Friday, December 17, 2010

Do you understand your credit card bills?

Take Consumer Action's Survey's now and let them know:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/creditcards2010

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Postion Announcement: Communications/Membership Manager

December 7, 2010

Communications/Membership Manager


The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC), the “voice for Maryland consumers,” is seeking a full-time/part-time Communications/Membership manager. MCRC, a statewide, nonprofit advocacy organization, works to promote consumer rights and fairness in the marketplace.


Responsibilities

  • Develop overall communications plan for MCRC including press, social media, and web communications
  • Garner press coverage for MCRC research and policy work through calls, meetings, and discussions with statewide media
  • Organize press events for MCRC
  • Proof-read and copy-edit MCRC materials
  • Lay-out and design basic MCRC materials
  • Develop and implement dissemination strategy for education and policy materials
  • Coordinate with graphic designer and printer on materials with more complicated layouts
  • Track MCRC media hits and update press book
  • Develop and employ existing methods for interacting with members across the state, including the use of action alerts and advocacy emails
  • Maintain and update the Coalition’s website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts
  • Track MCRC’s social media presence and develop strategies to increase traffic
  • Work with contractors on video production
  • Solicit and document consumer and member experiences for MCRC policy work
  • Plan annual membership meeting
  • Update membership database
  • Write and design quarterly newsletter
  • Attend quarterly board meetings, special and annual events
  • Assist with office administrative duties as needed

Qualifications

Required:

  • Bachelor of Arts or Journalism degree
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills
  • Experience with social media and Web marketing campaigns
  • Knowledge of Maryland press corps, particularly reporters who cover the Maryland General Assembly
  • Experience with Google Analytics and/or other audience measurement tools
  • Experience managing and using a CRM or contact database
  • Proficiency in Word and Excel and ability to learn media database technology

Preferred:

  • Experience working in journalism or as a communications associate with nonprofit organizations
  • Experience with membership databases such as Democracy in Action
  • Experience with design programs, shooting and editing video and taking good quality photos

Salary and Benefits:

Salary is commensurate with experience. MCRC provides excellent benefits including workers’ compensation and paid vacation. This position is currently a part-time position but may expand to a full-time position, contingent on funding.


To Apply:

Please send a cover letter, resume, writing sample (500 words or less), salary requirements and desire for a full-time or part-time position by December 18:

Marceline White, Executive Director, MCRC at marcelineawhite@gmail.com

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Watch out for holiday scams

New York Times: The Internet security firm McAfee recently released a list of the online scamsthat consumers should be aware of this holiday season.

“As people jump online to look for deals on gifts and travel, it’s important to recognize common scams to safeguard against theft during the busy season ahead,” Dave Marcus, director of security research for McAfee Labs, said in a statement. Read more here.


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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

FTC Issues Final Rule to Protect Struggling Homeowners from Mortgage Relief Scams

Homeowners will be protected by a new Federal Trade Commission rule that bans providers of mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender or servicer that they decide is acceptable.

"At a time when many Americans are struggling to pay their mortgages, peddlers of so-called mortgage relief services have taken hundreds of millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of homeowners without ever delivering results," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. "By banning providers of these services from collecting fees until the customer is satisfied with the results, this rule will protect consumers from being victimized by these scams."

Read more here.

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The Arbitration War

New York Times: ... This is the latest in the arbitration war — a battle over whether the United States will increasingly have a privatized system of justice that bars people from enforcing rights in court and, if so, what will be considered fair in that system. It would be grossly unfair for the court to let the corporation get away with what it wants to in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion — a case that involves a small amount of money and a huge principle.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/27/opinion/27sat1.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

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Consumers urged to beware when trying to comparison shop for a mattress

MCRC board member Eric Friedman on News4 discussing the ways mattress retailers make it hard to compare prices.

For more tips on mattress shopping from Montgomery County, click here.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eric Friedman of Montgomery County's Office of Consumer Protection on Fox News

He warns consumers to watch out for scammers promising to sell tickets or other goods and services online. Eric is an ex-officio member of MCRC's board.

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PA Supreme Court says payday lenders must abide by state regulations

The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruled that out-of-state payday lenders must abide by the state’s banking regulations, even if the lenders do not have a physical presence in the state. The case, Cash America Net of Nevada vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Department of Banking, pitted an online payday lender that offers cash advances with interest rates of over 1,200 APR against a regulatory apparatus that had sought to enforce lending rates and requirements. The unanimous 7-0 ruling affirmed an earlier ruling from the court. It is unlikely that Cash America will be able to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

To read the decision, click here.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Scott Borison of the Legg Law Firm discusses foreclosures on MPT

Consumer lawyer and MCRC supporter Scott Borison on "Your Money and Business" on MPT:

Watch the full episode. See more Your Money and Business.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Smart utility meters draw complaints

New York Times: ... Over the last year, as utilities around the country have installed an estimated two million of the new digital meters, power companies have received plenty of complaints — and in some states have been hit by class-action lawsuits — most of them from consumers saying the smart meters are overstating their electrical usage.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/13/business/13meter.html?_r=1&hp

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What do you think the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should tackle?

Americans for Financial Reform says: "The sweeping Wall Street Reform Bill that was signed into law this summer calls for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Just like other consumer regulators work to keep dangerous products from hurting consumers, the CFPB’s job is to make sure financial products and services don’t harm consumers or our economy.

Please take the following survey to let us know what consumer financial issues you think should be first priorities for the consumer bureau."

Find the survey here.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Free workshops for consumers who are buying a home or refinancing a mortgage

BALTIMORE, MD -- Civil Justice Inc., the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs, the Howard County Department of Housing and Community Development and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) are partnering this week to help Maryland residents understand the importance of avoiding the tricks and traps that far too often accompany home buying and mortgage refinancing. During “Mortgage Fraud Prevention Week,” consumer attorneys will explain why it’s worth getting legal help when purchasing a home, refinancing a mortgage or taking out a reverse mortgage, and they will explain how consumers can receive free legal advice during the purchasing or refinancing process.

"Civil Justice has worked with hundreds of Marylanders who were misled and deceived regarding the terms of their mortgages when they purchased their homes or refinanced their mortgages,” said attorney Diane Cipollone, manager of the Maryland Mortgage Fraud Prevention Program at Civil Justice. “Had these homeowners who are struggling with payments or facing foreclosure on predatory loans consulted with an attorney prior to settlement, they would have been informed about the deceptive and unaffordable terms of these loans and would never have signed the mortgage agreements. The only common factor among victims of such practices is that they did not have independent legal advice prior to signing their documents.”

