The Oregon Department of Justice has received several complaints regarding phony debt collection calls.
http://www.cccsso.org/News.asp?NewsID=4. Scam artists pose as debt collectors or law enforcement officers calling about an outstanding debt from an online payday loan. They frequently use fake phone numbers and official sounding business names. They also do their research. Some Oregonians have been tricked into paying nonexistent debt because the scam artist knew personal information about them, including their Social Security number, home address, e-mail, and names of family and personal references.
Attorneys in various states (even consumer advocates) have also recently reported that fake collection calls have been made in their names, without their knowledge or permission. This is identity theft. If you get collection calls from anyone claiming to a be a California attorney, best to check under the “attorney Search” section with the state bar http://www.calbar.ca.gov/ and confirm not only that the attorney’s name is registered but that the phone number and address matches with the address listed on the bar web site.
National Consumer Law Center Advocate Applauds New Rules
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal rule issued today that strengthens protections for bank accounts used to collect federal benefits is welcome news for retirees, veterans and disabled persons, according to a lawyer for the National Consumer Law Center.
The “interim final” rule, which will take effect on May 1 but is still open for public comment, will limit creditors’ ability to freeze and take funds from accounts that contain Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), VA and other federal benefits. These benefits, which are legally protected from court-issued garnishment orders, are critical to the survival of many recipients.
“We applaud the work of the Treasury Department and the other agencies to safeguard these essential benefits, and the leadership of Sen. Max Baucus on this issue,” said Margot Saunders, an attorney with the Center. “All too often, elders, veterans, and disability benefit recipients who rely on these benefits for their basic needs have been unable to access them for extended periods because of creditor-imposed garnishment freezes.”
Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), VA, and similar federal benefits are intended to meet beneficiaries’ daily needs. Federal law makes these funds immune from seizure by creditors.
But in practice, creditors frequently obtain court garnishment orders so that banks then freeze bank accounts containing protected funds. A beneficiary may be unable to access urgently needed funds for weeks or months. Often, the paperwork and procedures needed to end an illegal freeze prove too daunting for a recipient, so that a bank turns over supposedly
“untouchable” funds to a creditor.
The new rule prohibits the practice of denying beneficiaries access to these essential funds in bank accounts. It requires all banks to determine whether an account contains protected funds. If an account contains protected funds, the bank is required to protect two months of benefit payments from garnishment. Protection of more than two months of benefit payments requires additional court filings by the beneficiary.
In announcing the rule, the agencies stated that its framework could be expanded in future years to protect other federal payments such as military retirement.
“There are still many other steps that need to be taken to make bank accounts safe,” Saunders said. “But this new rule will give peace of mind to many elders, veterans, and disability benefit recipients.”
Comments on the new rule may be filed by May 24, 2011, by going to www.regulations.gov and entering “3206-AM17” in the keyword field.
Act Quckly and File an Answer to Set As Aside a Surprising Default Judgment
You can be sued whether or not you owe someone money. Worse yet, you can have a default judgment against you whether or not you have received notice. These types of default judgments happen all the time and you need to act quickly. Whether someone is trying to sue you or that a judgment has been taken against you, a quick response is necessary.
As a general rule the law will NOT protect people that “sleep” on their rights. If you do not fight a wrongful judgment or suit promptly – when you do find out about the judgment or suit – you may be considered legally bound to a debt that you never owned in the first place, or worse yet, a lawsuit of which you were totally unaware.
It is your responsibility to be vigilant. Consumer lawyers are noticing that there are a number of crooked process servers and unscrupulous bill collectors. Together with their overly aggressive lawyers, these unscrupulous bill collectors and unconscionable process servers are out there looking for easy cash and they may be trying to get it from you!
Just because you did not incur any debt does not mean that some has not been raised on your behalf. Albeit illegal, someone may have stolen your identity or your name and incurred debt on your behalf. Without appropriate action, you could end up being held responsible for someone else’s debt if you do not fight it.
Even if you do owe some money to a creditor, the interest rate and charges could have ballooned unconscionably. There are a number of valid legal defenses which may be available to you if you contest the claim.
Do not just sleep on your rights !
Many debt buyers do not have the necessary paperwork to prove their claim in court. As an experienced consumer advocate with more than 30 years experience defending people with debt problems I can help you defend yourself in court. Often, I can get the case dismissed without the necessity of ever going to court as a fee rate you can afford.
