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.

Food Stamp Eligibility in Florida


As of November, 43.6 million Americans, or more than 14 percent of the population, collected food stamps to purchase groceries as tough economic times continued. The number of recipients was up 0.9 percent from October, according to a recent report of the US Department of Agriculture. Compared to a year ago, the number of people receiving food stamps was up 14.2 percent.

Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the government’s anti-hunger initiative helping Americans maintain a nutritionally adequate diet. More than 75 percent of food stamp participants are in families with children, while nearly one-third are elderly or have disabilities.

The federal government pays the full cost of food stamp benefits and splits the cost of administering the program with the states, which independently operate SNAP. For the most part, food stamp eligibility rules and benefit levels are uniform across the nation.

Coming in at number three behind Texas and California, 2,994,413 people or 15.9 percent of Floridians are benefiting from food stamps, an increase of 3 percent over the prior year.

Most households received $20 to $24 per person per month. Signed into law in February 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily boosted food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent.

Following unemployment insurance, SNAP is the most responsive federal program providing assistance during economic downturns. Since the start of the recession, food stamp participation has increased by 12.2 million people – a jump of nearly 44 percent. Because of benefit increases that were part of the 2009 economic recovery legislation, SNAP delivered $4.3 billion in additional economic stimulus relief during fiscal year 2009.

Who Is eligible for the SNAP Program?

Unlike most benefit programs that are restricted to particular categories of people, SNAP is available to almost all households with low incomes. To qualify for food stamps, a household must meet three criteria:

•Its total monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, or roughly $1,980 (about $23,800 a year) for a three-person family in fiscal year 2010.

•Its net income, or income after deductions are applied for items such as high housing costs and child care, must be less than or equal to the poverty line.

•Its assets must fall below certain limits: households without an elderly member must have assets less than $2,000 while those with an elderly or disabled member must have assets not exceeding $3,000.

Some people are not eligible for food stamps regardless of income or need. Non-citizens without a qualified status and those convicted of drug trafficking are not eligible for food stamp benefits. Individuals who have broken SNAP rules on purpose or who are wanted on felony charges are also ineligible.

What are the Household Benefits?

SNAP households receive their benefits on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used only to purchase food. The average household receives approximately $133 a month (or $4 a day) for each household member.

The SNAP formula targets benefits according to need. Very poor households receive more food stamps than households closer to the poverty line since they need more assistance in maintaining an adequate diet.

Benefits are based on the “Thrifty Food Plan,” a low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet established by USDA. The benefit formula assumes that families will spend 30 percent of their net income on food. A family with no income receives the maximum $526 benefit amount, which usually covers the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan. In another example, a family of three with $600 in net monthly income would receive the maximum benefit minus 30 percent of its net income for a total of $346.

How do people apply?

In Florida, the Department of Children and Families is responsible for eligibility determination and case management of food stamps, temporary cash assistance and Medicaid assistance through the SNAP program. Visit the ACCESS Florida Program at www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/access, to determine eligibility.

Although a face-to-face interview may be required to document identity, eligibility, immigration status, household composition, income, resources, and deductable expenses, an initial online application can be processed at www.myflorida.com/accessflorida.

For those without Internet access, applications can be submitted at a Department of Children and Families ACCESS Florida Customer Service Center or any of its community partners.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, 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.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/feb/20/food-stamp-eligibility-in-florida/columns-welewisjr/

Managing Your Online Reputation


What is your good name and reputation in the community worth? Are you being represented correctly on the Internet through the Google, Yahoo, Ask, AOL or Bing search engines?

Not sure how you rate on the search engines? Go ahead and check the first 20 listings on Google. Depending on how common a name you have, the results are likely to produce links to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Naymz, Twitter, MySpace or other social networking accounts. You may also find some embarrassing details or skeletons from your past or something totally inaccurate.

More and more individuals are searching cyberspace and the online reputations of those seeking employment, a romantic interest, or customers for their business. While the Google, Yahoo, Ask, AOL and Bing search engines have become the de facto public record of modern time, reputation management consultants believe you have a right to control how your name is presented online.