Rebecca Bowman, Administrator of the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs, urged people to get information before signing on the dotted line.

“Too often, our office hears from people after they have already become victims of predatory real estate and lending practices,” Bowman said. “The workshop in Howard County will provide the public with tips on avoiding deceptive practices and provide an opportunity to meet with attorneys who can review their paperwork before settlement.”

As part of Mortgage Fraud Prevention Week, the following workshops will be offered:

• November 4: 6:00-8:00 pm “More in the Middle—Financial Fitness” workshop at Impact Pentecostal Fellowship Church, Essex, MD. Sponsored by Associated Black Charities and Church of God in Christ (COGIC)


• November 5: 10:00-12:00 noon Legislative Black Caucus Annual Conference, Lowe House Office Building, Appropriations Committee Room 120, Annapolis, MD

• November 6: 9:30 am-1:00 pm “What’s In YOUR Loan? - Mortgage Fraud Awareness Workshop,” Bain Senior Center, Columbia, MD
This event will offer participants an opportunity to ask a panel of attorneys questions about home buying and mortgages as well as the chance to meet one-on-one with an attorney free of charge, but advance registration for this service is required; contact mfp@civiljusticenetwork.org or call Erica Evans at Civil Justice at 410-706-0174.

“We commend Civil Justice, Inc. for holding this session and encouraging homeowners and prospective homeowners to seek assistance from an attorney and housing counselor before they sign real estate or mortgage loan documents,” said Mark Kaufman, Maryland’s Commissioner of Financial Regulation. “The process of buying your first home or refinancing your mortgage is complicated and it is important to be informed and understand the consequences.”

Kaufman’s office encourages anyone having trouble paying his or her mortgage to call the Maryland Hope Hotline at 877-462-7555 or go to www.mdhope.org. And Marylanders who feel they may have been a victim of mortgage fraud are encouraged to call the Commissioner’s office at 410-230-6077 or complete a complaint form at http://www.dllr.state.md.us/finance/consumers.

“The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is working to enact policies that would curtail mortgage fraud and home foreclosures,” said MCRC Executive Director Marceline White, “but it is equally important to educate consumers on ways they can avoid problems from the outset.”

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Robo-signed foreclosures should be tossed out, consumer attorneys say

MCRC coalition partner Civil Justice Inc. has asked for hundreds of foreclosure cases that were done by robo-signers to be dismissed. Read about it in this Baltimore Sun article.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Election could raise threshold for civil cases in circuit court in Maryland

Daily Record: Halloween may be over, but something strange is still happening in Maryland. The plaintiffs’ bar has found common ground with the Maryland Retailers Association, while the insurance industry finds itself in agreement with the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.
http://mddailyrecord.com/2010/10/31/election-could-raise-threshold-for-civil-cases-in-circuit-court/

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ban on advance fees for debt settlement services starts today

The Federal Trade Commission's ruling that bans advance fees for debt settlement firms (requiring them to actually perform services before taking consumers' money) goes into effect today. It's a big win for consumers, but more needs to be done. MCRC will be working to cap fees to a reasonable level and to close the loopholes that firms immediately sought to employ.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mortgage-fraud workshop for consumers Nov. 6

Click on image to enlarge:

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Employers using credit checks more frequently for job candidates

Here's an interesting story by Eileen Ambrose in The Baltimore Sun about employers' increased use of credit reports to screen job applicants. In the 2010 General Assembly session, MCRC advocated for legislation (HB 175 and SB 312) that would have limited this practice, but both bills died in their respective committees.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

FTC publishes guide to help attorneys give assistance to victims of ID theft

"The Federal Trade Commission has created a guide to help attorneys and victim advocates provide legal assistance to identity theft victims. Geared toward resolving issues out of court, the Guide for Assisting Identity Theft Victims (www.idtheft.gov/probono) describes how advocates can intervene with creditors, credit reporting agencies, debt collectors, and others. The Guide includes sample dispute letters for victims and sample attorney follow-up letters to address matters victims are unable to resolve. It also provides checklists, an ID Theft Affidavit, a Victim’s Action Log, federal statutes and regulations, consumer education material, and links to online resources."

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Court OKs foreclosure review

Jamie Smith Hopkins of The Baltimore Sun reports: Maryland courts got the go-ahead Tuesday to conduct sweeping reviews of possibly thousands of foreclosure cases to root out those with problematic or fraudulent documentation, while the federal government separately announced investigations into national foreclosure practices.
http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/real-estate/bs-bz-court-foreclosure-rules-20101019,0,697955.story

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Gazette article looks at role of PSC

Interesting article here about the Public Service Commission and whether it's doing enough to protect consumers. Article includes quotes from MCRC's Marceline White about her thoughts on the PSC. Read it here.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tips for protecting yourself from identity theft

Brought to you by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
http://www.protectyouridnow.org/

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Foreclosure problems go deeper than paperwork snafus

Washington Post: Millions of U.S. mortgages have been shuttled around the global financial system - sold and resold by firms - without the documents that traditionally prove who legally owns the loans.

Now, as many of these loans have fallen into default and banks have sought to seize homes, judges around the country have increasingly ruled that lenders had no right to foreclose, because they lacked clear title. ... Read full article here.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Maryland officials ask mortgage firms to halt foreclosures

The Baltimore Sun: ... The officials were responding to widespread reports that executives with national companies have signed many legal documents for foreclosure cases without verifying that the information was accurate. Bank of America said Friday that it would delay foreclosures in 23 states as it investigated its process, following similar announcements by JPMorgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage. Maryland was not among the states.
http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-foreclosure-moratorium-20101004,0,4911915.story

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bloom Raskin confirmed

Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was MCRC's Consumer Advocate of the Year in 2009, is joining the Federal Reserve Board.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-sarah-bloom-raskin-20100930,0,641663.story

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Howard County's 50+ Expo is October 15

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Attack on Arbitration Fairness Act

Former Ninth Circuit Judge and Secretary of Education Shirley M. Hufstedler and Former Eighth Circuit Judge, FBI Director, and CIA Director William H. Webster have co-authored a piece in the National Law Journal, Arbitration Under Siege, criticizing the proposed Arbitration Fairness Act, and calling instead for codification of fairness standards. ... Continue reading here.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Banks Pressed on Sour Home Loans

Wall Street Journal: Big U.S. banks are facing legal pressure to make up for losses tied to pools of soured low-end mortgage loans.

