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    Edelman, Combs, Latturner, & Goodwin, LLC

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    Chicago, IL 60603

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    Phone: 312-739-4200
    Fax: 312-419-0379


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    Archive

    FTC and Illinois Attorney General Halt Chicago-Area Operation Charged with Collecting and Selling Phantom Payday Loan Debts

    Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

    FTC and Illinois Attorney General Halt Chicago-Area Operation Charged with Collecting and Selling Phantom Payday Loan Debts

    At the request of the Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Attorney General, a federal court has temporarily halted a Chicago-area operation that allegedly threatened and intimidated consumers to collect phantom payday loan “debts” they did not owe, or did not owe to the defendants. The defendants also allegedly illegally provided portfolios of fake debt to other debt collectors – this is the FTC’s first case alleging that practice.

    “It’s illegal to harass people to pay debts they clearly don’t owe, and to sell phony debts to other debt collectors,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re proud to partner with the Illinois Attorney General to halt these egregious debt collection practices.”

    “Phantom debt collection is one of the most brazen scams today,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “With the FTC, we are working to protect consumers by shutting down these scam operations.”

    The case against six companies and three individuals who used names such as Stark Law, Stark Recovery, and Capital Harris Miller & Associates is part of Operation Collection Protection, an ongoing federal-state-local crackdown on collectors that use deceptive and abusive collection practices.

    According to the complaint, since at least 2011, the defendants used a host of business names to target consumers who obtained or applied for payday or other short-term loans, pressuring them into paying debts they either did not owe or that the defendants had no authority to collect.

    The complaint charges that the defendants called consumers and demanded immediate payment for supposedly delinquent loans, often armed with consumers’ sensitive personal and financial information. Defendants also allegedly threatened consumers with lawsuits or arrest, and falsely said they would be charged with “defrauding a financial institution” and “passing a bad check” – even though failing to pay a private debt is not a crime. In addition, the complaint claims that since 2015, the defendants have held themselves out as a law firm with authority to sue and obtain substantial judgments against delinquent consumers.

    The defendants also allegedly harassed consumers with improper phone calls, disclosed debts to relatives, friends and co-workers, failed to notify consumers of their right to receive verification of the purported debts, and failed to register as a debt collector in Illinois, as required by state law.

    The complaint notes that in response to the defendants’ repeated calls and alleged threats, many consumers paid the debts, even though they may not have owed them, because they believed the defendants would follow through on their threats or they simply wanted to end the harassment.

    In addition to illegal collection allegations, the defendants are charged with providing bogus payday loan debt portfolios to other debt buyers, who then tried to collect the fake debts. According to the complaint, the defendants represented that the portfolios included delinquent debts owed to specified lenders and that the defendants had the right to market those lenders’ debts. However, those lenders had not made loans to the consumers identified in the portfolios, or authorized the defendants to market any of their debts.

    The defendants are Stark Law LLC, also doing business as Stark Recovery; Stark Legal LLC; Ashton Asset Management Inc.; CHM Capital Group LLC, also d/b/a Capital Harris Miller & Associates; HKM Funding Ltd.; Pacific Capital Holdings Inc., formerly known as Charles Hunter Miller & Associates Inc. and also d/b/a Pacific Capital; Hirsh Mohindra, also d/b/a Ashton Lending LLC; Gaurav Mohindra; and Preetesh Patel.

    The FTC and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office thank the Village of Westmont Police Department and Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois for their valuable assistance with this matter.

    In addition, since the FTC’s Operation Collection Protection announcement in January:

    • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has resolved four debt collection law enforcement actions and issued Supervisory Highlights, a report highlighting debt collection supervision work generally completed between September and December of 2015.
    • The Minnesota Department of Commerce took eight actions. It imposed fines of up to $50,000 against Alliant Capital Management LLC, Premier Recovery Group JD and Associates, Mountain West Legal Solutions, Credence Resource Management LLC, Selene Finance, and Credit Protection Association for various violations, including failing to obtain a collection agency license, failing to properly register collectors, and using deceptive, abusive, or unlawful collection tactics. It also obtained a court order placing Weinerman and Associates into receivership for improperly handling client funds, failing to maintain a license, and other violations.
    • The Idaho Department of Finance revoked the licenses of Oxford Law LLC and RJM Acquisitions LLC for failing to maintain a surety bond as required by state law.
    • The Colorado Department of Law entered into a stipulated final order against Collecto Inc., d/b/a EOS CAA, imposing a $99,000 penalty for violating notice requirements for consumers and improper credit reporting.
    • The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office filed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with Foot and Ankle Surgery Center LLC, providing for $7,000 in civil penalties plus costs of investigation for allegedly unlawful collection notices that falsely indicated that they were official court documents or legal papers.
    • The Indiana Attorney General’s Office entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with RoTech Holdings Ltd. to resolve allegations that the respondents unlawfully harassed and deceived consumers. The AVC prohibits RoTech from collecting debt from Indiana consumers, and orders it to pay nearly $5,000.

