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. Contact me by phone at 317-662-4529 or via email at hoferlawindyATgmail.com. You can also leave a message through my website at www.hoferlawindy.com.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Have you been receiving collection calls from Sallie Mae or Navient?

Have you been receiving telephone harassment calls from Sallie Mae, Navient, or collectors working for these companies? If you live in Indiana, call me at 317-662-4529, and I will give you instructions on how to minimize these calls, and if the harassment continues, how to maybe, just maybe receive damages under the Telephone Consumer Privacy Act (TCPA).

The Florida Debt Relief Attorney Scam

Recently I have become aware of a (relatively) new twist on an old scam. During the worst days of the mortgage crisis, there were lots of scam artists promising to help people avoid foreclosure of their under-water mortgages. One of the scams involved using actual practicing attorneys as a front for boiler-room telemarketers selling bogus foreclosure relief. Sometimes these attorneys knew they were being used, and sometimes they didn't.  Telemarketers would call, claiming to work for the attorney, giving the attorney's name, and they would promise that the attorney could defend against the mortgage company, getting homeowners out of a mortgage by making claims against the mortgage companies for mistakes made by the mortgage company.

The new scam is exactly the same as the attorney mortgage scam except the promises involve getting people out of debt generally, especially student loan debt.  Some of the players in the attorney debt relief scam are exactly the same as the attorney mortgage relief scam.

Most of these scam operators seem to come from Florida, often from Broward and Palm Beach counties, with the center in Boca Raton. In the 80s, this area was rife with two-bit penny stock dealers and ponzi schemes scamming people out of their money. It was so bad that the area got the nickname "maggot row" or the "maggot mile".  The Maggot Mile is alive and well in the field of debt relief scams.  How bad is it?  I did a Google search on "boca raton" "debt relief" and "scam", and over came up with over 64,000 hits on articles with all 3 terms.    Widen the search to "Florida" instead of "Boca Raton" and it is over 378,000 hits.  

With this many operators, it is pointless to even try to list them. The players change corporate identities every few months, and they get a new attorney front man even more often.

Why these operations are illegal

If you get called by someone saying he or she is from an attorney's office, and they are promising debt relief of any kind, ask them who their employer is - who sends them the W-2.   You should know that it is unethical in most states for an attorney to pay people to solicit prospective clients on the phone with whom they do not have a prior relationship.  It is unethical for an attorney to promise results.  It is not only unethical but deceptive to tell people that debts can be discharged due to offensive claims when an attorney hasn't reviewed the facts to determine in fact if there are any offensive claims.  It is usually unethical for an attorney to charge a non-refundable advance fee.  Attorneys are not allowed to split their fees with nonlawyers. In the operations that I've seen, the money goes to a third party company, not the attorney.

Debt management and debt relief companies have to give you a a lot of disclosure, have to register at the state level, and are generally barred from charging you an advanced fee. In the operations that I have seen, these attorney scams claim they aren't debt management companies, or debt relief companies. That, quite frankly, is a lie, because they aren't legal law practices either.

These operations usually violate state law as well as the federal Credit Repair Organizations Act. If you have given an attorney money in one of these scams, the odds are pretty good that you can get that money back, and maybe triple damages and attorney fees to boot.  If these companies call you, don't give them the time of day, much less any money. If you do give them money, call an experienced consumer attorney. If you are in Indiana, you can call me at 317-662-4529 or outside of Indiana, use the National Association of Consumer Advocates' "find an attorney" page to find an attorney in your area.

Don't Assume Your Student Loans Aren't Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

It gets hammered into people's heads that student loans, even private student loans, can't be discharged in bankruptcy.  Federal student loans can't be discharged without proof of substantial hardship.  Certain qualified private student loans get the same treatment, but there are enough exceptions that it would be wrong to assume that your private student loans can't be discharged.  In general, the crummier the school, the crummier the program, the more likely that the loans can be discharged.  For details, look at this article at getoutofdebtguy.com.

In general, loans incurred at for-profit colleges, loans at schools that don't offer government-backed loans (even if you didn't get a government backed loan) aren't covered. I'm working on cases involving CDL truck-driving schools and LPN-RN learning programs.  It looks like most of these loans will be dischargeable.  In one LPN-RN program, it looks like the loan should not even be on the credit report as a student loan, and that could raise some good claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

In general, if the loan is for a for-profit college or some type of non-traditional training program, the odds are good that you can discharge the loan. If the loan covered expenses that weren't tuition, required books and equipment, room and board (within government guidelines), at least part of the loan may be discharged.  If you talk to a bankruptcy attorney about discharging your student loans, don't assume the attorney is right if he/she says the loan is non-dischargeable. This is especially true if you are going to a bargain basement bankruptcy lawyer.  Quite frankly, if you are paying $1000 or $1,500 plus a filing fee, for your bankruptcy, your lawyer is unlikely to vigorously pursue a claim that a loan is dischargeable.  Get a second opinion from an attorney who graduated from the Student Loan Workshop.  (I am not one, by the way, so I am telling you this as a neutral third party.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Our Great Seneca's Ghost Case is in the News

Top-notch Reporter Kara Kinney of WRTV-6 in Indianapolis just posted a story about the lawsuit that I am working with fellow NACA member Keith Hagan and the Chicago firm of Edelman & Combs. We filed it as a nationwide class action against debt collectors who are trying to collect judgments under the names of companies that have been administratively dissolved - DEAD COMPANIES in other words. The dead companies are:
Great Seneca Financial Corporation
Centurion Financial Corporation
Colonial Credit Corporation
Monarch Capital Corporation
Platinum Financial Service Corporation
The video version will air tonight at 6:00 PM EST. Internally, we call this "the case of Great Seneca's Ghost."

If the video is posted to the web, I will embed it.  

Have you beeen receiving unwanted calls or text messages from Lincoln Tech?

Have you been receiving unwanted text messages or calls to your cellphone from Lincoln Tech?  If so, please call me office at 317-662-4529 or email me using the link on this page.  We are trying to determine whether this company has a pattern and practice of  texting people without their permission.

Monday, November 21, 2016

We are Looking for information relating to National Legal Staffing Support, LLC

We are looking for information relating to National Legal Staffing Support, LLC of Boca Raton, Florida. Whether you are a client, past client, former employee or whatever, please contact our office at 317-662-4529. Call us whether or not you had a problem with them, whether or not you have a complaint about them.  You put a puzzle together one step at a time. That's what we're trying to do.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Update Regarding Celadon Driving Academy, LLC

We are continuing to investigate the operations and the lawsuits of Celadon Driving Academy.  It looks like they filed about 20 lawsuits each week in October 2016.  It looks to me like most of the folks I've seen are getting sued for $7200 program cost, plus interest and attorney fees.  That's a lot of money for somebody who is out of work and just looking for a better life.  We filed an answer and a counterclaim in my client's case. Hopefully, in December we'll see how it goes.