Archive for the ‘Identity Theft Protection’ Category

Calls for an Unpaid Medical Debt by CMRE, but Physician’s Office Said No Outstanding Bills

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Question: I started receiving calls on an unpaid medical debt. The caller ID shows CMRE, which I found online as a debt collection agency in California that collects medical bills for hospitals and physicians. I did not receive anything in writing from them and when I get one of these calls, they immediately ask for my SSN, then hang up when I refused. I have now learned that CMRE shows on my credit report for a few hundred dollars. What can I do to get the calls to stop and the item off my credit, as I have perfect credit? Can I ever get my good credit restored?

My response:
CMRE is a large debt collection agency that collects unpaid medical bills, either because the bill was not covered by the patient’s insurance, the unpaid insurance co-pay, or the patient had no insurance coverage and did not qualify for indigent care. I have dealt with this debt collection agency’s collection efforts against my clients and sometimes had to defend my clients in court from a debt collection lawsuit filed by CMRE’s attorneys.

As a consumer, never reveal your SSN, DOB, or DLN to anyone who calls you, not even to your own bank or broker, because there is too much identity theft and you don’t want to add yourself as another victim of a phone scam. Caller ID’s are convenient, but they do not guarantee the identity of the caller, because identity thieves and other hackers know how to spoof a caller ID. Even hackers may use a caller ID of the police, sheriff, IRS or FBI. The agencies will not call you and ask for your SSN or other information. If you are called and asked to give out your personal numbers, you should check independently that this is a representative of the company that you are doing business with, such as by hanging up, then calling their legitimate number and getting to the extension of the representative.

Start by sending a letter by U.S. Certified Mail to both the physician’s office and CMRE, which address should appear on your credit report. Your letter should be in the form of my free sample letter #1.1, Notice of Dispute and Request for Verification, which I’d send to the debt collection agency. The CMRE letter should state that you never received anything in writing from them.

Your Certified letter to the physician’s office should confirm the conversation that you had with the office manager or billing assistant that they saw no outstanding bills under your name and add a sentence asking that they send you a copy of the bill that they assigned to CMRE. Also, ask them why the bill was not submitted to your insurance company or what the status of the insurance payment is. Be sure to keep a photocopy of the signed letters.

Your dispute letters serve several purposes, including forcing CMRE to indicate the account is disputed with the credit reporting agencies, which should exclude the account from affecting your credit scores. If CMRE does not verify the debt in writing, then they should also stop reporting the account to the credit reporting agencies, or be at risk for violating your rights as a consumer under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Such violations can result in damages and your attorney’s fees being awarded, if you prevail in court.

Your letters also make it clear that their failure to send you the letter required by law does not mean that you will wait for it to arrive some day and not proactively document the situation to protect your rights. In my years of dealing with debt collection agencies, if they fail to provide you with documentation promptly, either they are trying to get you to pay money on an account where there is a problem or their records are so badly screwed up that you will not know if they do anything correctly. Either way, the consumer should not tolerate their credit being harmed and annoying phone calls. Putting your position in writing, with the use of my sample letters, will let you sleep better now that you have firmly put the burden on them to respond in writing and provide you with written documentation.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Collection Call from Out Of The Blue for a Credit Card Not Paid In Five Years

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Question: Is there any chance that I can be prosecuted for not paying credit card from five years ago? I have been clean and on probation and received a call out of the blue that they have sued me for $2000. Help, I need to stay out of jail. They said they would not dismiss until I make a large down payment and sign an agreement for monthly payment until paid in full, but I cannot afford this.

My Response:
I am very suspicious when a consumer gets phone calls from collectors from out of the blue. If I read your question correctly, you have not heard from these people, never received any collection letters from them, and you were not served with the summons and complaint. Though you did not pay this debt in almost five years, there are those debt collection agencies which prey on consumers for old debt that are expired, because of the statute of limitations.