Reputation management is not a unique concept since everyone from small business to Fortune 500 companies relies upon their reputation to protect and enhance their livelihood. Reputations can sway public opinion, have a positive or negative impact on a career or employment opportunity, a romantic interest, and wreck havoc upon businesses, whether newly established or decades old.

Online reputation management is a cross between forensic analysis, search engine optimization, and legal maneuvering. For those seeking to monitor, manipulate or correct their online reputation, a number of free or inexpensive tools are available:

Google Alerts sends keyword search results via e-mail for specific mentions in news, websites and blogs, videos, as well as group categories.

Google Blog Search is a Google beta search engine for blogs.

Technorati is the leading blog search engine indexing millions of blog posts in real time while also tracking their authority, influence and popularity.

BoardTracker monitors discussion boards and forum threads within specific categories and sends keyword search results via e-mail.

Naymz is a social network focused on reputation, personal branding, and identity verification. The basic version is free.

Yasni is a search engine dedicated to finding people on the web through publicly available information, including images, videos, social networking profiles and posts. The basic version is free.

BackType Blog Comments Monitoring indexes conversations from blogs, social networks and other social media. It also has an alert function that e-mails updates whenever a search term is mentioned in a comment.

BackTweets is a service by BackType that provides an engine to search for specific links mentioned on Twitter.

BlogPulse is a blog search engine with several complementary tools such as Trend Search and Conversion Tracker that analyzes data it collects.

Monitter is a real-time Twitter monitor for up to three keywords at a time.

TweetBeep provides hourly Twitter alerts via e-mail on specific keywords, people and links.

Twitter Search searches all Twitter activity for keywords, links or user activity in real time.

WhoLinksToMe is a link search tool tracking backlinks making them sortable by anchor text, origination, and target URL. Links can be imported from Google Webmaster Tools for enhanced analysis.

Having a plan in place to address negative feedback is important when dealing with online reputation management. By monitoring public perception you will be able to evaluate and act should your online reputation come under fire.

At the end of the day, all you have in the community is your good name and reputation. Do what you can to protect it.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, 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, 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/jan/30/managing-your-online-reputation/

Massive Internet fraud shut down by FTC


The Federal Trade Commission has taken legal action against a far-reaching Internet enterprise that allegedly made millions of dollars by luring consumers into “trial” memberships for bogus government-grant and money-making schemes, then repeatedly charged them monthly fees for services they never agreed upon.

According to the FTC’s complaint, “I Works” utilized websites touting the availability of government grants to pay personal expenses or to pitch various money-making programs. The websites offered “free” information at no-risk with a small shipping and handling fee. When consumers provided their billing information, I Works charged them hefty one-time fees of up to $129.95 and monthly recurring fees of $59.95 for the grant or money-making programs.

As a result of the I Works scam, hundreds of thousands of consumers disputed charges on their debit or credit cards. The number of charge-backs was so excessive that millions of dollars in fines were assessed and the company was blocked from accounts maintained by VISA and Mastercard. To keep the scam going, I Works tricked banks into giving them continued charging privileges by creating 51 shell companies with figurehead officers, and by providing them with phony “clean” versions of their websites.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that I Works offered consumers bogus money-making and government-grant opportunities. I Works claimed that the offers were “free” or “risk-free” and that only a small shipping and handling fee would be charged.

The FTC charged I Works with violating federal law by misrepresenting government grants were available for paying personal expenses, that consumers were likely to obtain grants by using the I Works program, that users of their money-making products would earn substantial income, and that their offers were free or risk-free. The complaint also alleged that I Works failed to disclose to consumers who pay the small shipping and handling fee that they would be enrolled in expensive plans that charge fees until cancelled and for charging consumers’ credit cards and bank accounts without their permission.

In addition, the FTC alleged that I Works posted deceptive positive reviews and used deceptive testimonials that misrepresented the benefits of their grant services. Finally, the FTC charged I Works with violating the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E by debiting consumers’ bank accounts without their signed written consent and without providing them with a copy of the written authorization.

