This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of Georgia Mountain Laurel magazine. To view the full publication, click here.
Why You May Need a Consumer Protection Attorney
By: James W. Hurt, Jr.
Financial injuries are much like physical injuries in that they can disrupt your life and sometimes lead to more serious problems. Often, people don’t realize the extent of their issues until it is too late. Declining credit scores, exorbitant credit card fees, threats of bankruptcy, lawsuits, and even criminal charges may all be lurking just around the corner. This is why it is so important to keep tabs on your financial health and recognize when you may need to enlist the help of a consumer protection attorney.
Have you tried to reduce or consolidate your debt by using a Debt Settlement or Debt Adjustment Program?
Debt Settlement companies are prevalent in the debt adjustment industry, promoting themselves as an alternative to bankruptcy, a faster way to get out of debt, and a better alternative to traditional debt management plans. In reality, many of these companies end up helping consumers ruin their credit and get sued.
Once the consumer signs a contract with the debt settlement company, they are instructed to stop paying their credit card bills, and instead pay the money into a holding account of their debt settlement company. Once there are sufficient funds in the account, the debt settlement company will, in theory, contact the consumer’s credit card companies and negotiate a lump sum settlement of the debt for some amount less than the full amount owed.
What debt settlement companies don’t tell you is that you may be sued by your credit card company for failing to pay your bills. Or, your debt may be charged off and sold to a junk debt buyer. These junk debt buyers will often file derogatory entries on consumers’ credit reports, make harassing collection calls, and file lawsuits to collect. And finally, in the event that a debt settlement company actually settles a credit card debt, the consumer will most likely be penalized by the IRS showing the amount of charged off debt as income! It’s a no-win situation for consumers.
Are debt collectors harassing you?
If you are the victim of unlawful debt collection practices, you have a right to make it stop. Consumer protection laws are in place to protect you against unlawful collection practices and illegally filed lawsuits. Collection agencies can be very aggressive and may harass individuals when trying to collect. A few important items to note are:
- Debt collectors cannot call you before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm;
- Debt collectors cannot call your friends, neighbors, or relatives about your debt;
- Debt collectors cannot call you at work if you ask them to stop;
- Debt collectors cannot threaten to have you arrested or criminally prosecuted;
- Debt collectors cannot send false information to credit bureaus.
Are you being sued over a debt by a company you’ve never heard of?
If so, you may be facing a third-party debt collector or a junk debt buyer. It is important for you to understand that your action or inaction can have a serious impact. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, the collector may get a judgment against you and potentially be able to take money out of your paycheck or bank account! There are many of these companies cropping up out there, so if you have received any correspondence regarding the collection of a debt from someone other than your credit card company, you should take immediate action.
Are there errors on your credit report?
Georgia law protects consumers from banks, lenders, and credit reporting agencies that report incorrect credit information. It also protects consumers from institutions who use credit reports for impermissible purposes and fail to fix errors on credit reports. There are numerous inaccuracies that may show up on your credit report including: incorrect name or address, incorrect Social Security Number, debts that have been discharged in bankruptcy, and loan or credit card payments that were applied incorrectly.
Reviewing your credit report regularly will alert you to any of these types of inaccuracies. Incorrect or outdated credit reports may affect your ability to qualify for credit cards, loans, and insurance. It may also affect the interest rates you pay, and in some instances, keep you from getting a job. You have the right under Georgia law to receive a free credit report twice annually by following the instructions at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you haven’t checked yours lately, I urge you to log on and pull your reports from all three reporting agencies today.
James W. Hurt, Jr. (Jimmy) is the principal and managing partner of Hurt Stolz, PC, a consumer protection and personal injury law firm serving the state of Georgia from Athens and Clayton offices.