Thursday, December 31, 2009

Financial industry lobbies hard against reforms

USA Today reports:
Wall Street, commercial banks and an array of other business interests are undertaking an all-out lobbying effort to shape legislation that imposes sweeping government oversight of the financial services industry. -- full story

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What to do when a debt collector calls

Mercury News:
When the debt collectors come calling, know your rights.

Collection companies are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a federal law. Enforcement is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and state authorities, usually the office of the state attorney general.

The federal law prohibits collectors from ... -- read more

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Maryland AG Gansler stops foreclosure scam

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that his Consumer Protection Division has won a judgment in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City of nearly $1 million against Rodney Spellen, Mid Atlantic Consulting, Inc., Jemel Lyles, Absoloot Ventures Inc., Brian Boyd, 1st Choice Property Management Firm, Inc., Sahar Ali, Alan Muniu, Phillip George, Certified Title & Escrow, Inc., and Reggie Simmons based on violations of Maryland laws against foreclosure rescue scams. The Honorable Pamela J. White issued an order that bars each of the defendants from offering and selling services of any kind to a homeowner who is in default on a mortgage or is in foreclosure, and requires them to pay a total of $987,030 in damages, restitution and penalties. -- read more

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mortgage compaines ordered to pay restitution

Larry Carson of The Baltimore Sun reports:
Two Owings Mills-based mortgage firms accused of running a "foreclosure rescue scheme" have agreed to pay $110,000 in cash restitution as part of a settlement that saved the Ellicott City homes of two elderly women, one of whom has since died after becoming a victim. -- full story

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

AARP says utility rates are a top consumer issue

This AARP article quotes MCRC board member Hank Greenberg about concerns over so-called smart meters.

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Howard County settles lawsuit in foreclosure scam

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Consumers revolt over "smart" power meters

The New York Times reports "... Some consumers argue that the meters are logging far more kilowatt hours than they believe they are using. And many find it unfair that they will begin to pay immediately for the new meters through higher rates, when the promised savings could be years away." --full story.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Foreclosures drop in Maryland, again

The Daily Record reports: "The state saw a 4.4 percent drop in filings compared to October, but the foreclosure rate is still 83.6 percent higher than it was a year ago, according to numbers released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. With one in every 364 homes in some state of the foreclosure process, Maryland has the ninth-highest rate of foreclosure in the country, unchanged from last month." -- full story

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Monday, December 7, 2009

MCRC Board Member on investigation of duct-cleaning scam (video clip)

Liz Crenshaw interviews Eric Friedman, an ex-officio member of MCRC's board and the director of the Office of Consumer Protection for Montgomery County, about allegations of a scam by an air-duct-cleaning service. See the clip here.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SB 971 testimony

Testimony to the Senate Finance Committee
SB 971 Public Service Companies – Gas and Electric Service –
Alternative Payment Agreements
Position: Favorable


March 16, 2010

The Honorable Thomas M. Middleton, Chair
3 East, Miller Senate Building
Annapolis, MD 21401
cc: Members, Senate Finance Committee

Honorable Chair Middleton and Members of the Senate Finance Committee:

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that advances and protects the interests of consumers through education, advocacy, and training programs. MCRC works to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. Our members include consumer advocates, practitioners, and low-and-moderate income families throughout Maryland.

MCRC supports SB 971 because the legislation addresses a problem many are facing in today’s economic climate. The legislation expands current law – which requires utility companies to offer alternative payment plans to customers who are behind in their payments before their electricity can be shut off – to include residential customers who are not considered low income. The person could be newly unemployed or be facing health issues; the bill includes criteria for determining a hardship situation.

There is a sunset provision in the bill so that it will not go on indefinitely and hopefully will not be needed when the economic climate improves. But it is clearly needed at this time.

