collection scams have risen dramatically in the last few years.  Mal-ware at point of sale terminals has been used to steal customer data. Emails that phish for information have been used to steal consumer information and fake debt collectors who threaten victims with lawsuits and arrests have used information gained to exploit consumers.

“Unscrupulous scams hurt consumers and unnecessarily impedes legitimate debt collection efforts,” said ACA International CEO Pat Morris. “The recovery of consumer debt is vitally important to our local, state, and national economies. Those who purposely violate the law to exploit consumers should be held fully accountable for their actions.”

Consumers need to protect personal data and they need to know the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake scam being conducted to steal personal information.

ACA International recommends several important items in discerning a legitimate attempt to recover a debt. The first item is that a debt collector may not contact a consumer at times known to be inconvenient. Generally, a legitimate debt collector may not contact a consumer before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in the consumers’ time zone.

Another item is that a debt collector must disclose its identity to the consumer and notify the consumer that the communication is from a debt collector, and (in the initial communication) that any information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt. Debt collectors are not allowed to make false representations and may not threaten to take action against a consumer if it doesn’t actually intend to seek such action. Consumers also need to be aware that they can dispute the validity of the debt and during the time the debt is being dispute the debt collector must cease collection activity until verification of the debt has been provided. More guidelines can be found at ACA International.

Consumers can protect their personal data by checking credit and debit cards vigilantly and reporting any charges that appear questionable, even small amounts. Consumers can also monitor their credit profiles along with their card activity and consumers need to keep in mind that phishing scams for information don’t just happen via email and the phone. Phishing scams can come through snail mail also.  Shred paper with personal information before throwing it away, make online passwords stronger by using a mix of capital and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers, and take great care when giving out credit or debit card numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information online and offline.

EFF Files New Lawsuit Against NSA

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of First Unitarian Church and multiple other organizations against the National Security Agency (NSA) opposing the illegal mass surveillance programs of the NSA. EFF represents will be representing the coalition of American organizations including political associations, churches, and regular people.

First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA is a lawsuit that will address whether the NSA violated the First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting call records. EFF has had years of experience fighting illegal government surveillance in court, but this will be a pivotal case for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA’s mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “Who we call, how often we call them, and how long we speak shows the government what groups we belong to or associate with, which political issues concern us, and our religious affiliation. Exposing this information –especially in a massive, untargeted way over a long period of time– violates the Constitution and the basic First Amendment tests that have been in place for over 50 years.”

The bulk telephone records collection program was Continue reading EFF Files New Lawsuit Against NSA

Combating Harmful Debt Collection Practices: Debt Collectors Respond

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has put debt collection companies on notice against harmful debt collection practices. CFPB has also released new tools to help consumers communicate with debt collectors and resolve collection complaints.

CFPB explains that most collection firms treat consumers fairly, but the ones that don’t “can cause financial harm to consumers and undermine the financial marketplace.” The bureau is in the business of protecting consumers. It warns debt collectors that “any entity that is subject to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 is legally required to refrain from committing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices that would violate the Act.”

The “Action Letters” Continue reading Combating Harmful Debt Collection Practices: Debt Collectors Respond

EFF Claims That We Are Suffering Warrantless Surveillance

The EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation, has reported that there are revelations of a huge domestic surveillance program happening in the United States today. Reports in the Guardian and the Washington Post have been named as sources.

The Guardian reported that the NSA, National Security Agency, is gathering all of the call records of every single Verizon client in the United States. The report claims that Verizon is required to continually provide records for any calls made locally or abroad.

The Washington Post reported alongside the Guardian about how the NSA is already tapping into a number of different Internet companies. With access to those central servers, they can track a person’s movements as well as their contacts without much trouble at all. This includes video, audio, photos, documents, emails and various other Internet tasks.

The EFF claims that they have so much information now that they can literally piece together a time line of what has happened thus far. The time line basically alleges:

  • President Bush’s administration allegedly tapped phone lines without warrants after 9/11.
  • In 2006, EFF alleges that AT&T worker Mark Klein produced documents that proved they sent copies of all emails and Internet information to the NSA.
  • In 2006, several newspapers reported that congress admitted a huge database of call records from several of the big companies were being kept.
  • In 2009 the New York Times reported significant domestic communications collection was still going on according to the EFF.

Certainly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the government had to implement some rules to allow them to hunt down the attackers. The problem is that the rules that were put in place at that time are now allegedly being used to do things that were never intended. Our basic rights as citizens are unalienable and should not be stepped on. Warrantless domestic surveillance has the potential to be abused at all levels of government. If it trickled down to our police officers, what types of problems would arise? Certainly our justice system could fall apart at the seams without a warrant system.

