January 22, 2007

Indiana Lemon Law Seminar February 22, 2007

Attorneys who practice lemon law in Indiana may want to attend a seminar on the subject on February 22, 2007. The continuing legal education seminar is put on by ICLEF and will be held at ICLEF's Conference Facility located at 230 E. Ohio St. in Indianapolis. The faculty of the half-day seminar is comprised of two defense lawyers and a mediator.

I do not recall another lemon law seminar in Indiana, so it's interesting to see that lemon law as a practice area has developed enough to support such a seminar. Still, I can't imagine there will be that many attorneys in attendance.

For those interested, you can contact ICLEF at 317-637-9102. The seminar cost is $185 for non Indiana State Bar Association members, or $135 for members. I'll see you there!

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January 15, 2007

This Indiana Attorney Understands

Over and over again I have personally witnessed a lemon law plaintiff tear up or actually begin to cry while recounting the numerous repairs involved with their vehicle. Back when I defended lemon law cases, I can recall being amazed at how emotional these people became. I understood that numerous time-consuming trips to the dealership, sometimes for the same thing over and over again, could be very frustrating. But sometimes the reaction seemed to go beyond that...

A recent AP-AOL Autos poll emphasizes how much our car means to some of us. The Indianapolis Star reported the following summary of poll results:

GENDER DIFFERENCES: Women, 26 percent, were more likely than men, 16 percent, to have nicknames for their cars. Unmarried women, 30 percent, were more likely than men or married women to give their cars nicknames. Nearly four in five, 78 percent, said they enjoy driving, while 20 percent consider it more of a bother. Women were more likely than men to think of their cars as female — 27 percent to 19 percent. Almost half of women, 44 percent, said they have thought their car had a personality of its own, compared with 30 percent of men. Over half, 55 percent, of single women said they have thought their car had a personality of its own, compared with 36 percent of married women and 33 percent of single men.

ENJOY DRIVING: Young adults, 88 percent, and seniors, 83 percent, were more likely than those 30-39, 68 percent, to say they enjoy driving. White men, 81 percent, were more likely than white women, 74 percent, to say they enjoy driving. Those with a high school education or less were more likely to say they enjoy driving, 83 percent, than those with college degrees, 73 percent. Women college grads, 66 percent, were less likely than other groups to say they enjoy driving. People who make less than $25,000, 86 percent, were more likely than those who make more than $75,000, 75 percent, to say they enjoy driving.

CARS AND PERSONALITY: Nearly three-fourths, 73 percent, of those in their 40s felt you could tell at least something about a car owner’s personality from the kind of car he or she owns. Seven in ten of those making $75,000 or more said one can tell something about a person’s personality from the kind of car he or she drives; of those making less than $25,000, 57 percent felt that way. Slightly over one-third, 37 percent, said they have ever thought their car had a personality of its own. Those with a high school diploma or less were more likely to have thought that than those with a college degree, 41 percent to 31 percent. Those making less than $50,000 a year were more likely than those making $75,000 or more a year to have thought their car had a personality of its own — 45 percent to 30 percent.

After all, the purchase of an automobile is typically the second largest purchase a person makes, and often is the second largest payment a person has. It is a big deal in terms of money. It's also a big deal in terms of time. The average commute to work in this country is just under 25 minutes. That's nearly an hour a day driving to and from work. Combine that with our utter dependence as a society on automobile transportation, and it's not hard to discern why some people are so devastated to find they own a lemon.

If you find yourself in this position, discover your options and ease the strain by consulting an Indiana lemon law lawyer, like myself for example! You'll be glad you did.

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January 13, 2007

Indianapolis Foreign Auto Dealers Selling Safest Vehicles

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has announced its list for the safest vehicles of 2007. Not surprisingly, its "Top Safety Picks" did not include a single small car. Four cars, seven SUVs and two minivans made the list which, sadly, also did not include a single domestic brand vehicle.

