Bringing Debt Collectors to Heel

dachshund-672780_1280

TheStreet.com quoted me in Debt Collectors Hounding You With Robo Calls? Here’s What To Do. It reads, in part,

Mike Arman, a retired mortgage broker residing in City of Oak Hill, Fla., owns a nice home, with only $6,000 left on the mortgage. He’s never been late on a payment, and his FICO credit score is 837.

Yet even with that squeaky clean financial record, Arman still went through the ninth circle of Hell with devilish debt collectors.

“The mortgage servicer would call ten days before the payment was even due, then five days, then two days, then every day until the payment arrived and was posted,” he says. “I told them to stop harassing me, and that my statement was sufficient legal notice under the Fair and Accurate Credit and Transaction Act (FACTA). But they said they don’t honor verbal statements, which is a violation of the law. So, I sent them a registered letter, with return receipt, which I got and filed away for safekeeping.”

The next day, though, the mortgage servicer called again. Instead of taking the call, Arman called a local collections attorney, who not only ended the servicer’s robo calls, but also forced the company to fork over $1,000 to Arman for violating his privacy.

“That was the sweetest $1,000 I have ever gotten in my entire life,” says Arman.

 Not every financial consumer’s debt collector story ends on such an upbeat note, although Uncle Sam is working behind the scenes to get robo-calling debt collectors off of Americans’ backs.

The latest example of that is a new Federal Communications Commission rule that closed a loophole that allowed debt collectors to robo call people with impunity.

Here’s how the FCC explains its new ruling against robo calls.

“The Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits most non-emergency robo calls to cell phones, but a provision in last year’s budget bill weakened the law by allowing debt collectors to make such calls when the debt is owed to, or even just guaranteed by, the federal government,” the FCC states in a release issued last week. “Under the provision passed by Congress, debt collectors can make harassing robo calls to millions of Americans with education, mortgage, tax and other federally-backed debt.”

“To make matters worse, the provision raised concerns that it could lead to robo calls not only to those who owe debt, but also their family, references, and even to someone who happens to get assigned a phone number that once belonged to another person who owed debt,” the FCC report adds.

Under the new rules, debt collectors can only make three robo calls or texts each month per loan to borrowers – and they can’t contact the borrower’s family or friends. “Plus, debt collectors are required to inform consumers that they have the right to ask that the calls cease and must honor those requests,” the FCC states.

That’s a big step forward for U.S. adults plagued by debt collection agency robo calls. But the FCC ruling is only one tool in a borrower’s arsenal – there are other steps they can take to keep debt collectors at bay.

If you’re looking to take action, legal or otherwise, against debt collectors, build a good, thorough paper trail, says Patrick Hanan, marketing director at ClassAction.org.

“Keep any messages, write down the phone number that’s calling and basically keep track of whatever information you can about who is calling and when,” Hanan advises. “Just because you owe money, that doesn’t mean that debt collectors get to ignore do-not-call requests. They need express written consent to contact you in the first place, and they need to stop if you tell them to.”

Also, if you want to speak to an attorney about it, most offer a free consultation, so there isn’t any risk to find out more about your rights, Hanan says “They’ll tell you right off the bat if they think you have a case or not,” he notes.

*     *      *

Going forward, expect the federal government to clamp down even harder on excessive debt collectors. “The Consumer Financial Protection Board takes complaints about debt collector behavior seriously, and has recently issued a proposal to further limit debt collectors’ ability to contact consumers,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. “In the mean time, one concrete step that consumers can do is send a letter telling the debt collector to cease from contacting them. If a debt collector continues to contact a consumer — other than by suing — it may be violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.”

Debt Collection in Flux

Until Debt Tear Us Apart

Bloomberg BNA Banking Daily quoted me in Loans in Flux as Appeals Court Rebuffs Midland Funding (behind a paywall). It opens,

Lenders, investors and others are watching to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court is the next stop for a case raising questions about how a host of loans are collected, purchased, structured, and priced (Madden v. Midland Funding LLC, 2015 BL 162010, 2d Cir., No. 14-cv-02131, 5/22/15).

At issue is a May ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that said a debt collector cannot claim protection from state-law claims under the National Bank Act for loans acquired from a national bank (100 BBD, 5/26/15).

