Articles Posted in Consumer Rights

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently announced that it is taking credit card complaints and complaints regarding problems with mortgages in New York.

Consumer protection
agencies created by the government may provide some oversight for private companies, but often lack the power to create any amount of change. Typically, only legal action taken against a company can result in any meaningful response for a consumer who is wronged.Consumer complaints can come in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the actions that are taken by companies can directly result in major harm to the consumer. This has been especially true in recent years in the wake of the mortgage foreclosure debacle throughout this country.

Banks have used unlawful and unethical tactics in an effort to take away people’s homes. They have used robo-signed documents — that which are signed by mortgage servicers hired by banks and are supposed to be signed by bank officials who review the paperwork for accuracy.

The banks have also filed paperwork that was intentionally altered to support their taking away of a person’s house through foreclosure. By backdating paperwork and having it notarized on dates that couldn’t possibly be accurate, the banks were able to take away millions of homes.

The government agency was created this year and was designed to take consumer complaints and pass them on to the companies and set up a tracking system for customers to follow their complaints.

The agency’s first report is on credit card complaints. An agency report states that consumers filed more than 5,000 complaints against credit card companies, the first types of complaints that were taken from consumers. Of those, more than 13 percent dealt with billing disputes as their main complaint, while another 10 percent related to identity theft and interest rates. Other complaints filed by consumers dealt with fees, payments, canceling accounts and credit reporting.

In providing its first report since being created in July, the agency reported that it has begun taking complaints about home mortgages as well. Agency officials hope to take all consumer complaints starting next year.

The agency is designed to take consumer complaints and be a go-between for consumers and the companies they deal with. The agency must produce semi-annual reports to Congress detailing the types of reports it is receiving from American consumers.

The information then may be analyzed to determine trends and patterns that may be used to help consumers. Ultimately, however, the agency has no power to make changes that could help consumers, but aims to collect data that may be applied later.

Collecting data on mortgage problems may actually help consumer protection agencies in the future, however. Banks have stripped away people’s homes — millions and counting — through bad acts and unfair trade practices. Future data may go to addressing the problem and aiding consumers.

Foreclosures are a major issue in this country and will continue to be for years in the future. Many remain hopeful that getting to the root of the foreclosure problem in America will help the real estate market recover more quickly as well. Certainly addressing where consumers have been wronged throughout the mortgage foreclosure problem in New York and nationwide will be a start.
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The government for the last few years has gone out of its way to create programs designed to help Long Island homeowners get help if their house was in danger of going into foreclosure.

Sadly, those programs were designed without teeth and did little to force banks into considering using them. Therefore, many Americans were deceived into thinking they could get a loan modification and ended up in a New York foreclosure with seemingly little way out.Homeowners have rights and they must be upheld. This has been even more of an issue in recent years as the country’s big banks have trampled upon them in the pursuit of taking away people’s houses under false pretenses. Bank officials have ordered workers to falsify loan documentation, sign paperwork without checking for accuracy and foreclose on houses while homeowners are attempting to re-work a loan.

A recent Reuters article suggests that the problems with loan modifications have gone a long way toward hampering our country’s real estate recovery. There are millions of foreclosures nationwide and people every day are fighting to save their homes.

One way to defend against foreclosure is pointing out the various problems banks have had in violating homeowners’ rights along the way. The issue of robo-signing has been a big issue throughout the foreclosure mess. This is where companies pay outside mortgage servicers to process paperwork in foreclosure cases.

That is perfectly legal, but what was unlawful was when these mortgage servicers began signing documents with false notaries and signing as bank officials who never actually saw the documents to verify them for accuracy. These documents were the basis for millions of foreclosures that have already taken place.

While it was robo-signing that spurred all 50 states attorneys to begin investigations and launch lawsuits and cause the banks to halt foreclosures for nearly a year, there have been examples that it is still going on.

Other investigations have found that bank officials ordered employees to alter foreclosure paperwork, backdate information, write up inaccurate information on documents and otherwise falsify documentation in order to have the necessary paperwork to file a foreclosure.

The banks relied on this falsified paperwork to take away people’s homes. But as time has gone by, judges throughout the country have become leery of the banks and their work, often finding in favor of homeowners who have stopped paying because banks can’t prove who legally owns the house or they have been found guilty of misdeeds.

The Reuters article looks into the “bureaucratic nightmare” that homeowners endure if they try to modify their loan. Many homeowners have told their stories to the news media where they are in negotiations with a bank only to find out that another bank department has started the foreclosure process or denied them because the homeowner didn’t send in paperwork they actually did send in or some other manufactured error.