The debt buyer business is ugly and thriving in these tough economic times. Read this interesting article in the New York Times.
Here is a very interesting video on You Tube about a man that purchased a car that had, at some point, been completely submerged under water. Something of a sales arbitration horror story.
There are lessons to be learned from this event.
Do NOT take delivery of a car you are buying where work is orally “promised”. Even if the promise of repairs is in writing, it is best to leave the car at the dealership (do NOT even drive it home overnight) but let the dealer fix it first. Then only AFTER the dealer has attempted the promised repairs do your further inspect it before deciding whether you still want to complete the deal.
Car faxes are highly overrated. They do not replace a careful inspection by a qualified mechanic. Car faxes seldom provide sufficient information about a vehicle’s history of accidents, past repairs, mechanical condition, out of state salvage title etc.to be of much use in learning much about the real history of a car.
Never sign a contract that has an arbitration provision in it, giving up your right to a trial by jury. Demand that the dealer use a different form contract (yes they have them) or go shopping for a car at another dealership that does not use contracts with arbitration clauses. Yes people, this requires that you READ the contract. Try calling a dealership first before you go there and ask them if they use contracts without arbitration clauses. Then verify it when you first arrive and again before signing the actual contract.
We are pleased to announce that The Harris Law Firm now has offices in the Santa Clarita Valley to serve clients in Newhall, Valencia and surrounding areas including Granada Hills, Sylmar and the San Fernando valley areas.
Aurora Dawn Harris is a consumer protection lawyer who defends consumers in debt collection cases and protects consumers from auto dealer fraud and other unfair and deceptive practices. Ms. Harris especially enjoys representing elderly or disabled consumers, immigrants and other consumers who are particularly vulnerable to oppressive and fraudulent sales tactics.
She has both a litigation and appellate practice and is an active trainer and mentor for new consumer lawyers. She was admitted to the California State Bar in 1980, and has been representing consumers in actions against car dealers and finance companies since 1983.
She is the founder and President of the South California Auto Fraud Lawyers (SCAFL). Ms. Harris has been involved in organizing and has spoken at numerous legal conferences. She is a member of the Joseph Company, an organization of Christian business people dedicated to bringing their Christian ministry to the marketplace.
We will provide a traditional Mexican Christmas feast with fellowship and Christmas carols together. Please RSVP to (714) 288-0202. The cost is $10 per person. Our president Steve Meline will make a brief presentation, and elections will be held for the 2010 year. We very much look forward to seeing you all there to celebrate the coming of Christ.
The behemoth Google is currently testing a new search engine that is targeted at those looking for online legal information. Presently still in ‘beta’, you can go and try out the system for yourself at http://scholar.google.com/. Let us know what you think.
The system is designed to make it easier for individuals, most likely attorneys, judges, lawyers and legal students, to find legal information from law to precedent setting cases. While not Westlaw, the content is both broad and deep and well worth a look if you are at all engaged, or expect to be engaged, with, or in, the legal system.
This article appeared originally in The Orange County Register on November 24th, 2004. The original article can still be picked up in the office for those who would like a copy.
OF A LONG
ON A MISSION
By CHRIS KNAP THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
It was the RV salesman who dared an old man to sue, saying he’d die before the case went to trial, who helped Aurora Harris find her mission.
The Salesman was right about this: Fortune Brooks, to whom he had sold a motor home with a dry-rotted roof, was not long for this world. But he was wrong about justice.
Harris, then just a few years out of Western State College of Law, invoked a statute that allows for a speedy trial. With Brooks set to testify that the salesman had taken his checkbook and written out a down payment while he lay on a couch, popping heart pills, the RV dealer settled for $80,000. The not so fortunate Brooks died two months later.
He willed himself to live long enough to fight for the respect he deserved, Harris recalls. It was such a satisfaction to help this old man achieve justice.
Twenty years after Fortune died, Harris is still battling car dealers, on behalf of the elderly, single women, immigrants and the disabled.
I know there are a few good dealers, but I don’t hear about those, Harris says. I get people who have been wounded by dealer practices.
Like Kenneth and Catherine Gorman, 85 and 83, who said they were told they needed to trade in their 15,000 mile Honda because rats had nested under their hood and eaten the wiring.
Harris alleged the dealer sold their “unsafe” car that same day.
Or Oscar and Gloria Marrufo, 67 and 65, who complained they were tricked into signing a 66 month lease on a PT Cruiser that they had tried for eight hours to buy.
