Every superhero has a weakness. With Superman, it’s Kryptonite. With Green lantern it’s the color yellow. And with Daredevil, it’s just a lot of background noise. But what about the supervillains? Obviously they have weaknesses too. And it’s my pleasure and delight to talk about them.
In the world of supervillians, the worst of them is the big bad debt collector. And the badder the debt collector, the easier it is to find their Kryptonite!
This blog will talk about the really bad debt collectors. I won’t claim there are good debt collectors. But the bad ones are those that illegally ignore the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Sadly, the worst offenders are lawyers. Particularly, it’s the attorneys who think that because of their power and connections, they can trounce on the little people. So here’s a handy dandy road map to blast them out of business! I’ve even included scare letters which you can send to the state bar, their big bank employers and to all their trade associations (the pals they hang out with).
The Four Ways To Cripple A Bad Debt Collector (Like Cooling & Winter) 1. Drive up their cost of doing business (More Lawsuits & Publicity)
2. Scare away the companies that use them (Sample Letter)
3. Get them in trouble with their peer groups & licensing boards
4. Get the government to shut them down. (FTC & CFPB)
1. Drive Up Their Cost Of Doing Business
Debt collectors cut corners because it’s faster and cheaper than playing by the rules. So now is the time to punch them in the pocketbook.
Use public awareness so more debtors know their rights, fight harder, pay less on their debt and sue more under the FDCPA and state law. Remember that the FDCPA encourages consumers to sue and will even pay for your court costs if you win. You can also collect $1000 plus your attorney’s fees and even tack on state law claims to drive up the damages! In other words, you can make it so the debt collector is the one who owes you the money!
To spread the word, tell your story to the BBB and other Internet Complaint Websites. Make sure to mention key terms that other debtors will search for. Include the full name of the collection agency, the phone #, the name of the individual collector, FDCPA and what they did wrong. For example, “I asked them to validate the debt but against the law they sued me instead!”
You Will Need Publicity
Lawyers won’t go down without a fight. And they are experts at fighting in court. So you need to fight them where they’re at a disadvantage. And this means the court of public opinion.
Publicity is more than just the media. And it’s more than just the Better Business Bureau. It also includes reaching out to Consumer Advocates. It is through such means that you can force a debt collector to make nice, or drive it out of business.
For how to background your debt collector, don’t forget to look at Exposing A Debt Collector Who Won’t Follow The FDCPA.
2. Scare Away The Companies That Use Them
Big bad debt collectors often work for big global banks. These include the banks you know by name such as Capital One, Bank of America and Citibank. And the bigger the bank, the more sensitive they are to bad publicity.
Sometimes the collector works for a debt buyer such as Midland Funding. A scare letter is much less effective with Midland because they already have a bad reputation. However, you might want to send it to them anyway. Their lack of response can be used to draw in the media. And once the media is involved, you can lobby your government representative to saddle them with more fines and regulations.
To write a good scare letter, you will want to Google your bank with FDCPA or complaints. If the bank has had bad publicity with debt collection, you can mention it in your letter.
For the same reasons, you will also want to do a background check on your debt collector. For how to search, see the end of Exposing A Debt Collector Who Won’t Follow The FDCPA (Sleuth For The Truth).
Sample Letter To Capital One Public Relations Department
Dear Capital One,
The above headline is almost a certainty. How you minimize the fallout is up to you.
You are using the law firm of Cooling & Winter to collect debts on your subprime credit card accounts. As you must know, Cooling & Winter is the successor to the notorious law firm of Frederick J. Hanna & Associates. You are no stranger to Hanna. Hanna is the same law firm you previously hired to collect on your credit card debts. It’s also the same firm that in January 2016, was fined $3.1 million and then shut down by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
The Hanna firm was shut down because it relied on deceptive court filings and faulty evidence to churn out over a hundred thousand debt collection lawsuits in violation of the FDCPA. To stop further action against it, Hanna signed a Consent Order with the federal government, which was made final on January 6, 2016.
As part of this Order, Hanna, agreed to pay $3.1 million in fines and acknowledged itself to be a debt collector subject to the FDCPA. The Order also prohibited Hanna and its partners and successors to engage in unfair debt collection practices. (see CFPB Complaint and Consent Order).
Out of the ashes of the Hanna firm, arose Cooling & Winter. Cooling & Winter was formed just three weeks before the Consent Order that forced Hanna out of business. And the new firm is strikingly similar to the old one. In fact, the named partners, Joseph C Cooling & Robert A Winter, belonged to the Hanna firm, and were specifically named in the government suit against Hannah. In addition to having virtually the same partners and many of the same attorneys, the new firm even uses the old firm’s prior phone number. (For National Headlines on Hanna partners Joseph Cooling & Robert Winter, click Here.)
