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.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to Address Problems with a Debt Relief Companies

There are a lot of companies using the web to get business that are in the debt relief, they promise that they can settle consumers' debt for 50% on the dollar or less.  THIS INCLUDES LAWYERS OR LAWFIRMS.  The first thing consumers should know is that no company can promise in advance that they can settle a consumer's debt for less than the amount owed.  Any company that attempts to do this is likely creating additional risks for the consumer.  Here is a list of some companies in the debt relief business.  If you are doing business with one of these companies or others, and you are in Indiana, please contact my office.  If you are in other states, you can find an experienced consumer attorney through the National Association of Consumer Advocates' "Find an attorney" page linked here.

Here is a list of some companies advertising debt relief services. These are not companies that I necessarily have had any contact with.

Freedom Debt Relief
National Debt Reilef
BLG: Borrowers Law Group
American Debt Enders
Countywide Debt Relief
Consolidated Credit
Debt Be Gone
Credit master Debt Relief
Fast Track Debt Relief
Complete Credit Solutions, Inc
Residential Credit Solutions
Credit Masters Debt Relief

If this is your company and it shouldn't be on the list, email me at hoferlawindy dot com, and if you are involved with an other company that SHOULD Be on the list, call me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

If Celadon Driving Academy is so great, how come they sue so many of their students?

The Small Claims Court is likely going to be a very busy place on Tuesday, October 25, when the court processes 37 cases that were filed in just one day, 9/20/2016, by Celadon Driving Academy, LLC against former students. Most of these students were presumably hoping that getting their CDL and a job driving a truck would lift them out of their economic despair and be the answers to their problems.  Instead, I predict most of them will be facing a default judgment exceeding $7,200 that will stay on their credit report for at least 10 years unless they somehow find the money to pay it.

Celadon is one of a number of trucking companies that try to recruit new drivers by offering to pay for their training.  What people don't realize is that if for any reason, including reasons that aren't your fault, you can't not only complete the training but also complete the specified time on the job with the the trucking company, the company reserves the right to sue you for what they claim is the value of the education.  Since virtually nobody pays cash for the training, the cost ends up being whatever the company says it is.  Celadon may not be, and probably isn't, the worst of the bunch. It's just the one that's on my desk right now.

There is virtually no regulation of these contracts.  Because the contracts don't specify installments and may not have a finance charge on their face, they are not regulated under the Truth In Lending Act or under state Consumer Credit Codes.  Because the schools typically don't offer diplomas or certificates, the schools may not have to be licensed and face little or no state regulation.  T.he students may be trucked to the school location in a distant state before they even see or sign the contract. A big reason for this is if the school has the student sign the contract at the school, the school can sue the student in the school's legal jurisdiction without violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

In 2013, Celadon touted that 35 new drivers a week came to its school in Indianapolis, and that the training school was a great tool to overcome high turnover in the industry that averaged 98% per year. (Source: This Indianapolis Business Journal article.) That means that the workforce almost completely turned over every year.  That also suggests that a large number of people who take the course won't complete the 120,000 miles of driving required to discharge their contractual obligation.  (That's 2,000 hours of driving at 60 miles per hour, or 40 hours per week for 50 weeks a year, not counting any dead time or time waiting for loads.) Nobody ever talks about the people who are left behind and what happens to them.

What happened to these people that didn't complete the course and are being sued?  Well, that's what I'm trying to find out.  I am investigating claims relating to five issues with Celadon:

(1) Did Celedon Driving Academy lead students to believe that the training would be a lot shorter than it actually is?
(2) Is a large part of the difference due toa shortage of instructors, mentor drivers, or equipment that Celadon was supposed to provide?
(3) Did Celadon timely pay students for their orientation time?
(4) Did Celadon sue students for a contractual interest rate that wasn't on the contract?
(5) Did Celadon sue students for attorneys fees under circumstances where the contract didn't allow it?

If you have been sued by Celadon Driving Academy, LLC (which you may know under its previous name, Quality Drivers, LLC.), please contact my office.

If you have been sued by any other truck driving school, CDL school or any other trade school in Indiana, please call my office.  You might have defenses that you aren't aware of.

If you have been sued by a trade school in any other state,  find an experienced consumer attorney in the state where you have been sued through the National Association of Consumer Advocate's Find an Attorney page, linked here.

