CFPB Sues Debt Relief Attorneys for Collecting Illegal Fees from Struggling Consumers
Lawyers Revived an Illegal Debt Relief Scheme that the CFPB Previously Shut Down
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken action against a ring of law firms and attorneys who collaborated to charge illegal fees to consumers seeking debt relief.
In a complaint filed in federal court, the CFPB alleges that Howard Law, P.C., the Williamson Law Firm, LLC, and Williamson & Howard, LLP, as well as attorneys Vincent Howard and Lawrence Williamson, ran this debt relief operation along with Morgan Drexen, which shut down in 2015 following the CFPB's lawsuit against that company.
The CFPB seeks to stop the defendants' unlawful scheme, obtain relief for harmed consumers, and impose penalties.
"The defendants exploited consumers who were already suffering financial difficulties by tricking them into paying steep, illegal fees," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "We put a stop to this scam once already, and we intend to do it again."
Howard Law and Williamson & Howard are law firms based in Orange County, California. The Williamson Law Firm is registered in Kansas. Vincent Howard is the president of Howard Law, and Lawrence Williamson heads the Williamson Law Firm. Both are part owners of Williamson & Howard. These firms and lawyers offer debt relief services to consumers nationwide.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule generally prohibits debt relief providers from charging a fee until they have actually settled, reduced, or changed the terms of at least one of the consumer's debts. It also limits the types of fees a debt relief provider can charge for already settled debts. Under this rule, consumers facing financial difficulties should not pay any fees for debt relief until they receive the services for which they signed up.
The CFPB's complaint alleges that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by collecting illegal fees and deceiving consumers about being charged upfront fees. Consumers seeking debt relief help from the attorneys in this case were given two contracts, one for debt settlement services and the other for bankruptcy-related services. The CFPB alleges that consumers who signed up sought services only for debt relief and not bankruptcy. The contract given to consumers related to bankruptcy was a ruse to disguise illegal upfront fees.
The CFPB alleges that the attorneys collected tens of millions of dollars in unlawful fees this way from consumers, and often failed to settle any debts.
The defendants also assisted illegal debt relief practices by Morgan Drexen, and its president and chief executive officer, Walter Ledda. In 2015, the CFPB secured a judgment against Ledda for participating in the unlawful debt relief operation. In 2016, the CFPB secured a judgment against Morgan Drexen for the same conduct. The attorneys named in this case had worked alongside Morgan Drexen and Ledda to collect illegal fees, and then took over the operation after the CFPB halted Morgan Drexen's and Ledda's illegal activities.
The CFPB's complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law.
The details of the CFPB's complaint can be found here.
You can Buy A Car At the Dealership Like A Pro. Here's How You Can Be Prepared.
So you're finally ready to trade in your current car for a new one! Congratulations on such an important step. If you've never bought a new car before, you may know nothing about the process. To begin with, there are a number of things you should do to get ready to buy the car before you ever step on the dealership lot.
Can you Use Money That Is Mistakenly Deposited Into Your Account?
Have you ever noticed that your bank account somehow had 'extra' money in it even though you knew for a fact it wasn't yours? If so, you are not alone. It happens more often than you would think. All it takes is for a bank teller to type in one wrong number at the time a deposit is being made.
Low Interest Automotive Financing Might Not Be Best Deal After All
Great rates do exist. But even if you are offered a low interest car loan, you can probably save more money by accepting a slightly higher rate and using rebates or other incentives or by getting your own financing and taking the rebates and incentives.
Following These Tips Can Help You Save Your Hard-Earned Money at Tax Time
Many people feel like they just can't get ahead when it comes to money. What you may not know is that saving during tax season can start you on the path to financial security. We urge you to take advantage of tax season to prepare for unexpected emergencies or plan for the future. Here are some tips to help get started.