In the latest effort, a group of investors in 2,300 mortgage securities worth roughly $500 billion is seeking to force several banks that originated or are now servicing faulty subprime-mortgage loans to repurchase or modify them.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704814204575508143329644732.html

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MCRC releases "How to Buy a Used Car" booklet

This is a great resource for anyone in the market for a used car. Car dealers have been perfecting their sales tactics for years; this booklet gives consumers the knowledge they need to level the playing field. Many of the tips also transfer to new-car purchases. View or download the booklet here.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

MCRC signs on to letter suppoting debt-settlement reform

Sept. 24, 2010

Dear Senator/Representative:

Our organizations, representing millions of consumers across the United States, strongly support the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act of 2010 -- S. 3264, sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer; and H.R. 5387 sponsored by Representative Luis Gutierrez. We ask you to cosponsor this important legislation to protect Americans from harmful debt settlement industry practices, and to support it.

It is crucial to enact this legislation as soon as possible to protect vulnerable consumers from the effects of harmful debt settlement practices.

The debt settlement industry claims that it will help consumers negotiate with creditors to pay off debts for less than the amount owed. Debt settlement providers encourage consumers to stop paying their creditors and instead accumulate money in a special account to fund later settlements. However, debt settlement companies generally deduct fees directly from those savings before any debts are settled, and keep taking fees every month, even if they never settle one penny of the consumer’s debt. Since creditors are not getting paid, they may increase collection activity and even sue.

To download the entire letter, click here.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Countrywide's Mozilo Loses Bid for Dismissal of SEC's Subprime Risks Suit

Countrywide Financial Corp. former Chief Executive Officer Angelo Mozilo must face trial on regulators’ claims he misled investors about risks tied to subprime lending, a judge ruled. ... Read story here.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Obama to appoint E. Warren to advisory role

Washington Post: ... By appointing Warren to a post within the administration - much as the White House did with the "car czar" Steven Rattner and "compensation czar" Kenneth Feinberg - Obama would free her to act as the bureau's director almost immediately while avoiding a confirmation battle.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/15/AR2010091505999.html

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fannie Sets New Foreclosure Timeframe for Maryland

National Mortgage News: Fannie Mae has established new foreclosure timeframes for four states – Florida, Maryland, Nevada and New York – telling seller/servicers they face potentially steep fines if they cannot complete the task. ... Read more here.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Elizabeth Warren may avoid nasty confirmation battle

New York Times: The Obama administration is considering appointing the legal scholar Elizabeth Warren to run a new consumer bureau on a temporary basis to avoid a potentially bruising confirmation battle in the Senate, according to people who have been briefed on the search.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/business/14consumer.html

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

MCRC's Marceline White on MPT

MCRC Executive Director appeared on "Your Money & Business" on MPT recently, along with Kathleen Murphy, President and CEO, Maryland Bankers Association, to discuss the new Consumer Protection Financial Bureau.

Watch the full episode. See more Your Money and Business.

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Top 10 job scams

Rarely has there been a riper time for con artists to come out of the woodwork to lure unsuspecting victims into their lairs, with such advertisements as "easy ways to make money", "quick money", and "how to earn money fast." The reason: The U.S. unemployment rate has been hovering around 9.6% and millions of Americans are currently out of work, desperate for any sort of employment.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Arbitration as Delegation

David Horton, Loyola Law School Los Angeles

Abstract: Hundreds of millions of consumer and employment contracts include mandatory arbitration clauses, class arbitration waivers, and other terms that modify the rules of litigation. These provisions ride the wake of the Supreme Court’s expansive interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). For decades, scholars have criticized the Court’s arbitration jurisprudence for distorting Congress’s wishes and ignoring the fact that companies use fine print dispute resolution provisions as a clandestine way to eliminate substantive rights.
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1665565

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

More speculation on Elizabeth Warren and CFP

Washington Post: When fall classes began Wednesday at Harvard Law School, Elizabeth Warren was scheduled to be teaching contract law to first-year students. But something happened on the way to the chalkboard. ... read full story here.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

It may be time to refinance -- your car loan

Washington Post: It's easy to overlook the cost of auto loans with mortgage rates grabbing all the attention. Yet rates on auto loans have edged lower as the cost of lending has gone down for banks. And car buyers who didn't get the best terms in the past year or so can capitalize by refinancing their loans. ... Read more here.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Report on Consumer Protection Act

NCLC has released a special 8 page issue of NCLC REPORTS analyzing the consumer law implications of the just-enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act. Go to http://www.nclc.org/dodd-frank. The article includes an overview of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as a summary of the mortgage, Truth in Lending Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, remittances, and other statutory changes in the bill.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Fighting bank fees in small claims court

MSNBC: If you've ever felt powerless in a fight against a large corporation or been blind-sided by bank fees, you should know about James Noble.

The Charlottesville, Va., software engineer found himself on the short end of a credit card interest rate increase and facing $300 in overdraft fees levied by Bank of America earlier this year. In both cases, he felt the costs were unfair, but he couldn't get anyone at the bank to listen.
"Customer service is so bad at most places now, it's really starting to get to the point where you have to go to court to be treated fairly," he said.

So he did. ... Read story here.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beware of car-loan scammers

Wall Street Journal: When Edward Fox's wife lost her job and they saw their family income shrink considerably earlier this year, he looked for ways to cut expenses. He thought he found one when a company promised to help him cut his hefty car loan by as much as a third.

He got scammed instead.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dont-get-taken-by-car-loan-scams-2010-08-19?dist=news

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maryland fares worse than nation when it comes to foreclosures

Baltimore Business Journal reports: The number of home foreclosures filed in Maryland increased about 10.4 percent from June to July, exceeding the national average.

http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2010/08/09/daily33.html?ana=e_du_pub

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The days of forced consumer arbitration could be numbered

Interesting article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Buy a car, change cell phone plans or open a new credit card and you'll likely be required to sign a lengthy contract that — let's be honest here — you're never going to read.