Here are the winners:

1. Audi A6, large car
2. Audi A4, midsized car
3. Saab 9-3, midsized car
4. Subaru Legacy (equipped with optional ESC), midsized car
5. Hyundai Entourage, minivan
6. Kia Sedona, minivan
7. Mercedes M-Class, luxury SUV
8. Volvo, XC90, luxury SUV
9. Acura RDX, midsized SUV
10. Honda Pilot, midsized SUV
11. Subaru B9 Tribeca (equipped with optional ESC), midsized SUV
12. Honda CR-V, small SUV
13. Subaru Forester, small SUV

A couple notes about this list. Pickups were not eligible for the list because their side crashworthiness has not yet been tested.

More importantly, 2007 marks the first year that the Institute required a Top Safety Pick to have ESC, which stands for Electronic Stability Control. Using anti-lock brake technology, ESC uses a computer to assist the driver in maintaining stability during a turn or emergency maneuver by applying breaking to one or more wheels. The ESC system is designed to prevent sideways sliding or skidding.

An Institute study has shown that vehicles equipped with ESC are significantly less likely to be involved in a crash. In fact, according to the study, ESC could help save more than 10,000 lives a year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced a proposal to require that ESC be phased in to all passenger vehicles by 2012.

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January 12, 2007

Steve Wynn Imitates Gilligan

Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn yesterday filed a lawsuit against insurance company Lloyds of London. I can't help but comment on this lawsuit, not because I have anything of value to say about the law involved, but because the facts giving rise to the lawsuit are so humorous.

Wynn is a very rich gambling mogul. How rich? Well, Mr. Wynn owns a 1932 painting by Picasso called "Le Reve," which he purchased in the late '90's for about 50 million dollars. Somehow last September, in an unspeakable moment of clumsiness, Wynn poked a hole in the painting with his elbow while showing it off to friends. He had sold the painting the day before for 139 million dollars, but the deal fell through after the damage was disclosed.

Wynn is seeking 54 million dollars from Lloyd's, which, according to Wynn, is the loss in value of the painting following the damage.

This is just further evidence that no one is exempt from making stupid mistakes. Some are just more costly than others.

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January 10, 2007

Debt Forgiveness Can Be Costly

Many Hoosiers don't know that forgiven, or canceled, debt is considered income by the IRS and must be reported as such on an individual or business tax return. Let's say, for example, that you have $80,000 of credit card debt and are able to negotiate the payment of these accounts for fifty cents on the dollar. You refinance your home, take out $40,000 and pay off the credit cards. You have received $40,000 of income from the forgiveness of half the debt, and must report this income on your tax return.

You should receive a Form 1099-C Cancellation of Debt from the creditor. The creditor is also required to provide a copy of the 1099-C to the IRS.

There are a few limited exceptions. If the forgiveness was intended as a gift, the debt was canceled because of Hurricane Katrina, the student loan debt was canceled because of work you performed, or the price of property you purchased was reduced after the purchase, the forgiveness may not be considered income. There are a few other limited exceptions. For more information, consult IRS Publication 17, Chapter 12.

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January 8, 2007

Identity Theft Can Be Devastating

I recently came across a survey conducted by the California Public Interest Research Group and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2000 and included 66 identity fraud victims who were selected because they had contacted these agencies. Since millions of people have been victims of identity theft, the survey can in no way be considered representative. In fact, it is probably representative of victims who were most adversely impacted. Even so, and even though the survey is several years old, I think it is some great anecdotal evidence of the devastation that identity theft can sometimes cause.

Here is a summary of the survey's findings:

§ Forty-five (45%) of the victims consider their cases to be solved; and it took them an average of nearly two years, or 23 months, to resolve them. Victims (55%) in the survey whose cases were open, or unsolved, reported that their cases have already been open an average of 44 months, or almost 4 years.

§ Three-fourths, or 76%, of respondents were victims of "true name fraud." Victims reported that thieves opened an average of six new fraudulent accounts; the number ranged from 1 to 30 new accounts.

§ The average total fraudulent charges made on the new and existing accounts of those surveyed was $18,000, with reported charges ranging from $250 up to $200,000. The most common amount of fraudulent charges reported was $6,000.