Banks have made small efforts to help homeowners by having one-day fairs where struggling homeowners — 1 in 12 mortgages is delinquent — or setting up centers for homeowners. But without those minor efforts, homeowners largely are left to the bank’s graces to work out their problems.
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New York City recently agreed to pay out $70 million in a settlement after people accused the city of mishandling a Medicaid program there, Reuters is reporting.

Medicaid is a government-backed system managed by states to assist low-income families and people with disabilities with medical and healthcare issues. It is the largest healthcare program in the country as millions of people rely on it to provide needed medications and help for their ailments.Legal issues stemming from health care in New York can crop up when agencies that govern medical procedures and drug testing for instance, and in this case, Medicaid, fail to do their work properly. Health care is extremely important, as the average person relies on nurses, doctors and specialists to help them make solid decisions that keep them well.

According to the Reuters article, a lawsuit was brought under the False Claims Act in which federal prosecutors alleged that the government had paid out tens of millions of dollars as a result of the city mishandling its personal-care services program. The False Claims Act allows for the recovery of penalties and damages when false claims are paid by the federal government.

From 2000 to 2010, the Human Resources Administration provided 24-hour personal-care services to some Medicaid recipients without proper authorization granted from medical personnel or via independent medical reviews.

The city alleges that the lawsuit, brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was based on nothing more than “technical record-keeping deficiencies.”

But the U.S. Attorney said that the city attorney’s statement contradicts the “stipulation he personally signed and submitted to the court.” The city’s claim that the lawsuit was based on an issue over “paperwork” was rejected earlier in the case.

Issues of health care in New York can cover a wide variety of issues. An experienced lawyer can assist patients who believe they were wronged or who had benefits denied based on discrimination or other reasons.

But hospitals, health systems, physicians, mental health experts and others can also benefit from sound legal advice. Medical malpractice lawsuits and other allegations of wrongdoing tend to crop up regularly and they must be properly handled by experienced counsel.

These cases are complex and require the legal skills of an attorney, along with medical experts, who have many years’ experience. Many times these issues can be resolved without litigation. But in other cases, a lawsuit can bring needed resolution to a lingering issue.

These are often consumer rights’ issues as well as healthcare issues combined into one. Therefore, many people can be affected by the outcome of these decisions. With health care always being a hot topic, there are always reasons to get sound legal advice dealing with a person’s health and long-term care.
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A woman has sued Bloomingdale’s, alleging the giant department store chain that offers upscale wares discriminated against her when she attempted to purchase a men’s shirt for her upcoming wedding, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Cases of discrimination are typically considered when they happen to employees at work — when unqualified people get promotions or others get shunned based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, age, family status or other factors. Obtaining loans and renting apartments are two other areas where discrimination complaints are common. But discrimination in New York, New Jersey, Long Island or elsewhere can happen out in the public, as well.It’s a common practice in housing, especially public housing sectors, where an applicant for an apartment or house is denied for no good reason. It can also happen in the shopping sector. Some businesses may discriminate against consumers based on their skin tone or other factors that are deemed illegal.

In this case, a woman alleges she was shopping at a Bloomingdale’s in Los Angeles, hoping to purchase an outfit for her wedding in 2010. She says she walked into the men’s section of the store and was approached by a salesman, who allegedly asked her for whom she was buying a men’s shirt and then told her he wouldn’t measure her, the newspaper states.

“After some further offensive comments, (the salesman) asked, ‘Why are you buying a man’s shirt anyway? You’re a woman,'” the lawsuit states, according to the newspaper.

The woman says the incident caused her to cry and that she hasn’t brought herself to go back to the store since the whole thing happened. The department store chain reportedly offered her a free shirt, but it hasn’t been enough to lure her back.

The woman’s lawsuit, which name’s parent company Macy’s Inc. as well as Bloomingdale’s, alleges sex or sexual orientation discrimination and seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.

There are a host of ways that someone can be unlawfully discriminated against, including gender, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, and others. Public entities, such as restaurants, shopping centers and hotels, as well as creditors and housing institutions can’t simply not serve or not help a customer based on those characteristics.

Nor can people in the workplace be denied promotions, or employment for unlawful reasons. Both state and federal laws regulate these matters and instruct both employers as well as public entities regarding the rules and regulations.

