Foreclosure Fraud Case Settled at the Florida Supreme Court


In a matter of “great public importance” that has gone largely ignored this week, the high-profile foreclosure fraud case of Roman Pino versus The Bank of New York has been settled.  According to the Florida Supreme Court, the matter was dismissed upon Pino’s “Notice –Dismiss (Voluntary Stipulation)” on July 25th.

The opportunity for a precedent setting opinion for attorney Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents, must mean outright success for Pino. 

Although details of the settlement were not provided in the brief stipulation before the high court, one can only speculate whether Pino received a mortgage modification, principal reduction, right to short-sale, waiver of deficiency balance, or his home free and clear. 

One thing is clear, though.  Any settlement agreement between the parties would contain a confidentiality agreement.

Neither Ice, nor Enrique Nieves – Pino’s attorney of record – were available for comment despite several messages left at Ice Legal and on their cell phone voicemail.

An appeals court in February requested that the Florida Supreme Court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of “great public importance.” The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner had requested such a review.

“We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents,” the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.

Had the matter been adjudicated on its merits and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of foreclosure cases could have been impacted as allegations of document fraud and robo-signing run rampant throughout the nation.

According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.

In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino’s mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.

Pino retained Ice, who in moving to dismiss the complaint, argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.

Attorneys from the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment “which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed,” the appeals court wrote.

Stern’s now defunct law firm is one of several foreclosure mills throughout Florida that are under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Just as Pino’s attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the Bank of New York dismissed its foreclosure action.  Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.

In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state’s highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino’s claim of fraud.

“I’m not surprised at a settlement of this matter considering the allegations of forged or fraudulent documents and the risk of substantial loss to the bank,” said Carlos J. Reyes, of the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “As a foreclosure defense attorney, my preference would have been for a written opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, but the client is the ultimate decision maker in any settlement discussions.”

Rolladen Targeted by Attorney General for Deceptive Practices


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed suit in the Broward County Circuit Court against Hallandale based hurricane shutter company Rolladen, Inc. and its owner, Robert Hoffman, alleging deceptive and unfair trade practices. 

Rolladen and Hoffman have marketed and sold hurricane shutters and impact windows to Florida consumers for years.  According to the suit, the company allegedly required substantial upfront deposits for shutters or windows and then failed to install them.

According to the Attorney General’s Office investigation that started in March, Rolladen is alleged to have received more than $600,000 in consumer deposits for hurricane shutters or impact windows that it failed to deliver.

“As Floridians safeguard their homes against hurricanes, they deserve the assurance of knowing that they are doing business with fair and honest companies,” said Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General.  “My office will continue to investigate deceptive business practices and protect all of Florida’s consumers.”

According to the suit, Rolladen required customers to make an upfront payment of between 40 percent and 80 percent of the contracted price for hurricane shutters.  The company then promised delivery and installation within six to 12 weeks of the contract date.  In many instances, Rolladen failed to deliver.

Bondi’s lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting Rolladen from the marketing or sale of shutters and windows until installations can be completed in accordance with Florida contractor requirements.

The lawsuit also seeks an immediate freeze of all company assets to maximize refunds for consumers.

In addition to the lawsuit, Hoffman was arrested by the Broward Sheriff’s Office last week on charges of running an organized scheme to defraud and for unlicensed contracting.

In what has been forecast as a busy hurricane season, be sure to conduct your “due diligence” before hiring a hurricane shutter contractor.