Increasingly, those terms and conditions include provisions that prevent you from suing the big companies that wrote the contracts. Instead, you can try to get satisfaction through arbitration. Good luck.

Forced consumer arbitration isn't new, but it is becoming more and more common. Yet that could change, as consumer groups opposed to the practice say they have never been closer to victory. ... Full article here.


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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Colbert Two-fer: Consumer Financial Protection and mandatory arbitration

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New credit card tricks

Wall Street Journal: Just months after historic legislation banned certain billing practices, card issuers have dreamed up new ones designed to trip up consumers.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704895004575395823497473064.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baltimore Sun article on FTC's debt settlement ruling

A great article by Eileen Ambrose on the FTC's ban on advance fees for debt settlement.
"It's a huge victory for consumers," says Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, which advocated for a similar fee ban this year in Maryland.

Until now, the debt settlement industry has grown leaps and bounds without much oversight. An increasing number of consumers have turned to these companies, which claim they can negotiate with creditors to accept half of what's owed or less. ... Full story here.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Consumer complaints go up; protection budgets go down


"At many agencies, complaints went up in 2009 and the resources to help consumers went down," concludes a new report issued jointly by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators. "These are challenging times for consumers and the agencies that serve them. State and local consumer agencies need and deserve public support to protect consumers and the integrity of the marketplace." ... Full article here.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nightmare arbitration story

This video tells the story of a man who purchased a car that, he realized later, had flood damage and is unsafe to drive. Because of the forced arbitration clause buried in his contract, he's been waiting three years for justice.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Direct deposit of Social Security checks leaves seniors vulnerable

NCLC has released a new report: "Runaway Bandwagon: How the Government's Push for Direct Deposit of Social Security Exposes Seniors to Predatory Bank Loans," available at http://www.nclc.org/images/pdf/pr-reports/runaway-bandwagon.pdf.

It was also featured in a Wall Street Journal article, "Treasury Draws Fire on Paperless Social Security Checks," available here.

The report looks at how Treasury's push to require all recipients of Social Security and other benefits to receive payments by direct deposit by 2013 will expose many seniors to predatory payday loans made by banks.

The focus is on account advance products (aka "bank payday loans") – which can have APRs as high as 1,800% – that some banks offer to customers with checking accounts or prepaid debit cards that get regular direct deposits of benefits or other sources of income. Banks help themselves to funds directly from customers’ accounts to repay loan principal and fees, so that these loans closely resemble both fee-based overdraft programs and typical payday loans.

The report calls on Treasury to take responsibility for ensuring that all accounts into which benefits are direct deposited are safe so that the direct deposit push doesn't result in seniors and other beneficiaries being bled of vital subsistence resources.

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Senate panel approves Bloom Raskin for Fed board

Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was named MCRC's Consumer Advocate of the Year in 2009, moved a step closer to joining the Federal Reserve Board.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/sns-ap-us-fed-nominees,0,357784.story

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foreclosure "help" tops list of consumer complaints

New York Times: The fastest-growing consumer complaint in 2009 was about bogus offers to help save homes from foreclosure, according to a new survey of state and local consumer agencies released Tuesday.

The 2009 Consumer Complaint Survey Report was conducted by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators and is their 15th report on top consumer complaints. The latest results are based on a survey of 33 state, county, and city agencies from 18 states on the most common complaints received from January 2009 through December 2009.

http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/top-consumer-complaints-in-2009/?nl&emc=aua1

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FTC hands a consumers a huge victory

In a big victory for consumers, the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday approved new telemarketing rules that would prohibit debt-relief firms who use telephone sales from charging clients advance fees.

"Banning advance fees is huge because currently many debt settlement firms seem to have a business plan based on the notion of charging incredibly high fees but doing no work. That means vulnerable consumers are subsidizing this lucrative industry," said MCRC Executive Director Marceline White. "With advance fees, they basically take the money and run. By the time the consumers figure out that the so-called debt-relief company isn't actually helping them, those fees have already been paid and are nearly impossible to recoup."

The FTC ruling also requires better disclosure about what consumers can reasonably expect from the debt-relief firms, and it sets guidelines for dealing with the "dedicated accounts" in which consumers save their money in hopes of one day paying off their creditors. To read the FTC's release on the ruling, click here.

MCRC and one dozen other local and national consumer groups had urged FTC officials to tighten the rules that govern debt settlement telemarketing calls. To read their letter, click here.

Debt settlement is a system that promises to reduce and pay off consumers' debts, but instead often leaves them in worse shape than before. Many debt settlement companies collect huge upfront fees, encourage consumers to stop paying their creditors, and typically perform no real service but still walk away with thousands of dollars in profit. The consumer is left with less money, a worse credit score, angrier creditors, and dwindling options. Consumer complaints to the Maryland Attorney General's Office about debt settlement firms have risen 144 percent over the past three years.

MCRC strongly supported legislation in the Maryland General Assembly last session (HB392 and SB701) that would have: limited the advance fees that debt settlement firms could charge; required the firms to actually reduce a consumer's debt before collecting the bulk of their fees; and limited the amount that firms could charge. Lawmakers put aside making a decision on the reforms and instead voted to create a working group to study the issue, to which MCRC was named.

"This ruling by the FTC shows that debt settlement needs to be reformed," White said. "While this development is extremely positive, there is more that can and should be done at the state level to protect Marylanders."

To read MCRC's report, Debt Settlement in Maryland: Compounding Problems, Deepening Debt, or the executive summary, click here.