Not to mention, if hackers can get into these systems (and they have) how safe can all that information be?  It opens up a whole new world of identity theft, one we can little afford to encounter.

Now that this other information is coming to light, the EFF is convinced that we are about to face some major unauthorized information collection efforts. These efforts are fighting for transparency and to protect our basic individual rights. If you feel that you can help, you should contact the website and speak your voice loud and clear.

 

Mail Tracking Revelation Shows Why Transparency Is Vital

With the latest revelations coming to light about the letters that were tainted with ricin being sent to President Obama and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the need for transparency is becoming more clear every single day. It has now been revealed that a computer takes high resolution images of every letter and package front and back and keeps them on file. This is only the latest in a series of domestic surveillance admissions here on American soil.

The mailings were intercepted at various points in the mailing process. The horrible potential of these letters were stopped and it was largely due to the MICT machines that provided them the information. These machines literally keep records of what you have mailed down to the letter. Fortunately this surveillance did what they intended and saved some folks in the process. That said, this latest information shows that we need to have a long talk with our government about transparency.

After 9/11, we found out that we would have to give up some personal freedoms in the interest of national security and protection. Most Americans embraced what was needed and we banded together to get the job done. Some rules were put in place that was designed to prevent terrorism and domestic crime in and out of our country. Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the programs and stopped the dialogue.

Related content:  Is Your Status Drawing Homeland Securities Attention?  Keywords Revealed

The United States government and the NSA needs to come out and provide the American public with a comprehensive list of the ways in which we are being watched. We need to know when our phone lines are being tapped. We need to know when our mail is being monitored and we need to know when our Internet access is being followed and documented. Any domestic surveillance that is going on that would normally require a warrant should be revealed voluntarily and quickly.

This transparency is the only way that we will have the ability to have an open and honest discussion about what is truly necessary. How else can we have that discussion? We don’t have the facts. That much is clear based on the revelations in recent years of surveillance we were unaware of. The American people have a right to choose when something is excessive. Give them the tools to do just that and we will remain protected.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is Defeated

On August 2nd the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 was defeated by the US Senate.  This bill would have allowed big companies to track what we do on the Internet and then give that information to the government.  The senate needed sixty votes in order for the bill to leave the debate stage and to go into the next step.

While this is great news for the cyber community, this does not mean that this is the end of this type of legislation.  President Obama is currently looking at other ways to implement some aspects of this bill including using an executive order.  The president is adamant about protecting the country from cyber threats.  He feels that our current system is outdated and inadequate for today’s big threats.

This may be bad news for the president but those ordinary citizens of the United States are happy that this bill was stymied.  The act made it clear that Continue reading The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is Defeated

Sex Offenders on Facebook and other Social Media

Should sex offenders be allowed on Facebook? That question will probably prompt the obvious response, a loud “Hell, no!” but many organizations are arguing that banning sexual offenders from social media violates the offenders constitutional right to free speech.

Many state laws are in effect that successfully ban or limit sex offenders from using social media.  New York state law demands that registered sex offenders report all of their internet accounts (email, instant messaging, and social networking) and bans social networking for sex offenders convicted fo a crime against minor. NY state law also bans convicted sex offenders from social networking if they were convicted of a crime that involves the internet. Other states have similar laws regarding sexual predators and internet activities.

Facebook has guidelines in place stating: “Convicted sex offenders are prohibited from using Facebook. Once we are able to verify a user’s status as a sex offender, we immediately disable their account and remove their account and all information associated with it.”

John Walsh, spokesman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said of the internet, “we know that sex offenders target and lure children and how they look at the online community as their private, perverted hunting ground.”

We all want to protect our kids so the obvious answer is to ban sexual predators from accessing them. But by doing so we are also putting our kids at a disadvantage. If we can take away the rights of one individual, we can take away the rights of the many.  The argument that civil liberties advocates use is that social media is becoming an indispensable freedom of speech.

The appropriate question to ask next is “is social media a necessity in this day and age?” The answer can be quite complicated. Most people don’t leave home without their cell phones, iPads or other communication devices. Many of these devices allow access to the internet world. Many people would argue that participation in online discussion is a matter of free speech in its most basic form.

Carolyn Atwell-Davis, director of legislative affairs at the Virginia-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said of the issue, “It’s going to be really, really hard, I think, to write something that will achieve the state’s purpose in protecting children online but not be restrictive enough to be unconstitutional.”