The FTC complaint named 10 individuals, 10 corporations, and 51 shell companies as defendants. As alleged, the scam was orchestrated by Jeremy Johnson, the sole owner of I Works Inc. In addition to Johnson, Duane Fielding, Andy Johnson, Lloyd Johnston, Scott Leavitt, Scott Muir, Bryce Payne, Kevin Pilon, Ryan Riddle, and Terrason Spinks were named as defendants. Anthon Holdings Corp., Cloud Nine Marketing Inc., CPA Upsell Inc., Elite Debit Inc., Employee Plus Inc., Internet Economy Inc., Market Funding Solutions Inc., Network Agenda LLC, and Success Marketing Inc. were named as corporate defendants.

I Works gained access to the Visa and MasterCard systems through many entities. The banks included: Wells Fargo, HSBC Bank USA, First Regional Bank, Harris National Association, and Columbus Bank and Trust Company. Payment processors included First Data, ECHO, Global Payment Systems, Litle & Co., Moneris, Payment Tech, Trident, and Vital, as well as independent sales organizations, including CardFlex, RDK Inc., Merchant eSolutions, Pivotal Payments, PowerPay, and Swipe Merchant Solutions.

The 51 shell companies named in the complaint are: Big Bucks Pro, Blue Net Progress, Blue Streak Processing, Bolt Marketing, Bottom Dollar, doing business as BadCustomer.com, Bumble Marketing, Business First, Business Loan Success, Cold Bay Media, Costnet Discounts, CS Processing, Cutting Edge Processing, Diamond J. Media, Ebusiness First, Ebusiness Success, Ecom Success, Excess Net Success, Fiscal Fidelity, Fitness Processing, Funding Search Success, Funding Success, GG Processing, GGL Rewards, Highlight Marketing, Hooper Processing, Internet Business Source, Internet Fitness, Jet Processing, JRB Media, Lifestyles For Fitness, Mist Marketing, Money Harvest, Monroe Processing, Net Business Success, Net Commerce, Net Discounts, Net Fit Trends, Optimum Assistance, Power Processing, Premier Performance, Pro Internet Services, Razor Processing, Rebate Deals, Revive Marketing, Simcor Marketing, Summit Processing, The Net Success, Tranfirst, Tran Voyage, Unlimited Processing, and Xcel Processing.

“No consumer should be sucker-punched into making payments for products they don’t know about and don’t want,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

If you have been a victim of I Works, a complaint can be filed with the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/dec/26/massive-internet-fraud-shut-down-by-ftc/columns-welewisjr/

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.

Stop Annoying or Harassing Phone Calls


Are you receiving annoying or harassing phone calls from telemarketers or debt collectors? In these tough economic times, your telephone seems to ring more often. There are actions you can take to reduce the number of calls you receive. First, you must determine whether the caller is a telemarketer attempting to solicit a product or charity, or a debt collector attempting to collect a past due bill.

To stop most telemarketers from calling your home or cell phone, you must sign up through the Do Not Call Registry offered by the Federal Trade Commission. Registration can be made online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 from the number in which you seek to block.

The national Do Not Call Registry gives you an opportunity to restrict most telemarketing calls received on your home or cell number. Once you register, telemarketers covered by registry rules have up to 31 days to remove your phone number from their calling lists. Should the telemarketing calls continue, you have a right to file a complaint with the FTC.

The Federal Trade Commission says that “because of limitations in the jurisdiction of the FTC and FCC, calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls. However, if you ask a company with which you have an existing business relationship to place your number on its own do-not-call list, it must honor your request. You should keep a record of the date you make the request.”

Distinguished from the telemarketer, is the debt collector. If you owe a past-due bill, debt collectors have the right to call you – but not harass you. The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

There are many types of debts covered by the FDCPA. Personal, family, household debts, auto loans, medical bills, and even your mortgage are all protected under the law. The FDCPA, however, does not cover debts incurred to run or operate a business.

Some of the most common questions about debt collectors and consumer rights can be answered by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at www.ftc.gov. Although the FTC will not normally intercede on behalf of an individual consumer, they act as a clearing house for complaints and have been known to initiate legal action against the most abusive collectors in the industry.

Should a Florida resident have a complaint about abusive debt collection tactics, they can file a complaint through the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), the state agency in charge of debt collectors, at www.flofr.com. In this instance, the OFR will open a file and forward the complaint to the offending agency.

