Consumer Law – Attorneys Protect Your Rights From Bad Business Practices
If you are breathing, you probably have had cause for a consumer complaint.
Have you received annoying robocalls from telemarketers? Or been charged overdraft fees by your bank when you “knew” that your direct deposit paycheck had been deposited? Did you shop at Target during the holidays in 2013?
Have debt collectors harassed you by phone after you have already satisfied outstanding debts or filed bankruptcy?
If so, your legal rights may have been violated, according to laws covering consumers for fair debt collection, fair credit reporting, unfair and deceptive trade practices, data breach, and truth in lending. You may have a claim against the company, potentially entitling you to compensation.
Consumer Law – You Have More Rights Than You Think
As a consumer, when you purchase a product or service you are entitled to certain rights, many of which are guaranteed by federal and state laws. For example, you have protections against false or misleading claims in advertising and labeling. You have rights to prevent debt collectors from harassing you, to keep telemarketers from incessantly calling your phone, and to ensure that lenders charge you a reasonable interest rate.
Yet, some companies routinely violate these rights, often pushing the envelope as far as they can – including banks, credit card companies, lending institutions, and telecommunications companies.
Consumers are fighting back. Thousands have hired consumer lawyers to help them obtain compensation for harms suffered and justice they deserve.
Robocalls That Violate Consumer Protection Laws
Let’s look at an example of a violation most of us have experienced – the robocall. This type of telemarketing nuisance is a practice many businesses use to promote their products or services. They employ automatic dialing systems, artificial or prerecorded voice messages, SMS text messages, and fax machines to spread their sales pitches as far as they can reach. Consumers are protected from these calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). It states that if you don’t give express written consent to receive the phone call or fax, and it is made to you using an autodialer, or if you have registered your phone numbers on the Do Not Call registry, the caller is in violation of the TCPA, and you may have a legal claim. Yet some companies are relentless, and legal claims against them have skyrocketed, increasing three- to fourfold over the past five years.
Consumers who receive telemarketing calls, unsolicited faxes, pre-recorded and/or automated calls to their cell phones or landlines, may file a lawsuit against the telemarketer or debt collector for violation of the TCPA.
You May be Entitled to $1,500 Per Robocall
If the telemarketer is found to be in violation of the TCPA, you can potentially recover:
- Up to $500 for each violation of the Do-Not-Call registry
- Up to $500 per phone call that violates the TCPA
- Up to $1,500 per phone call if you are able to show that the TCPA was knowingly and willfully violated
Consumer Rights Lawyers Fight to Protect You
Consumer complaints and legal action against companies who violate consumers are on the rise. One of our consumer law attorneys, Gary Jackson, notes that even though consumer complaints have exploded in North Carolina, there are few consumer lawyers in our state. At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we have several lawyers who are prepared to go to battle for consumers to fight overreaching corporate law breakers. Gary, for example, has handled consumer law cases through both class actions and individual claims. Some of the claims he has handled include data breach, telecommunications, debt collection, credit reporting, and claims against mortgage lenders and other financial institutions.
Gary was the founding Chair of the Consumer Area of Practice section for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ). NCAJ is an organization of legal professionals dedicated to protecting people’s rights through community, education, and advocacy. Gary and several attorneys with our firm are members of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) – a national organization of attorneys who represent consumers victimized by fraudulent, abusive, and predatory business practices.
Consumer Law Case Studies
Barras vs BB&T
In Barras vs BB&T, plaintiff alleged that BB&T manipulated debits and credits to customer’s accounts in order to maximize the number of overdraft fees. For example, if an account holder had an available balance of $100 and incurred charges of $30, $5, $55, $10, and $50 in that order, the account holder had sufficient funds to cover all but the last debit. However, the bank would process the debits as if they occurred as $55, $50, $30, $10 and $5, which would result in four $35 overdraft fees totaling $140 instead of one overdraft fee totaling $35. Additionally the bank also processed debits before credits, further maximizing overdraft fees. For example, if an account holder had a zero balance, and received a payroll check via direct deposit on Friday at 12:01 a.m., BB&T would not account for the payroll check until after it processed payments against the account, resulting in overdraft charges which would not be incurred had the payroll check been processed first.