In California, a debt not paid in more than four years is almost always past the statute of limitations, provided that a debt collection lawsuit was not filed within the correct limitations period for the particular account. Thus, the filing of an untimely lawsuit or threatening to sue you for an expired debt also violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for harassment and misrepresentations. FDCPA violations can allow the consumer-victim to recover in court his or her actual damages, statutory damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

Since you have not received anything in writing from this collection agency, please advise this collector that you need something in writing and to send you the required initial letter, which contains the mini-Miranda statement, required by the FDCPA, for initial contacts of a consumer regarding collection of a debt. Verify that they have your correct mailing address. I do not believe that you should give them your cell phone number or email address, to protect your privacy, but you regular mailing address should be fine. You really don’t want them to contact you in too many ways, regular mail and regular phone calls at home are more than sufficient.

Assuming that they did file a debt collection lawsuit within the proper statute of limitations period, you need to get a copy of the lawsuit and understand your options. The first video of my website’s home page is “Understanding Your Options” when sued on a credit card debt. Please watch my video and a few of my blog postings, such as “Next Steps,” which explains what steps to take and the timing involved, so that you will understand the deadlines that are coming up for you. Please consult with a debt collection defense attorney to ensure that you have covered your bases.

The short answer to your question about going to jail for a probation violation is that our society does not have “debtors prisons.” We did away with that at the time we founded this Country. I would want to review the terms of your probation, but it is doubtful that missing payments on a debt or being sued for an unpaid debt would violate probation. Also, I would not tell the debt collection agent about your probation, as it is none of their business. If you discuss this, I can assure you that they will make all sorts of statement to belittle you. If they threaten you with trying to use this to get you in trouble criminally, that may also be a violation of the FDCPA.

Until you verify whether or not a debt collection lawsuit has been filed, I would ask for the documentation of this lawsuit, the debt collection letter, and check with the court’s online to see if you can determine if the documentation is genuine. Also, reviewing your own personal credit reports may help yield information about this debt collection agency and if there are outstanding judgments against you. I have a legal guide on Avvo.com that help people navigate case information that they can get for free or almost free online. Otherwise, you may need to take a trip to the local Superior Courthouse to ask of any civil cases have been filed against you.

When a debt collection agency calls out of the blue, be ready to ask for everything in writing and refuse to give in to their demands for your credit card number or banking information so that they can take your money over the phone. Until you have verified everything, you don’t know if the person on the phone is a scam debt collector or worse: an identity thief, who will take your credit card number to charge your credit to the max and your bank account information to clean out your account. Also, don’t provide this person with your SSN, DOB or DLN. All of these are private and should not be disclosed by phone from someone who happens to call you, even if they appear to know so much about a particular debt or other credit information about you.

A regular debt collection agent will understand and want to ensure that you get the information verified and in writing. A scam artist or identity thief wants you to give them the money now, right now, without anything in writing. Do not give into high-pressure tactics and risk becoming another victim of identity theft or bogus debt collection operations, collecting on time-barred debts.  Verify everything and consult with a lawyer. You could be waiving many rights by agreeing to pay on a time-barred debt from a high-pressure phone call.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Victim of Identity Theft Crime Has Default Judgment

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Question: I was the victim of identity theft. A credit card collection company is now suing me on one of those debts and has a judgment in my name. I had nothing to do with it. This was not mine! I’ve contacted the collection lawyers and told them that this was not my debt and that it was identity theft. They have sent me an affidavit of fraud to fill out and return, but I find it little confusing and I am not sure what I should do about this lawsuit or what to expect.

My response:
I need to see the document that they sent you, the file from the court case, and your identity theft papers, such as a police report and FTC Identity Theft Complaint. With an estimated 10,000 identity theft crime rings around the country, it is not surprising that there are so many victims of identity theft, both consumers and small businesses. Here’s a link to the crime story on NBCNews.com.

Many identity theft victims end up being sued on the unpaid debt and a percentage of those debt collection lawsuits end up as default judgments. A default judgment can appear on the victim’s credit report and can result in attempts to garnish the victim’s wages and levy their bank account for the judgment amount plus interest. In particular, because the theft was perpetrated using an address that was not the victim’s correct address, the summons and complaint might be served at that address, so that the victim would have no idea that a lawsuit was filed and being pursued in court.

I have successfully set aside default judgments for lack of proper service and also default judgments against victims of identity theft. Properly defending a debt collection lawsuit or setting aside an invalid default judgment requires promptly taking action in the court case and documenting those efforts, so that the judge or the collection lawyers don’t challenge based on the defendant doing nothing after learning of the lawsuit or default judgment. I have discussed this subject in several other blog postings. I also have a list of steps to take for identity theft victims on Avvo.com.

