Todd Murray featured in Kare 11 story about fraudulent sale of damaged cars

Kare 11 recently ran an investigative report about how Minnesota’s lax vehicle title laws could lead to a surge in flood cars and other damaged vehicles being sold in Minnesota. Our own Todd Murray was featured in the story and shared his insights about this issue.






How to avoid buying a flood car

It’s expected that thousands of cars damaged in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will be put on the used car market in the coming months. These flood cars will be cleaned up, repaired, and shipped across the country. Because of our lax vehicle title laws, a substantial number of these flood vehicles will likely end up in Minnesota.

Flood cars present significant performance and safety issues for unsuspecting buyers. For example, a vehicle’s electrical and computer systems–including brake and steering systems–are often compromised by water damage. Water submersion may also cause damage to the vehicle’s frame or structural components and often leads to mold growth in the car’s interior. These problems may not appear for months or even years. Here are some tips to avoid unwittingly buying a flood car:

Inspect the vehicle closely for signs of flood damage:

*Musty or moldy smell;

*Rust or flaking metal on the vehicle’s undercarriage;

*Electrical components, such as radio, speakers, windshield wipers, or door locks that don’t work;

*Any signs of water damage, mud, sand, or silt.

Do your homework:

*CarFax reports contain information about the vehicle’s history, including where it came from. Consumers should be extremely wary of a vehicle from South Florida, Houston, or other flood-damaged areas.

*The National Crime Bureau keeps a database of vehicles reported as salvaged by many insurance companies. Consumers may search the database for free using the vehicle’s VIN number.

Keep in mind that these reports do not always provide a complete picture of the vehicle and there is often a lag between when a vehicle is, say in a flood, and when that information shows up in a database.

Ask the dealer lots of questions, including:

*Whether the vehicle has been in a flood. Keep in mind that a flood car may have a clean title, so don’t rely on the dealer’s misleading answer that the vehicle is a “clean title vehicle.” Insist on a straight answer to your question.

*Whether the vehicle has a branded title. Some flood cars–but not all–will have a title “brand” on them to notify buyers of flood damage.

*Whether they’ve inspected the vehicle for possible flood damage. Again, get specific answers to exactly what they inspected and when.

Trust your instincts.

Don’t be pressured into a hasty decision and trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling about the condition of the vehicle or doubt what the salesperson is telling you, simply walk away. There are a lot of quality used vehicles out there.



NCSLT to pay over $15 million for illegal collection practices

Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the infamous entity known as National Collegiate Student Loan Trust. The lawsuit points to three main allegations against NCSLT: (1) it sued people for debts that it couldn’t prove were owed; (2) it filed false and misleading affidavits in court; and (3) it brought nearly 500 lawsuits after the time limit to sue had expired.

On the same day the suit was filed, the CFPB also filed a proposed settlement with NCSLT. This surely means that the CFPB had been investigating the trusts for some time and only filed the lawsuit after NCSLT had agreed to the CFPB’s proposed settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, the National Collegiate Trusts have agreed to:

*Not start a lawsuit unless NCSLT has a copy of the signed promissory note and documentation that it owns the loan

*Not file suit in a case where NCSLT knows that the time limit to sue has passed or has other information that leads it to believe that the loan would be unenforceable

*Stop filing false and misleading affidavits and withdraw any false or misleading affidavits that have been filed in pending cases

*Stop all wage levies, bank garnishments, and other post-judgment collection efforts if NCSLT had filed a false or misleading affidavit in the case

National Collegiate Student Loan Trust has also agreed to allow an independent audit of all the loans in its portfolio and has agreed to pay over $15 million in penalties to the CFPB. Further, NCSLT has 120 days from the day the settlement is approved to identify the consumers affected by its illegal practices and refund up to $3.5 million to those consumers.

This settlement is not final until it is approved by the court. Once the settlement is approved, I’ll update this post with more information, including next steps for affected consumers.