    The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The court granted the FTC’s request for a temporary restraining order on March 22, 2016.

    Fraudulent payday loan collections

    Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

    Do not buy, sell, or collect on these debts

    We’ve learned that portfolios of alleged payday loan debts serviced by AMG Services are circulating in the debt collection marketplace. The alleged lenders are USFastCash, 500FastCash, OneClickCash, Ameriloan, United Cash Loans, AdvantageCashServices, and StarCashProcessing. But these alleged debts are bogus. The consumers do not owe the alleged debts, and the lenders have never authorized, assigned, or sold any of their loans for third-party collection.

    There can be no doubt that these loans are bogus. The former general counsel of AMG Services signed a declaration under penalty of perjury in the FTC’s lawsuit against Delaware Solutions, stating that USFastCash, 500FastCash, OneClickCash, Ameriloan, United Cash Loans, AdvantageCashServices, and StarCashProcessing loans have never been placed with, or sold to, any third party for collection.

    So, what does all of that mean? If you are in possession of one of these portfolios, do not attempt to collect these debts, or try to sell the portfolio to anyone else. If someone tries to sell a portfolio of these debts to you, do not buy it.

    If you do attempt to collect on these debts or sell them to someone else, you will likely be violating either the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, or both. Indeed, the FTC has already sued one debt collection business for, among other things, continuing to collect on one of these portfolios after being informed by AMG that the loans were bogus.

    If you have any information about portfolios of purported USFastCash, 500FastCash, OneClickCash, Ameriloan, United Cash Loans, AdvantageCashServices, or StarCashProcessing payday loan debts being bought, sold, collected upon, or peddled, please contact Michael Goldstein at mgoldstein@ftc.gov(link sends e-mail) or 202.326.3673.

    FTC Brings Action against Lead-Generator Using Robocalls to Pitch Energy Savings

    Thursday, March 10th, 2016

    Defendants Bombarded Consumers with Millions of Unwanted Illegal Recorded Calls

    The Federal Trade Commission has brought a federal court action to stop a telemarketing operation that allegedly made illegal robocalls promising consumers energy savings, in an effort to generate leads to sell to solar panel installation companies.

    According to the complaint, defendants Francisco Salvat and his companies placed more than 1.3 million illegal pre-recorded telemarketing calls to consumers with phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. The defendants allegedly claimed to be attempting to help consumers with their energy costs.

    “Mr. Salvat’s companies ignored the Do Not Call Registry and made illegal robocalls,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Breaking the law isn’t a great way for a company to introduce itself to potential customers.”

    According to the complaint, the defendants’ prerecorded calls made statements such as: “This is an urgent call about your energy bill,” and “stop the 14% increase coming soon.” Consumers were told to “push one” to lower their electric bill. Those who did were transferred to a telemarketer who asked if the consumer was interested in solar panels.

    If the consumer said yes, the telemarketer scheduled an appointment with a private solar installation company and sold the consumer’s information to that company as a customer lead. When consumers asked the defendants not to call them again, the FTC alleges their requests were often ignored.

    Based on this conduct, the FTC charged the defendants with violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by: 1) calling consumers whose numbers are on the DNC Registry; 2) continuing to call consumers who had previously asked not to be called; 3) failing to transmit accurate caller-ID information; and 4) making illegal robocalls. The FTC is seeking a federal court order permanently barring the defendants from the illegal conduct, as well as civil penalties for their telemarketing violations.

    The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the civil penalty complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice was 4-0. The Department of Justice filed the complaint on behalf of the Commission in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against defendants: KFJ Marketing, LLC; Sunlight Solar Leads, LLC; Go Green Education; and Francisco J. Salvat, individually and as an officer of each of the three businesses.

    NOTE: The Commission refers a complaint for civil penalties to the DOJ for filing when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.

    Fraudulent payday loan debt collectors

    Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

    FTC Action Leads to Court Orders Against Scheme That Charged Millions of Dollars to Consumers’ Bank and Credit Card Accounts Without Their Consent

    At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal district court has banned seven individuals, Ideal Financial Solutions Inc., and its subsidiaries from collecting or disclosing consumer information. Until the FTC filed its lawsuit in 2013, the defendants operated a massive scam that took money from consumers’ bank accounts without their authorization.

    “These defendants bought sensitive personal information from data brokers and used it to steal people’s money,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Misusing sensitive data causes real harm to consumers, and I’m pleased that the court banned the defendants from this conduct.”

