Archive for May, 2013

Debt Relief Companies Sued; Trust a Bankruptcy Lawyer Instead

This May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Justice teamed up to take legal action against two debt relief companies. As The Hill reports, this is the first joint effort of its kind. However, this is not the first time that debt relief firms have been dishonest and made promises they had no intention of keeping. 

Our Columbia, SC bankruptcy attorneys are aware of the unfortunate fact that many unscrupulous companies try to take advantage of those who are struggling with debt. This type of behavior is unconscionable as these companies prey on people who already have many financial problems and who don’t deserve to be victimized by those who promise to help.

Debt Relief Firms Face Complaints of Dishonesty

The CFPB has filed civil complaints against two debt relief firms that made false promises to debtors, while the Department of Justice has simultaneously filed criminal charges against the same companies. The DOJ charges include allegations of both mail fraud and wire fraud. This is the first time that the Justice Department has ever filed charges based on a referral from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The companies involved in the civil and criminal cases have been charged with defrauding more than 1,200 people out of millions of dollars. From 2009 through 2013, one of the companies — a purported “debt relief” company — claimed an affiliation with the federal government that did not exist. The company promised that it could negotiate with banks and credit cards to reduce debt, but then proceeded to take money from customers and ignore them.

The other company made fraudulent telemarketing sales, also making promises it couldn’t keep to debtors.  The DOJ is now seeking to seize proceeds from the scams, including confiscating properties and more than 40 bank accounts. The CFPB is focused on getting money back for defrauded debtors.

Protecting Yourself When Seeking Debt Relief

These cases are unique since this is the first time the CFPB and the DOJ have brought simultaneous actions, however this is not the first time that a debt relief company has been dishonest or defrauded consumers.

The CFPB is a relatively new government agency created by the Dodd Frank financial reform bill that was passed in response to abusive bank behavior, which was a top cause of the 2008 financial crisis in the United States. Hopefully, their efforts will be able to stop more dishonest debt relief companies in the future.

Debt relief scams are entirely too common because companies know that people who are struggling with debt are often willing to do everything they can to resolve their debt problems. Unfortunately, debt relief companies can abuse this desperation.

Those who are struggling with debt need to know that debt relief companies are not their only way out. There are legal solutions to resolving debt, including filing for bankruptcy, and an experienced bankruptcy attorney can help to provide real solutions.

Unlike a debt relief agency, a bankruptcy attorney must have passed the Bar exam and must be licensed to practice in the state. Bankruptcy attorneys also must abide by a professional code of conduct that includes putting clients first. Placing your trust in a bankruptcy attorney to help with you debt issues is a far better choice if you are coping with debt so you can avoid potential scams or fraud. There is also a common misconception that seeking help through a debt-relief company will not hurt a consumer’s credit report. Both debt-relief and bankruptcy will result in a lower credit score in the short term. However, bankruptcy offers a permanent solution for dealing with an unmanageable debt load.

If you are considering bankruptcy, contact the Columbia, South Carolina attorneys at Matthews & Megna today at 877-253-7705.

South Carolina Traffic Accidents – Cell Phone Risks Worse than Thought

The dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone or texting have been well established and 39 states have instituted a ban on texting and driving. Ten other states also have complete bans on any drivers using cell phones unless a hands-free device is used. South Carolina, unfortunately, is not one of those states and has no bans or prohibitions in place. 

Our Columbia  accident attorneys know that drivers are at risk of distracted driving accidents because there are no statewide bans on the use of cell phones behind the wheel. Unfortunately, a new study shows that cell phones may be causing even more crashes than anyone realized.

The Dangers of Cell Phone Use

Recently, the National Safety Council expressed concern that the number of crashes related to cell phone use is greater than is currently being reported. As the Washington Post indicated, many accident reports are leaving out information about drivers using cell phones at the time of the collision.

After a collision, accident reports are generally written by law enforcement professionals who respond to the scene of the crash. Responders may not include cell phone use in their reports for many different reasons including drivers not admitting to using their cell phones and a lack of consistency in crash reporting forms.

To get more specific information on how many crashes might be underreported, researchers reviewed a total of 180 fatal accidents that had occurred over a three-year period. Each of these crashes was chosen for review because there was evidence that a driver was using a cell phone at the time of the accident.

