Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas (Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future)

I love Dicken’s a Christmas Tale.  Absolutely love it – just like I love the Nutcracker – such a strange tale that is!  But Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles Dickens lived in an industrial society, long before consumer culture was born.  My desire is simply to see one give of the heart this season, in time, gentleness, and homemade goodies.  As the Grinch learned in Whoville:

Grinch: Pooh-pooh to the Whos!

Narrator: …he was grinchily humming.

Grinch: They’re finding out now that no Christmas is coming. They’re just waking up, I know just what they’ll do. Their mouths will hang open a minute or two, Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry, “Boo Hoo!” That’s a noise, (the Grinch said,) that I simply must hear!

Narrator: So he paused, And the Grinch put a hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. Then it started to grow… But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded glad![Whos singing]

Narrator: Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all! He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same! And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling:

Grinch: How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

Narrator: And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”

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Ebenezer Scrooge & Bob Cratchit

ABCs of Identity Theft

You know the Vonage Commercial?  With the Huge Bill?

Unfortunately, I had many experiences where I’d sue someone and it was the first time they’d ever heard of that huge bill.  Sadly, in most instances the perpetrator was either a former intimate partner or a relative.

Identity theft is covered by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA).  I’m here to educate and suggest, not to litigate.  But I need to let you know this:

It is not the consumer’s job to prove who stole their identity.  A lawyer with the backing of a big bank can do a heck of a better job than joe schmoe who just found out how his ex girlfriend paid for her shopping habit (oh those shoes!). It’s a consumer’s job to bring it to the attention of the bank as soon as reasonably possible.  The bank is allowed to investigate, because believe it or not a lot of false claims of identity theft are made.  But Cooperate in the Investigation!  Because if it’s a legitimate claim, most banks and collections agencies will get rid of it ASAP.

And for goodness sakes, if you discover you’re the victim through a collections letter, don’t send the generic demand for Verification!  See my post below – Failing to Get Heard.  Write that short, simple, sweet letter explaining what happened or at least what you think happened.

The Insiders Guide to the FDCPA: Failing to Get Heard

Disclaimer: Once again this is a blog, not legal advice or legal research, and no attorney-client relationship is created merely by reading my blog.

Both in my time in and out of consumer collections, I saw consumer after consumer fail to have a legitimate dispute taken seriously by the Collections Agency.  Too often, the file would reach litigation before someone was able to put the breaks on.  Today I do this in defense.  This is the most expensive way possible to resolve problems, hands down.

The following was almost always a mistake made by a consumer, not an attorney. So here we go:

The biggest failure here was the Internet-Generated Demand for Verification Letter.  These are all over the internet.  Unfortunately, collections agencies have seen them a thousand and one times.  They are form generated, with overreaching demands.  One example of an overreaching demand for verification – and that is a great law phrase, by the way – is when the letter 1) disputes everything, then 2) demands a precise detailed accounting from a zero balance and often 3) requests some made up documents from a national banking authority.  Unfortunately the Law says, and the Courts have agreed, that when a collections agency receives a request for verification, they just hve to confirm in writing with the creditor that that’s what they say is owed.  And these days, most agencies have an affidavit from the creditor included with placement.  So – assuming you have a legitiate dispute, which you may need legal help to figure out, you sent a form letter, they sent a form affidavit, and nothing has been accomplished except time wasting and lost opportunity.

No one is the wiser.

My suggestion is to always send a short, sweet dispute letter.  Do not make demands you don’t understand.  Tell them what the problem is and what went wrong in nice polite language.   I do suggest discussing the issue with an attorney who is knowlegdeable who can really guide you in whether you have a legal defense or not.

The Insiders Guide to the FDCPA – How to Kill Your Cease and Desist Letter

First, Legal Disclaimer: This Blog is not legal advice.  It does not substitute for legal research.  No Attorney- Client relationship is established by virtue of merely reading, commenting, or responding to a blog.

