(I See) Dead People are the Newest Frontier in Debt Collecting

Debt Collectors rate at or near the bottom of the barrel as professions go.  Now, they’ve given us another reason to dislike them even more.

An article by David Streitfield of the New York Times describes how “debt collection industry consultants” have identified collecting debts from the relatives of the dearly departed as a hot new market.

MINNEAPOLIS — The banks need another bailout and countless homeowners cannot handle their mortgage payments, but one group is paying its bills: the dead.
Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.
The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.

Click Here to Read the Full Story.

Don’t know how these people live with themselves.

Louis M. Green

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GM/Ford Didn’t Suck as Bad as They Could Have

According to an article posted by Shawn Langlois of MarketWatch:

Ford Motor Co., the only domestic automaker not in the throes of
bankruptcy, carved out market-share gains in May despite its 24.2% drop
as the drone of U.S. car sale declines continued Tuesday.

Also reported: General Motors reported a 29% retreat that outperformed analyst targets a day after the automaker finally filed for Chapter 11.

Read the Article Here

I love it when beating dismal expectations is counted as a victory.

Louis Green

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Ten Used Cars to Avoid

My colleague Jim McMillin of Houston, TX, brought my attention to a helpful Car&Driver article on Yahoo:

If you or someone you know are thinking about buying a used car, you don’t want to miss it.

Check out 10 Used Cars to Avoid.   Hint: It’s not about specific makes or models. It goes deeper than that.

I’ve talked to so many people who went ahead and purchased used vehicles in spite of gut feelings that told them to walk (okay, run) away.  When buying a used car, trust your gut, not your emotions!

Be Smart.

Louis M. Green

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The Trouble With Carfax

Most people purchasing used cars rely solely on Carfax to let them know whether or not the vehicle they are buying has been wrecked or has other serious problems.  That is understandable because Carfax has created the perception that if there is a problem with a vehicle, it’ll be on a Carfax report.  Car dealers, eager to make sales, are more than happy to perpetuate that perception.

As an attorney who handles automobile fraud cases, I have seen many instances where my clients were shown a clean Carfax for a vehicle, and it turned out to be wrecked anyway.  How does that happen?

Erica Johnson of Canadian Broadcasting’s consumer television show “Marketplace” did a (pardon the pun) bang up job exposing a shady Vancouver, BC car dealer and Carfax itself.

View the segment here.

Ms. Johnson starts by going to the car lot (accompanied by hidden cameras) and picking out a car that she’s ‘interested’ in.  The dealer tells her it has a clean Carfax, stating, “There’s no problems with the car,” and “we want to show you exactly what we’re selling here.”  She eventually test drives two vehicles which really involves showing  them to a Vancouver Police automobile forensic expert for examination.  He finds evidence of accidents and replacement parts on each car.  Next, they run database searches on Carfax’s competitor Autocheck and find reported frame damage for each. Afterward, they go back and confront the dealer who backs off of his claims and admits that Carfax is not reliable (at 8:45 into the video).

My colleague Bernard Brown from Kansas City, MO appears in the piece. Bernard is the lawyer we autofraud attorneys view as the Michael Jordan of our niche for his expertise, generosity in sharing what he knows, and most importantly, his success in obtaining sizable jury verdicts against those involved in the  wrecked vehicle trade. Bernard explains that Carfax receives a patchwork of information that is frequently incomplete.  He further explains that receipt of a ‘clean’ Carfax report causes consumers to let their guard down.

The shady Vancouver dealer invites Ms. Johnson to contact his former (happy) customers, and she takes him up on it.  They do some checking and find a young dude named Darren, and boy do they have some interesting information for him.  Yep, his SUV,  which Carfax reported as accident free, shows frame damage on Autocheck.  Oops. Erica & Crew go with Darren to a garage where a body expert  puts his SUV on a lift and confirms the damage.  Darren calls the dealer on camera and is essentially told that he is SOL, which is a shame because the damage makes the truck unsafe and worth less than he paid for it.

The best part of the segment is Erica Johnson’s interview with  Carfax spokesman Larry Gamache at its headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.  Mr. Gamache is a cheeky spokesman who looks straight out of DisneyWorld casting.   He shows up early in the piece touting his company as having ‘the most complete information that’s available to consumers today.’

Erica delivers the coup-de-grace later in the segment when she whips out Darren’s clean Carfax report for Mr. Cheeky.  So why is it that Carfax produced a clean report while the competitor showed the damage?  “I think your question you need to ask is why the people who have the information about the frame damage information why haven’t reported it to Carfax yet.”  Oh really?  But wait, there’s more:

Erica Johnson:  “Darren thought the point of Carfax was to let him know whether the truck he was buying had any problems.”

Mr. Cheeky:  “I’m sorry, he was mistaken.”

Pause and consider that statement. Erica Johnson does as evidenced by the incredulous look her face.  Mr. Cheeky’s look is pretty amusing as well. There is more to the exchange, which is found around 16:44 into the video. I encourage you to watch the whole thing.

What is the Take Home Message?  It is this:

A CARFAX REPORT SHOWING THAT A VEHICLE HAS NOT BEEN IN AN ACCIDENT CANNOT BE RELIED UPON, AND DON’T EXPECT CARFAX OR A DEALER TO TELL YOU THAT.  Carfax is as good as the information reported to it.  Helpful negative information about vehicles do turn up on Carfax reports, but unfortunately, Carfax does not always receive all of the information available.