If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can take legal action.

“You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated,” the FTC said. “If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower. Even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, the debt does not go away if you owe it.”

Whether you receive an annoying or harassing call from a telemarketer soliciting a product or charity, or a debt collector attempting to collect a debt, you can stop your phone from ringing by simply learning your rights.

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.

Debt collection lawsuits on the rise – know your rights


Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) lawsuits are expected to reach an estimated 11,750 cases by the end of 2010. Up 42 percent from the previous record of 8,287 last year, 877 different debt collection agencies and creditors were named in 977 distinct consumer statute lawsuits in May.

Although there is no specific reason for the increasing pace of litigation, several factors have contributed to this growth industry. Whether it is consumer advocacy websites that educate debtors or the aggressive attorneys that encourage litigation, some experts suggest that a tough economy, stricter laws, and negative media coverage have fueled the fire.

Many consumer complaints relate to violations of FDCPA provisions that are no different today than when they were enacted in 1977. Abusive language, threats of violence or of sending debtors to jail and third-party disclosure are among the abuses consumers claim debt collectors engage in while attempting to collect a debt.

Other practices consumers complain of include the attempted forced payment on time-barred debts, debts discharged in bankruptcy and debts not owed by the individual contacted. Each of these actions has been illegal since the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was enacted more than three decades ago.

Many debt collectors have no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the original debt, including whether the underlying debt is legitimate. Many debt collectors purchase accounts that have been written off by creditors for pennies on the dollar. Original creditors are supposed to “scrub” their portfolios, removing disputed accounts, accounts related to identity theft, accounts belonging to deceased debtors and accounts discharged in bankruptcy, before assigning them to a third-party debt collector. When creditors fail to scrub these accounts, the result may be an attempted collection of debts not legally subject to collection.

As technology has improved, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has not. As the FDCPA was enacted prior to the emergence of cell phones, e-mail and auto dialers, it remains unclear whether and how the law applies. Under the FDCPA, creditors may not cause a phone to ring repeatedly for the purpose of harassing debtors, nor may they place calls without meaningful disclosure of the callers’ identities. The concept of auto-dialing has led to excessive contacts and thousands of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.

Another debt collection abuse arising from technological advancement is finding and using debtors’ cell phone numbers to contact them, in some cases imposing a per call charge on the consumer. The use of overseas agents as debt collectors, something unheard of when the FDCPA became law, is also responsible for many of the harassment complaints.

Consumer advocacy groups such as the National Association of Consumer Advocates say tougher laws and penalties for violations, in addition to stricter enforcement are needed to stem the growing tide of collection agency abuses.

“Consumers have a whole host of rights under state and federal law they are unaware of,” says Paul Herman, an attorney with the Fair Credit Law Group, and member of NACA. “One phone call to a consumer protection attorney can often solve a problem, but debtors are often afraid to take the first step.”

A bill that would give state agencies more control over abusive debt collection practices was recently signed by Gov. Charlie Crist.  Appropriately termed “The Debt Collection Bill” (SB 2086), the measure provides greater authority to the state attorney general and the Office of Financial Regulation in punishing abusive debt collectors and bringing charges against them.

“With a struggling economy, many Floridians are suffering financially and are more vulnerable to abusive debt collectors,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum. “This bill takes important steps to protect consumers who are experiencing financial hardships, and I am glad to see it signed into law.”

If you are being harassed by a debt collector, file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General at www.myfloridalegal.com and the Office of Financial Regulation at www.flofr.com. The Federal Trade Commission also offers a consumer collection guide detailing your rights at www.ftc.gov.

William E. Lewis Jr. is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Cash for Clunkers – Stimulus Money for Air Conditioning Units


First there was Cash for Clunker cars. Then there was Cash for Clunker appliances. With little fanfare and a lot of hassle, Cash for Clunker air conditioning units starts Monday.

Following many months of speculation, state officials announced last week that Floridians can earn a $1,500 flat-fee rebate for replacing their central air conditioning systems with a more energy efficient unit.