State legislation can help parents protect their children but only to a point.  State’s cannot trample on the freedoms given to citizens.  So in the end the protection of children is really left up to parents and the owners of each individual website. Parents need to be vigilant about the activity of their kids online and social media websites need to make rules regarding what actions they will take when sexual predators register with them. These two actions are the best way to keep children protected from those our society has deemed unfit.

 


This guest post is by Linda St.Cyr,  a freelance writer, blogger, and columnist. She covers a wide variety of topics from food to celebrity gossip. Read her work at Ecorazzi, Yahoo! Contributor Network, or The Hungry Kitchen.

Does the Card Act discriminate against stay at home moms and dads?

Credit cards are often regarded as a necessary evil. They can cause personal financial strife, but most agree that everyone should hold at least one credit card, even if only for emergency purposes. Still, there is no doubt thet credit cards were partly responsible for the financial crisis of 2008 that continues to this day and the severity of this crisis prompted the U.S. Congress to pass the CARD Act. Immediately signed into law by President Obama, this act was celebrated as a much- needed protectionary plan that would force credit card companies to treat their customers more fairly and without as much deception.

 The CARD Act was heralded as a victory for the consumer, but regardless of how much praise the act has received, there is one part of the measure that receives little attention but deserves more. According to the new rules, a stay at home mom or dad can no longer claim their spouse’s income to apply for and receive a credit card. They can only claim their own, and that means they will no longer qualify for credit- a fact that has many stay at home mothers and fathers demanding new reforms.

 When the CARD Act and its provisions were originally drafted, it was assumed that limiting credit to one’s own income would not be an important issue. Spouses could still get a credit card issued jointly to both, so a stay at home mom or dad would not be left out in the cold without the security of a credit card. Still, some say this provision of he CARD Act is unfair and even potentially dangerous. What if a woman is in an abusive situation and needs her credit card as a means of escape? Without her own credit card in her own name, the other spouse could quickly cancel the jointly held card and the victim of abuse would have no means to obtain credit. Even in the absence of danger, many argue that it is still important for the stay at home spouse to obtain his/her own credit for independence reasons.

Is the ability to obtain credit really that important or necessary for a stay at home mom or dad? There are certainly those who believe it is and some have already taken action to initiate reform.  Holly McCall, a Virginia stay at home mother of two, has started a petition to reform the CARD Act on the web site change.org and U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D- NY) urges changes in the law to protect stay at home moms and dads who want to maintain their independence. The ability to obtain credit, they argue, is fundamental and to deny this access is to rivert back to the outdated policies of the past. Furthermore, proponents of reform argue that a stay at home spouse should not be penalized for making a personal sacrifice in favor of raising children.

The CARD Act has made life easier for credit card holders in multiple ways. Credit card issuers must now disclose payoff information on every credit card statement, end certain marketing practices to students, mail statements well in advance of due dates, and make other reforms intended to help the consumer. Lost in all of this is the provision on credit access for the stay at home parent, but there are many individuals fighting for reform. Without it, a stay at home mom or dad will be without the ability to obtain individual credit and will remain at the financial mercy of his/her spouse. Considering the high divorce rate and other social concerns, this reform deserves some immediate attention and with the grassroots movement and political support from U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney, changes to the CARD Act, for better or for worse, may be just around the corner.

 

Guest post courtesy of Bryan Carey, Houston Finance Examiner and co-author at Money Saving Parent.com. 

 

Does the FBI Need to Wiretap Websites to do an Effective Job?

America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, the crime- busting branch of the federal government, wants to extend its wiretapping authority to the world wide web in an effort to more effectively control crime and prosecute suspects. The FBI claims that the proposed changes are a necessary modification to existing laws and they will help the FBI zero- in on criminal activity by harnessing the World Wide Web and secretly watching online activity.

What is This Proposed Change All About?

Back in 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. It was a sweeping and controversial law when it passed because it allowed wiretapping on a telecommunications level and required telecom businesses to cooperate fully by modifying their electronic devices, equipment, and services to make them immediately compatible for surveillance.  This law has been in place now for almost two decades and supporters say that it has helped organizations such as the FBI and others in their efforts to track criminals and gather evidence.

Now, the FBI wants to extend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to the internet and its proposal is based on the simple fact that the internet is a form of communication and therefore should be subject to the same rules and regulations as the telecommunications industries. The FBI wants to be able to access everything from Yahoo to Facebook and beyond and subject these online businesses to the same requirements as the telecom industry.