Consulting with an experienced New York Employment Lawyer can be advantageous in assessing the situation and determining whether the allegation qualifies under the guidelines of the law.

Bloomingdale’s has 43 stores in the United States, including seven in New York and five in New Jersey, according to its web site. The chain also has a location in the United Arab Emirates.
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In a recent case of Sirius XM Radio, Inc., the satellite radio company got a judge to sign off on a settlement with subscribers who filed a lawsuit and alleged the company broke the law by upping the cost after it bought out XM, it’s only rival, Bloomberg reports.

Consumer rights actions in New York are often necessary to stop a large corporation from unlawfully treating its customers. When contracts are agreed upon and yet the terms aren’t fulfilled, it often requires a lawsuit and sometimes a class-action lawsuit to accomplish what is right.A class-action lawsuit is when many individuals come together with a common complaint against a company. Lawsuits from people throughout a city, state or the entire country can band together to fight injustices.

A federal judge in Manhattan recently agreed to a settlement, even over the objection of some subscribers, who contended the settlement didn’t send a strong enough message. A Florida subscriber sued the company in 2009, claiming it violated federal antitrust law and consumer-protection laws when it raised prices and levied royalty fees after 2008, when Sirius Satellite Radio bought XM Satellite Radio. The class of plaintiffs said the company broke promises to get approval from the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission.

The settlement, valued at around $180 million, determined that basic service, Internet-based listening and the music royalty fees will stay the same through the end of 2011. People who canceled service will be able to re-subscribe without paying an additional fee and those whose plans expire after the end of the year will be able to renew at current rates. Yet, subscribers got no money out of the deal.

Consumers must be protected from these large companies because without an avenue to get help, large corporations could charge whatever they wanted for products, falsely advertise their products, not properly repair broken products or expose consumers to a litany of other abuses.

While there are government-backed watchdog groups like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other state-run programs, they can only do so much good. Sometimes these matters require a strongly worded lawsuit in order to get the attention of these companies and justice for consumers.

But there are standards that must be met in filing complaints against companies as well as whether a lawsuit is able to proceed as a class-action case. And while this area of law is complex, it can be beneficial in helping current consumers, as well as future potential consumers, in getting the goods and services they deserve.

Thousands of products each year are recalled, drugs deemed defective and vehicles that must be repaired because they weren’t properly manufactured. And consumers can be injured or killed because of the negligence of companies. Corporations can’t reap the benefits of shoddy workmanship or cut corners without paying the consequences. They must be held accountable and New York consumer law allows for that to happen.
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Home prices in 20 U.S. cities dropped in the year ending in May by the most in 18 months, suggesting that the housing market continues to, Bloomberg reports.

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, values continually dropped in the country’s largest cities.In New York, the rate rose slightly in May compared to April. In March, New York saw it’s lowest level since Jan. 2004. State levels peaked in June 2006, according to the index.

This is a difficult time for many, as their homes aren’t worth the mortgages they are making monthly payments on. For others, who have disposable income and are able to purchase houses as investments, this is a great time.

There are several things an experienced Great Neck attorney will do help a buyer in a residential purchase:

  • Review and explanation of your purchase contract
  • Assurance that there are no outstanding claims against the property
  • Preparation of all legal documents related to the purchase
  • Interaction with your lender to clarify or amend terms of your loan
  • Review and confirmation of any costs for which you’re responsible
  • Assistance with title insurance
  • Attendance at your closing to review

But an attorney is also necessary for lenders who are opening lines of credit for buyers, especially during this economic downturn when there is increased scrutiny of mortgages, brokers, lenders and the real estate business in general.

  • Review of all relevant documents
  • Management of loan document preparation
  • HUD-1 Settlement Statement preparation
  • Management and disbursement of loan proceeds
  • Appropriate disposition of executed documents

A glut of foreclosure filings will keep new home prices from rising this year, experts believe. A nationwide unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent as well as shrinking home equity are also factors.

“Home prices have yet to find a bottom,” said John Herrmann, senior fixed-income strategist at State Street Global Markets LLC in Boston. “Buyers are incredibly cautious. They are concerned about the unemployment rate. There is uncertainty about the economic outlook.”

While this is an unprecedented time for many Americans, the uncertainty of the real estate market has made properly written and documented contracts so essential. With many allegations of mortgage fraud and other real estate-related scams as well as bank fraud and complaints made against lending institutions, it is critical to make sure a seasoned attorney can assist with a transaction from the start.

