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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

We Just Won an Award!

We just won an award - Worlds ugliest blog.

Okay, I made that up.  Sorry, nothing to see here.  Move along.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Report of Wells Fargo Charging 800,000 Customers for Unneeded Car Insurance

If you are a Wells Fargo Bank customer, I have one question for you: WHY?  Why are you still a customer of this bank which has gotten in trouble for cheating it's customers repeatedly.

In September 2016, Wells Fargo was fined $185 million for opening millions of accounts without customers' knowledge or permisssion.  (This incident was imortalized in a Saturday Night Live skit below - until the link breaks.)


In June 2017, Wells Fargo was accused of making improper changes to customer Mortgage accounts in bankruptcy.

In 2016, Wells Fargo was included in a group of 14 banks implicated in a scheme to rig the LIBOR interest rate benchmark to which some of its variable rate loans were tied.

These are just scandals over the last two years involving conduct that Wells intentionally engaged in to line its pockets to the harm of its customers.

There's a new one though.  I want to put it in perspective.  In a month the Big 10 football season will start. This year there eleven home games in the opening week in the conference, with a total attendance of around 800,000 spectators. Now, imagine those 11 filled football stadiums. THAT'S HOW MANY CUSTOMERS WELLS FARGO CHARGED UNNECESSARY FORCED PLACED AUTO INSURANCE ACCORDING TO RECENT ALLEGATIONS.  Wells has announced a plan to repay $80,000 to 570 million customers.  Repaying the insurance after getting caught isn't the big problem. The biggest problem is perhaps 25,000 customers had their vehicles repossesed where the repossession was traced to delinquencies caused by the improper lender placed insurance.  To be fair, Wells Fargo places the repossession count caused by the problem at 20,000.  Now to put that in perspective, 20,000 people would almost fill up Madison Square Garden.  25,000 is Madison Square Garden's seats filled plus 4,000 crowded onto the basketball court.  Each of these people lost their transportation and maybe their jobs in some cases because of Wells Fargo's contempt for its customers.

My office has opened one case involving a repossession of a Wells Fargo loan where the borrower was charged for lender-placed insurance.  If you are an Indiana resident, we would be happy to evaluate your case please contact my office at 317-662-4529.  If you live outside of Indiana, I suggest you find an attorney through the National Association of Consumer Advocates "Find an Attorney" webpage, linked here.


Friday, July 28, 2017

There's No Magic Solution to An Underwater Car Loan

Do you owe more money on your vehicle than what it's worth?  There's no magic solution to the problem. If you don't beliee me, believe Jalopnik.

If you have a vehicle that you need to get rid of and you owe less than $5000 more than what it's worth (wholesale), you might be able to finance the negative equity into a new caar loan.  Very important:  shop only for new cars if you are going to do this, and you might have to settle for a car that is in very low demand, the kind of car that you could get $5,000 off MSRP.  Last year, I would have said the primary contender would be the Chrysler 200 (but that car is discontinued now).  I don't know what vehicle is rotting on dealer lots now.  The Chrysler 200 wasn't really a BAD car, it just wasn't as good as the competition.

DON'T ROLL A NEGATIVE BALANCE ON A PREVIOUS VEHICLE INTO ANOTHER USED VEHICLE LOAN.

If your finanical situation is really bad, and you are a wage earner, you can look at a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In a chapter 13 bankruptcy, your car loan can be written down to the actual value of the car.  Chapter 13 bankruptcies aren't free though, so there are a lot of factors to consider. This blog post is no substitute for bankruptcy advice from a bankruptcy lawyer.

Monday, July 17, 2017

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE STUDENT LOAN TRUST - NCSLT - PER NYT $12 BILLION IN STUDENT LOANS MAY BE UNCOLLECTABLE - But Suits Against Borrowers Continue

Today the New York Times published an article titled: As Paperwork Goes Missing, Private Student Loan Debts May Be Wiped Away. This article finally brings out in the public what consumer lawyers have been noticing for months and even years, that National Collegiate Student Loans Trusts has problems proving that the borrowers and cosigners that it sues actually owe the money claimed. Moreover, sometimes NCSLT can't prove that it is even entitled to collect on the loan at all.  

Here's a quote from the NYT article:

At the center of the storm is one of the nation’s largest owners of private student loans, the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts. It is struggling to prove in court that it has the legal paperwork showing ownership of its loans, which were originally made by banks and then sold to investors. National Collegiate’s lawyers warned in a recent legal filing: “As news of the servicing issues and the trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises.”
National Collegiate is an umbrella name for 15 trusts that hold 800,000 private student loans, totaling $12 billion. More than $5 billion of that debt is in default, according to court filings. The trusts aggressively pursue borrowers who fall behind on their bills. Across the country, they have brought at least four new collection cases each day, on average — more than 800 so far this year — and tens of thousands of lawsuits in the past five years.

If you are a borrower with a NCSLT loan what should you do?  Well, the answer isn't completely simple. The problem is that if you are sued, you might have problems finding and affording a lawyer. Very few lawyers take student loan defense cases, and those who do (including me) have to charge an out of pocket fee for the defense - much like a criminal defense lawyer charges an out of pocket fee even to innocent clients.  This fee, however, is going to be a lot less than what NCSLT is claiming.