What is at Stake?

The FBI claims it only wants to protect the public and that the added ability to track potential criminals online would provide another weapon in its arsenal. Critics of the plan say it is another step toward a government- controlled state and a blantant infringement on privacy rights. If we allow government agencies like the FBI to tap our Facebook account and our instant message conversations, what step will they take next? Surveillance cameras aimed at the front windows of our homes? Listening devices placed on our doorstep? Continue reading Does the FBI Need to Wiretap Websites to do an Effective Job?

Jail time for unpaid debts: Debtors prison making a comeback?

Jail time for unpaid debts?  Debtors prison?  These sound like something straight out of history and a Charles Dickens novel.   Unfortunately it isn’t only the ghost of debts past, but for some it also be be ghost of unpaid debts in the present and the future.

Do these facts and figures bother you? 

Robin Ebersohl had a loud muffler, but no money to fix it.  Instead of getting pulled over because of her car she was arrested and spent three days in jail before her father could pay the $500 to get her released.  What was her crime? Unpaid medical bills.  She was a truck driver who came down with cancer.  She lost her medical insurance when she could no longer work.  Medical bills piled up. Eventually she got disability benefits but still couldn’t pay off the bills.

A 53 year-old woman named Vivian Joy was stopped for a broken tail-light in Champaign, Illinois.  When the police discovered that she still hadn’t paid $2,200 to a collection agency, she was cuffed and carted off to jail.

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay didn’t even owe the money.  This twenty something teaching assistant received a medical bill that was incorrect. After being told she didn’t have to pay it, it was turned over to a collection agency and she ended up in jail.

How does debtors prison happen? 

A credit files with the court.  A notice is sent to the person owing money.  Does everyone always receive this mail?  No probably not.  The hearing is held and if they don’t appear then the judgment is filed.   A warrant is then issued for the person’s arrest.  After bond is made, the money from bond goes straight to the collection agency (sort of like a wage garnishment) because after all if you can pay bail, you should be able to pay your bills right?  What about the family member that posted your bail for you?  Too bad, so sad, sorry about your luck.

In Pennsylvania, the criminal court charges for police transport, sheriff costs, state court costs, postage, and “judgment.”  Now you not only owe your debt, but you also out the court system.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

  • More than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can’t or won’t pay to be jailed.
  • Judges have signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties with a total population of 13.6 million people.
  • AIG got a $122.8 billion bailout from the federal government.  Jeffrey Stearns happened to owe AIG $4,000 on a loan for his pickup truck. Jeffery was picked up and arrested.  He was strip searched, sprayed for lice and spent two days in jail.

AIG wasn’t the only bank to receive a bailout.  Many others did too, but consumers are spending time in jail, even after government bailouts and selling unpaid debts to collection agencies actually “make them whole.”

Debtors’ prison is actually illegal, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t spending time in jail for unpaid debts.  In this NPR article, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she thinks more can be done. It’s illegal in Illinois for people to be sent to jail because they’re in debt. But Madigan thinks some creditors are abusing the law.
What do the experts say about debtors prison?

“You wouldn’t be in that predicament if you didn’t have debt,” Madigan says. “But for being in debt, you wouldn’t be in prison. And that essentially equates to being thrown in jail, debtors’ prison.” “Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said last month in a statement voicing support for the legislation. “Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue.”

“The law enforcement system has unwittingly become a tool of the debt collectors,” said Michael Kinkley, an attorney in Spokane, Wash., who has represented arrested debtors. “The debt collectors are abusing the system and intimidating people, and law enforcement is going along with it.”

“It’s just one more blow for people who are already struggling,” said Beverly Yang, a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation staff attorney who has represented three Illinois debtors arrested in the past two months. “They don’t like being in court. They don’t have cars. And if they had money to pay these collectors, they would.”

A 2010 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that focused on only five states — Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington — found that people were being jailed at “increasingly alarming rates” over legal debts.

According to the ACLU: “The sad truth is that debtors’ prisons are flourishing today, more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts. In this era of shrinking budgets, state and local governments have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts.”

Think arrest should be stopped for unpaid bills? Tell Your Lawmakers: Shut Down The New Debtors’ Prisons.   What’s next breaking legs?

Or maybe you agree . . . maybe you think “you do the crime, you do the time” as some comments on the articles referenced here state.   Some call it “stealing” while others say that in today’s economy you would be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t have unpaid bills.

Watch this video on Debtors’ Prison  and let us know what you think.