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MCRC executive director will be on MPT tonight


MCRC Executive Director Marceline White will be on Your Money & Business tonight at 7:30 discussing the Consumer Protection Act. Also appearing will be Kathleen Murphy of the Maryland Bankers Association. Not surprisingly, the two had different takes on the reform measures.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

National Food Policy Conference is Sept. 22-23

For 33 years, the National Food Policy Conference has been a Washington institution and a unique collaboration between consumer advocates, the food industry and government. It is a key national gathering for those interested in agriculture, food and nutrition policy. The conference, September 22 and 23 in Washington, D.C., is coordinated by the Consumer Federation of America, in cooperation with the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

This year’s conference will focus on the important issue of child nutrition and health. The conference will explore how to assure sustainability for these programs, examine food labeling issues, and discuss the application of the new Dietary Guidelines. Speakers and panelists will examine changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; discuss how to assure healthy environments for low-income children; explore the challenges of making healthier food products; and look at how best to incorporate evaluation into program development. For more info, click here.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

FTC settles with deceptive mortgage modifiers

Eight marketers are banned from selling mortgage modification or foreclosure relief services under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC alleged that the marketers charged homeowners up-front fees and falsely claimed they could get their mortgage loans modified or prevent foreclosure on their homes. The settlements in three separate actions are part of the FTC's ongoing efforts against scams that target financially distressed consumers.

http://ftc.gov/opa/2010/07/lmshope.shtm

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Automakers said to be undermining safety legislation

New York Times: A coalition of consumer groups says automakers are trying to undermine a motor vehicle safety bill needed to give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power and money the agency requires to better protect consumers.
http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/consumer-groups-criticize-automakers-over-safety-legislation/

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Forced arbitration to be addressed in Consumer Protection Act

Public Citizen: The Bureau then has the authority, by rulemaking, to "prohibit or impose conditions or limitations on the use of" mandatory arbitration clauses, consistent with the study. This provision had its origins in the Obama Administration's initial white paper on financial reform and, amazingly, it stayed in the legislation all the way. Read more here.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Eric Friedman Appointed to State Collection Agency Licensing Board

MCRC board member Eric Friedman, who is director of Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, has been appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley to serve as a consumer representative on Maryland’s Collection Agency Licensing Board within the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Division of Financial Regulation.

“This appointment provides Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection with a great opportunity to use information from individual complaints to address systemic changes in the collection agency industry,” said Friedman. “This will enable our office to better collaborate with Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation in serving as a catalyst for change.”

The board is comprised of two consumer representatives and two industry representatives. The Commissioner of Financial Regulation, Sarah Bloom Raskin, currently serves as chairperson. The board has statutory responsibility for the licensing of collection agencies operating in Maryland and addresses written complaints, conducts hearings on alleged violations, mediates disputes and issues orders requiring licensees to correct violations. The board informs both licensees and the public about abusive debt collection practices.

Friedman will serve a four-year term that began on July 1, 2010.

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Maryland Office of People’s Counsel revamps website

The Maryland Office of People’s Counsel has a new consumer-friendly website. While at the same address (www.opc.state.md.us), it has been totally re-designed. Consumers, community agencies and organizations will be able to find information on utility rates and services, consumer protections for utility customers, assistance for customers struggling to pay utility bills, and OPC’s testimony before the Public Service Commission and Maryland Legislature.

The new website also features in-depth information on current activities and issues before the MD Public Service Commission and federal agencies. New features such as “hot topics” and “public hearings” serve as quick reference to pending activities of the office.

“We have re-designed this website for easy access to useful and timely information on utility issues,” said Maryland People’s Counsel Paula Carmody. “We hope that Maryland consumers, and others interested in issues affecting utility consumers, will visit us and explore the new website.”

OPC recommends that you “register” on the home page if you would like to receive email notice of OPC’s press releases and alerts.

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President Obama signs Consumer Protection Act

New York Times: The law subjects more financial companies to federal oversight, regulates many derivatives contracts and creates a panel to detect risks as well as a consumer protection regulator. A number of the details have been left for regulators to work out, inevitably setting off complicated tangles down the road that could last for years. Read full story here.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Financial reforms about to become law

New York Times: A broad overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, intended to address the causes of the 2008 economic crisis and rewrite the rules for a more complex — and mistrustful — era on Wall Street, cleared one last procedural hurdle in the Senate on Thursday as it headed for final Congressional approval later in the day.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/business/16regulate.html?hp

Story in Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/15/AR2010071500464.html?hpid%3Dtopnews&sub=AR

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Monday, July 12, 2010

FTC says debt collection system is "broken"

MCRC is very happy to see that the FTC is recommending arbitration reforms. We worked for local mandatory-arbitration reform in the General Assembly this year but the legislation died in the Senate Finance Committee.

"A new Federal Trade Commission report concludes that the system for resolving consumer debt collection disputes is broken, and recommends significant litigation and arbitration reforms to improve efficiency and fairness to consumers.

The report, “Repairing A Broken System: Protecting Consumers in Debt Collection Litigation and Arbitration,” reflects information gathered at roundtable discussions the FTC held throughout the country in 2009, as well as public comments and the FTC’s experience in debt collection matters. The roundtables followed a February 2009 report that identified some concerns with debt collection litigation and arbitration, but concluded that more information was needed about certain debt collection litigation and arbitration practices before further recommendations could be made.

The FTC’s 2009 report found that debt collection litigation raised concerns about collectors failing to properly notify consumers of suits they have filed, collectors filing suits based on insufficient evidence of indebtedness, courts frequently granting default judgments against consumers who do not appear or defend themselves, collectors seeking to recover on debts beyond the statute of limitations, and banks freezing funds in bank accounts that are exempt from garnishment by law." Read more here.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Red, White, and Scammed

Parade magazine: The used BMW was pretty, its silver paint gleaming, and the $17,000 price was reasonable. So, in March 2007, U.S. Army Spc. Diann Traina signed a contract, took out a loan, and traded in her pickup to buy the sedan at a dealership in Fayetteville, N.C., right outside the gates of Fort Bragg.

What she didn’t know was that the dealer had taken out a loan against his inventory and didn’t actually own the vehicle he sold her. Spc. Traina was never able to get the title to the BMW, so when the dealership shut down soon afterward, she was stuck—without a car and with an $11,000 debt. In the meantime, she had been deployed to Iraq, leaving her helpless to do much about it.

http://www.parade.com/news/2010/07/11-red-white-and-scammed.html

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MSNBC shines light on debt settlement industry

Here is a great piece from MSNBC that shows just how deceptive debt settlement firms will be in order to get consumers' money. MCRC is working hard to regulate this industry to protect Marylanders.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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NCLC's Consumer Rights Litigation Conference in November

This year’s 19th Annual Consumer Rights Litigation Conference will take place in NCLC’s hometown, Boston, November 11-14, 2010.