Like its predecessor, Cooling & Winter has continued in the Hanna legacy. In 2017 alone, they’ve been sued 11 times for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Many of these cases touch on the same practices prohibited in the Consent Order.
To this day, Cooling & Winter lawyers are telling debtors that the FDCPA doesn’t apply to them. The reason they give is alarming. They say they’re exempt because they have a special relationship with Capital One. True or false, this puts Capital One in a bad light. And inquiring minds want to know what Capital One has to say about this.
Capital One is no stranger to publicity. According to the Wall Street, Journal, Capital One is the top lender to the working poor. (sub prime credit card accounts). In another article, Capital One was noted for “Easy Credit and Abundant Lawsuits.”
In that story, the Consumer Federation of America called for more government regulation against subprime credit card lenders. It found “disturbing” the volume of suits filed by Capital One, and it urged regulators “to investigate whether the perils of subprime credit cards outweigh the benefits.”
So these debt collectors are already in the federal spotlight. And they have already made national news. Using them against the working poor is an open invite for more government regulation.
Below, Are the 18 Lawsuits Where Your Debt Collector Was A Defendant.
The 11 lawsuits in 2017 were all for Violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Note how quickly Cooling & Winter settles them-often within 1-3 months– to avoid a ruling that the FDCPA applies to them.
Bottom Line: A wolf in grandma’s clothing is still a wolf. You are using debt collectors who have hurt thousands of people. And they’re still at it but under a new name. So when the feds and media come knocking at your door, what will Capital One have to say for itself?
Very truly yours
3a. Get them In Trouble With Their Licensing Boards
Publicity & The State Bar
As a lawyer myself, I know that attorneys fear bad publicity. And so does the state bar, which in GA, just happens to be run, not by the government, but by the lawyers and judges themselves!
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the websites for doctors vs. lawyers. As you would expect, GA doctors are regulated at medicalboard.georgia.GOV. But for some reason, GA lawyers are regulated by a non government organization at gabar.ORG.
This is your strength. The state bar is very much like the Motion Picture Association. Both are terrified that outsiders might make the rules for them. Both want to regulate themselves without government interference. With the MPAA it means they’re very aware of the public’s sensitivity to sexual acts, and will rate on this more aggressively than on violence.
But with the state bar, it’s less about sex and far more about client theft. If a lawyer is caught stealing a client’s funds, the bar is terrified they must act immediately lest the government step in to correct the matter. And so in these cases, the Bar is very tough on its own.
That said, most lawyer offenses are treated with far less punishment. Unless of course, you can convince the Bar that if they don’t act fast, their friends the government will…
So with debt collector law firms, you must show how the individual lawyers are acting so badly that there needs to be immediate damage control. Otherwise, it will look like the state bar is a den of wolves and unwilling to police its own!
Show They Violated Ethics Rule 8.4 (Attorney Misconduct)
Your state bar is in charge of enforcing lawyer ethics violations. This includes whenever a lawyer engages in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. So don’t let a lawyer blow smoke in your face and say the FDCPA doesn’t apply to them.
Know deception when you see it. For example, when Cooling & Winter was told they must follow the FDCPA, one of their senior lawyers tried to mislead the debtor into thinking otherwise.
The lawyer starting saying something that was technically true: “We represent the creditor and the creditor is FDCPA exempt”. But in context, it was said only to fool the debtor into thinking something false; i.e. that because the FDCPA doesn’t apply to the creditor it also won’t apply to the creditor’s 3rd party debt collector!
There was no other purpose for this response except to mislead and deceive the debtor, who had challenged them under the FDCPA! So they violated both the GA Bar rules on deception and misrepresentation, along with the the FDCPA rules against misleading the debtor.
In Cooling & Winter’s case, they know full well they are under the FDCPA. Take a look at the disclaimer they have on their website. It totally tracks the FDCPA disclaimer-the one where the law requires all 3rd party collectors to say This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
Now what debt collector would ever put this on their website unless they were forced to by law? It’s like the cop who reads you your Miranda rights and then claims it was just a courtesy. The police don’t do it as a courtesy. They only do it because they have to. So Cooling & Winter, a law firm, has committed a breach in lawyer ethics by lying to you.
For how to background your debt collector, don’t forget to look at Exposing A Debt Collector Who Won’t Follow The FDCPA.
Sample Letter To State Bar Ethics Commission
Dear state bar: I am not a lawyer but I do know how lawyers are seen by the general public. Sadly, most people are suspicious of lawyers until they need one. And even then, they assume that the state bar will protect its own at the expense of the people hurt by them.
That said, I hope the state bar will investigate the ethics lapse of lawyer x who works for the law firm of Cooling & Winter. This lawyer violated ethics rule 8.4 which requires they refrain from deceptive or misleading statements.