Funded by the Governor’s Energy Office, the program will run through the end of 2010 or until the $15 million allocated runs out. The money, which comes through federal stimulus funding approved last year, will cover only 10,000 rebates. By comparison, the cash for clunker appliances program was funded for approximately 70,000 rebates.

Obtaining a rebate will be more complicated than it was for the new refrigerators, dishwashers and other items that tens of thousands of Floridians bought during the wildly popular cash for clunker appliance program earlier this year. The Energy Star air conditioning program is tied to duct system inspections. Homeowners must provide proof their ducts leak 15 percent or less after their new units are installed, and pay for tests and required repairs.

State officials warn that approximately 12 percent of homes may not qualify, as their ducts cannot be accessed for repairs. “It is strongly recommended that the homeowner discuss any concerns with a Florida-licensed installer before pursuing this rebate,” the rebate website explained. After expenses, the rebate should put at least $800 in the pockets of most Floridians.

A few details on the Cash for Clunker air conditioning units program:

1,)  Am I eligible for the program? Rebate applicants must be a Florida household resident. Commercial properties are not eligible.

2.)  Will I qualify if I recently installed a new air conditioning unit? No, there are no retroactive rebates. Contracts must be signed on or after Aug. 30, 2010.

3.)  What air conditioning units qualify? The program covers central air conditioners, air source heat pumps or geothermal heat pumps. Units must have SEER energy ratings equal to or greater than 16 for central split systems, 14 for central package systems, 15 for air source split systems and 14 for air source package systems. The systems must be new and cannot be installed in homes under construction.

4.)  What is a duct inspection? Air conditioning duct work must be inspected and certified as leaking no greater than 15 percent after the new system is installed. Said inspection must be performed by a Florida Class 1 rater, a Florida licensed mechanical contractor, or a recognized test and balance agent.

5.)  What if my duct work is inefficient or cannot be repaired? Florida residents should have a contractor inspect the general condition of their duct work before signing a contract in an effort to determine rebate eligibility and financial feasibility of replacement.

6.)  How do I apply for a rebate? Florida residents must submit an application form along with (1) an installation receipt; (2) a copy of the mechanical building permit required by your city or county; (3) a copy of the final duct leakage report; and, (4) the first page of the “manual j program” that shows how the new unit was sized to fit your home. Rebates forms are available online, must be postmarked by Dec. 31, 2010 and will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

7.)  May I combine the state program with other rebates? Yes. The energy rating requirement for the Florida program is equal to the federal energy tax credit at 30 percent of the system price and a maximum of $1,500 each. Consumers can file for both, in addition to any power company rebate and/or manufacturer’s rebate. Combine them all and potentially save in excess of 50 percent on a new central air conditioning system while at the same time, reducing your energy bill.

8.)  How will my rebate arrive? As with the cash for clunker appliance program, rebates will be given as an American Express prepaid card. The card can be exchanged for a check or an electronic funds transfer.

For more details on the Cash for Clunker Air Conditioning Units program, Florida residents may visit http://www.rebates.com/floridahvac

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/aug/29/cash-clunkers—stimulus-money-air-conditioning-un/

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.

Foreclosure defense: Court rules bank must prove ownership


Following foreclosure moratoriums by PNC Bank, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Ally Financial, the settlement of deceptive marketing charges by Wells Fargo Bank, and the Attorney General’s investigation into faulty foreclosure practices at 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., a Florida court ruled that banks must provide evidence of ownership when attempting to foreclose on a property.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach overturned an earlier summary judgment by Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Thomas Barkdull, allowing repossession of a Boca Raton couple’s home by US Bank National Association. The foreclosure went through even though the lender did not provide an original note or other acceptable proof of ownership.

In the case of Guiseppe Servedio, the court ruled that banks must provide evidence they actually own and hold the mortgage when seeking to foreclose on a property. “Some judges have been lax about the rules of evidence,” stated Peter Snyder, his attorney. “I think that what this case says is you better have the original note.”

The decision comes following an earlier ruling against Deutsche Bank where the court stated that “[a] summary judgment should not be granted where there are issues of fact raised by [the] affirmative defense[s] which have not been effectively factually challenged and refuted.” In this matter, a homeowner asserted several defenses that were ignored by Deutsche Bank and the lower court.