You don’t want to miss the conference’s cutting edge courses that will strengthen your cases, sharpen your legal strategies, and improve your results for your consumer clients. In addition to a full lineup of breakout sessions, plenaries, and the Consumer Class Action Symposium, the conference will feature a number of Intensive sessions that provide timely, in depth information on mortgage litigation and foreclosure defense, consumer bankruptcy, manufactured homes, consumer issues affecting domestic violence survivors, and debt collection suits. NCLC is also hosting an Open House at our offices on Friday, November 12th. For details, click here.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fair Housing seminar this Saturday

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Groups opposed safe harbor for advance fees

The national and local groups submitting this letter are strong supporters of the FTC’s proposed advance fee ban amendment to the Telephone Sales Rule. We submit this additional comment to share with the Commission the reasons for our strong opposition to The Association Settlement Companies’ (TASC) proposal to undermine the advance fee ban with a safe harbor that would allow the use of advance fees as long as another option is also offered to the consumer.

We oppose the addition of any safe harbor that would continue to permit the charging of advance fees for debt relief services, including debt settlement. The reasons for our opposition include:

1. Safe harbors should be used rarely, and only to encourage positive behavior. A safe harbor that immunizes the charging of advance fees cannot meet that standard.

2. The experience of the GAO mystery shoppers and others illustrates the risk that debt settlement employees will steer consumers toward advance fees if they are a permitted “option.”

3. The very different base amounts on which a percentage advance fee and a percentage settlement fee would be calculated (whole debt vs. the smaller savings amount) would make comparison of percentage fees highly misleading.

4. A choice for a harmful fee approach would in no way ameliorate the harms from advance fees.

5. Savings-based-only fees are fair to any segment of the debt relief industry that does in fact reduce consumer debt.

Read more here.

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Mandatory arbitration takes center stage at Kagen hearings

Sen. Al Franken: "I want to discuss something that is denying more and more working Americans that precious day in court, that fair shake, and that's mandatory arbitration. Now, arbitration has its place. I'm talking about mandatory arbitration. Chances are if you have a cell phone or credit card or if you work, you're likely to have signed a contract with a mandatory arbitration clause. These clauses basically say if we violate your rights, you can't take us to court. You have to take it to an arbitrator. But then the fine print essentially says an arbitrator that we pay who depends on us for work and who makes decisions in secret. So a lot of people are denying their opportunity to come before the court." Read more here.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Consumer Caucus retreat July 14 - please RSVP

All: 
 


Together and individually, we worked hard during the last General Assembly session to protect Maryland consumers from predatory lending, debt settlement schemes, foreclosures, higher auto insurance rates, and increased utilities. Many of us worked to strengthen enforcement measures and promote greater transparency for consumers in mandatory arbitration clauses, enforcement of consumer protection violations, and in product safety. 
 


Overall, we achieved some important victories, but also faced serious setbacks in our efforts. This election year, we can better achieve our collective goals by working strategically during the summer and fall to lay the groundwork for the 2011 Session. MCRC and Maryland PIRG would like to invite you to strategize about how to build upon the 2010 session and take advantage of the electoral cycle. 



Please join us for the 2010 Maryland Consumer Caucus retreat on Wednesday, July 14 at the University of Baltimore Business Center (room TBD) from 9:00am-3:00pm. Light lunch and refreshments will be provided. 
 


As we did last year, we would like to suggest the Consumer Caucus select three priority issues for the session. We do not ask that every group work on all three issues but that each group agrees that at least one of the issues selected will be one of their organization’s priorities for the 2011 session and that the organization will devote staff resources to working on the issue. 
 


To facilitate this process, we are asking Consumer Caucus members to write up their proposal for the priority issue and send it to us prior to the meeting. Please include the following: 

· What the issue is and why it is important to Maryland consumers

· What the policy solution is for this issue

· Any thoughts you have regarding strategy for passing it in Annapolis

· What opponents might say about the issue and how to deflect their messages 

· What we need in order to win on this issue (research, grassroots, grasstops, etc., and who could provide those). 



We will also be sending out a survey as we did last year to collect and synthesize our assessment of last session, issues for next session, suggestions for the caucus and more. 



Please let us know if you can make the July 14th retreat by filling out this survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/R38GGLB to help us to gather information on your priorities and assist us in determining the final agenda for the meeting.

We are excited and look forward to working with you! 


Sincerely, 
 
 


Johanna Neumann
State Director
Maryland PIRG
410-467-9389

Marceline White
Executive Director
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
410-624-8980

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Why should car dealers be exempt?

Here's a great piece from Politico that shows the deceptive practices car dealers often use to separate consumers from their money, and argues these dealers should not be exempted from common-sense rules. .

.. Dealers argue that they should not be regulated by the new agency because they are not to blame for the economic crisis. But that argument misses the point.

The bill is intended to prevent the next economic crisis — not the last one. And if car dealers are not included, they may indeed add to future instability.

Like the subprime mortgage loans that triggered the last crisis, car loans are often securitized, subject to many of the same laws that failed to prevent the subprime fiasco, and pervasive throughout the country.

While mortgage brokers received kickbacks from lenders for steering borrowers into higher interest loans, so auto dealers have been rewarded for deceptive, anti-consumer behavior. ...

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Congress turns attention to debt settlement firms


... State attorneys general from New York to California and consumer watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau say the industry’s proceeds come at the direct expense of financially troubled Americans who are being fleeced of their last dollars with dubious promises.

Consumers rarely emerge from debt settlement programs with their credit card balances eliminated, these critics say, and many wind up worse off, with severely damaged credit, ceaseless threats from collection agents and lawsuits from creditors.

.. The Federal Trade Commission has proposed banning upfront fees, bringing vociferous lobbying from industry groups. The commission is expected to issue new rules this summer. Senator McCaskill has joined with fellow Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York to sponsor a bill that would cap fees charged by debt settlement companies at 5 percent of the savings recouped by their customers.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/19/business/economy/19debt.html?emc=eta1

MCRC's report on debt settlement explains how the practice almost always leaves consumers in worse shape than when they started. To read the full report or the executive summary, click here.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Identity-theft rules delayed


Gary Haber reports: Under the new rules, businesses would need to be able to flag situations where a customer tries to use another person’s identity, such as where a person’s appearance does not match the information on his driver’s license. Federal banking regulators have applied similar rules to banks, credit unions and savings and loans since November 2008.

... “These rules are a good first step,” said Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. “The fact that they are being delayed is unfortunate. We’re in a status quo position, which is not good enough.”