  • Confirm the contractor has a current state contractor’s license. Go to http://www.myfloridalicense.com to verify a license.
  • Ask who will be doing the actual installation and confirm that the installer is also licensed.
  • Ask for and check references, and investigate the contractor with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).
  • Know what kind of protection you are purchasing. Some counties may have specific standards for storm shutters, so be sure to inquire in advance whether your shutters meet the applicable standards and retain copies of the specifications for insurance purposes.
  • Know that “hurricane film” is not approved for residential use in Florida.
  • Florida requires a building permit for installation of shutters and most windows and doors. Be sure your contractor is obtaining a permit for the installation.
  • Make certain that all materials and supplies, permit fees, and installation costs are included in the price quoted in the written contract.
  • Ask for a specific installation deadline and request the contractor to include the deadline in the contract.
  • Beware if the contractor asks for payment in full before the work is completed.
  • Contractors often require a deposit, but if you pay more than 10 percent of the contract price, the contractor must apply for a permit within 30 days and start work within 90 days of the issuance of the required permit(s).

If you are the victim of Rolladen, Inc. or any other contractor, please contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 1-8669-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or online at http://www.myfloridalegal.com.

Broward Chief Judge Vic Tobin Quits – Joins Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson


In a move that is sure to stun the legal community, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Victor Tobin  has notified Governor Rick Scott of his intent to resign as a Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit effective June 30, 2011.

In an after-hours e-mail sent to all judges, judicial assistants, and the court administrator, Judge Tobin stated:

Late this afternoon, I notified Governor Scott that I would be resigning as a Circuit Court Judge effective June 30, 2011. Effective July 1,2011, I will return to private practice with the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson. I wish to express my sincere thanks to each judge for permitting me the honor of being your Chief Judge during the last four years. I appreciate the confidence you placed in me.

Vic Tobin

On March 25th, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced a settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson is one of the largest foreclosure firms in Florida.

The settlement is a first of its kind and stems from an investigation into the alleged deceptive practices of Florida foreclosure mills. It calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business. $1 million of that payment will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program.

The Foreclosure Grant Program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout the state that are specifically devoted to the representation of low-income Floridians facing foreclosure.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida has led the nation with an investigation into law firms allegedly engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation with the Florida Attorney General.

Although a settlement is being negotiated with other alleged foreclosure mills, the investigation into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

Hiring Judge Vic Tobin seems to be another move in the right direction.

Miramar Based JLF University Sued for Fraudulent Practices


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced on Tuesday that her office has sued JLF University School of Medicine and its affiliated entities for defrauding medical and nursing students.

Students were promised that they would eligible for licensure in Florida.  Following graduation, students learned they would not be eligible for licensure as the JLF University medical and nursing programs were not accredited or approved by any entity. 

JLF University School of Medicine is based in Haiti with a local office in Miramar.  Their local and Washington state phone numbers have been disconnected with no forwarding information.

Named after its founder, Joseph LaFortune, the “University” offered online courses for their non-accredited medical and nursing schools.  Students enrolled in the nursing program were required to pay anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 for the year-long program and several weeks of clinical practice in Jamaica.

When students demanded refunds, Mr. LaFortune allegedly offered them an opportunity to “transfer” to Green Cross School of Nursing for an additional payment of $7,000.  Owned by LaFortune’s wife, Aline, graduates of Green Cross are eligible to be licensed by the Florida Board of Nursing. 

“Defrauding hardworking students who are aspiring to become nurses or doctors is appalling,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I am committed to holding schools accountable, and misrepresentation of credentials, which robs students of time and money, will not be tolerated.”

The lawsuit was filed in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County in Fort Lauderdale.  It seeks an order enjoining the school from misrepresenting its qualifications and programs, requiring restitution for the students, and imposing civil penalties for alleged violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

For more information or to file a complaint on JLF University, please visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-No-Scam or (888) 966-7226.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit www.williamlewis.us.

Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

A Slap on the Wrist for Mortgage Servicers


While negotiations continue between mortgage servicers and the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group, enforcement action has been taken by the Office of the Comptroller (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), and the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) against 14 U.S. bank and two third-party mortgage servicers.

Amid allegations of unsafe and unsound practices in the processing of foreclosures, enforcement action has been taken against bank servicers: Ally Financial, Aurora Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, Citigroup, EverBank, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife Bank, OneWest Bank, PNC, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo and third-party servicers: Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), and MERSCORP also known as Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS).