Continue reading "Identity Theft Can Be Devastating" »

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January 6, 2007

Identity Theft in Indiana

Many people don't realize that the biggest problem with identity theft is not usually liability for the fraudulently incurred debt. Victims of identity theft seldom are saddled with any significant debt as a result of the fraud. The credit card companies and other businesses who deal with the perpetrators usually eat most or all of these losses.

In the meantime, however, the victim's credit report often ends up in shambles. This can be very difficult to clean up. If you want to see for yourself just how difficult, here are some tips:

1. Don't shred or tear up your financial documents - just throw them in the trash.

2. Fail to get your mail regularly and promptly - instead, let your mail build up and sit in your mailbox for days.

3. Don't keep track of expected mail, like checks, credit cards and even bills, and don't do anything if they haven't arrived in a reasonable time.

4. Don't regularly monitor your credit report; in fact, don't check it at all.

5. Give out your personal information to anyone who asks for it, especially if they initiate the contact with you.

6. Leave personal information out in your home for your relatives, roommates, or service people to see.

7. Choose easy to remember passwords, PINS and codes, utilizing such things as 1234, your birth date, phone number, address, or the last four digits of your social security number -- or better yet, keep them in your wallet or taped to your cards for easy reference.

If you DON'T do these things, there's still no guarantee that you won't be a victim of identity theft. Sometimes you can do everything right and still get burned just because you were unlucky or someone else wasn't careful with your information. But by not doing these things, you can at least significantly reduce your risk of being an identity theft victim. If you think you are a victim of identity theft, click here for more information on what to do about it.

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January 4, 2007

Car Dealerships Love To Obtain Your Financing

This blog post is going to be short, because there's really no discussion necessary.

When you purchase a car at a dealership, HAVE YOUR FINANCING LINED UP BEFORE YOU VISIT THE DEALERSHIP. Period. It's that simple.

This will help you avoid the possibility of being a victim of a host of possible scams, will assure you get the best rate possible, and will give you leverage in negotiating the purchase price of the vehicle. Don't finance through the dealership.

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January 4, 2007

Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Sales Act

Revised provisions of the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act went into effect January 1, 2007. The revisions aren't significant, but this Act is. It is designed to protect consumers from "deceptive and unconscionable sales acts."

Some deceptive acts are specifically outlined in the Act, such as:

1. Falsely claiming that a consumer good:

A. has performance, characteristics, uses or benefits that it does not have;

B. meets a particular standard or has a quality, grade, or style that it does not have; or

C. is new when it is not;

D. needs repair or replacement when it does not.

2. Falsely claiming that a specific price advantage exists when it does not.

3. Falsely claiming that the seller is affiliated in a way that it is not.

4. Making false claims about a warranty.

5. Falsely stating that a consumer good can be delivered within a specific time.

6. Making repairs that exceeded the estimate by more than 10% and that also cost more than $750.

7. A necessary replacement or repair is made, and the repair shop disposes of the part repaired or replaced earlier than seventy-two (72) hours after both:
- the customer has been notified that the work has been completed; and
- the part repaired or replaced has been made available for examination upon the request of the customer.

8. Making unauthorized repairs.

9. Knowingly selling or reselling a consumer good to a consumer if the product has been recalled.

10. Advertising a consumer product that the advertiser has no intention of actually selling.

Acts done with an intent to defraud are automatic violations of the Act. Otherwise, the seller must be notified of the issue and given an opportunity to cure before the Act has been violated.

A consumer may file a lawsuit for any violation of the Act. Even where no damages were suffered, the consumer may collect $500 for the violation. A punitive award of no greater than $1,000 may be imposed for intentionally fraudulent acts. Interestingly, consumers over 65 years of age may recover treble damages for intentionally fraudulent acts. A prevailing plaintiff is entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys fees, so any reputable consumer lawyer will not charge consumers attorney's fees for bringing a lawsuit under the Act.

For curable acts, notice must be provided to the seller within the earlier of one year after the sales transaction, six months of discovery of the deceptive act or the term of any warranty (but not less than 30 days). Any lawsuit must be brought within two years of the date of the deceptive act.

This Act is the primary weapon consumers have against unethical automobile dealers, and, thankfully, it does actually have some teeth!


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January 3, 2007

Google Knows What?