Now, the Beef:

The biggest mistake I see lay people and Attorneys do is to threaten the FDCPA against a creditor to which the FDCPA does not apply.  If you do that as an Attorney, you hold up a huge sign that says “I have no idea what I’m doing.”  You have now robbed your cease and desist letter of its teeth, virtually guaranteeing you will not be taken seriously and round filed.

Now, this is a blog, and I’m framing the approach, not doing free legal research.  I’m framing the issue and telling people the number 1 mistake I saw made when I did Big Bank legal collections.  Now I’ve seen the light, and represent consumers.  But I only represent on legitimate defenses or abuses.  I have a reputation to uphold, which is being fierce so that when I say I’m going to do something if you don’t stop, it’s a promise not a threat.

I cannot tell you how many Attorneys, let alone lay people, are Shocked, Shocked I Tell You to discover that their threats were baseless.  The devil is in the Definitions. Here’s the rundown, under the FDCPA:

A Creditor is a person (defined pretty loosely) to which you owe money.  Think of it as Big Bank.

A Collector under the FDCPA is someone who regularly collects money on behalf of others.  And the provisions of the FDCPA only apply to Collectors.  There is an exception for in house collections department that’s not obviously named, but that’s a nuanced analysis and beyond the scope of this article.

So the Big difference is first party, in-house collections departments – not subject to the FDCPA, and third-party collections agencies who are subject to the FDCPA.   The FDCPA applies to third party collections – got it?  So if you are receiving calls from the Collections Department of ABC Hospital, they are not subject to the FDCPA, so no one should threaten them with the FDCPA.  It does not t matter if they complain to your mother that you’re not paying, they are NOT violating the FDCPA.  You have to get more creative than that and go back to the fundamentals of common law.

But I’m not going to give away all my secrets.

CHART OF THE DAY: The US Garbage Indicator Is Sending An Ominous Sign For The Economy

CHART OF THE DAY: The US Garbage Indicator Is Sending An Ominous Sign For The Economy

As generally accepted by the environmental community: consumption aka consumer spending is bad for the economy.  My thought is also a lot of bad debt, when all this consumer spending is bought but not paid for.  Good News?  Good for the environment. 

Headline: Households cut debt again in first quarter

Check this out: http://articles.marketwatch.com/2012-06-07/economy/32091085_1_household-debt-consumer-debt-consumer-credit

So here’s the story: if you’re paying off something you already bought, then you’re not “buying” new stuff, thus the economy continues to show weak growth.  Which also means that past economic growth was premised on a debt model.

 

Shakespeare: 1603

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame! The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee! And these few precepts in thy memory See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar. Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade.

Beware Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man, And they in France of the best rank and station Are of a most select and generous chief in that. Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

– Hamlet Act 1 Scene III

Fast Forward: 1996

Oh Global Economy!  Where went this sage advice?

When I went off to college in 1996 (I took a bit of a gap after high school) I had a high school education.  My parents were (are still) middle class, productive and employed.  I got my first job at 16 and have been continually employed ever since.  My parents paid for tuition, I paid my living expenses.  And from my first arrival on campus, I had my first credit card.

It had a $600.00 limit.  And before you knew it, I was struggling to pay a $540 balance.  On campus in those days, banks used to set up tents.  They handed out tee shirts, water bottles, and doo hickies for filling out an application.  It was August in Arizona, and it was hot so I needed a water bottle.  Just like that.

There is no fault here, the issue is contextual.   Ever been to a store with a give away sweepstakes, and then you’re called and called for timeshare deals and you can’t get off the list?  Yeah, it was like that.  They kept giving out credit limits.  And by the time I graduated, that $600 dollar balance had grown into $3000.00 that I struggled to pay off.  A very bad habit.

I didn’t have a financial education, and I never got one at college.  Today I represent consumers in Court, and we have a term for what happened that hot summer in Arizona: relaxed lending standards.  This blog is not about blame, it is not about banks.   But it is about the Global Economic Crisis, the culture we live in, and debt.

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