“These comprehensive enforcement actions, coordinated among the federal banking regulators, require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations,” said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. “These reforms will not only fix the problems we found in foreclosure processing, but will also correct failures in governance and the loan modification process and address financial harm to borrowers. Our enforcement actions are intended to fix what is broken, identify and compensate borrowers who suffered financial harm, and ensure a fair and orderly mortgage servicing process going forward.”

As part of the enforcement action by the OCC, OTS and FRB, servicers must significantly improve residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.  This includes borrower communication and “dual-tracking,” which will prohibit foreclosure during the loan modification process. 

Mortgage servicers are also required to promptly correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing that were identified by examiners in reviews conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Each mortgage servicer must, among other things, submit plans acceptable to the FRB that:

►Strengthen coordination of communications with borrowers by providing them with the name of the person who is their primary point of contact at the servicer;

►Ensure that foreclosures are not pursued once a mortgage modification has been approved, unless repayments under the modified loan are not made;

►Establish robust controls and oversight over the activities of third-party vendors that provide residential mortgage loan servicing, loss mitigation, or foreclosure-related support, including local counsel in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings;

►Provide remediation to borrowers who have suffered financial injury as a result of wrongful foreclosures or other deficiencies identified in their review of the foreclosure process; and

►Strengthen their programs to ensure compliance with state and federal laws regarding mortgage servicing and the processing of foreclosures.

“This settlement provides that if you’re negotiating or in the midst of a trial modification, a lender is prohibited from seizing the property,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Defense attorneys now have a basis to go forward to try and save a property in litigation with the additional argument that failing to modify or settle is a breach of the lender settlement with federal regulators.”

The enforcement action is based upon an OCC, OTS and FRB review of foreclosure practices that found mortgage servicers “failed to conform to state legal requirements.”  The review stopped short at robo-signing and other forms of document fraud.  It did not investigate the illegal imposition of fees, the failure to comply with loan modification requirements or other alleged servicer abuses.  In fact, federal regulators only reviewed a small sample of loan files containing key information on foreclosure practices.

Many believe that the settlement by federal regulators will undermine the investigation of foreclosure fraud by the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group.  Initially, there were hopes of a “global settlement” covering state and federal regulators, but the agencies, led by the OCC, broke off and delivered their own enforcement action.  

While federal regulators and the various state attorneys general maintain this enforcement action will not affect the AG probe or ongoing negotiations, mortgage servicers can now report they have been punished for alleged violations of law.  Although an independent review is determining damages, they may reject any additional settlement since they have already been punished by their regulators.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Foreclosure Mill Settles With Florida Attorney General


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced today a first-of-its-kind settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm – the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson – for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida.  

This settlement calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business and is the first stemming from numerous investigations into Florida foreclosure law firms.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida led the nation in the investigation of law firms and foreclosure mills engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation since its inception.

Half of the $2 million payment from Marshall Watson’s law firm to the Attorney General’s Office will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program. This grant program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout Florida specifically devoted to the representation of low-income individuals facing foreclosure actions.

The investigation of the Florida Attorney General into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

To access the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, please click here: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/SKNS-8FAHED/$file/WatsonAVC.pdf

David J. Stern Foreclosure Mill Out-of-Business


Amid civil and criminal investigations into fraudulent documents filed in Florida courts, the once powerful foreclosure attorney, David J. Stern, is out of business.

DJSP Enterprises, the publicly traded firm that handled Stern’s back-office paperwork, filed a disclosure today with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the Law Offices of David J. Stern would be closing on March 31, 2011.

Before the Florida Attorney General’s Office announced an investigation into the method in which Stern and DJSP Enterprises handled foreclosure matters, they had more than 1,200 employees.  Over the last sixty days, that number has dwindled to less than 50.