Consumers require protection because many aren’t familiar with the terms and conditions that big business uses. This opens opportunities for fraud against consumers. But at the same time, businesses, including lending institutions and real estate-related companies, must protect themselves from loopholes in written contracts in order to ensure they don’t get hit with litigation in the future.
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Consumers make the economic world go ’round. Especially here in the metro New York area, how much people spend and where they spend it is always tracked.

Especially in the current economic climate, consumer rights in New York is a critical issue. Because precious dollars are few for many people, getting what you pay for is critical.According to the Better Business Bureau, there were more than 844,000 complaints against businesses in 2010. That’s compared to 948,305 in 2009. Most of the complaints are related to television, cell phone companies, auto dealers, banks and collection agencies, the BBB reports.

CNNMoney recently reported about the most common complaints that consumers make, showing that protections from all sectors of business must be in place. Businesses sometimes accidentally, and sometimes intentionally, ripoff customers. That’s why hiring a New York City consumer attorney can help sort out problems between the customer and the company. Sometimes it takes litigation in order to hold companies accountable for shady practices.

  1. Autos: People shopping for cars or getting auto repairs reported that they got swindled by false advertising, lemons, or received faulty auto repairs. Autos typically rank as the top consumer complaint over the past three years.
  2. Credit/debt: Consumers complained about credit card billing, fraudulent mortgages, credit repair and debt help services, predatory lending and harassing debt collection agencies.
  3. Home improvement/construction & retail sales: These two types of complaints tied for third place on the list. Consumers complained that home improvement and construction companies didn’t finish work they started or the quality of the work they did was low.
  4. Utilities: Consumer complaints included problems with service and disputes with bills relating to phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services.
  5. Services: Inadequate work, misrepresentations about services and lack of licenses were were chief complaints.
  6. Internet sales: Consumers complained that Internet retailers didn’t deliver products that they ordered or misrepresented items that were purchased.
  7. Household goods: Consumers complaint about faulty furniture or appliance repairs. Other complaints included goods companies failed to deliver.
  8. Landlord/tenant: Renters complained about unhealthy and unsafe conditions, landlords who didn’t make repairs. Deposit and rent disputes and evictions were also cited.
  9. Fraud: Fraud is new to the list, with many consumers complaining about a range of scams including work-at-home schemes and fraudulent sweepstakes and lotteries.
  10. Home solicitations: Telemarketers and mail solicitations fail to deliver their services or violate do-not-call rules crack the top 10.

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A former JPMorgan Chase & Co. business banker recently pleaded guilty in New York state Supreme Court to grand larceny, identity theft, falsifying business records, forgery and scheme to defraud after stealing more than $1.1 million from the bank and its customers, Bloomberg reports.

Years ago, the only identity theft people had to worry about was if a pickpocket stole a person’s purse or wallet and began using their credit cards to make illegal purchases. Identity theft in New York and throughout the country is now tied to physical theft as well as internet-based crimes. Internet-based crimes now account for a large portion of thefts in the United States as well as abroad.Hao “Howie” Wang, 28, of Newark, New Jersey, pleaded guilty recently in New York state Supreme Court to grand larceny, identity theft, falsifying business records, forgery and scheme to defraud, the office of District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

He was arrested in November and indicted in December. He worked at a retail branch on Park Avenue from 2007 to 2008. Prosecutors allege his scheme lasted about a year.

In one instance, prosecutors said, he stole a person’s identity without their knowledge to obtain a $100,000 loan by falsifying records. The government alleged he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars and transferred money to offshore accounts. He could have faced up to 25 years in prison, but will be sentenced to two to six years in prison plus restitution.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, there were more than 303,000 internet-based criminal complaints in 2010. That was down from 336,600 in 2009, the all-time high.

New York ranked third in the nation behind California and Florida regarding perpetrators from the same state as the complainant with 29.4 percent. According to the center, New York made up 5.8 percent of the complaints of internet-based crime, which ranks it fourth in the nation.

According to the agency’s annual report for New York, non-delivery of merchandise was the number one complaint made by New Yorkers in 2010:

Non-delivery of merchandise: 20.1%
Identity Theft: 18.2%
Auction Fraud: 12.9%
Credit Card Theft: 7.6%
Miscellaneous Fraud: 6.4%
Computer Crimes: 4.9%
Overpayment Fraud: 4.2%
Advanced Fee Fraud: 3.8%
SPAM: 3.4%
Illegal Business: 2.4%

The majority of the monetary loss ranged from $1,000 to $4,999 and lower. Only 9.9 percent of the complaints resulted in losses above $10,000. The top dollar complaint, according to the report, was $245,000, while the reported loss exceeded $26 million.