Here's a youtube video by a Celadon student. I don't know if the information here is accurate or not. I urge you to do as much investigation as possible prior to enrolling in any trade school. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Putting the Heat on Volkswagen for Adblue Heater Failures

More and more VW diesel owners have been complaining to us about failing Adblue (urea) heaters in their vehicles. The heaters tend to fail after the blanket 3 year/36,000 mile warranty expires.  The heater is not covered under the longer emissions warranty, and VW owners have generally been quoted replacement, parts and labor, in the $1,800.00 range.  This is especially hard for owners to swallow now since most of the vehicles are covered by VW's emissions settlement with the Federal government that will likely require VW to buy back their vehicles - eventually.

I looked into the legal issues with an eye to filing a class action, and I determined that it is legal for VW to not cover these repairs.  Legal, but stupid.  These are owners that VW really needs replacement business from to stay in operation in the United States.  Instead, not only are these owners not going to buy Volkswagens, they are going to warn everybody they know not to buy Volkswagens.

If your VW has a failing Adblue heater, I suggest that you try to keep going until you can turn it in under the emissions buyback.  According to the website covering the emissions settlement, there will be a hearing for final approval of the settlement October 18, 2016.  There is an online form for registering a claim that you can do now.  Unfortunately, if you don't own one of the affected vehicles (which I don't), not all of the information is available. Here is the website for the settlement and claims process.  https://www.vwcourtsettlement.com/en.

If you can't wait that long, if you get turned down for coverage of an Adblue heater replacement, I suggest that you get some temporary white window paint, like this, and write with vigor on your windows slogans like:


Okay, you probably can't fit that one on a window.  You get the idea, be creative.

Send pictures of your vehicle to VW North America to:

Volkswagen Group of America
2200 Ferdinand Porsche Dr.
Herndon, VA 20171

If you send me a a picture of your decorated car and allow me to print your name and city, I'll post it on my blog, or you can post it on your own blog or facebook page.  Don't call me though, because I don't have anything else to tell you.   If it works and you want me to share your experience with the world, send me a message.  I'll publish just your first name and last initial and city if you want, but I'll need your full name and address. 

FYI, it doesn't appear that there is anything keeping you from posting it (for a short time) on VW's facebook page.  Give it a try.  https://www.facebook.com/VW/.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is The Car Center Out of Business?

The Car Center, :3520 South Post Road, Indianapolis, IN 46239, is a  typical buy-here, pay-here car lot - or maybe it was.  

I just received a tip that The Car Center has abruptly closed. I tried calling the phone number I had for them, and the phone wasn't answered.  UPDATED 9/28/2016.  I have confirmed that the company is definitely closed.  

I have received several complaints about this lot. None resulted in a case that I took action on.  Whenever a buy-here-payhere car lot closes, inevitably there are questions from the buyers:

Help, the car dealer I bought my car from has closed, what do I do?  Who do I pay?  What if I have a problem with my car?  How can I get my title?  If you have a car from this lot, you probably have to pay somebody, but it isn't clear who you have to pay.  Believe it or not, it isn't necessarily the person who calls you and says they hold the lien, but it MIGHT be.  The issue is complicated, but if a company provided floorplan financing to the dealership, that company doesn't necessarily have the right to repo yoru car.  You have superior rights to the floorplan finance company at least to the extent of your downpayment.  If the dealer held the contract in its own name without asignment to another finance company, your creditor will be the dealer's bankruptcy trustee if the dealer is bankrupt, and if the dealer is not bankrupt, it will still be the dealer.  

If you live in Indiana, the Indiana Secretary of State's Office has a Title Assistance Program, where if you have trouble getting a title from a dealer, you can file a complaint with their office, and they will attempt to assist, and they will issue you a new temporary tag. Note, a dealer in Indiana is only supposed to issue one temporary tag. If a dealer issues a second temporary tag, that is a sign the dealer is playing fast and loose with the law, and you should complain to the Secretary of State's office.  

Often, after you buy a car at a dealer, somebody calls you and says you have to turn the car in - even if you haven't missed any payments and even if no payment is due.  Usually this is not legitimate. You might have claims or defenses to be raised.  Before you turn the car into anyone, ask that company for written proof that they are the owner of your car loan.  If anyone comes to repossess the vehicle, tell them to leave or you will call the police for a "breach of the peace." If your car is repo'd call me at 317-662-4529.  If you are threatened with reop, call me as well.  

If you get a call from anyone who wants you to give up your car - record the call.  This may be key to proving a law violation later.  Ask for any demand to be repeated in writing.

Wherever you live in the United States, if you need to talk to a Consumer Attorney, the National Association of Consumer Advocates' Attorney Referral page can help you find one near you.  Here's the link.


