Why Was the Link Obscured in This PayPal Class Action Notice?

That image comes from an email sent out to consumers affected by a PayPal class action settlement. For some reason, the default color and underlining were removed from the link to submit a claim.

It didn’t happen by accident. It’s obvious from the code that someone deliberately set the link’s color to black (color:#000000) and the text-decoration to none (text-decoration:none), which removes the underlining.

But it probably wasn’t an attempt to deceive. The settlement administrator, Epic Systems, Inc., was just following the email template precisely. Here is the email template included in the settlement agreement:

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Encore Capital Group Must Vacate 4,500+ Judgments in New York

I have a quibble with this quote from the New York Times‘s Jessica Silver-Greenberg, which she uses to set the stage for her reporting on the Encore Capital Group settlement:

The same problems that dogged the foreclosure of homes — and prompted public outcry and a multibillion-dollar settlement by some of the nation’s biggest banks — are increasingly showing up in the practices of large buyers of bad consumer debt.

Debt buyers were engaging in assembly-line litigation long before the foreclosure firms started. I’ve been writing about it here for years, but it’s just never gotten the same kind of exposure as the foreclosure industry’s callous disregard for the courts briefly did.

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Should the SEC Try Cases or Settle Lightly?

Twice now, New York U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff has refused to approve a settlement reached by the Securities & Exchange Commission. In the first case, Bank of America agreed to pay a $33 million fine without admitting it did anything wrong in hiding bonuses of $3.6 billion promised prior to its merger with Merrill Lynch. Judge Rakoff eventually approved a $150 million settlement, calling it “half-baked justice at best.”

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North Star Capital Acquisition Offers Settlement of FDCPA Claims

North Star Capital Acquisition, a Minnesota debt buyer, threatened one of my clients, called him repeatedly, and used profanity in several of the phone calls. For example: “You can do anything you f**cking want, but we are going to get this money from you one way or another.”

Shortly after we filed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lawsuit, North Star offered to settle for statutory damages, plus attorney fees and costs. Interestingly, North Star offered $500 as a “default” for attorney fees and costs. I find this amusing, since North Star’s law firm, Messerli & Kramer, regularly demands well over $1,000 in attorney fees for collection lawsuits it drafts by the hundreds. (North Star paid our actual fees in the end.)

Here are some of the key allegations from the lawsuit:

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Nat’l Arbitration Forum Sued, Agrees to Stop Handling Consumer Debt Cases

The Minnesota Attorney General sued National Arbitration Forum (PDF) last week, accusing NAF of colluding with creditors and debt collectors to screw consumers. At a press conference, AG Lori Swanson said “[t]his is a classic case of the little guy getting stepped on by fine-print contracts.”

Four days later, seeing the writing on the wall, NAF capitulated and agreed not to handle any more consumer collection arbitrations (PDF). No more credit cards, medical bills, consumer loans, or any of that.

This is a big victory for consumers. Without the NAF assembly line, creditors will have to use the legal system to collect. And while the legal system may not be as “efficient” as NAF’s assembly-line arbitrations, judges are not paid by the creditors.

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Deal With Your Debt: Negotiate a Settlement

Once a debt is in default—meaning you stopped paying it—one option is to attempt to negotiate a settlement with the creditor. (You can try this before you go into default, but creditors are rarely willing to play ball until you prove your poverty—and before they rack up some more fees.)

You could just pay the full amount of the debt, but that probably means paying a bunch of fees that bear little relation to your debt. And hey, it never hurts to ask.

When you make the call to negotiate a settlement, consider the following.

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Sign up for your TransUnion class action settlement benefits

While we are on the subject of keeping track of your credit score, as a result of a bunch of class action lawsuits against TransUnion, virtually anyone who has had a credit card since 1987 can select from several settlement options, including up to nine months of enhanced credit monitoring.

First, the settlement applies to “[a]ll consumers who had an open credit account or an open line of credit from a credit grantor located in the United States at any time during the period January 1, 1987 to” May 28, 2008.

So pretty much anyone with a credit card.

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Free credit scores for all consumers? Almost…

Get your TransUnion score here! Free credit scores for all consumers? Almost… [The Red Tape Chronicles]

West Va. Attorney General Reaches Settlement with Minnesota Debt Buyer

According to the NY Bankruptcy & Consumer Law Blog, the West Virginia AG’s office decided to investigate Pinnacle Credit Services after a consumer complained that she did not owe a debt Pinnacle was trying to collect. The AG’s office discovered Pinnacle was not licensed in West Virginia, and the settlement agreement followed.

Under the agreement, Pinnacle will erase all West Virginia consumers from its records, and will notify the three major credit reporting agencies that they should delete all references to those consumers, as well.

This is a small victory for West Virginia consumers, but a victory nonetheless.