If you have a police report documenting the crime and this account, as one of the false accounts obtained, then you can expect that the default judgment will be set aside and the case dismissed against you. Perhaps the collection agency will try to pursue the identity thief, but more likely they will not have the resources to learn their identity and whereabouts. Also, if the company learned from you that this was identity theft and continued to prosecute the case against you, then you may have recourse for damages and attorney’s fees, under California law and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. I’d suggest you retain experienced counsel to represent you, to reduce your frustration and ensure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Identity Theft Victim Exploring Credit Protection Alerts

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Question: I am the victim of identity theft of a credit card that I had no idea was opened using my name and Social Security Number. I cannot believe how many hours I have spent trying to resolve this and it is still far from over. I found out about it when my wages were being garnished by the Sheriff, who was ordered to do it by the Superior Court of the State of California. A judgment was entered several years ago, but I had no idea and I was never served with the papers or even made aware of it by the debt collection lawyers who sued me. I cannot believe how much of a hassle this is, making many phone calls to rude debt collectors, who repeat the same mantra: You must pay your debts. I have and I do. What should I have done differently? Would I have been able to stop this, had I subscribed to Lifelock or another company that is supposed to warn me of changes to my credit and protect me?

My response:
You could probably have found this on to your credit and take protective measures yourself a long time ago. In Consumer Reports magazine, their January 2013 issue, page 13 advises consumers “Don’t get taken guarding your ID.” The article explains that American consumers spent $3.5 billion a year for identity theft products, but suggests that DIY measures are as effective, and can be done for free or very little. In comparison, a paid monitoring service runs from $120 to $300 per year and the marketing hype “can be deceptive” for these ID theft products. Also, be aware of the fine print warnings that come with such services.

First, as explained in the Consumer Reports’ article, this type of ID theft, “new account fraud,” is uncommon. Though I have represented a number of consumers who were the victim of new account fraud, the number is small compared with how many consumers I have represented on debts that they recall opening and charging.

Second, the article states that the credit monitoring is flawed in two key ways. One flaw is false warnings to the consumer, such as emails or text messages to the consumer more often than needed. The other flaw is that it can take too long to appear on your credit, such that a consumer would not be aware of it for weeks or months after the fact.

In my blog posting from a while back (Make Your New Year Bright), I suggested visiting www.annualcreditreport.com at the start of the new year and check their credit for free, then dispute errors found. I also have a legal guide on Avvo.com for victims of identity theft, which also included checking credit as an initial step and suggests a security freeze, if the consumer learns that their credit has been compromised. The article in Consumer Reports recommends a security freeze and going to www.annualcreditreport.com three times a year, and get only one of the three credit reports at each visit, such that you end up with a different free credit report with each visit, to cover you throughout the year, at intervals of four months. That’s a great idea and totally free, no subscription, though it does require keeping track and having reminders when to make a new request and which credit report to obtain from Experian, Equifax, or Trans Union.

Consumers Reports proposes one other alternative to high-priced subscription services: a monthly alert for $5 at www.myidalerts.com. At $60 per year, it is not an excessive price, and perhaps they have periodic sale prices or discount coupons for signing up for a long term, but for some people is still too expensive, given how low the risk of new account fraud.

Many creditors and financial institutions will be (if they are not already covered) required by the Federal Trade Commission to put into place protections to prevent identity theft “red flags,” in particular to spot suspicious activity and prevent escalation into a “costly episode.” Here’s the link to the proposed regulation, recently issued by the FTC: http://ftc.gov/opa/2012/11/redflags.shtm

The most important thing a consumer can do is to check their credit at least once a year and examine each credit report closely for errors and inquiries of their credit reports that they did not initiate or are unrelated to their legitimate creditors or debt collection agencies collecting on unpaid legitimate accounts, then complete the dispute process, preferably in writing.

The other thing that Consumer Reports did not mention in this article, but other articles suggest at www.ConsumerReports.org, is to be proactive in protecting your passwords and sensitive personal information from persons who should not have access to it. shred all papers with a cross cut or confetti shredder, and protect yourself from online and telephone scams. The consumerreports.org site has more information on this as does my friend, attorney Mari Frank’s web site: www.identitytheft.org.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler