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National Association of Consumer Advocates - Stacy Bardo

The COVID-19 Effect: Managing Mortgages

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Thanks to the National Association of Consumer Advocates for this informative content.

Mortgage delinquencies hit a five-year high in May as COVID-19 battered the economy and household finances. With record numbers of Americans out of work, many are concerned about being able to keep up with payments on their homes.

State and federal governments quickly enacted protections to help millions remain in their homes during the pandemic. But as infections continue to surge and the economy remains sluggish, families are struggling to afford to stay in their homes. There are options to help consumers get through this unpredictable and difficult period.

• All about forbearance – Forbearance is when a mortgage servicer or lender allows a homeowner to pause or reduce their payments for a limited time. “If your mortgage is currently in forbearance, and that forbearance is coming to an end, reach out to your servicer at least thirty days before the forbearance will end to make repayment arrangements,” said Judith Fox, Clinical Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School. “Many servicers only granted homeowners 90 days of forbearance. However, the CARES Act provides for 180 days and an additional 180 days, for a total of one year of forbearance,” Fox said. “Do not wait until you have missed a payment. If you are in forbearance, but cannot resume making payments, request an extension.”

While the moratorium on foreclosures may be expiring, consumers are still eligible for up to one year of forbearance, followed by a loan modification.

Homeowners whose mortgages are not federally-backed may be granted forbearance and other assistance from their loan servicers. Be aware, these programs may come with additional fees or other charges. Borrowers should ask their servicers about these details.

• Keep an eye out for errors – Borrowers who receive an accommodation from their mortgage servicer should continue to monitor their monthly statements and their credit reports to ensure information about their accounts are accurate. Equifax, Experian, and Transunion are offering free weekly credit reports to all consumers through April 21, 2021.

• Make payments when possible – Forbearance allows homeowners to temporarily skip some payments now. However, homeowners will still need to make up for the mixed payments. Those who can afford to pay their mortgage should continue to do so to avoid having to potentially pay more later on.

• Watch out for scam artists – Homeowners should be wary of companies claiming they to offer mortgage assistance, especially those requiring upfront fees. It is illegal for these companies to take payments before producing results the homeowner is satisfied with. The Federal Trade Commission has more information on how to spot mortgage scams and what rights homeowners have.

• Consult with a housing counselor – A non-profit housing counselor sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development can help worried homeowners figure out their best option. This service is low-cost and often free.

• File a complaint – “If you are unable to reach your mortgage loan servicer, file a complaint with the online Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaint (database),” said Prof. Judith Fox. When the CFPB receives a complaint from a consumer, it sends the complaint to the complained-about company which is then urged to respond to the consumer and the CFPB within a reasonable time.

• Seek legal assistance – But first: “Keep your documents and keep your notes from all your interactions with your mortgage company. It will help you keep track of what’s happening, and help your lawyer help you if something goes wrong,” said Jeff Gentes, an attorney at Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

If a homeowner’s mortgage servicer refuses to comply with the CARES Act or other applicable laws, it may be time to get legal representation.

Consumers Ascending thanks Professor Judith Fox of Notre Dame Law School and Jeff Gentes of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center for their help with assembling these tips and resources.

Bardo Law, P.C. is a proud member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
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National Association of Consumer Advocates
1215 17th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202.452.1989 | Fax: 202.452.0099

Homeowner Rights & Tenants Rights - Bardo Law PC

CVLS Launches New COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Program

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Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (“CVLS”) just announced its launch of a COVID-19 mortgage relief program. Right now, the CARES Act allows struggling homeowners with federally-backed mortgages to seek mortgage relief. Payments may be paused for between six months and one year and once payments resume, homeowners may qualify for loan modifications or other payment options.

Homeowners must request assistance and they have a limited time to do so. Therefore, CVLS created a toolkit to help these homeowners determine if they qualify and complete the process.

Check out more details at the CVLS website https://www.cvls.org/get-legal-help/covid-19-relief/.

We are proud to spread the word about CVLS’s new program. Bardo Law, P.C. has successfully obtained results for homeowners subject to unfair mortgage servicing practices and remains here to help.

My Credit Report isn't right - Chicago Consumer Attorney - Bardo Law PC

Committed to Consumer Justice – COVID-19 Action Plan

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As we face challenging times, I want to assure our clients, friends, and colleagues that we remain committed to consumer justice. While the firm will be employing remote work for the foreseeable future, and courts are now closed to non-essential business, here is what we are doing:

(1) maintaining contacts – potential and current clients will receive calls or e-mails back within 24 hours and we can continue to employ remote conferencing when necessary;

(2) continuing work – while judges will not be seeing most litigants or their counsel face-to-face, both Illinois and federal courts require e-filing so motions and complaints will continue to be filed and discovery will proceed as swiftly as practical;

(3) extending courtesies – we always believe in having good working relationships, even with our opponents, and we will, with client permission, adapt and be as flexible as possible to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of witnesses, court reporters, and each other; and

(4) reflecting – without the hustle of a daily commute or a rush to court, we can continue to be strategic and plan ahead.