Who is National Collegiate Student Loan Trust?


Over the last few years, National Collegiate Student Loan Trust has brought hundreds of debt collection lawsuits against Minnesota citizens. If you’ve been sued by National Collegiate Student Loan Trust, here’s what you need to know.

Who is National Collegiate Student Loan Trust?

NCSLT doesn’t lend money. It’s merely a series of trusts that contain a pool of hundreds of private student loans. The loans have been packaged together and sold as investment vehicles. If this sounds similar to the way mortgages are handled, it should.

There are several National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts. They are typically named with the year the loan was originated. For example, most of the cases I’m seeing lately involve National Collegiate Student Loan Trust 2007.  I’ve also seen loans held by National Collegiate Student Loan Trust 2005 and 2006.

How do the student loans get into these trusts?

First, a bank issues a student loan to help someone pay for college. The bank then sells the loan to an entity called National Collegiate Student Loan Funding. This entity is merely a holding company that deposits all of the student loans into the individual trusts. Once the loans are packaged into trusts, bonds are sold to investors. The investors receive money based on the amount of money collected from student loan borrowers.

The trusts themselves don’t actually service the loans and collect the payments. They hire someone, called a servicer, to do that for them. In most of the cases I’ve seen, the servicer is U.S. Bank.

Another interesting element of these trusts is that the loans are partially guaranteed. This means that the investors basically have an insurance policy when student loan borrowers aren’t able to make payments. If the borrower defaults, the guarantor steps in and covers the payment.

What should I do if I’m sued by National Collegiate Student Loan Trust?

In my experience, it’s difficult to negotiate a reasonable payment plan with National Collegiate Student Loan Trust. They demand that the borrower hand over a bunch of sensitive financial documents, such as tax returns and pay stubs before they’ll even consider a settlement offer. And the offers that they make are rarely affordable. To avoid this frustrating experience, I’ve been advising people to fight back against the lawsuit by answering it and challenging NCSLT’s proof in court.

National Collegiate Student Loan Trust can usually prove that they acquired a pool of loans from the originating bank. But, in my experience, they rarely have sufficient proof that they own your loan. There are other ways to challenge the sufficiency of their evidence and, depending on the specific facts involved, you may have other defenses as well. We’ve been successful getting NCSLT cases thrown out of court and have negotiated very favorable payment plans by pushing back.


Featured photo by purplejavatroll // CC BY-SA 2.0

Can I remove negative, but accurate, info from my credit report?

Generally, you don’t have the right to remove negative accurate information from your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, creditors and credit reporting agencies are free to report negative information about you as long as that information is correct. This accurate, negative information can remain on your credit report for seven years in most cases.

An exception to this general rule is when your credit report shows accurate, but negative, information multiple times. For example, let’s say you have a delinquent credit card account. After a few months of delinquency, the credit card company sells the account to a debt-buyer. If both the original creditor and debt buyer are reporting that you owe money, that’s something you could dispute in good faith. Otherwise, it might look like you owe twice as much as you actually owe.

Beware of any company that promises that it can remove accurate negative information. It’s likely a credit repair scam. These scams usually prey on people with poor credit. They demand large, up-front fees and promise to get all negative information removed, even if the info is accurate. They try to game the error dispute process by sending repeated and shallow dispute letters in an effort to overwhelm the credit reporting agency into removing the information by mistake. However, the credit bureaus have caught on and this sort of gamesmanship is no longer successful. Save your money and work to rebuild your credit the right way.

How to get your credit report and credit score

Federal law allows you to get one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) every 12 months. Use the website to get your free copy. This is the only website to get your free report. Beware of imposter websites.

You can also order your free report over the phone by calling (877) 322-8228 or by mail by filling out this form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service; P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348. You can order all three reports at once, or you can stagger the reports every couple of months so that you can monitor your credit reports throughout the year. Consider using this staggering technique before you pay for a credit monitoring product.