Wells Fargo not only Fired 5,200 Employees for Opening Fake Accounts, they fired whistleblowers as well.

This week Senator Elizabeth Warren rightfully grilled CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf.  She exposed that Stumpf personally made $200 million in stock appreciation based in no small part on Wells Fargo's countinuingly touting its push to 8 accounts per customer because "eight rhymes with great".  Stumpf could not answer if Wells had any research showing its customers needed 8 accounts, which of course, they don't.

The pressure to cross-sell was so high that over 5,200 employees were fired for  opening fraudulent accounts.  You would think after they have to fire 4,000 employees that the company might have seen a problem.  Of course, they saw the problem.  Carrie Tolstedt, the head of the community banking division that included the fired employees was recently allowed to retire at age 56 with a $125 million going away present.  What do you think the odds are that the severance agreement has some pretty mighty anti-whistle-blowing provisions?

People who did try to blow the whistle faced retaliation accourding to this CNN Money article.


It wasn't just whistleblowers who who tried to object to the fake accounts.  Duke Tran was fired from Wells Fargo after he tried to expose the practice of obscuring problems with documents used to support Wells Fargo's mortrgage foreclosures.


All of this is off the topic that I want to raise, and that is - what's it like to work at Wells Fargo?  I googled "I was fired by Wells Fargo, and here are a few tidbits that I discovered.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Were you sued by Nextgear Capital, Inc. in Hamilton County, Indiana?

Nextgear Capital, Inc. is a company that provides floorplan dealer financing for car and RV dealers. Nextgear has grown rapidly, and it finances a lot of dealerships, especially small dealers.

It appears that Nextgear also sues a lot of dealers. Although I usually represent car buyers, not dealers, it just so happens that int he past month I was contacted by two people relating to suits against them by Nextgear Capital.  These people had very different stories, but I was surprised to get two business loan intakes involving the same company within weeks of each other.  I checked to see how many lawsuits Nextgear files, and it apears that recently they have been filing about a dozen a month.  That's a lot for business-to-business cases.  It's not illegal, just unusual.

Nextgear finances dealerships all over the country, but their contracts specify that venue for disputes will be in Hamilton County, Indiana.  Because Nextgear finances a lot of small mom and pop dealerships, nextgear frequently gets third party guarantees on the loans.  Many people who Next Gear sues may have a tough time defending the case in Indiana.

Understand that the restrictions on where businesses can sue consumers don't apply to business-to-business contracts.  It is very likely that if you signed a contract with Nextgear either as a dealer or as a guarantor, that Nextgear can enforce the venue clause and require you to defend yourself in Hamilton County, Indiana.  That being said, you are entitled to get service of process and to know about a lawsuit before a default judgment is taken against you.  If a creditor gets a default judgment against you, and you had no notice at all of the suit, there is a good chance that if you hire a lawyer, the lawyer can get the default judgment set aside.  After the judgment is set aside, you likely will have to fight Nextgear on the merits of the claim, and fight in Indiana.

I am available to take defense cases on behalf of out of state car dealers and guarantors who are sued by Nextgear Capital, Inc.  You need to understand though that commercial litigation cases are expensive to defend. You might have to come to Indiana to defend the lawsuit.  If you are a consumer or a business person, think twice before you sign a contract that has a jurisdiction and venue clause. These clauses are only sometimes enforced against consumers, but they are almost all the time enforced against businesses.

If you are sued by a complany that alleges you signed a contract, but you didn't really, it is still crucially important that you defend yourself in court if you are sued.  Your defense costs might partially or entirely be covered by your homeowners insurance if you have identity theft coverage.  Check your policy and or talk with your insurance agent.

Advice for Would-be Cosigners:

If anybody asks you to cosign or guarantee a loan - as a general rule - don't.  The mere fact that you are asked to guarantee suggests that the would-be creditor isn't secure that the borrower will pay the loan, and the lender is in the business of knowing these things.  Instead of cosigning, if the loan is for a loved one, offer to put up collateral that you could afford to lose, or subsidize the downpayment to the extent the lender doesn't require a cosigner.  I have been asked many times by cosigners if I would represent them to sue a borrower who defaulted on the loan.  I have never taken one of these cases. My retainer is always more than the expected recovery against the defaulted borrower.

In two cases I did represent cosigners who alleged their names were forged.  One involved a student loan.  These cases are interesting. I will consider taking these cases.  Generally they are the tip of the iceburg for a more complex identity theft case.

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.