About The Consumer Law Office of Steve Hofer

Steve Hofer has been practicing consumer law in Indiana for more than 20 years. He is the Indiana State Chairperson of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a national organization of attorneys striving for fairness in the consumer marketplace.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Are you a UAW Member waiting for the new Legal Services Plan? We can help you until the new Plan takes effect

In the UAW collective bargaining agreements negotiated last year with the major automakers, there was an agreement to bring back a new legal services benefit. The autoworkers had given up the legal services benefit in the austerity period following the great recession.

It was my privilege to serve UAW Members for over 16 years as a staff attorney at UAW Legal Services Plan's Indianapolis office.  I still serve numerous UAW members and their families as a private attorney.  I also proudly drive a UAW-built vehicle, a Ford C-Max.  Like the UAW members, I have been trying to find news regarding the new legal services plan.

I have had members tell me that they haven't heard any news about when the new legal services plan is to become effective and what it will cover, and they ask me if I know anything.  Unfortunately, no.  I am not part of the group that is putting together the new plan.  I know that it is not an easy thing to do organizationally. What they have to do is put together a not-for-profit law firm from scratch that is license to practice in numerous states; and they have to set it up in a way that is cost-efficient and  tax-efficient for the automakers funding it and for the workers receiving the benefits.  When there is something concrete, perhaps the information will be posted at the old UAW Legal Serfices Plan website linked here.

If you are a UAW Member or family member and you have a legal issue that you want to have addressed before the new Legal Services Plan takes effect, please feel free to call me at 317-662-4529. If you are outside of Indiana, I suggest you try Googling the name of the attorney who used to serve you with UAWLSP.  Many of the prior Plan attorneys have gone into private practice.  You might also find them on AVVO.comAVVO.com.

Are You Getting Promotional Inquiries on your Credit Report from Capital One Bank?

Most people know that every time a potential creditor pulls your credit report in connection with an application for credit, your credit score is slightly affected.  This type of inquiry is known in the trade as a "hard pull".  There is a second kind of credit report access called a "soft inquiry" or "soft pull." These inquiries are properly for the purpose of a firm offer of credit (a promotional inquiry), an account review of an existing account or for the collection of an existing account, or for the consumer's own use. Sometimes a soft pull is appropriate for confirming the identity of a person.

Because they aren't part of your credit score, soft pulls are not thought of as being as damaging as hard pulls - but that might not always be true. In fact, for privacy purposes, the soft pulls may be even more damaging because they are not tracked as closely.  You might not even know who had access to your credit file.

Right now I am looking into whether Capital One Bank has been accessing a large number of consumer credit files on a  large number of occasions without making a  corresponding firm offer of credit in exchange for the information.

The next time you check your credit report (available for free one time a year from www.annualcreditreport.com), pay attention to the sections marked "Promotional inquiries" and "Account Review Inquiries".  The promotional inquiries should generally not have the same companies getting your report on many occasions.  The account review inquiries should relate to companies that you have actually done business with or with third party debt collectors who are currently servicing one of your accounts or who did so in the past.  If you don't remember receiving any offers of credit, or if a creditor listed under an account inquiry is unfamiliar to you, you can write that company, give them your name, address and partial social security number (partial only), and ask them to tell you the reason they accessed your credit each time.  Ask them to identify the account they claim to be servicing; and ask them to explain to you what firm offers of credit they made and when.  If they can't answer these questions to your satisfaction,  you should talk to an experienced consumer lawyer in your area. You can find one through the National Association of Consumer Advocates' "find an attorney"  page linked here.http://www.consumeradvocates.org/find-an-attorney

Friday, August 19, 2016

How to address problems with a new Recreational Vehicle

As one of a very few consumer lawyers in Indiana, the state where 2/3 of all new recreational vehicles (RVs) are built, I get a reasonable number of calls from people all over the country complaining of defective vehicles and shoddy workmanship. The number of complaints has increased lately as the economy has been doing better. RV sales are healthy and manufacturers are churning them out as fast as they can. - Maybe not with the same attention to detail. The good news is that most of the time that people call me, they don't need me - yet, because they haven't given the manufacturer a suitable opportunity to fix the defects. Here are some of the recreational Vehicle manufacturers located in Indiana:

 Crossroads RV
 Evergreen RV
Forest River RV
Heartland RV LLC
Jayco, Inc.
Keystone RV
Nexus RV
The RV Factory
Thor Motor Coach
Tuscany Luxury Motorhomes

 Though there may be some cost savings in buying an RV directly from the manufacturer (usually in the Elkhart, Indiana area); there are some benefits in buying from an authorized dealer near you. The reason is that if you buy from the manufacturer, the manufacturer may require that you deliver the vehicle back to the manufacturer at your expense to fix the defects. If you complain and make a fuss, the manufacturer might relent and have you bring the vehicle into a service center close to you; or they might even fly somebody out to fix your vehicle in some extreme cases. If you buy a vehicle directly from the manufacturer in Northern Indiana, and if you can't resolve your differences out of court, you may have to sue the Manufacturer in Elkhart County, Indiana - a county where the majority of the jobs directly or indirectly are tied to the RV industry. How sympathetic do you think an Elkhart County jury would be to your claim? We try to set up the case so we can file it in Federal Court, but that isn't always possible.