Your credit report won’t contain your credit score, but there are a couple of easy ways to get it. First, many credit cards provide your credit score on each billing statement. If you have credit cards, check your billing statements to see if your score is provided. Another way to get it is to buy it from one of the credit bureaus. You can also buy your credit score at any time from Keep in mind that your credit score may be different depending on who you buy it from.

If your credit score seems low, it’s possible that errors on your credit report are dragging your score down. That’s why it’s critical to review your credit reports carefully for some of the most common inaccuracies, as well as signs of identity theft or a mixed credit file. If there are mistakes on your credit report, you should write a dispute letter. If your dispute letter doesn’t clear up the problem, or if you’ve been denied credit due to a mistake on your credit report, you should talk to an attorney who handles Fair Credit Reporting Act cases.

Credit denial due to your credit report? What to do next.

If  your loan application has been turned down, or if your interest rate is higher than it should be, the first thing you should do is find out why. Under federal law, a lender is required to tell you certain things if it denied your credit application or took “adverse action,” such as increasing your interest rate. These things include:

*The name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency that provided the report the lender used;

* The credit score it used in making its lending decision and the key factors that affected this score;

* Inform you of your right to obtain a free copy of your credit report from the credit reporting agency that provided the report; and

* The process for fixing mistakes on your credit report.

This information will most likely be provided to you in a letter, called an adverse action notice. Once you have this letter, you should follow the instructions for obtaining a copy of the credit report that the lender used. It can usually be obtained online through the credit reporting agency’s website.

Once you have your credit report, you should review it for common errors. If you see accounts that don’t belong to you or accounts showing a balance that you’ve paid off, the next step is to dispute these errors with the credit bureaus.

It’s important to note that you must dispute the errors with the credit reporting agencies (ie. Experian, Equifax, or Trans Union) not the creditor (ie. Capital One, Wells Fargo, etc.) to protect your rights.

When the credit reporting agency receives your dispute, they are required to investigate. They are also required to communicate your dispute to the creditor that is reporting the inaccurate information. The creditor is also required to investigate your dispute. Generally, these investigations must be completed within 30 days and the credit reporting agency must notify you of the results of the investigations within 5 business days of the day the investigations were completed.

If the credit reporting agency hasn’t corrected the inaccurate information after completing its investigation, you might consider writing a more detailed dispute letter and providing additional documents or information to support your dispute. You may also consider talking to a lawyer who handles credit reporting cases for advice about what to do next. If the credit reporting agency or creditor didn’t conduct a reasonable investigation of your dispute, you may have legal claims against them under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. An attorney can advise you about these possible claims and help you with the next steps.

Supreme Court tackles case about collection of old debt

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case involving an old debt that was past the statute of limitations. It’s not often that the Supreme Court hears a FDCPA case, so I thought it would be worth digging into a bit. Plus, the issue involved in the case is one that affects consumers everywhere.

Case background

The consumer, Aleida Johnson, filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In a Chapter 13, the person typically pays a portion of each of her debts and the remaining amount of the debts is wiped out. The amount of each debt that gets paid depends on the person’s income and assets. For a creditor to qualify to have some of its debt paid back, it has to file a “proof of claim” with the bankruptcy court. The proof of claim is just the basic information about the account, such as the amount, the date the account was opened, and so forth.

In Ms. Johnsons’s case, a debt buyer named Midland Funding filed a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court for a debt that was over ten years old.  The debt was so old that it was past the statute of limitations, which is the amount of time, by law, that a creditor has to start a lawsuit to collect an unpaid debt. In Ms. Johnson’s case, which arose in Alabama, the statute of limitations for suing on unpaid debts is six years. So there was no dispute that Midland could no longer bring a lawsuit to collect the old debt.