Having one’s identity stolen can be a painful reminder that a person must take all precautions to ensure their Social Security Number and financial information is secretly guarded at all times. While online business can be convenient, consumers should take special care to make sure they protect their interests. And victims should consider consulting with a Great Neck identity theft lawyer if they wish to be reimbursed or seek payment for losses.
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Provisions of the Credit Card Act of 2009 have been fully implemented and are meant to offer added protection to consumers by outlawing some of the most abusive practices of credit card companies.

Those dealing with CARD Act violations in Great Neck or collection agency harassment in New York City should speak to a qualified New York debtor rights attorney. Collection companies in particular have a long history of violating the law in an effort to collect a debt.And not all cards or credit accounts are being treated equally.

U.S. News reports on the case of a business customer who has $41,000 worth of cash advances at 20 percent interest and $14,000 in purchases at 9 percent. His bank refused to allow him to pay off the higher-interest amount first, something mandated by the new credit card regulations. However, the regulations only apply to personal accounts, not business accounts.

In some cases, companies are even accused of pushing such “professional accounts” onto unsuspecting consumers. Some credit card companies, including Bank of America and Capital One, have applied some or all of the CARD Act protections to business accounts. Others, including Chase and Citibank, have not done so, according to a recent study published by Card Hub.

Protections afforded by the CARD Act include:

-Limited interest rate hikes on existing balances: 45-days’ notice required for change of terms.

-Limited Universal Default: This is the practice of raising your interest rate based on your payment history with other creditors. It can now only be done with new balances after a 45-day written notice.

-Opt Out Rights: Consumers can reject certain changes in terms. They can agree to close the account and are given up to 5 years to pay off the balance.

-Limited credit for young adults: Companies are banned from issuing cards to anyone under 21 unless they have an adult co-signer or have proof of income. Credit card companies must also stay 1,000 feet from college campuses if they are offering free gifts to entice students to sign up.

-More time to pay monthly bills: At least 21 days.

-Clearer due dates and times: Payments due on weekends or holidays are no longer subject to late fees.

-Limits on over-limit fees: Consumers must opt-in for such fees and they cannot exceed the amount of the overage. Thus a $20 overage cannot result in more than a $20 late fee.

-No double-billing cycles: This practice hurt people who paid off their bills in full every month, as the companies went back to the previous month’s balance when figuring interest.

-Subprime credit: Setup fees cannot eat up more than 25 percent of available credit.

-Minimum payment: Companies must disclose consequences of only making minimum payments.

-Late fee restrictions: Fees are capped at $25 but can be higher if user is late more than once in a six-month period.
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Home prices in the United States may fall more than 10 percent again this year, leaving more homeowners facing or contemplating foreclosure in Queens and throughout the New York City area.

Our Queens foreclosure defense lawyers understand the challenges facing many New York City families. Job loss, wage stagnation and high debt levels can make it tough enough to make ends meet. Now, falling housing prices can leave homeowners upside down on their mortgages — owing far more on a first and/or second mortgage than their home is worth.Discussing your options with an attorney is the best course of action to protect your families current and future financial well-being. Strategic default, mortgage-loan modification, short sale and foreclosure are all among the options. Each has benefits and risks that need to be weighed against what is in the best interest of the homeowner. Some have pitfalls a homeowner may not have considered. For instance, a short sale or foreclosure may leave a homeowner vulnerable to a deficiency judgment for five years; a bank could seek to collect the difference between what a property brought at sale and what was owed on the mortgage. When it comes to loan modifications, there is little evidence of homeowners being treated fairly. In fact, banks have approved temporarily modifications in some cases, only to later reject a permanent modification and use the resulting arrears as reason to foreclose on your home.

Bloomberg News reports all of the distressed real estate can have a drastic impact on a neighborhood’s overall home values, even as the economy improves.

“Distressed prices appear to have stabilized while non-distressed prices not only continue to fall, but have picked up their rates of decline,” analysts said. Home prices nationwide are down 32 percent since the July 2006 peek. The large supply of bank-owned properties, and issues with home-loan financing will continue to act as a drag on the market.

For those who have weathered the economic storm, the resulting drag an underwater property can have on their financial future may last for decades. We encourage homeowners to be proactive in seeking a solution, instead of waiting until they are out of time, out of money and out of options.
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