To find a consumer attorney who handles student loan debt defense in your area, go to the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) "Find an Attorney" page linked here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Alfa Romeo Giulia - Problems in the Press Fleet

If you were a carmaker, and you provided vehicles to the automotive press for them to write about how great your car is, wouldn't you go over the press cars with a fine-toothed comb to make sure that the press vehicles are the best possible vehicles you can make and in tip-top conditions?

Well, there are signs that FCA is providing Alfa Romeo Giulias to the press corps that aren't exactly trouble free. Car and DriverConsumer Reports, Carbuzz, and Jalopnik have all reported problems.  Check out this article in Jalopnik, or this one at Carbuzz.

Back in 2008, on the old Top Gear show, Jeremy Clarkson hit the nail on the head regarding Alfa Romeos when he said:

 "Alfa builds a car to be as good as a car can be....briefly."   

The last time I saw reliability warning signs like this from the trade press, it was the Cadillac Catera, and that car was a depreciation nightmare for its owners.  

FCA is advertising a $299 lease on the Alfa Romeo, and if you are attracted to the concept of getting a sporty Italian car for the price of a boring domestic, by all means lease one.  If you buy one, you need to be familiar with your state's lemon law.  In Indiana, if a vehicle is int he shop for 30 days or more in the first 18 months or 18,000 miles OR 4 or more repair attempts for the same problem and the problem still exists,  it qualifies for lemon law protection.  If you are an Indiana buyer or lessee and you end up with a lemon, please feel free to call me at 317-662-4529.  If your car qualifies under the lemon law, you should get your choice of a buy-back (adjusted for mileage) or replacement plus your attorney fees paid by the manufacturer.

By the way, I get a lot of calls by buyers of older cars who think their car is a lemon.  The lemon law (in Indiana) only applies to vehicles that go bad in the first 18 months or 18,000 miles after they are delivered to the FIRST buyer.  This means that most used cars are NOT lemons, so you don't get the same remedies.

Friday, July 7, 2017

TCPA - The best way to revoke your consent to get robocalls

Probably THE hot area in consumer law right now is the TCPA, the Telephone Consumer Privacy Act.  Among other things, the TCPA prohibits auto-dialed calls to personal cell phones for commercial purposes without prior written consent, and each call that violates the TCPA can bring damages of $500-1500.

One of the thorniest issues involves consent and revoking consent. Many times people give consent in boilerplate contracts, paper or online clickboxes, often without realizing it.  It is clear, however, that once you give consent, you can revoke it. Per FTC guidelines, you can revoke consent orally or in writing in any reasonable manner.

When people are getting calls I generally recommend that they first revoke consent orally, with some prof that they did it, for example by recording your call where you revoke consent. (Technically you can always record a call if you live in a "single party consent state". If you live in one of the few dual party consent states, recording the call may violate a wiretapping statute.) Another option is to put the call on speaker phone and have a witness listen to you call revoking consent and make "contemporaneous notes".  I've never actually had anyone do this though.

What do you say to revoke consent? "Don't call me anymore."  If you want to get technical, "I hereby revoke my consent for you to call me."

After revoking consent orally on the phone, I urge people to write to the company calling and  revoke it in writing.  The challenge sometimes is to find the right address to write. There are cases where  consumers  thought they were revoking, but because the letter didn't get to the right subentity, they lost their case.  For example, the consumer who sued Target card, which was owned by TD Bank, but the consumer faxed their revocation to the wrong departments at TD Bank.  As a general rule, you can send your revocation to the address given on a statement for correspondence. I personally believe that you can send your revocation to the registered agent of a corporation in your state, IF the corporation whose agent you are sending it to is the same corporation that is calling you.  This is one that I haven't tested out yet.  Oral revocation followed by revocation by certified mail to registered agent has a lot of promise for maximizing damages, however. After oral revocation is ignored, the calls after oral revocation stand a good chance of qualifying for maximum damage of $1,500 per call for willful violations. The delay in communications received by the registered agent to the operating office of the company will generally result in calls that are received afte

If you are an Indiana resident who is receiving robocalls to your cell phone, or if you are receiving unsolicited fax advertisements (another TCPA violation), I urge you to call me at 317-662-4529. There is another major area of prohibition under the TCPA, telemarketing calls to home telephones on the do-not-call list. Unfortunately, these days, those calls tend to be placed by scammers that have carefully insulated themselves from lawsuits, and in my experience, not even 1 out of 100 of these calls can be practically sued upon.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Even the New York Times is talking about a rise in Auto Repossession Lawsuits

From this article in the New York times, it seems like the reporter is amazed to find that lenders are suing borrowers for deficiencies arising out of automobile repossessions.  Those of us in the consumer law trade are not surprised at all. We have seen the rise in subprime lending and a rise in post-repossession deficiency lawsuits.

The New York Times singled out Credit Acceptance Corporation as a frequent filer of court cases relating to vehicle reposessions.  That is true in Indiana. From 6/30/2016 to 6/30/2017, Credit Acceptance Corporation filed 404 cases in Indiana according to my search of the state mycase court datavase.  That's well more than one case a day. Behind each of these cases is a sad story.

In my opinion, you will never stop repossessions completely as people sometimes face unexpected hardships in paying a loan. What I think we can cut back on are repossession sales where virtually nothing is received for the vehicle. If you have had a vehicle repossessed, you should be aware that if the vehicle is not sold in a commercially reasonable manner after repossession, you may not have to pay the balance of the loan, but you will probably need a lawyer ot enforce your rights.  If you are sued for a deficiency after an auto repossession, you should call a NACA consumer lawyer in your area. You can find one with this link.