The recent decisions come amid critical reports of judicial foreclosures receiving “rocket docket” processing despite missing and/or poorly prepared documents. Last week, Wells Fargo admitted making mistakes in 55,000 foreclosure cases but promised to expeditiously address them.

The San Francisco-based bank said it plans to resubmit documents in Florida and 22 other states by mid-November. This move comes two weeks after Wells Fargo officials issued a statement saying its affidavit procedures and daily auditing “demonstrate our foreclosure affidavits are accurate.”

Officials at Wells Fargo claim the mistakes were technical and that it had no plans to halt the foreclosure process as PNC Bank, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Ally Financial did. “We don’t believe that there are instances in which the foreclosures would not have occurred otherwise,” says Teri Schrettenbrunner, a bank spokeswoman.

Through the Mortgage Foreclosure Multi State Group, attorneys general in all 50 states are investigating whether legal procedures and documents were handled properly in judicial foreclosures. As the probe widens, a number of attorneys general have opened separate investigations on “robo-signers” as well as law firms and banks.

Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, one of the four Florida foreclosure firms being investigated by the Florida attorney general for allegedly providing inaccurate or false documents, represented US Bank against the Servedio’s. Lawyers at the firm could not be reached for comment, but in the past have denied any wrongdoing.

In the appellate opinion, the judges said that even though US Bank later provided the court with a copy of the original note, it was insufficient because it was submitted after Barkdull finalized the foreclosure. “Without evidence demonstrating [the bank’s] status as holder and owner of the note, genuine issues of material fact remain,” the judges wrote.

“Unfortunately, for the sake of expediency and reduction of overloaded dockets, judges are granting summary judgments without full consideration of a homeowners affirmative defenses and the evidence presented,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “In some cases, the appellate courts have now found that banks did not provide a note or prove ownership of the property being foreclosed upon.”

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune (Media General Group) – http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/oct/31/foreclosure-defense-court-rules-bank-must-prove-ow/news-newbusiness/ To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Wells Fargo Settles Deceptive Marketing Charges


Following news of a mortgage foreclosure moratorium by PNC Bank, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Ally Financial’s GMAC Mortgage unit, Wells Fargo Bank has settled charges of deceptive marketing practices with attorney generals in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington state.

Attorney General Bill McCollum announced last week a multi-state agreement with Wells Fargo over allegations of deceptive marketing regarding payment option adjustable rate (POA) mortgage loans. The agreement settles allegations of misconduct made prior to the acquisition of Wachovia and Golden West Corp., also doing business as World Savings Bank, by Wells Fargo.

According to the allegations, Wachovia and Golden West failed to fully advise mortgage borrowers that the minimum payment due in the first years of a loan did not adequately cover the amount of accrued interest owed. Over time, the amount of a borrower’s loan increased, thus resulting in higher principal balances and higher monthly payments.

Borrowers will first be considered for the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and if the borrower cannot qualify under HAMP or elects not to accept a HAMP modification, Wells Fargo will consider the borrower for its new modification program, known as Mortgage Assistance Program 2 (MAP2R).

From April 1, 2010 through the term of the agreement, over 4,000 Florida POA borrowers will be eligible for loan modifications that are expected to provide approximately $388 million in mortgage relief. This sum includes more than $208 million in principal forgiveness for Florida homeowners.

Analysts say principal forgiveness is the most effective way to end the housing debacle. The federal government and Bank of America announced plans earlier this year to reduce mortgage balances, but critics say the practice remains rare.

In the settlement , Wells Fargo agreed that they will offer loan modifications to approximately 8,700 qualified POA borrowers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington state between Dec. 1, 2010, and June 30, 2013, who are either 60 days delinquent or facing imminent default. The total economic value of the loan modifications is expected to exceed $772 million by mid-2013.

The agreement also makes a number of substantial servicing commitments for POA borrowers including ensuring adequately staffed help lines to serve consumers, providing a single, primary point of contact to assist borrowers seeking modifications, making decisions on modifications within 30 calendar days of receiving a complete application, establishing a formal second look or appeal process for borrowers who are turned down for a modification, and more clearly communicating with borrowers to avoid confusion during the process.