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Homes are lost to foreclosure, but former owners still owe


After the bank foreclosed on Fernando Palacios's Gainesville home in March, he thought he was done with what he described as the most stressful financial situation of his life.

The bank sold the home for far less than Palacios owed on it, as often happens with foreclosures. What Palacios did not see coming was the letter from his lender demanding that he pay the shortfall: $148,064.02.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/15/AR2010061505428.html

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Consumer and Privacy Groups Support Senate and House Bills to Curb Debt Settlement Abuses

Please call your senators and member of Congress and urge them to co-sponsor or support this important legislation!

With unemployment high and many families struggling with their finances, debt settlement firms are aggressively advertising on the radio, television, and the Internet that they can help by “eliminating your debts.” However, consumer groups [including MCRC] warn that using debt settlement services often leaves people deeper in debt rather than debt-free.

They are calling on Congress to act quickly to enact S. 3264, the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act of 2010 sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and H.R. 5387, the companion bill sponsored by Representatives Louis Gutierrez (D-IL), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Gwen Moore (D-WI). This legislation will protect consumers who are deeply in debt and desperately looking for solutions from deceptive practices and misconduct in the debt-settlement industry. Read more here.

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Corporations funding $500,000 tab for National Speakers Conference in Maryland

The tab for the 2010 National Speakers Conference -- hosted this year by Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) -- is expected to top $500,000, organizers say. And the bills for it will be paid by a few dozen local and national corporations, almost all of which have business before legislatures in Maryland and other states.

... Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, said it is unfortunate that nonprofit groups such as hers do not have the same opportunity.

"There's a real need to hear what's happening on the ground, from poverty advocates and consumer advocates," she said. "Those are important voices for speakers to hear. It seems like a real missed opportunity." Full story here.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Maryland among top 10 worst states for foreclosure

Baltimore Business Journal: Residential foreclosures in Maryland jumped nearly 7.5 percent from April to May, putting the state among the 10 worst states in the nation for foreclosures.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Report says payday-loan alternatives can also hurt consumers

National Consumer Law Center: Some loans offered by banks and credit unions as “alternatives” to high-cost, short-term payday loans may instead plunge consumers into a costly and nearly inescapable debt cycle – just like payday loans!

That’s the warning contained in “Stopping the Payday Loan Trap: Alternatives That Work, Ones That Don’t,” a report issued today by the National Consumer Law Center.

“Too many providers of so-called payday loan alternatives hit consumers with some of the same onerous provisions that predatory lenders use to saddle unwary and vulnerable borrowers with loans they can’t afford to repay,” said Lauren Saunders, managing attorney of NCLC’s Washington office and principal author of the report.

To download the report, click here.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Columnist wonders why car dealers think they should be exempt from new regulations, and why any lawmakers agree

"The No. 1 consumer complaint received by the Better Business Bureau and state and local consumer agencies is on abusive financial practices by auto dealers, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

That's why it is unfathomable that Congress is poised to exempt car dealers from oversight by the new government agency designed to protect consumers from financial predation."

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/article1099819.ece

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Have a great volunteer? Let us know!

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is seeking nominees for recognition of their important volunteer work. The winner will be honored at our special 10th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting on the evening of October 14, 2010 in Clarksville, MD.

Former Senator Paul Sarbanes will be there to receive our Lifetime Achievement Award, and Thomas Perez, Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, will give the keynote address.

Volunteer areas of service could include helping others to understand their finances; helping people navigate or avoid the foreclosure process; advocacy in the area of consumer-protection legislation or policy; assisting low-income consumers prepare their tax returns, and the like. Past winners include a pro bono attorney, a fraud-hotline volunteer and an education coalition volunteer. The volunteer need not have “consumer advocate” in his/her job title or description. 

For details and the (very brief!) nomination form, click here.

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No auto-dealer exemption from new consumer protections!

The House and Senate are beginning to reconcile the differences between their Consumer Financial Protection Agency bills this week. Please contact or visit their offices to let them you know you support a strong, independent agency.

In a disappointing development, both of Maryland's senators voted last week to support a provision that would exempt auto dealers from the new oversight rules. We need to let Senator Mikulski, Senator Cardin and our U.S. Representatives know that Marylanders want the new agency to have authority over all lenders, including car dealers. There is still time to fix this, so please let your congressperson and senators know that that issue is important to you.

Click here to find your Representative. For contact information for Maryland's Senators, click here.

Thank you!

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reminder: Legislative Wrap Up is tomorrow (May 26)

We invite you to join MCRC and coalition partners for a Legislative Wrap-Up on May 26th. Space is limited so please inquire before arriving: contact robin@mdcash.org.

Legislative Wrap-Up
May 26, 2010 10am-1pm
Miller Senate Building,
President’s Conference Center West (I)
111 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD

Agenda

Welcome and Introductions – Henry Bogdan, Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations  

Budget Overview - Neil Bergsman, Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute  

Non-profit advocate panel
·        Melissa Chalmers Broome, Job Opportunities Task Force
·        Robin McKinney, Maryland CASH (Creating Assets, Savings & Hope) Campaign
·        Marceline White, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
·        Matthew Joseph, Advocates for Children and Youth
·        Branden McLeod, Maryland Alliance for the Poor

Lunch

Keynote – Erin Currier, Pew Economic Mobility Project

Remarks by The Honorable T. Eloise Foster, State Secretary of Budget and Management (invited)

Unfinished business and discussion of unmet needs – Henry Bogdan (moderator)

Adjourn

---

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Senate passes financial regulation bill - auto dealers not exempt ... for now

The Senate approved far-reaching new financial rules on Thursday aimed at preventing the risky behavior and regulatory failures that brought the economy to the brink of collapse two years ago and cost millions of Americans their jobs and savings. Read full story here.
In a huge win for consumers, the Brownback amendment that would have exempted auto dealers was not part of the final bill. But the fight isn't over yet; it could still be an issue as the House and Senate reconcile their two bills.

Here's the auto industry's take on it: Before this meeting of House and Senate leaders takes place, though, the Senate has scheduled a vote Monday, May 24, on a proposal by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said Bailey Wood, a National Automobile Dealers Association spokesman.

The Brownback proposal would instruct Senate conferees to agree to the House bill's exemption for dealers, Wood said.

