Ben Popken Leaves Consumerist

Ben Popken started writing Consumerist in November 2005, right about the same time I started this blog. In the six years since, Ben and his team built Consumerist into the most important consumer website on the internet. Today, Ben Popken announced that he is leaving Consumerist to pursue other projects. Ben doesn’t say why he left, but he plans to keep writing—maybe just not so much as a consumer advocate.

Besides the great work Ben did as a consumer advocate, he was a great writer. I wrote for Consumerist occasionally from 2008–2010, and the feedback he gave me helped me improve and define my own writing. Here’s a summary of his work and his writing from his farewell note:

It’s been my honor to lift up the tales of the little guy and to tilt at the titans by your side. The Goliaths still don’t get how much power you have now that anyone can become a publisher in the time it takes to sign up for a Tumblr account. I hope you’ll keep reminding them. All you need is a good story, perseverance, and cat pictures!

It’s not sad, exactly. Consumerist will continue to fight for consumers, and Ben will go on to work on other—hopefully awesome—things. But this is definitely the end of an era for a very important consumer advocate.

Debt Collectors Will Hunt You Down On Social Networking Sites

We found out earlier this year that debt collectors are using social networks to find and harass debtors, but now at least one collections training center is offering a class on using social media in collections, to “maintain a good customer base, keep good paying customers on track, and find and collect from past due customers.” (Debt collectors like to call consumers their “customers” or “clients,” even though they have no business relationship.)

Debt collectors can use social networks to find and communicate with consumers, as long as they make the appropriate disclosures and comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. But that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for them.

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Welcome, Minnesota Lawyer readers!

Thanks for visiting from Minnesota Lawyer! I have been writing this blog since November 2005, although back then, the blog did not have a name or any particular focus other than “law.” I adopted the name and registered this domain in early 2007, and so it has been since then.

I post about information useful to consumers, like how to buy a new car, how to stop debt collection harassment, and privacy. Of course, I try to post things I think my readers would like to know. I also bring on guest bloggers as often as I can. Past guest bloggers have included Jim Campen and Sarah Byrnes of Americans for Fairness in Lending, fellow consumer rights lawyers Nick Slade, Chris Wheaton, and bankruptcy lawyer Brad Perri.

If you have questions, please visit the parallel post on my law practice blog, Lawyerist.

While you are here, don’t forget to subscribe to Caveat Emptor. You can have posts emailed to you, add our RSS feed to your reader, or follow us on Twitter.

National Consumer Rights Litigation Conference in Portland, Oregon

Hello from Portland! I am in Portland all week for the National Consumer Law Center’s annual National Consumer Rights Litigation Conference. (The conference starts on Friday, but I came early with my wife to take in Portland.)

I will be presenting on a panel with the Americans for Fairness in Lending on getting out the message on consumer issues through this blog. The other presenters will be talking about dealing with the media.

The Consumer Rights Litigation Conference is an opportunity for consumer rights lawyers from all over the U.S. to get learn from each other, exchange ideas, and network. It also seems to be a lightning rod for critics. Last year the Wall Street Journal published a completely inaccurate editorial, “Party at Ralph’s.

But there is nothing sinister in gathering to discuss the problems that are dragging down our economy. Many of the sessions this weekend will focus on the subprime mortgage meltdown, modifying mortgage loans for those in foreclosure, rescue scams, predatory lending, illegal repossessions, and more.

The conference helps all of us serve our clients better and advance the cause of consumers through representation and the media.

Are you more likely to discuss your sex life than your credit card debt?

Probably, according to a poll by

Religious views, politics, age, weight and even health problems are more palatable topics of conversation than credit card debt . . . .

Not surprising, really, but the poll results do illustrate one of many reasons why so many Americans never deal with their debt problems: most refuse to even think about their debt, much less talk about it.

But with new technology comes new options. Follow the example of Blogging Away Debt and go public with your debt woes. Do it anonymously, if you like, but start talking!

Credit card debt more taboo than sex | Consumer Smarts

Star Tribune: “Minnesota political blogger being sued for defamation”

What happened: Blogger Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed claimed a source told him Democrat Coleen Rowley’s campaign refused to hire Democrat Blois Olson’s PR firm, New School Communications. Olson criticized the Rowley campaign. Olson then sued Brodkorb for implying that his firm tried to get consulting work with the Rowley campaign, and that his criticisms were therefore probably motivated by feelings of rejection, or something like that.

Brodkorb, formerly director of communications and research for the Republican Party, and currently a “freelance consultant doing opposition research for political candidates,” blogged the following, leading to this lawsuit:

According to my source, it was only after Rowley’s campaign decided against hiring Blois’ firm that Blois started to appear in newspapers criticizing Rowley’s campaign.

If my source is correct, and I believe they are, Politics in Minnesota and Blois Olson have some explaining to do.

Why did Blois never disclose he was trying to get Rowley’s campaign to hire his firm?

According to Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota professor who teaches media ethics and media law:

“If what you’re doing is expressing your opinion, that’s classic political speech,” Kirtley said. “It’s going to be protected.” But, she said, “If you present factual statements that are untrue that you demonstrably know to be untrue, that’s actual malice and that’s going to undercut any broad protections.”

The case will likely be closely watched nationally. Blogging is still an emerging media source, and courts are still somewhat uncertain whether to class bloggers who report news as journalists, private citizens, or something else when addressing First Amendment issues.