    The defendants bought consumer payday loan applications, which included Social Security and bank account numbers, from data brokers and payday loan websites, and used the information to defraud consumers. To end the problem, the FTC has sued several of the data brokers who sold consumers’ information to Ideal Financial, including Sitesearch Corp., also known as LeapLab, Gen X Marketing Group LLC and Sequoia One LLC.

    The court has imposed a $43,083,720 judgment against Ideal Financial Solutions and its subsidiaries, Steven Sunyich, Christopher Sunyich, Michael Sunyich, and Melissa Sunyich Gardner, and a $36,575,542 judgment against Jared Mosher. The court banned the ringleaders, Jared Mosher, Steven Sunyich and Christopher Sunyich, from marketing, selling and handling any credit-related products or services. It banned all of the defendants from collecting or disclosing consumer account numbers except for transactions expressly authorized by the consumer.

    Settlements entered in June 2014 banned Kent Brown and Shawn Sunyich from placing unauthorized charges on consumer financial accounts and collecting and disclosing consumer financial information without the consumer’s express consent. The orders imposed suspended $25 million judgments against each defendant, and Brown was required to liquidate his assets and turn them over to the FTC.

    The U. S. District Court for the District of Nevada entered the final judgment against the remaining defendants on February 23, 2016.

     

    Deceptive nature of “cosigner releases” on student loans

    Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

    Consumer advisory: Co-signers can cause surprise defaults on your private student loans

    Today, we released a report that describes complaints we received related to the private student loan industry’s practice of placing borrowers in default even when their loans are current and in good standing. We’re also warning consumers that they can avoid surprise defaults by pursuing a co-signer release.

    The vast majority of private student loans today have a co-signer (typically a parent or a grandparent). Having a co-signer can often lead to a lower interest rate, which can save you money in the long-term, because the co-signer will have to repay the loan if you don’t.

    However, your loan might also contain provisions that allow your student loan servicer to put you indefault — even if you’ve been making your payments on time.

    That’s because your co-signer is also on the hook for your loan and therefore changes in their behavior can impact your loan, causing your loan to default and making your entire balance due all at once. We’ve received complaints that private student loan servicers are placing borrowers into default when their co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy.

    Co-signer release

    If you are a co-signer or have a student loan with a co-signer and you are in repayment, you should look into what’s called “co-signer release.” You should consider this option to avoid a surprise default. Both the borrower and co-signer can benefit from obtaining the release.

    Many lenders advertise that a co-signer may be released from a private student loan after a certain number of consecutive, timely payments and a credit check to determine if you are eligible to repay the loan on your own. If your lender offers co-signer release, you will want to ask about this benefit and remove your co-signer as soon as you are eligible.

    Unfortunately, many student loan servicers do not tell you when you are eligible to have your co-signer released, so you need to ask them how to do this.

    To help you get started, we’ve put together sample letters you can edit and send to your student loan servicer. You can download sample letters to send by mail, or you can just cut and paste the text below into the “Send a Message” or “Contact Us” feature when you log into your account on the servicer’s website.

    I want more information about how to obtain a release of my co-signer

    I am writing to you because I am seeking the release of my co-signer on my loan. Please conduct a review of my account to determine if I am eligible for co-signer release.

    If you determine that I am not eligible to have my co-signer released from my loans, please provide an explanation, including the following:

    • What is your current co-signer release policy?
    • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for co-signer release?
    • If I am not eligible for co-signer release now, when will I become eligible?
    • What steps do I need to take to qualify for co-signer release?
    • Do you anticipate modifying these requirements in the future? Will any future modifications apply to me when I seek to release my co-signer?

    If I am unable to exercise this option at this time, please update/annotate my account to reflect that I intend to seek co-signer release as soon as possible. Please contact me at the point-in-time at which I am eligible to have my co-signer released.

    In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

    I am a co-signer, I want to be released

    I am writing to request that I be released from my obligation to repay any loans associated with this account. Please conduct a review of this account and make a determination as to my eligibility to be released from my obligation.

    If you determine that I am not eligible, please provide an explanation, including the following:

    • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for co-signer release?
    • What steps do I need to take to qualify for co-signer release?
    • What is your current co-signer release policy?
    • Do you anticipate modifying these requirements in the future? Will any future modifications apply to me when I seek to be released from this obligation?

    If I am unable to exercise this option at this time, please update/annotate this account or accounts to reflect that I intend to do so as soon as possible. Please contact me at the point-in-time at which I am eligible for co-signer release.

    In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

    We also have other sample letters you can send to your student loan servicer to give payment instructions and others you can send to a student loan debt collector.

    21st CENTURY FLOORING, LLC, d/b/a LUNA FLOORING

    Monday, March 7th, 2016

    Please contact us if you signed a contact with 21st Century Flooring, LLC, d/b/a Luna Flooring, that was to be financed.