As you must know, Cooling & Winter is the successor to the notorious law firm of Frederick J. Hanna & Associates; the same firm that in January 2016, was fined $3.1 million and then shut down by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The Hanna firm was shut down because it relied on deceptive court filings and faulty evidence to churn out over a hundred thousand debt collection lawsuits in violation of the FDCPA.
Cooling & Winter is much like the defunct Hanna firm. In addition to having virtually the same partners and many of the same attorneys, the new firm even uses the old firm’s prior phone number. To this day, Cooling lawyers are still telling debtors that the FDCPA doesn’t apply to them.
Now that you know the checkered past of this particular law firm, I will go into what they did wrong here. In my case, the misleading/deceptive statement was… I also have an email/recording to back it up.
Worse, lawyer X is an expert on the FDCPA and a former employee of the defunct Hanna law firm. This lawyer knows better.
Possible Headlines For Reporters include :
State Bar Protects Notorious Attorney Debt Collectors Shut Down By Feds
State Bar Won’t Police Its Lawyer Debt Collectors, Is This A National Trend?
Please respond in the next 7 days.
3b. Get Them In Trouble With Their Trade Groups
(Are You All A Den Of Thieves Argument)
Find the trade Associations the debt collectors belong to and scare them with unwanted media attention. Have I-team reporters place calls to the National Credit Association and other groups these lawyers mingle with, belong to, host seminars at, or are invited to speak at.
To find the groups they interact with, Google the name of the individual wrongdoer and the word association. Repeat with the name of the company. If the association has them as a key speaker or treasurer or president etc, make sure the media exposes these connections.
Also get the reporters to contact respectable trade groups for comment, even if the debt collector doesn’t belong to them. The goal is to get other groups to admit the debt collector is out of line and to publicly put distance between them and the big bad wolf. i.e. Big Bad Wolf is wrong and most of us debt collectors are not like that.
Enlist the Debt Collectors Who Play Fair Who Are Put At a disadvantage because the bad guys cut corners. If the bad guys always win then it’s just a race to the bottom of who can ignore the law the fastest. Contact Convergent Outsourcing, a debt collector who plays by the rules and will be at a competitive disadvantage with the bad guys.
Do the same with other respectable debt collection trade groups. Have reporters call them for an opinion on big bad wolf’s collection practices. Do they have any suggestions on how to stop crooked debt collectors? Watch your story gather momentum as respectable organizations chime in with their opinions.
Sample Letter To Trade Association About Cooling & Winter Debt Collector
Dear National Creditors Bar Association (NARCA)
I wish to inform you that one of your members is actively flouting the FDCPA. The individual attorney is X and they work for the law firm of Cooling & Winter.
Specifically, they falsely claimed they were not FDCPA debt collectors, refused to validate the debt and also did … I also have an email/recording to back it up.
This is in violation of Ethics Rule 8.4, and also the FDCPA which forbids deceptive or misleading communications. It also goes against your NARCA Code of Professional Conduct & Ethics. Specifically this attempt at deception causes disfavor with the public and a lack of public trust in violation of Article I, Section 1 and Section 2.
Please consider that your member law firm is the successor to the notorious law firm of Frederick J. Hanna & Associates. As you must know, in early 2016, this firm was fined 3.1 million dollars and shut down by the federal government. The new Cooling & Winter is much like the defunct Hanna firm. In addition to having virtually the same partners and many of the same attorneys, the new firm even uses the old firm’s phone number.
And it seems they are at it again with numerous FDCPA violations. Given your reputation in the community, I hope you will take action. The general public does not have much faith in a creditor’s group policing its own members. Please prove us wrong.
Possible Headlines For Reporters include :
NARCA Shields Notorious Attorney Debt Collectors Shut Down By Feds
NARCA Won’t Police Its Lawyer Debt Collectors, Is This A National Trend?
4. Get the Government to Shut Them Down.
Like a slow languid beast, the government won’t act unless there’s plenty of prodding. To get it moving on your behalf, you’ll need lots of help. Help can take the form of consumer action groups, the media and other debtors who’ve been victimized.
You’ll also want to know all about your debt collector. This includes , who they’ve hurt, and if they’ve ever been fined or investigated by a government agency. For how to background them see the end of Exposing A Debt Collector Who Won’t Follow The FDCPA.
Getting More Victims To Come Forward
The media love to talk to real live victims. And the government will need to know who else has been hurt. The best place to find other debtors are in Magistrate and Superior court where the cases are recent or still ongoing.
A court search does two things that should make you happy. First it will get you a list of defendants (victims) involving Cooling & Winter or it’s attorneys. Second, you get to see the names of the big bad banks you’ll want to write scare letters to. To search court records, see Exposing A Debt Collector Who Won’t Follow The FDCPA