The law firm’s major customers, including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, began pulling their cases from the firm last fall.   Stern’s law firm handled tens of thousands of foreclosure cases around Florida.

It was widely reported last month that Stern was trying to sell some luxury assets, including several homes and a yacht, worth millions of dollars. He resigned as chief executive of Plantation, Florida-based DJSP Enterprises in November.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Court’s stance on foreclosure case could have big impact


A Palm Beach county homeowner fighting alleged foreclosure fraud has ended up before the Florida Supreme Court.

An appeals court last week requested that the high court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of “great public importance.” The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner requested such a review.

“We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents,” the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.

Should the case be accepted by the Florida Supreme Court and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of cases could be impacted as allegations of document fraud run rampant throughout the state.

According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.

In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino’s mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.

Pino retained Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents. In moving to dismiss the complaint, Pino’s attorney argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.

Attorneys from the law offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment “which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed,” the appeals court wrote.

Stern’s firm is one of four foreclosure mills under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. In addition to Stern, the Florida Default Law Group, the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A. and Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, have all denied wrong doing.

Just as Pino’s attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the bank dismissed its foreclosure action. Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.

In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state’s highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino’s claim of fraud.

“In recognizing the procedural issue at hand, the District Court of Appeal is inherently signaling that forged or fraudulent documents have been introduced into foreclosure cases,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “The Pino case illustrates an issue where banks have dismissed foreclosures when problematic documents have been discovered only to be refiled later with different documents.”

To learn more about the mortgage foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, please visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, as reported in the Highlands Today, a Media General Group publication: http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/feb/06/courts-stance-on-foreclosure-case-could-have-big-i/

Foreclosure fraud: AG releases critical report


One day after a reported settlement between Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial with attorneys general across the U.S. in the foreclosure epidemic, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi released a highly critical presentation detailing legal issues surrounding the crisis.

The presentation, titled “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” was provided by the attorney general’s economic crimes division during an early December conference of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers as an overview and was not representative of any specific misconduct.

The comprehensive presentation was compiled in exploration of foreclosure malpractice and condemns banks, mortgage servicers, and law firms for contributing to the crisis by cutting corners.

Although not aimed at a specific case, four of Florida’s largest foreclosure law firms are under investigation by the state. The Florida Default Law Group, the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A.; the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A.; and Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, all have denied wrong doing.

Sweeping evidence of mortgage fraud was outlined in the 98-page presentation complete with copies of alleged forged signatures, false notarizations, bogus witnesses and improper mortgage assignments. Examples of alleged fraud and missteps made during the securitization process by major financial institutions when they wrote, packaged, and sold mortgages during the boom years was also provided.

The “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases” presentation meticulously documents cases of questionable signatures, notarizations that could not have occurred when claimed due to expired notary commissions and foreclosures filed by banks or law firms that lacked legal standing to foreclose on a particular property.

The presentation also focused largely on assignments of mortgage, a legal document that transfers ownership of mortgages from one bank to another. Mortgage assignments became an issue after the real estate boom, when mortgages were sold and resold, packaged into securitized trusts and otherwise transferred in a fashion that made tracking difficult.

“The Attorney General’s Office has a long standing commitment to fighting mortgage fraud and is dedicated to continuing this critical effort,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Since 2008, our office has started over 150 formal mortgage fraud investigations, 70 which remain active, 21 that resulted in civil lawsuits, and over 50 companies in review.”

As the foreclosure crisis mounted, banks and law firms appointed people to create assignments, of which tens of thousands were executed by robo-signers who failed to properly verify the claims in which they were swearing upon.

In one example, the signature of an individual named Linda Green appears – in varying styles – on hundreds of thousands of mortgage documents from dozens of banks and mortgage companies.

In another example, the signature of Scott Anderson, an employee of West Palm Beach-based Ocwen Financial Corp., appears in four styles on mortgage assignments.