In sum, we remain “open” for business, working on current files, and speaking with new clients to evaluate their cases. Do not hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns, to request an update or just to say hi. Stay well, be kind, and let’s work together to help our community.

Yours very truly,
Stacy M. Bardo

Secure Credit Issues - Bardo Law PC

Identity Theft and Data Security

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Identity theft and data security top the consumer concern list. From data breaches to credit and debit card compromises, more and more consumers are impacted. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a question of if your data will be stolen but when.

A new crop of businesses now promise consumer protection. Some offer “dark web” checks. The dark web can’t be accessed by commonly used web browsers — you need a special browser to get there. The dark web isn’t all bad but it’s the place to buy and sell stolen personal information, often with Bitcoins or cryptocurrency. Businesses offering dark web monitoring may let you know your information is for sale. But they can’t remove the information once posted. When you are not dealing with legitimate agencies, they don’t cooperate with fraud victims.

Be aware of dark web monitoring limitations. Don’t pay for promises that can’t be kept. But dark web monitoring can let you know if your information is posted. This way, you can take your own action to limit your information’s use. Do this through credit freezes or two-step verification for online purchases.

The Consumer Federation of America’s survey shows that 36% of consumers don’t understand dark web monitoring services. Check out the survey results and other helpful tips at https://consumerfed.org/consumers-are-in-the-dark-about-dark-web-monitoring-services/.

There are plenty of no cost resources for identity theft victims. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s www.identitytheft.gov, and the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org.

If your information has been compromised and you’re contacted by unfamiliar creditors or debt collectors, contact a lawyer for help. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act and state fraud laws provide redress for identity theft victims.

Debt Collector Calls - Bardo Law PC

Make Your Voice Heard

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Public Comments Due August 19, 2019

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs to hear from consumers to understand the problems with the Bureau’s proposed new debt collection rule. Under the proposed new rule, debt collectors would be permitted to:

The proposed rule would allow collectors to:

  • Call you 7 times per week, per debt. 
  • Contact you by text, email, or direct message without your permission, and send important information through hyperlinks;
  • Sue you without the collector’s attorneys reviewing original account documents to ensure you are the right person and the debt is the right amount; and
  • Collect debt so old, the deadline for a lawsuit has already expired.

You can e-mail your comments and stories with harassing debt collectors directly to 2019-NPRM-DebtCollection@cfpb.gov.  More information can be found by visiting https://www.nclc.org/issues/take-action-debt-collection-rule.html.

If you have a story to share or want more information regarding your right to fight back against unfair debt collectors, please contact our office.

Fair Credit Reporting & Consumer Law - Bardo Law PC

Trans Union Credit Report Settlement – Update

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Trans Union’s credit report settlement impacts consumers who may have had a tax lien or civil judgment reported on their credit reports.  The district court approved a class action settlement in the case of Clark v. Trans Union, LLC.  Details about the settlement are available at http://www.tupublicrecordsettlementadr.com.

The Clark case alleged that Trans Union included inaccurate information about public records on its credit reports and did not disclose from whom it obtained the public record information.  While Trans Union denied that it did anything wrong, it agreed to settle the case on a class action basis.

The following consumers may be eligible to participate in the credit report settlement:

  • If the consumer requested a Trans Union credit report between May 20, 2009 and March 23, 2018;
  • The requested credit report contained a public record (such as a bankruptcy, judgment, or tax lien);
  • The public record information was inaccurate or did not belong to the consumer.

Now that the district court has approved the credit report settlement, Trans Union is establishing an Alternative Dispute Resolution Program.  If consumers are able to show they were injured because of inaccurate public records information on their credit reports, the consumer may get a payment of at least $1,500.

For more information, please contact Bardo Law or the lawyers who settled the case:

TransUnion Settlement Class Counsel
763 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Suite 1A
Newport News, VA 23601

Recognizing Our Military And Protecting Service Members

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Military Consumer Month kicks off this July at the Federal Trade Commission:

“Empowering servicemembers, veterans, and their families is a top priority,” Chairman Joe Simons said. “During Military Consumer Month, we will highlight the agency’s resources to help the military community avoid imposter scams – but our work on behalf of those who serve continues throughout the year.”

Service members and their dependents have special rights relating to consumer debt issues.  The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act should ease financial burdens during military service and covers full-time active duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.  The Act also covers reservists on federal active duty and National Guard members under orders for more than 30 days.  Servicemembers lawfully absent from duty are also protected.