The ruling, which jolted banking lawyers who say the decision upsets expectations that assignees may charge and collect interest at rates that were valid at origination, hit with renewed force Aug. 12, when the Second Circuit turned away a petition to rehear the case (156 BBD, 8/13/15).

New questions about the impact of the case arise almost daily, but for many the main question is whether the debt collector, Midland Credit Management, will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many expect the company to seek review by the justices. Midland has until early November to do so.

Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss isn’t making a prediction, but ticked off a list of factors that might make the difference, including a possible circuit split, questions raised by the case that have “serious doctrinal consequences” for the National Bank Act and other federal statutes, and the potential for friend-of-the-court briefs by the banking industry to grab the justices’ attention.

“While it is a fool’s game to predict confidently which cases will be picked up by the Supreme Court, this case has a bunch of characteristics that make it a contender,” Reiss said Aug. 17.

Dealing with Debt Collectors

V0015846 Portrait of a debt collector (?) thumbing through his papers Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Portrait of a debt collector (?) thumbing through his papers outside a front door. Mezzotint by W. Bonnar after T. Bonnar the elder. By: Thomas the elder Bonnarafter: William BonnarPublished:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

I was quoted by CreditCardGuide.com in Know Your Rights with Debt Collectors. It reads, in part,

Regardless of how deep your financial troubles go, you are protected by state and federal law when it comes to how debt collectors can treat you.

First off, you should understand who the people are behind the debt collection notices and phone calls. “A debt collector is defined as someone who is not the original creditor,” explains David Reiss, professor of law and research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, who also writes the REFinBlog. And, he says, what might start out as a legitimate debt collector contacting you on behalf of a creditor, can change over time since debt collection companies often sell their lists to other companies. Unfortunately, your contact information might end up with a fly-by-night operation that resorts to shady practices, such as trying to frighten you with threats and bullying.

*     *     *

Consider this your peek into the debt collection rulebook so that you can arm yourself against abusive tactics:

What debt collectors cannot do

  • Call you under a false identity. “That means they cannot say they are an attorney if they are not, or say they are from the sheriff’s office if they are not,” says Reiss.
  • Discuss your debt with your employer, family members (other than your spouse), neighbors or publish your name on a list of people who owe money. “They can call a third party and leave a message for you, but they can’t disclose the details of your debt,” says Tayne. Generally, they can only discuss your debt with you, your spouse and your attorney.
  • Call you at ridiculous hours, such as before 8 a.m. or past 9 p.m. They also cannot call you repeatedly in a single day.
  • Be abusive, threatening or vulgar. In other words, says Tayne, they cannot bully you by calling you a deadbeat or loser for not making payments, and they should never curse at you.
  • Make false threats that they will seize your property, drain your bank accounts or arrest you, says Reiss.

What debt collectors can do

  • Contact you in person, by mail, by phone or by fax between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. However, they can’t contact you at work if they are told you can’t get calls there. Also, if you write to them to stop calling you, they must comply, although they might respond by suing you, so think carefully before sending that letter.
  • Sue you in court. If they do, you’ll have to appear, and it’s in your best interest to hire an attorney. Ideally, you want to work something out before getting to this stage, says Reiss, because court and attorney costs can pile up.
  • Report you to the credit agencies. “Debt collectors can report your default to the credit bureaus,” says Reiss. This negative item will remain on your report for seven years, and your credit score will take a hit.

What you can do

If you think debt collectors are crossing the line, you do have options for recourse, says Reiss. “First, build up a paper record as this can help you later on.” That includes taking notes on every conversation you have, with dates, times and who you spoke to.

You could also try sending a cease-and-desist letter, or asking a lawyer to do so on your behalf, says Reiss. “They may be afraid and back off if a lawyer is involved,” he says.

Tayne finds that such letters aren’t always effective for more hostile debt collectors. “If they’re really out of line, file a lawsuit in small claims court,” she says.

You should also report shady collectors to your state attorney general’s office as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, say Reiss and Tayne.

If you do end up making a payment to a debt collector, request documentation that states your debt is paid, and then be sure that the payment is reflected on your credit reports within 90 days. You can get your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Ideally, you don’t ever want to be in a situation in which debt collectors are tasked with contacting you, and incentivized to do whatever it takes to get you to pay them. But if you do end up in that situation, knowing your rights is your best defense. Says Reiss, “Debt collectors do not want consumers to invoke their rights under the FDCPA because the act can severely limit what they can do.”