Many courts have ruled it is a violation of the FDCPA for a debt collector to file a lawsuit on an old debt that is past the statute of limitations. The related issue that the Supreme Court has to decide is whether it is a FDCPA violation for a debt collector to file a proof of claim in bankruptcy court on a debt that is past the statute of limitations. A decision in the case isn’t expected until June of 2017, but some of the Justices’ comments were revealing:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I’m having a great deal of difficulty with this business model…You buy old, old debts that you know for certainty are not within any statute of limitations…And apparently, you collect on millions of dollars of these debts. 

JUSTICE ALITO: If your description of Midland’s business model is correct, it doesn’t seem to me that it has much, if any, social utility.

The case, of course, will ultimately turn on the legal question involved, but these comments show that some of the Justices are skeptical of Midland’s business model.

What you need to know about the collection of old debt

If you’re facing debt collection on a debt that is more than a couple of years old, the first thing you should do is figure out how long the statute of limitations is. Remember, the statute of limitations is the amount of time set by law for a creditor to start a lawsuit against you. In Minnesota, for example, the statute of limitations for most debt collection lawsuits is six years. This means that the lawsuit only has to be started within six years. It doesn’t mean that the lawsuit has to be finished within six years.

Once you know what the statute of limitations is, you need to determine when it starts to run in your case. Generally, the statute of limitations begins to run on the first day that you are in default on your account. A quick way to figure out when your account went into default is to determine the date that you made your last regular payment. Although this won’t always be a precise date that the statute of limitations began to run, it’s a good estimate.

When you know the applicable statute of limitations and the date it started in your case, the rest is just simple math. Using Minnesota’s six-year statute of limitations as an example again, if you defaulted on your account on December 15, 2011, the creditor must start the lawsuit against you no later than December 15, 2017.

If the creditor doesn’t start the collection lawsuit within the statute of limitations, it loses its ability to use the judicial process to collect the debt. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the creditor can’t call or write you to collect the debt. In Minnesota, a debt collector may collect a debt that is past the statute of limitations. But it can’t threaten to sue you or sue you for an old debt that is past the statute of limitations. And if the debt is more than seven years old, it can’t be reported to the credit bureaus.

If the debt collector brings a lawsuit on a debt that is past the statute of limitations (or time-barred as some courts say), you have an absolute defense to the collection lawsuit. You need to raise this defense in your answer or it may be waived. Also, it’s your burden to prove that the statute of limitations is up and you may need to gather some evidence first. But this is a powerful defense that, if proven, will result in the debt collector’s case being thrown out.

In addition, many courts have held that a debt collector violates the FDCPA when it threatens to bring or brings a lawsuit for an old debt that is past the statute of limitations. When a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you have the right to sue them and the law provides that the collector has to pay you up to $1,000, plus any provable actual damages–such as emotional distress. Further, the debt collector has to pay your attorney fees and costs. So if everything goes your way, you could get the debt wiped out and get some money back from the debt collector.

A quick summary of the law on the collection of old debt

(1) In Minnesota, a debt collector can attempt to collect a debt past the statute of limitations through phone calls, letters, or similar methods. This rule may be different in other states.

(2) A debt collector in Minnesota cannot, however, threaten to sue you or sue you for a debt that is past the statute of limitations. This is also true in most other states.

(3) A debt collector cannot put a debt that is more than seven years old on your credit report. This is true everywhere. I would also take the position that a debt collector cannot even threaten to report a debt that is past the statute of limitations.

(4) Until the Supreme Court decides the Midland Funding case, it is unclear whether a debt collector can file a proof of claim in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and receive payment through the bankruptcy process. But we should definitively know the answer to this question in the next six months or so.



CFPB issues report on consumers’ experiences with debt collectors

Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report titled “Consumer Experiences with Debt Collection.” The report was based on survey data collected between December 2014 and March 2015 from consumers who were contacted by debt collectors. The Bureau touts the survey as providing a more comprehensive picture of consumers’ experiences with debt collection than has been available from other debt sources.