If you watch much Court TV, you know that it's not uncommon anymore for police to seize an accused's computer and use information obtained from the hard drive against the accused. But the hard drive is not the only repository of information concerning the computer user's activities. I just read this excerpt written by Greg Beck in the Consumer Law & Policy Blog:

Although there is no indication in the court's opinion about how prosecutors in this case obtained the search data, Google has acknowledged that it can trace searches back to a particular computer or, in some cases, to a particular user. What exactly does Google know about you? Its privacy policy states that it automatically records information that your browser sends whenever you visit a website. This can include your search terms, IP address, date and time of your search request, and, if you have cookies enabled, possibly your personal identity. Google also acknowledges that it can track which links you click from its search results. In short, Google may have several years’ worth of your search activity stored in its databases, and it may be able to connect much or all of this activity back to you.

Now, I consider myself the epitome of the law-abiding citizen. But this information makes me go "Hmmmmm?" Even if I do some searches on my computer that I wouldn't want at least certain other people to know about, I suppose I probably don't have anything to worry about as long as I don't become a criminal defendant.

Hmmmmm. I wonder if I could ever get information from Google via subpoena? What if I represented a consumer who allegedly bought a flood-damaged vehicle from a dealership. I subpoena all searches conducted by the dealership's computers through the Google search engine. I suspect Google would fight the subpoena tooth and nail, but who knows? What if the results revealed that someone from the dealership did a search like: "how to avoid a salvage title?" Hmmmmm.

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January 2, 2007

Credit Reporting Agencies To Be Under Microscope in '07

Incoming Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has announced his intent to hold hearings in 2007 aimed at the credit reporting industry. Frank believes that the 2003 Fact Act that provided consumers easier and cheaper access to their credit report may not have gone far enough. Providing access is a good start, but if consumers cannot correct the errors they find on their credit reports, then Frank believes further legislation may be warranted.

Frankly, (ha ha) this comes as no surprise to me. When a consumer disputes (click here to see a sample dispute letter) an item on their credit report with one of the big three credit reporting agencies, Trans Union, Experian and Equifax, the dispute is transmitted electronically to the creditor. In some cases, the creditor then verifies, or confirms as correct, incorrect information. The credit reporting agency then reports back to the consumer that the disputed information is correct and will not be removed from the consumer's credit report. At this point, the credit reporting agency feels it has done all it can, and directs the consumer to contact the creditor directly to address potentially incorrect information. The problem is, sometimes the consumers doesn't know how to contact the creditor or the creditor is unresponsive.

Continue reading "Credit Reporting Agencies To Be Under Microscope in '07" »

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January 2, 2007

FreeCreditReport.com

Most people these days are at least somewhat aware of the recent law passed by Congress (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, also called FACTA or the FACT Act) that allows each consumer to obtain one free credit report once a year from each of the big three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Perhaps most people, however, don't exactly know where to obtain those reports.

The website to obtain your free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies is annualcreditreport.com. I did it recently, and checked all three of my reports. The site didn't work flawlessly, but it wasn't a major hassle either. I got my reports for free. If you want your credit scores, you have to pay a fee (approx. $6-10) for them or join a service offered by the credit reporting agency (and you then have the option to cancel within 30 days for no charge).

Some choose to obtain one free credit report every four months or so. This makes sense if you are willing to take the time to do that.

But I digress. Taking advantage of the American public's vague knowledge of entitlement to a free credit report, FreeCreditReport.com, a subsidiary of Experian, has been doing a lot of television advertising lately. If you watch much tv, you've probably seen their commercial. Their commercial gives the impression that you can obtain your free credit report through their site.

Not exactly.

Technically you can, but you'd have to purchase their credit monitoring service and then cancel it within the 30 day trial period. The point of the website is to get you to purchase this credit monitoring service, called Triple Advantage, for $12.95 a month. Now, credit monitoring services can be a good thing for those who want the peace of mind and can afford to pay for it, don't get me wrong. It's just wrong to trick people into purchasing it when all they want is the credit report guaranteed to them by Federal law.

To be fair, the site does explain how to obtain your truly free report from annualcreditreport.com. But, not surprisingly, it's sort of fine print. Be warned.

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