Researchers found that in 2011, only 52 percent of these accidents indicated that cell phones were a factor. This means that almost half of the accidents that likely involved cell phone use made no mention of the fact that a driver may have been on the phone at the time of the collision.

The researchers also indicated that the data on cell phone accidents may be skewed because of wide variations among states as to whether cell phones were listed in accident reports.  Tennessee, for example, reported 93 fatalities related to cell phone use while New York reported only one and Nevada reported none.

How Big is the Cell Phone Problem? 

Based on its research and projections of how prevalent underreporting is, the National Safety Council indicated that as many as one-quarter of all car accidents involve cell phone use. This evidence contradicts existing data, including information provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NHTSA has far lower numbers for cell-phone related accidents than the NSC is suggesting. The NHTSA data, for example, indicates that only around 10 percent of all accidents are attributed to any kind of distracted driving and that only 1.2 percent of the distracted driving crashes are related to cell phones.

The Governors Highway Safety Association has taken the position that the NHTSA data is more likely accurate and that there is no solid evidence to back up the NSC’s new conclusion that 25 percent of crashes are tied to phone use.

Despite this disagreement, however, it is likely that at least some cell-phone related crashes are not reported as such. Thus, while we may not know exactly how big the problem is, it is probably a bigger issue than has thus far been realized.

If you are hurt in a car accident, contact the Columbia, South Carolina attorneys at Matthews & Megna today at 877-253-7705.

More Doctors Driven to Bankruptcy

The economy has been unkind to many, but one group that has been hit surprisingly hard in recent years is physicians. According to CNN, an increasing number of doctors have been pushed into bankruptcy over the past several years, sometimes having to close their practices as a result of the bankruptcy filing. 

Our Columbia, SC bankruptcy attorneys know that bankruptcy is something that can happen to anyone. Physicians who are struggling with a practice that is drowning in debt should not be afraid to get the legal help they need to move forward with bankruptcy proceedings and to take advantage of the protections that are available under the law.

More Doctors Driven to Bankruptcy

In the United States, medical practices are generally for-profit businesses, and they often have a high overhead. Doctors need to pay for lab equipment, offices, staff and medical malpractice insurance.

Unfortunately, many of the fixed costs of running a medical practice are increasing. Doctors are coping with higher medical malpractice insurance costs and higher expenses for drugs and other business necessities. Changing regulations are also putting pressure on doctors and are resulting in larger expenditures for running a medical practice.

Unfortunately, as costs are going up, income is going down. Medicare payments to physicians are continually being reduced or threatened with reductions as the government works to curb costs and get the national debt under control. Private insurance companies are also dropping physician reimbursement amounts, led by the cuts in government payments for medical services.

The poor economy, of course, is also having an impact on the ability of patients to pay for medical help. With higher unemployment rates, fewer people have insurance and are able to seek routine medical care or pay for expensive treatments. Higher unemployment and stagnant wages also make it harder for people to pay out-of-pocket costs and co-pays, regardless of whether they have insurance.

With more concerns about money, people are also more reluctant to consider any type of elective medical procedure.

All of these factors are causing doctors and medical practices to face significant financial struggles. CNN indicates that these problems are not isolated to any specific field of medical professionals. Even specialists such as oncologists, OB/GYNS and orthopedic surgeons are having difficulties staying afloat. The larger point illustrated is that no one is immune from economic pressures and realities.

Considering Bankruptcy?

Doctors who are facing debt struggles may have a number of different options for bankruptcy depending upon how their medical practices are organized and depending upon the amount of debt they have.

In some cases, it may be possible to keep the practice running while renegotiating debt through bankruptcy. In other cases, liquidating the practice may be necessary. A bankruptcy attorney can help physicians to understand what their options are for bankruptcy. An attorney can also help physicians to understand what impact, if any, a bankruptcy will have on their personal finances if the practice is going bankrupt.

Resolving these issues is important as soon as the practice starts to struggle with debt. Doctors shouldn’t hesitate to get help, as the trends show they are not alone with their financial struggles.

If you are considering bankruptcy, contact the Columbia, South Carolina law firm of Matthews & Megna today at 877-253-7705.