Here are some of the findings I thought were noteworthy:

Nearly one-third of all consumers have been contacted by a debt collector. 32 percent all consumers reported being contacted by a debt collector about a debt within the past year. About 75 percent of these consumers were contacted about more than one debt.

Low income and non-white consumers are more likely to experience debt collection efforts. Over half of consumers with annual household income of less than $20,000 reported being contacted about a debt in collection, compared with only 16 percent for those with household incomes of $70,00 or more. Similarly, more than 40 percent of non-white consumers reported having been contacted by a debt collector, compared with 29 percent of white consumers.

Credit cards, student loans, and medical bills were the most common types of debt. The survey separates the types of debts into two categories: “loans” such as student loans, auto loans, and credit cards; and “past-due bills” such as medical bills and utility bills. Among consumer contacted about “loans,” 44 percent were contacted about a credit card and 28 percent were contacted about a student loan. On the “past-due bills” side, nearly 60 percent of people were contacted about a medical bill.

One in seven people in collections were sued to collect the debt. 15 percent of consumers with a debt collection experience reported that they were sued by a creditor or debt collector during the preceding year. Only about one-quarter of these people reported attending a court proceeding.

Over one-third of people contacted by collectors were contacted four or more times per week. 37 percent of people who were contacted by a debt collector reported that they were contacted four or more times a week. 17 percent reported that they were contacted eight or more times week.

Debt collectors honored a request to stop contact only 25 percent of the time. 42 percent of consumers who were contacted by a debt collector requested that the collector stop contacting them. However, the collector stopped the contacts in only 25 percent of those cases.

Nearly 30 percent of consumers reported being contacted about a debt they didn’t owe. According to the survey, 28 percent of consumers who had been contacted by a debt collector reported that at least one debt was being collected that the consumer believed wasn’t owed. One-third of consumers who had been contacted said the collector was trying to collect the wrong amount.

I talk to people in debt collection nearly every day and these findings are consistent with my conversations and anecdotal observations. I strongly believe that when dealing with debt collectors, knowledge is power. Take some time to learn about the collection process and your rights. Here’s some suggestions to get you started in learning more:

(1) educate yourself about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which governs what debt collectors can and can’t do. If you feel like a debt collector has broken the law, consider filing a complaint with the CFPB or talking to an attorney about suing the collector under the FDCPA.

(2) if you just want to pay the debt, learn how to best negotiate a settlement with a collector.

(3) if you’re handed a collection lawsuit, always answer it by the appropriate deadline to avoid a default judgment.

(4) after answering the collection lawsuit, learn the typical next steps and how to approach them.

(5) if a collection judgment gets entered against you, know what your options are to minimize the damage.

(6) if you’re being garnished by a collector, learn more about the process and your rights.



Recovering from identity theft

Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information to open new accounts or makes unauthorized charges on your existing accounts. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2014. That’s approximately 7% of all U.S. adults, age sixteen or older. Here are some tips on how to spot identity theft and what to do if you’ve become a victim of it.

How to spot identity theft

Identity TheftGet in the habit of regularly reviewing your credit reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to one free credit report every year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. You can obtain these free reports from the website This is the only website where you can get your free report. Watch out for imposter websites. If you request the three reports separately and stagger them every four months or so, you can monitor your credit throughout the year at no charge. Consider using this staggering technique before paying for a credit monitoring service.

Once you have your credit report, look for incorrect personal info, such as addresses you never lived at, inaccurate social security number, or incorrect middle names or nicknames. These may be signs of identity theft. You should also look for accounts that you didn’t open or for credit report inquires from companies you never applied for credit from. Any accounts you don’t recognize should be red flags. Also, if the balances on your existing accounts appear to be much higher than you think they should be, that could be a sign of unauthorized or fraudulent charges.

In addition to reviewing your credit reports, you should get in the habit of checking the monthly billing statements for all of your existing accounts for suspicious charges. It’s also important that you don’t ignore bills for accounts you don’t recognize or debt collection letters or calls for debts you don’t think you owe. While it’s tempting to assume that these bills or collection efforts are a mistake and will go away, they may very well be a signal that someone has stolen your identity.