Norman vs J.P. Morgan Chase
In Norman vs J.P. Morgan Chase, a federal court ordered J.P. Morgan Chase to pay $100 million to settle a nationwide class action lawsuit with credit card customers. These customers accused the bank of improperly trying to generate higher fees by boosting their monthly minimum payments from 2% to 5%. Cardholders alleged that J.P. Morgan Chase had enticed them to transfer loan balances from other cards to a Chase card, where their debt would be consolidated into fixed-rate loans. Once consolidated, the bank later increased minimum payments to force them to either accept higher rates to preserve a lower monthly payment, or to cause late payments that would trigger new fees or penalty interest rates.
Johnson vs Sprint
In Johnson vs Sprint, customers alleged that Sprint charged roaming fees that should not have applied. Sprint customers who were enrolled in the company’s “Fair & Flexible” phone plan brought a class action lawsuit against the company for charging roaming fees in areas where the company claimed roaming fees did not apply.
Knox vs Target
In Knox vs Target, Target was ordered to pay consumers $18.5 million for failing to secure and safeguard its customers’ personal financial data, including credit and debit card information, PIN numbers, and personal information, including names, mailing addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses. In December 2013, it was reported that data thieves had stolen from Target personal financial information of up to 70 million customers who made purchases from November 27, 2013, to December 15, 2013.
Spinelli vs Capital One
In Spinelli vs Capital One, the company was accused of marketing a “Payment Protection Plan” to its credit card holders. That plan, for a fee, purported to cover payments in the event the consumer became unemployed or otherwise suffered income loss. The individuals Capital One targeted were unemployed or retired. The lawsuit stated that this program was not adequately disclosed to the customer before enrolling in Payment Protection, and the process for obtaining benefits under Payment Protection was made so difficult by Capital One that the product was “essentially worthless.”
The court certified the class and ultimately approved a settlement, whereby the defendants agreed to fund approved claims for a maximum amount of approximately $250 million.
Spinozzi vs Lending Tree
In Spinozzi vs Lending Tree, the company was accused of unlawfully selling or disclosing to unauthorized third parties, private personal information including Social Security numbers, income and employment information, names, addresses, email addresses, and/or phone numbers. Plaintiff alleged that when Lending Tree learned of the breach, they did not immediately notify him. When he was finally notified, Lending Tree put the onus squarely on him to “monitor” and repair his own credit if damaged by the breach. Many Lending Tree customers’ credit scores were harmed. This lead to higher credit card interest rates, and resulted in individuals getting rejected for loans. Plaintiff alleged that Lending Tree’s impropriety violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Lending Tree’s contract, which stated that it “will not share information with other lenders not disclosed to you.” It also disclosed that “only . . . authorized third-party service providers are permitted to access personal information, and they may do so only for permitted business functions.”
Rose vs SLM Financial
In Rose vs SLM Financial, plaintiff, on behalf of a class, asserted that interest rates, fees, commissions, and yield-spread premiums that had been disclosed during refinancing of home mortgage loans were not the actual figures disclosed at closing. Plaintiff claimed SLM Financial engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of contract. The case was resolved on an individual basis for a confidential amount.
Class Actions Against H&R Block and Liberty Tax Services
In 2012, multi-state class actions were filed separately against tax preparers, H&R Block and Liberty Tax Services. Plaintiffs alleged that the companies aggressively marketed, facilitated, and made their Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) at exorbitant triple-digit interest rates to the working poor and minorities. RALs are short-term loans or credit that are repaid directly from the consumer’s IRS tax refund. The lawsuit states that finance charges often exceeded 100% APR, effectively benefitting the tax preparation businesses and the banks that secure the loans, and harming the consumer.
The Department of the Treasury had determined that RAL usage was highly concentrated in poor and minority communities, specifically those who received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a federal anti-poverty program designed to boost low-wage workers out of poverty, while encouraging work. EITC claimants comprised 64% of RAL customers at the time the lawsuit was filed.
The court approved a settlement of the Liberty class in the amount of $5.3 million, whereby 50,587 checks were sent to claimants.
The cases against H&R Block were stayed pending individual arbitrations, based upon the H&R Block contracts, which prohibited both class actions and individual lawsuits. Because of the financial impracticability of pursuing individual claims in arbitration for such small sums, that case was concluded without any recovery by the customers.
* Cases handled prior to joining the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.