Respectfully submitted,

Marceline White
Executive Director, MCRC

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SB 863 testimony

Testimony to the Senate Finance Committee
SB 863 Credit Regulation-Loans Secured by Residential Real Property-Late or Delinquency Charges and Crediting of Payments
Position: Favorable


March 17, 2010
The Honorable Thomas M. Middleton, Chair
3 East, Miller Senate Building
Annapolis, MD 21401
Cc: Members, Senate Finance Committee

Honorable Chair Middleton and Members of the Senate Finance Committee:

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that work to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. Our members include consumer advocates, practitioners, and low-and-moderate income families throughout Maryland.

MCRC strongly supports SB 863 which ensures that Maryland home-owners would be appropriately credited for mortgage payments that they make. While foreclosures have slowed slightly in Maryland, far too many home-owners are still struggling to maintain their homes. A March 11 report by Real Estate Information Systems (RIS Media) ranked Maryland in the top 10 list of states with the highest foreclosure activity in February 2010. In February 2010, one in every 407 housing units received a foreclosure filing, or 5, 732 filings last month alone.

The General Assembly and the Governor’s office have adopted several measures and promulgated new regulations to stem the tide of foreclosures in Maryland. SB 863 represents another important policy towards assisting Marylanders who are able to do so to retain their homes. Currently, when struggling home-owners make a partial payment on their mortgages, banks may credit the partial payment in an towards interest and penalties so that it never reduces the principal; hold it in a separate account until the rest of the payment arrives; or, unbelievably, refuse to accept it and return it to the home-owner.

SB 863 reverses this policy and replaces it with a common-sense one: rather than helping a consumer to tread water on their mortgage, SB 863 allows a consumer to get ahead by paying down their principal. This bill will assist struggling home-owners who are doing their best to continue to pay their mortgage in these hard economic times.

MCRC strongly supports SB 863 and urges the committee to issue a favorable report.

Respectfully submitted,

Marceline White
Executive Director, MCRC

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HB 1150 testimony

Testimony to the Economic Matters Committee
HB 1150 Consumer Protection – Damages for Violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act
Position: Favorable


March 11, 2010
The Honorable Dereck E. Davis, Chair
House Economic Matters Committee
House Office Building, Room 231
Annapolis, MD 21401
cc: Members, Economic Matters Committee

Honorable Chair Davis and Members of the Economic Matters Committee:

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that advances and protects the interests of consumers through education, advocacy, and training programs. MCRC works to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. Our members include consumer advocates, practitioners, and low-and-moderate income families throughout Maryland.

The purpose of Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) is to protect consumers from individuals or firms engaged in unfair or deceptive practices. There are numerous examples of unfair and deceptive practices that have been raised this session from sub-prime loans; to foreclosure and loan modification scams; to payday lenders; to Refund Anticipation Loans; to debt settlement.

In many respects, Maryland’s CPA is a strong, effective statute. Maryland’s CPA has a clear scope with broad prohibitions for unfair and deceptive acts and appropriate rule-making authority for the state. Moreover, the statute allows public enforcement without onerous preconditions for consumers to meet. Current law also provides equitable relief and restitution for consumers.

However, the CPA falls short in terms of the civil penalties and statutory damages it provides. A substantial civil penalty deters repeat violations. A business that uses unfair or deceptive practices to take consumers’ money is likely to continue to do so unless a civil penalty is applied in addition to restitution. According to a 2009 report by the National Consumer Law Center, 36 states had stronger civil penalties in their CPA statutes than Maryland.

The same report notes that twenty-five states and the District of Columbia authorize double or treble damages for consumers. Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey statutes authorize enhanced damages. In the region, Delaware is the only other state that does not have double or treble damages.

In addition to deterring repeat violations of the CPA, HB 1150 will also provide an incentive for private attorneys to take on more consumer cases. Consequently, more consumers will have access to justice and restitution within the state and the Attorney General’s Office will be able to devote its resources to other critical consumer issues as more attorneys take on these cases.

MCRC urges the Committee to issue a favorable report on HB 1150 to enhance consumer protections throughout the state.

Respectfully submitted,



Marceline White
Executive Director, MCRC

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