Wells Fargo will also offer other foreclosure alternatives, including short sale, deed-in-lieu, and relocation assistance. The agreement provides for a compliance monitor and quarterly reporting to the eight Attorneys General. Wells Fargo will also pay more than $10.2 million to the Florida Attorney General’s Office to assist with the state’s efforts to prevent or mitigate foreclosures and prevent mortgage or loan modification fraud, along with investigative costs.

In 2008, McCollum announced a similar agreement with Countrywide Financial Corp., now owned by Bank of America. That agreement called for loan modifications for 57,000 Florida homeowners and foreclosure relief payments of about $6,000 to approximately 2,700 homeowners.

Wells Fargo Bank customers who originally received mortgages from Wachovia or Golden West should call 888-565-1422 for more information on the loan modification program.

If you would like to learn more about the Wells Fargo settlement or file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit their website at www.myfloridalegal.com or call 866-9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune (Media General Group) – http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/oct/10/wells-fargo-settles-deceptive-marketing-charges/  To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

J.P. Morgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage halt sales


Homeowners facing eviction due to foreclosure proceedings can rest easier for the moment.

Following several adverse court decisions throughout the country and the Florida Attorney General’s well publicized investigation into 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., both JP Morgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage have suspended mortgage foreclosure proceedings in 23 states.

While several mortgage lenders have dramatically slowed the pace of foreclosures in favor of short-sales or loan modifications, Chase and GMAC have admitted to rubber-stamping documents without reviewing them in an effort to streamline the foreclosure process for maximum volume and profit.

As state and national law enforcement officials take a closer look at the business practices of Chase and GMAC, these mortgage lenders have suspended foreclosure proceedings in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Because most mortgages have been bought and sold many times, the documentation required to obtain foreclosure judgments is often incomplete or missing. On numerous occasions, fabricated documents have allegedly been presented to courts in support of a final judgment against homeowners. Chase and GMAC have reported that they will review every pending foreclosure action to determine whether they have created and filed improper affidavits in proceedings pending before any court.

The JP Morgan Chase moratorium came after GMAC Mortgage called a temporary halt to pending foreclosures based upon its own affidavit concerns. Chase took this extraordinary action because it could not determine whether it had committed perjury or had submitted false affidavits in any pending foreclosure matter. When announcing the move, Chase downplayed its importance as being “mere technical errors.”

As part of the foreclosure process, mortgage lenders routinely file sworn affidavits that employees have reviewed bank records for completeness and accuracy. At both Chase and GMAC, employees have now admitted that they almost never review bank records prior to executing an affidavit.

Attorneys general in several states have initiated investigations and the U.S. Treasury Department has announced a plan to examine “these troubling developments.” Some industry experts suggest the scandal may aid in a housing recovery by forcing lenders to negotiate with distressed homeowners rather than simply evict them.

“On numerous occasions, false affidavits and fabricated documents have allegedly been presented to courts in foreclosure actions to obtain final judgments against homeowners,” stated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. “As Attorney General, my job is to protect the rights of all Floridian’s by investigating deceptive practices and putting a stop to unlawful activities.”

Chase had declined to address the matter until issuing the moratorium last week. But in a sworn deposition, one of the bank’s employees, Beth Ann Cottrell, admitted under oath that her team signed approximately 18,000 foreclosures affidavits a month without reviewing bank records. Both mortgage lenders are now investigating whether foreclosure cases were improperly assembled and whether their employees committed perjury for failing to review bank records prior to alleging the same in court documents.

Defense attorneys who have long reported widespread fraud in home foreclosure proceedings called the announcement from Chase and GMAC a “bombshell” in tough economic times. “The fact that JP Morgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage have halted most foreclosure proceedings is only the beginning.” said Fort Lauderdale foreclosure defense attorney Scott Kleiman of Kalis & Kleiman. “Since so many loan servicers essentially utilize the same affidavits, this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune (Media General Group) – http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/oct/03/lc-jp-morgan-chase-and-gmac-mortgage-halt-sales/  To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.