People in the industry know this (or should know this).  Many dealers purport to have knowledge and to rely on Carfax themselves, but they know better, just like the dealer in this report.   Check your jurisdiction, but in most places dealers have an obligation to know what they’re selling before putting it out into commerce. They can’t play dumb after making false representations about the vehicle’s condition.

Be smart.  Be safe.  Do not be lulled to sleep.  If you are interested in buying a used car, have it checked out by a mechanic and body man first.  If a dealer won’t allow you to have the vehicle independently checked out, go somewhere else.  (And don’t sign any arbitration agreements, but that’s a post for another day).

Kudos to Erica Johnson & the people at CBC Marketplace for a well-done, informative piece.

Louis M. Green

PS  Need to find a Consumer Law attorney?  Go to the referral list of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. 

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I Endorse Americans for Fairness in Lending

I’m a fan of the public interest non-profit group  Americans for Fairness in Lending  which is working to reform the lending industry to protect Americans’ financial assets.

I first learned of them following the release of the James Shurlock’s hard hitting documentary Maxed Out, which paints a true but unsettling view of the credit card industry.  I’ve noticed that Maxed Out is available for instant viewing on Neflix.  I highly recommend that you watch it

Louis M. Green

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National Highway Traffic Safety Recall List Released in January 2009

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their list of Safety/Non-Compliance Notices Received during December, 2008.   This list does is not limited to vehicles, it also includes  Child Safety Restraint Systems,  Diesel Engines, Buses, Wheel Chair Lift and Tires.

Vehicle recalls include 2009 Chevrolet Malibu, Land Rovers, BMW Mini Coopers, and Dodge RAM trucks.

Child restraint systems include Graco Child Comfortsport™ convertible car seats and Britax Frontier.

Download the NHTSA Report here.

Louis Green

Thanks to Public Citizen’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog for the head’s up.  The NHTSA report may be more easily obtained from their link.

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N.A.D.A. Estimates That 700 Dealerships Will Close in 2008.

Kate Linebaugh writes in the October 28, 2008, Wall Street Journal that with the credit crunch and new vehicle sales on track for a 25 year low, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) estimates 700 new-car dealerships will close this year.  This is up from 430 last year.

The markets most vulnerable to dealer closings are California, which has the most dealers of any state, followed by Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

Read the Full Article Here.

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Nightmare: You’re Driving Franken-Car!

Imagine this Halloween Nightmare:  You discover that your car is really two cars that were “clipped” together by a body shop at the request of an insurance company in order to save money over paying salvage value.

Whether it was your car that was involved (heaven-forbid) in the serious accident and a “clip-job” was ordered, or you purchased the car used and later discovered the clip, you and your occupants’ safety is especially at risk in the event of a second accident.

“Clipping” is a penalty in football, and it should be in the car market. One of the reasons I’m a consumer advocate attorney is to stand up for people when corporate greed puts health and safety at risk.

Read about Clipping in an article written by 

Louis Green

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Many Car Dealers are in Trouble

St. Petersburg Times business reporter Robert Trigaux wrote an interesting column in the October 5, 2008, Sunday paper about hard times for US Car Dealers.

Read the Article Here.

Louis Green

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VP Debate Palin “Darn right it was the predator lenders”

As a Consumer Advocacy lawyer, I can tell you that my colleagues and I have been on the front lines for years, dealing with the anguish of clients who have been victims of mortgage scams, of mortgage accounts that have been assigned and re-assigned into huge pools; who have had mortgage servicers who played games with their payments; and who have fallen for home equity scams and wound up in foreclosure.

We’ve tried to sound the alarm with limited success in Congress and State legislatures, but people funded initiatives don’t quite have the same pull as powerful industry lobbies.   Sometimes, a successful lawsuit or compelling story attracts dedicated journalists who tell the stories and get the ears of legislatures.

Unfortunately, as with Katrina, the early warning signs were ignored, and the dams have burst.

I’ve followed recent analysis of the “mortgage crisis” and have put the lion’s share on consumers for taking out overextending mortgages.  The post-mortem doesn’t take into account the advertising campaigns that got people into the offices of mortgage brokers where people were lied to and subjected to deceptive and often high pressure sales, drive-by appraisals, high closing costs, etc.

I want to hear how candidates for national office discuss this because I want to know if they get it.

I watched the Vice Presidential debate last night and was pleasantly shocked to hear this exchange with Sarah Palin:

Gwen Ifill:  Who do you think was at fault? I start with you, Gov. Palin. Was it the greedy lenders? Was it the risky home-buyers who shouldn’t have been buying a home in the first place? And what should you be doing
about it?

PALIN: Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there, and there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that.

Those darn predator lenders.  Exactly, Gov. Palin. Kudos, you got the point, and you expressed it to America.  We DO need to stop that.  Please tell Senator McCain.

Barak Obama, with his background in the grassroots, also gets it and has for a while.

BIDEN: But here’s the deal. Barack Obama pointed out two years ago that there was a subprime mortgage crisis and wrote to the secretary of Treasury. And he said, “You’d better get on the stick here. You’d better look at it.”

Yes, we should all look at it and make sure that consumers are the first to be protected.

Could it be that consumer advocacy has become, dare I say, sexy?

Louis M. Green


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