Tennessee Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s TCPA Claim

The court in deciding Amour v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2013 U.S. Dist. (E.D. Tenn., 2013) granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to dismiss

The plaintiffs brought three separate causes of action each of which the defendant moved to dismiss. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq., the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 47-18-101, et seq., and wrongful foreclosure.

The court ultimately decided to allow all but the one of the plaintiffs’ claims. The one cause of action dismissed was the TCPA claim.

Georgia Court Dismisses Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq Claim

The court in deciding Morrison v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Ga. Dec. 16, 2013) eventually granted Bank of America, N.A.’s motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff defaulted on her loan obligations after taking a loan from bank of America. Plaintiff asserted that she “suspended” payments because the defendant failed to properly identify the person that was the holder in due course of legal title or the ability to enforce the note under O.C.G.A. § 11-3-309.

Plaintiff asserted that foreclosure would be wrongful because the defendant lacked standing to foreclose on the property, also that the defendant violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq (“FDCPA“), and Georgia law by failing to validate the debt and provide an accounting of plaintiff’s mortgage. Lastly, plaintiff asserted that the defendant failed to obtain Secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approval to be designated as Foreclosure Commissioner, in violation of 12 U.S.C. § 3754.

Plaintiff also sought to have the security deed and note declared fully satisfied, to enjoin foreclosure of the property, to compel production of the plaintiff’s note and any assignments, and to require the defendant to validate the alleged debt. Bank of America moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint for failure to state a claim.

The court considered the plaintiff’s assertions, and categorically dismissed them in granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Texas Court Dismisses Claims Centered Around FDCPA and TDCPA Violations

The court in deciding Warren v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Tex., 2013) granted defendant’s motion to dismiss all of the claims brought by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff alleged that MERS could not assign the note or deed of trust because it was not a party to, and never had a beneficial interest in, the note. Plaintiff further alleged that the note was “securitized”, thus defendant was not the owner of the note or deed of trust and had no right to foreclose on the Property. Plaintiff asserted a claim to quiet title and requested declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to restrain defendant from foreclosing and evicting him from the Property.

Although the complaint did not formally list any substantive claims, plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief contained allegations that may liberally construed as claims for wrongful foreclosure and violations of the Tex. Const. art. XVI, § 50(a)(6)(B), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and the Texas Debt Collection Practices Act (TDCPA).

Plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to notify him of the pending foreclosure sale, since the foreclosure notice was “returned as undeliverable” by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Before filing suit, he sent the defendant a request “for a verification of the debt” pursuant to the federal FDCPA and the TDCPA. Plaintiff believed that pursuant to the FDCPA, the foreclosure could not have been conducted until 30 days had passed after the date he sent his request.

Plaintiff further claimed that the defendant could not foreclose because there were defects in the original loan financing and the original foreclosure order and because defendant failed to “physically post” a copy of the foreclosure sale notice at “the courthouse” where the sale was to take place.

This court considered the plaintiff’s contentions and eventually found them without merit.

North Carolina Court Dismisses FDCPA and RESPA Claims

The court in deciding Champion v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2014 U.S. Dist. 78 (E.D.N.C., 2014) dismissed the plaintiff’s FDCPA and RESPA claims.

Plaintiff initiated this action asserting claims for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), and North Carolina statutory and common law. In response, the moving defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

The court first considered plaintiff’s federal claims. The movants’ primary arguments for dismissal of this claim was that plaintiff had failed to sufficiently allege that BANA was a debt collector under the FDCPA. The court agreed with this argument.

Plaintiff’s other federal claim was asserted under RESPA. Plaintiff alleged that defendants collectively violated that act ” through numerous assignments and transfers of the note and deed of trust without having given the proper notice to plaintiff within the proper time frame,” and “by failing to inform Plaintiff of any transfers of the loan servicing of her loan.”

However, the court agreed with the movants that plaintiff had failed to allege any damages flowing from the purported failure to be notified of the change in the entity servicing her mortgage. Accordingly the court dismissed the plaintiff’s remaining claims.