The salesman belittled us. They broke us down. I feel like they singled us out because of our race. I couldn’t drive past the dealer without feeling small, Marrufo said. Miss Harris has restored my dignity and my pride.
Added his wife, Gloria, We thank God for her.
God will come up a lot in this story.
That may surprise you if you’ve bought into the stereotype of trial lawyers as vultures out for million-dollar verdicts. Aurora Dawn Harris has no mansion. No Mercedes. Never had a million-dollar verdict (or sought one).
Sure, she clobbers car dealers. But she can show mercy too. She calls herself a marketplace evangelist, struggling to show by example and to give God credit when that is due.
Lest you get the wrong idea, Harris hastens to add: I am not saying God is on my side. We all make mistakes, bad decisions, persecute people unfairly. That’s why I like to give people a chance. We need to struggle to make sure we are on God’s side.
A runner with three Los Angeles marathons under her Nikes, Harris appears younger than her 51 years. She drives a used Toyota and lives in a modest home in Orange (the flat part). She practices out of a 1920 bungalow on Chapman Avenue, where the sign reads “Hones Lawyers.” But inside there is only Harris and her paralegal, Ada Gutierrez, a former missionary.
Harris’ one extravagance is a gleaming espresso machine.
I bought that for my Christian singles coffee group, she says, pumping the handles until the black elixir drizzles.
Harris was born in China, the daughter of a Baptist missionaries who built churches in the mountains of Formosa. Her grandparents were also missionaries; her great grandparents before them.
Harris recalls her late father, Dr. Hendon Harris, renting a fishing boat to sail into the South China Sea, looking for Vietnamese refugees victimized by pirates.
After her family returned to the United States i 1967, she began to rebel against her father’s church. It was the male dominance that turned me away .. the fundamentalist belief that women are to play a subservient role.
Harris earned a degree in comparative literature at California State Long Beach. Drove a forklift in a machine shop. Worked for an ad agency. Then battered a three-cylinder Honda across Orange County as a messenger, paying her way through law school.
Although the case of the rotten RV helped Harris find her niche, it would be 15 years before she came to see that work as God’s mission.
The epiphany for Harris came when she split with the father of her boys, a retired Orange County judge. Her legal training had prepared her to fight. But she realized that the battlefield would be her family.
God’s presence was really there. I decided I wasn’t going to fight tooth and nail and it all worked out. Sometimes you have to give it all up to win.
Today there’s an antique Bible on her table. A Psalm on her sign.
If you would be shocked if your lawyer tried to pray with you, Harris may not be your barrister. I will suggest prayer when I see that clients need calming, or sometimes, need to be grateful, Harris said.
Marrufo, the Cruiser customer, didn’t wait for Harris to suggest prayer; he brought one with him.We put on the armor of God, Marrufo recalls, referring to a passage in Ephesians that he has memorized:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
So car dealers are … the devil ?
Harris says no; wickedness is something inside that we all must struggle against.
But the dealers do feel typecast. They accuse Harris of demanding exorbitant payoffs for customers who simply have buyer’s remorse.
Aurora has the ability to generalize too much, says Charles “Mike” Michaelis, a Tustin attorney who represents new-car dealers.
Without a doubt, there are certain individuals in the industry that do engage in aggressive tactics. But my experience is that dealers are honest business people trying to make a fair profit like anybody else.
When Aurora comes after a dealer, she throws in the kitchen sink. Her letters intimidate a car dealer that doesn’t understand what is coming at them.
For that, Harris makes no apologies. I want car dealers to treat everybody who complains with the same respect, and not know if the customer has a lawyer; not know if there is a $300,000 lawsuit waiting, Harris said. I want to show them that our society will not tolerate businesses that victimize vulnerable people.
Harris says those sharply worded letters are the dealers chance to settle upfront, before a lawsuit.
When I was younger, I was a much more brassy type of person. I’ve tried to temper that with mercy. Although I am heavily biased toward the consumer, I try to see the car dealer’s point of view too.
This, some of her opponents acknowledge, is true.
Other attorneys use consumers for their own means, Michaelis says. My impression of Aurora is just the opposite. I think she often forgoes fees if a dealer is willing to settle a consumer’s problems.
But does she ever ask the dealers, or their lawyers, to pray with her ?
Harris is taken aback.
No ! My gosh ! You’re pushing me on that one. Then she adds softly, Maybe I should be.
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