Paul Koches, executive vice president of Ocwen, has acknowledged that the signatures were not all Anderson’s, “but that doesn’t mean they were forged,” he said. “Certain employees were given authorization to sign for Anderson on mortgage assignments.” Once the robo-signing crisis was revealed, Ocwen stopped allowing other employees to sign for Anderson.

“For the sake of expediency, no one bothered to verify or otherwise validate these assignments and affidavits prior to signing them,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “In some cases, courts have found that banks did not have standing to foreclose on the property sued upon.”

To learn more about the mortgage foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226). To review the scathing 98-page presentation, visit: http://scr.bi/gbSIsO

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/jan/09/foreclosure-fraud-ag-releases-critical-report/

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

Beware of Fake Debt Collectors – FDCPA May Not Protect You


Over the last several decades, America has truly transitioned into a debtor society. Despite tough economic times, consumers are more likely to borrow than they are to delay when making a purchase. With consumers having financial obligations to multiple institutions, keeping accurate records and documentation can become a challenge. Opportunistic con artists posing as “fake” debt collectors recognize this as an area of vulnerability and are more than willing to use it to their advantage.

These fake debt collectors speak English with a foreign accent and call themselves “Affidavit Consolidation Services,” Criminal Bureau of Identity,” “U.S. National Bank,” “US Justice Department/Payday Loan Division,” “Federal Investigation Bureau,” “United Legal Processing” and other phony names. They refuse to disclose real names and addresses and are believed to be operating from homes, automobiles, and foreign countries such as India. As these scammers have kept themselves well hidden, law enforcement authorities have been unsuccessful in locating or shutting them down.

Fake debt collectors typically pose as lawyers, law enforcement officers, investigators, and bankers while attempting to collect on phony debt. They threaten consumers with immediate arrest for “bank fraud” or other crimes unless funds are wired immediately. They scare and confuse consumers by using meaningless legal phrases such as “We are downloading warrants against you” or “We are filing an affidavit against you.” Consumers that do not immediately fall for the scam are warned, “Only God can help you now.”

Fake debt collectors almost always call consumers at work – sometimes several times a day – advising their supervisors, “Your employee has committed bank fraud and is about to be arrested.” Such threats have been unsettling to consumers and employers. Because the scammers make a special point of calling at work, employers should realize that their employee is an innocent victim of a criminal enterprise and cannot stop the calls voluntarily.

“My office works to protect consumers from fraudulent activities by seeking to stop deceptive practices and resolving consumer complaints,” stated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. “However, a consumer’s best defense is to be aware of the scam so all demands for money can be resisted and personal identification information is not misused.”

In general:

A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, e-mail, telephone, telegram or fax. A collector may not contact you with such frequency that can be considered harassing. A debt collector may not contact you at work if they know your employer disapproves nor may they contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

A debt collector is required to send written notice within five days of first contact advising the amount due. The notice must also specify the name of the creditor and what action to take if you wish to dispute the debt.

You may stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter ceasing them from communication. Once the agency receives it, they may not make further contact except to advise there will be no further contact or to notify you of a specific action contemplated by the creditor.

A debt collector may not harass or abuse a consumer. A collector may not use threats of violence against a person, property or reputation; use obscene or profane language; advertise the debt; or repeatedly make calls with the intent to harass or abuse the person at the called number.

A debt collector may not use false statements, such as implying they are attorneys; that you have committed a crime; that they operate or work for a credit reporting agency; misrepresent the amount of a debt; or indicate that papers mailed are legal forms when they are not.

A debt collector may not threaten arrest or that they will seize property or garnish wages unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so; or that a lawsuit will be filed when they have no legal right to file or do not intend to file such a suit.

If you are being harassed by a debt collector – real or fake – file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by calling (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226) or by visiting their website at www.myfloridalegal.com. The Federal Trade Commission also offers a consumer collection guide detailing your rights at www.ftc.gov.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/jun/27/lc-beware-of-fake-debt-collectors/

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.