Call the companies where you know fraud has occurred

If you spot unauthorized charges on your existing accounts or fraudulently-opened new accounts, you should contact those creditors immediately. It’s best to contact the company’s fraud department and ask them to freeze or close the account. Make a note of who you talked to and the date you talked to them and keep it for your records.

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

The next step is to place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. All three of the main bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union–allow you to do this online. A fraud alert is free and it makes it more difficult for someone to open new accounts in your name. An initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days and requires creditors to take reasonable steps to confirm your identity before opening a new account. If you provide a phone number with an initial fraud alert, creditors will contact you before opening a new account.

You may also consider placing an extended fraud alert on your credit reports. An extended fraud alert lasts for seven years and requires lenders to contact you in person before opening a new account. You may also think about a credit freeze. A freeze stops anyone from accessing your credit report until you lift the freeze. Under Minnesota law, victims of identity theft can place a credit freeze for free. Non-victims must pay a fee of $5.

File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission (and consider filing a police report)

You should also file an Identity Theft Report with the FTC, which can be done online at After filing the report, the website will create a recovery plan for your situation. You should print the Identity Theft Report and recovery plan for your records. You can also create an account after you file the report, so that you can access your report and recovery plan later.

After you file the report with the FTC, you should consider filling a police report too because identity theft is a crime. Contact your local police department and tell them you want to report that someone stole your identity. You should give them proof of identity, proof of your address, a copy of your FTC report, and all of the information you have about the identity theft. Make sure to get a copy of the police report and keep it for your records.

Close fraudulently-opened accounts and remove unauthorized charges to existing accounts

Make a list of all the accounts opened by the identity thief and any suspicious charges to your existing accounts. Call the fraud department for each of these creditors and provide them with a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Report and police report (if you have one). Ask that all fraud accounts be closed immediately and that any unauthorized charges be reversed. Ask for confirmation in writing that the account is closed or charges are reversed and that you don’t have any liability for these accounts or charges. Keep copies of these letters.

Write dispute letters to the credit bureaus for all fraud accounts showing on your credit report

Write a letter to each of the big-three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). Tell them about every single account that was opened through identity theft. A good way to do this is to send them a copy of your credit report and circle or star all the fraudulent accounts. Include a copy of your FTC Identity Theft report and police report if you have one. Make sure to request in your letter that they block all of these accounts from your credit reports. A good sample letter can be found at the FTC website. Keep copies of these letters, as well as copies of the responses you get from the credit bureaus.

If you get collection calls for letters for fraud accounts, notify the debt collector of the identity theft

It’s no surprise that most identity thiefs don’t make payments on the debts they rack up in your name. As a result, many identity theft victims receive collection calls and letters from debt collectors. If this happens, notify the debt collector in writing that you are a victim of identity theft and that you don’t owe the money they are trying to collect. Send them a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report, police report, and any letters from the creditor confirming that you don’t owe money. Keep a copy of your letter and any collection letters you get in response. It’s also a good idea to keep a call log of all the collection calls and messages you get.

Contact an attorney if the fraud accounts aren’t removed from your credit reports after you dispute them, or if a debt collector keeps contacting you after you’ve told them about the identity theft

If the credit bureaus don’t remove the fraud accounts after you dispute them in writing, or if debt collectors continue to hound you after you’ve told them about the identity theft, you should contact a consumer attorney in your state to discuss the situation in depth. There are powerful laws, such as the Fair Credit Report Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, that can be used against credit reporting agencies, creditors, and debt collectors who don’t follow the law. A consumer attorney can help clean up your credit report and stop collection calls, as well as discuss any legal claims that you may have to hold wrongdoers accountable for breaking the law.


Featured photo by Don Hankins /  C.C. 2.0