 Understand that the Lemon Law in Indiana (and in most states) does not apply to most recreational vehicles. Your warranty protection comes from the express warranty of the manufacturer and the implied warranty of merchantability. This also means that it is a very rare situation that you can require the manufacturer to buy the vehicle back or give you a replacement. Correspondingly, if you buy a used RV, you should only expect the protection of a narrow interpretation of whatever written warranty is given, and realize that there may be no implied warranty at all. For this reason, before you buy a used RV, I recommend that you pay for a professional inspection by a member of the NRVIA (National Recreational Vehicles Inspectors Association). You can find one in your area at www.nrvia.org. If you buy a new RV which exhibits numerous an/or expensive problems relating to workmanship early in your ownership, it may also be prudent to get a NRVIA inspection. An NRVIA inspection report that backs you up takes you out of the "unreasonable owner" or "morning after regret" category.

Keep in mind, that usually if you buy a used RV, it will usually be the dealer or a third party warranty company providing the warranty, so your claim would be against the dealer or the third party warranty company. Before you hire a lawyer, it is essential that you document each defect that you want the manufacturer to address, and present your claim for warranty repair in detail and in writing. It often helps to have pictures documenting the problem. Remember the longer you wait, the more likely it is that the problem will be attributed to normal wear and tear. You have to give the manufacturer at least one (and often more than one) attempt to resolve the problem before you can turn it into a legal claim. (There can be an exception to this rule under the U.C.C. doctrines of rejection/revocation of acceptance; but as a general rule, you need to give the manufacturer a chance to fix the problem.)

Don't rely on anything the manufacturer or dealer promises you on the phone. If you receive a promise on the phone, send the person an email immediately afterwards confirming what was said in your conversation. If you have a significant problem that still exists after the manufacturer has had the opportunity to inspect and repair the RV, you can contact a lawyer. You can contact me through my website here , or if you are outside of Indiana, you can find a consumer attorney in your area through the National Association of Consumer Advocates "find an attorney" page, linked here.

 If you are considering buying an RV, I want to point out that everything about the RV ownership experience is potentially expensive. If you have to strain your finances to afford the RV payment that you are considering, it's probably not the RV for you. RVs can be expensive to buy, finance, insure, maintain, repair, and move. It is also potentially expensive to litigate an RV defects case. Whatever attorney you hire, it is likely that your attorney fees will be at least $2,000. You can expect tht your attorney will try to set up a claim in such a way to try to get the other side to reimburse you for the attorney fees paid; but that doesn't always happen, and you are unlikely to find an attorney who will take on a complex RV defect case for a purely-contingent fee.

When I do a consumer case involving product defects, whether it is an RV, a car, or even an alarm system, I usually combine a customer complaint strategy with my legal work.  Sometimes the court of public opinion gives you a better remedy than the court of law.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Wells Fargo Forced Placed Car Insurance

Is Wells Fargo charging you for insurance ("forced placed" insurance) every month even though you have sent them proof of insurance? If this applies to you, whereever you live, please call my office at 317-662-4529. We are investigating the possibility for a class action against Wells Fargo for this practice.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Have you had your water disconnected without notice?

I recently talked with another attorney who alerted me to the problem that local water utilities often don't follow proper notice provisions before turning off water service. There is a remedy when this occurs. If this happens to you, call us at 317-662-4529.

Update on Debt Buyer Collection Lawsuits in Indiana - Other Courthouse Trends Noted

I just wanted to post a short note on trends that I have seen filed against consumers in Indiana this year. Since I last visited the topic, in August 2014, there seems to have been a slight decrease in the number of collection lawsuits brought in Indiana. I think that is partially due to an improved economy, and it is partially due to the fact that consumers cut way back in their credit card borrowing during the recession. There has been a corresponding rise in student loan lawsuits. New mortgage foreclosure suits seem to be way down; but on the other hand, lenders seem to be more reluctant to negotiate mortgage modifications in the lawsuits that are filed. This is especially true in cases where the loan was sold to private equity fund like LSF9 Master Participation Trust (serviced by Caliber Home Loans). A troubling trend is lawsuits to collect deficiencies on automobile loans after repossession. If you are looking for an Indiana consumer lawyer, or if you are sued anywhere in Indiana on a collection case, a repossession case, a foreclosure case, or if you have a new collector or attorney trying to collecto on an old judgment, please call my office at 317-662-4529. Below are some companies that frequently file against Indiana consumers: Midland Funding Arrow Financial Services Asset Acceptance LVNV Funding LLC American Acceptance Atlantic Credit & Finance Credit Max CACH, LLC RAB Performance Recovery NCO Financial Unifund Patriot Recovery LLC Portfolio Recovery

Have you received a 1099C letter from a debt collector?

I am collecting letters from debt collectors that threaten the issuance of a 1099-C (forgiveness of debt). There are a lot of different strategies that collectors are using to collect money using the threat of tax liability for foregiveness of debt. Often the collectors mis-state the law and the level of taxpayer responsibility. There are also some interesting legal issues now regarding the collection of accounts after a 1099-C has been issued. This should be completely banned, but at present it is not necessarily illegal. By the way, this is an issue where your vote in November can make a difference to your pocket book. If you vote for representatives who put the interests of Wall Street ahead of the interest of working people, you are going to end up with laws that allow banks to charge off a debt as a bad debt, so the bank takes a tax deduction, the consumer incurs a tax liability, then the bank sells the loan to a bottom feeder debt collector. The bottom feeder sues the consumer, gets a default judgment for the full amount of the debt plus interest and court costs. That's the kind of junk that is going on right now, and it really has to stop. Anyway, if you receied a 1099 letter from a debt collector, feel free to send it to me. If you want a referral to a NACA consumer attorney in your area, I will be happy to find one for you.