If the Senate approves this proposal -- and Wood is confident it will -- Senate leaders would be bound to join House leaders in including the dealer exemption in the single bill that emerges from conference, the NADA spokesman said.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Join us for a Legislative Wrap-Up

We invite you to join MCRC and coalition partners for a Legislative Wrap-Up on May 26th. Please RSVP if you have not already to robin@mdcash.org. There is no fee to attend and lunch will be provided. Feel free to distribute to your networks.

Legislative Wrap-Up
May 26, 2010 10am-1pm
Miller Senate Building,
President’s Conference Center West (I)
111 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD

Agenda

Welcome and Introductions – Henry Bogdan, Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations  

Budget Overview - Neil Bergsman, Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute  

Non-profit advocate panel
·        Melissa Chalmers Broome, Job Opportunities Task Force
·        Robin McKinney, Maryland CASH (Creating Assets, Savings & Hope) Campaign
·        Marceline White, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
·        Matthew Joseph, Advocates for Children and Youth
·        Branden McLeod, Maryland Alliance for the Poor

Lunch

Keynote – Erin Currier, Pew Economic Mobility Project

Remarks by The Honorable T. Eloise Foster, State Secretary of Budget and Management (invited)

Unfinished business and discussion of unmet needs – Henry Bogdan (moderator)

Adjourn

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senate delay is your chance to contact Sens. Cardin and Mikulski

The Senate's financial overhaul bill is stalled (they can't get a cloture vote), so we urge you to take this opportunity to contact Senator Cardin and Senator Mikulski and tell them that when the bill moves again you urge them to vote against the Brownback amendment.

Auto-dealers across the state have been lobbying Senators Cardin and Mikulski to support the Brownback Amendement, which would exempt auto dealers from the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Auto dealers argue that only financial products that were related to the crisis should be regulated under the new agency.

The reality is that some auto dealers sell, finance, and promote cars in the same way that mortgage brokers sold houses and banks extended credits. Car ownership can involve sophisticated financial, credit, and sales transactions. Some dealers are honest while others engage in the same types of predatory and deceptive practices that mortgage companies are being scrutinized for.

MCRC believes that auto dealers should be regulated under the CFPA.

Ask Senators Cardin and Mikulski to
• Oppose "The Brownback Amendment" and
• Protect the right of Maryland and other states to pass strong state-level regulations and enforcement by ensuring that federal efforts are the floor, not the ceiling, for reform.

Find contact information here.

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Financial overhaul dealt setback

The plan was for the financial-regulation reform bill to have a vote for cloture -- that is to say, a vote to end debate and move to a final vote -- at 2 p.m. today. But a handful Senate Democrats angry that their amendments haven't been considered derailed that. At 3:15 p.m., Democrats called an emergency caucus meeting. About 30 minutes after that meeting, Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a cloture vote.

Read more here.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Consumers fighting to be heard? A grassroots organization? (Have you no sense of decency?)


Here's a post from a payday lender's blog. It's touting the "Consumer Rights Coalition," which it calls a "grassroots organization" fighting for consumers' right to take out payday loans. (Hey, who wouldn't fight for 600% interest rates!?) The kicker is that this is anything but a grassroots organization; it's a lobbying effort funded by the payday loan industry.

With anti-payday loan legislation either already on the books or being proposed in many U.S. States, the Consumer Rights Coalition is helping hardworking Americans protect their right to reliable credit options. ...

Now with more state legislatures – including Maryland and Arizona - proposing payday loan bans of their own, some consumers are standing up and telling lawmakers that they don’t want to lose one of their last remaining credit options. One grassroots organization that is helping these customers be heard is the Consumer Rights Coalition.
Read about this outrageous group and its claims in this article.

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Audacious Idea: A mortgage lender license is a privilege not a right


MCRC board member Phillip Robinson, who is executive director of Civil Justice Inc., has a post today on the Open Society Institute site about predatory lenders and defaults. Read it here.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Senate passes amendment on debit and credit card swipe fees


"Retailers won a long-sought victory late Thursday as the Senate approved a measure that would give them more power over the fees they pay to banks each time shoppers swipe a credit or debit card.

... Banks large and small aggressively fought Durbin's amendment, even after he agreed to exempt banks and credit unions with less than $10 billion in assets. The Independent Community Bankers of America and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions said the provision could lead retailers to discriminate against their members' higher swipe fees."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/13/AR2010051303571.html?hpid=moreheadlines

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two Critical Consumer Financial Reform Issues Hang in the Balance

A message from the Consumer Federation of America:

Please Call Your Senators NOW!
Two Critical Consumer Financial Reform Issues Hang in the Balance
Your Senators Need to Hear from YOU!

The Senate debate on the financial reform bill, S. 3217, is in full swing and within the next day they will start consideration on two issues that have a great impact on consumers – preemption of state consumer protection laws (Carper Amendment #3949) and exemption of auto dealers from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Brownback Amendment #3789).

The Carper Amendment (#3949) would:
· Prevent state Attorneys General from enforcing rules developed by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau against national banks. This amendment takes our on-the-ground state cops – the state Attorneys General – off the predatory lending beat.
· Leave enforcement for most banks entirely up to bank regulators, whose lax enforcement led to the recent economic crisis.
· Permit the Office of Comptroller of the Currency to let national banks ignore state laws that address new abuses not covered by federal protection – thus keeping states from acting as first responders that can stop local problems before they become national catastrophes.

The Brownback Amendment (#3789) would:
· Exempt auto dealers from oversight by the CFPB, even though dealers negotiate the price, term and structure of car loans – whether they originate the loan or sell the loan.
· Allow the status quo to continue, in which rulemaking and enforcement of consumer protections for auto dealers is fragmented and ineffective, thereby allowing unscrupulous dealers to continue targeting our Service members and minorities with predatory auto loans.
· Create an uneven playing field where auto loans issued by community banks and credit unions are subject to CFPB rules, but loans originated by auto dealers are not.
· Undercut reputable auto dealers and other lenders who have nothing to fear from the CFPB. The Bureau will work to support responsible lending and weed out those who engage in deceptive practices, like bait-and-switch financing or those who take kickbacks to steer consumers into higher priced loans, practices currently used by some auto dealers.

Call or email your Senators NOW and tell them to OPPOSE:
1. The Brownback Amendment to carve out auto dealers from the CFPB
2. The Carper Amendment to weaken enforcement of bank consumer protection rules!
Call: Toll-free at: 866-544-7573

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