Imagine you are a patent troll, holding onto a portfolio of patents you can only assert against a handful of companies. At some point, you start running out of victims. So why not invent some more?
That’s what a group of companies with names like AccNum, AllLed, AdzPro, CalNeb, ChaPac, FanPar, FasLan, FulNer, GosNel, and HunLos do. They send out copies of a letter like this to small companies:
Apparently, something like 18% of companies that receive the letter do actually pay, according to Ars Technica. Why? Fear, I guess. And as Ars points out, invalidating these almost-certainly-invalid patents would be difficult or impossible, and would definitely be expensive. Similar to debt collectors sending thousands of robo-signed demand letters at a time, these patent trolls have found a sort of loophole in the system that allows them to engage in a sort of legalized extortion.
Debt settlement is basically debt collection by another name. Out of one side of their mouths, debt settlement companies promise creditors they will help them get paid. Out of the other side of their mouths, debt settlement companies promise consumers great “deals” to resolve their debts. In order to appear more effective (or trustworthy, maybe), many debt settlement companies go to great lengths to appear to be law firms, while putting WE ARE NOT YOUR LAWYER disclaimers in the small print to attempt to avoid violating unauthorized practice of law regulations.
At best, consumers spend a lot of money to get settlements they could easily have gotten themselves with a few phone calls. At worst—and far too often—consumers spend a lot of money and get nothing.
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Tonight, I received the following official-sounding message from “the Transaction Review Department of Wells Fargo Bank” asking me to “verify recent transactions on [my] credit Visa card.” While I do have a Wells Fargo business card, this message doesn’t sound quite right. First, I’ve never heard anyone refer to a “credit Visa card.” Second, as far as I can tell, Wells Fargo does not have a “Transaction Review Department.” Third, there are no unusual charges to my account—by me or anyone else.
I haven’t called the number, because I’m pretty sure this is a phishing attempt, and I’m not interested in giving the phisher in question any verification that it has the correct phone number.
It is just good enough that many people would probably respond. I’m quite certain those who respond will be asked for their account information, and would find their cards maxed shortly after.
Be on the lookout for scams like this. Don’t believe anything that doesn’t sound right, and don’t ever give out your account information over the phone.
For years, cell phone providers have allowed third parties to add charges to your phone bill, even if you don’t ask for the “service” provided by the third party. And while some allow users to stop cramming—also called preacquired account marketing—by blocking third-party billing, consumers have had mixed results trying. Others never notice, because the charges are usually for small amounts, and are often hard to find on the bill.
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Minnesota consumer lawyer Randall Ryder points out that a “free trial” is like a fishing lure; it looks like a nice treat, but it is just a hook designed to haul you in. Don’t bite.
Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. When you sign up for a free trial, you are paying with the information you provide, and giving the company permission to continue marketing to you. At a minimum, you pay for the “free” stuff with your permission and attention. If you don’t read the fine print carefully, you may wind up paying from your wallet, too.
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At least robo-signers actually sign their names, even if they have no idea what they are signing. Some foreclosure law firms have a room full of clerks signing attorneys’ names to foreclosure documents. Bank of New York attorney Gary McCafferty said “many documents his firm submitted to court with his signature had in fact been signed by administrative staff . . . .”
As bankruptcy lawyer Max Gardner explains:
“They have a small number of attorneys and a very large back office,” Gardner said. “The first time an attorney knows anything about a case in these kinds of operations is when someone like me files a response.”
As with the robo-signers, forged signatures have resulted in the dismissal of foreclosure lawsuits in courts across the country. It wouldn’t surprised me if they result in the dismissal of a few lawyers from the bar, as well.
The subprime mortgage meltdown, it turns out, makes for riveting reading. I was up until 4 a.m. reading The Monster, a page-turning account of the subprime lending binge that precipitated the collapse of the world economy.
The Monster would make a great heist movie, except that, instead of stealing piles of money from a casino, the subprime lending industry, lead by Ameriquest, Lehman Brothers, and countless others, scammed millions of Americans out of their savings.
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Many consumers who end up drowning in debt turn to debt settlement companies for help. The problem is, many debt settlement companies don’t really help; they just take the money and run. I guess they figure poor consumers are unlikely to complaint. But they do, and the FTC has heard. It recently issued new rules designed to reign in debt settlement abuses
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This is old-ish news, but I just got wind of it. Debt buyers and prolific lawsuit-filers CACV and Portfolio Recovery Associates, together with debt collection law firm Johnson, Rodenberg & Lauinger, were supporting their lawsuits with affidavits of Martha Kunkle. Apparently, an employee of Washington Mutual Bank (now bankrupt) told others to sign Martha Kunkle’s names to those affidavits.
The problem was that Martha Kunkle died fifteen years ago, in 1995.
The defendants settled for over one million dollars.
This is not the first time Johnson, Rodenberg & Lauinger has appeared here. Last April, a jury awarded a Montana consumer $311,000 for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.