The Act’s benefits include:

  • A 6% interest cap on debt owed before joining the military (credit card, auto loan or mortgage)
  • Protection against entry of default judgments by creditors
  • No repossessions without a court order
  • Extra options for lease terminations

To learn more about the Act, visit the Department of Justice’s website at https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers/servicemembers-veterans-and-military-family-members.

Do I have rights as a homeowner - Chicago Law - Bardo Law PC

Banks Continue Abusing Homeowners In Foreclosure

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Ten years after the foreclosure crisis, banks continue to abuse homeowners in foreclosure.  During foreclosure, homeowners and rightful tenants may legally occupy foreclosed property.  Many times, the homeowner has requested a loan modification or is actively defending a foreclosure proceeding.  In fact, Illinois law requires banks  to tell consumers how much time they have to live in a home before they may have to move.  Back in 2015, the Illinois Attorney General took action (http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2015_06/20150603.html) but the same violations continue three years later.

Bardo Law continues to receive calls from consumers illegally displaced from their homes.  Using a provision in the mortgage contract, banks claim they have the right to “protect” vacant or abandoned homes.

But often, the banks are prematurely evicting homeowners — changing locks, turning off water, and beginning demolition work.  Some of our clients come home from work to find they can’t enter their homes.  In some cases, their personal belongings are missing or damaged.

The firm has successfully brought multiple cases against several banks and their property contractors for this illegal conduct.

Most recently, Bardo Law secured victory on two separate motions to dismiss filed by defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  If you have been victimized by wrongful conduct while you are in foreclosure and would like to pursue legal action, call us for an intake appointment.

 

 

Tax Scams Continue to Harm Consumers

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Tax scams continue as this year’s tax filing deadline looms.  Just today, the Illinois Attorney General announced a lawsuit against a Chicago-area tax preparation service for fraud.  Costly fees were deducted from consumers’ anticipated tax refunds without their knowledge, as set forth in the office’s press release describing the tax scams:

http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2018_02/20180227.html

“To disguise the undisclosed fees that the company takes from consumers’ tax refunds, Madigan alleges Su Familia gave customers fake tax returns showing a lesser tax refund amount. When consumers have discovered this inconsistency and confronted Su Familia, the company has threatened to initiate legal action against the consumers. As a result, customers, many of whom are low-income, do not receive their full tax refund.”

So, what can you watch out for to avoid falling for a tax scam?

(1) Beware of immediate refunds because those often end up being high cost loans.

(2) Ask for upfront disclosure of all fees.

(3) Don’t sign an arbitration agreement.  Before you agree to hire the tax preparer, explain you want to opt out of arbitration so you don’t give up your right to sue.

(4) Be careful of online contractual provisions.  Don’t sign an agreement electronically until you’ve seen the full contract printed out and given to you in a form you can keep.

There are helpful resources online for consumers.  The Center for Economic Progress (http://www.economicprogress.org/) has some tax preparation tips and provides free tax help for certain qualifying individuals and families.

Don’t rush this process to ensure a quick refund.  More than likely, a quick refund means you’re losing money you would otherwise be potentially able to obtain.

Debt Collector Calls - Bardo Law PC

Beware of Phantom Debt Collectors

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Phantom debt collectors — they’re scam artists who make up debts to gain access to your bank account information.  They’ll call often, and may even tell you that someone is trying to serve you with court papers.  They may call from what appears to be a local number so you are more likely to pick up the phone.  The collector may have personal information about you, such as your spouse’s name, your address or your employer.  You’re scared, so what do you do?

First, write down the number calling you.  Ask what company the collector is calling from.  If the collector won’t identify him or herself, hang up.  If the collector does provide information, ask that the agency send you a letter describing the debt.

All legitimate collection agencies attempting to collect “consumer” debts (those incurred for personal, family or household purchases) must provide you with a letter describing the amount of the debt and where it is from.

Next, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”).  The CFPB has an online complaint portal, available at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/.  You can also call (855) 411-2372 for more information.  While the CFPB may not be able to locate the phantom debt collectors, lodging a complaint may help others avoid problems.  That’s because the CFPB will:

  • Forward your complaint to the appropriate company for a response
  • Share complaint data with other state and federal agencies
  • File a case if there are enough complaints against a particular company
  • Make complaints available to the public as a resource guide to avoid scammers (without personally identifying you)

You can search the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/data-research/consumer-complaints/.  Check to see if the company calling you is listed.

Finally, end the call and don’t provide any additional information about yourself.  If the collector is legitimate, the agency will send a letter in the mail describing the debt you owe.  You can also contact your local Clerk of Court to confirm that no case has been filed against you.

If you need more help and want to contact an attorney, keep a list of the calls you’ve received.  The attorney should be able to help determine if the call was legitimate.