Interviewer: Let’s get a better understanding and review of what we talked about when it comes to suing these organizations that claim to assist with consolidating or fixing someone’s debt. What’s going to happen during the process? How is the process going to start when I’m working with you and what’s going to happen afterwards?
Andrew Campbell: What typically happens is a client will call me up, and like I’m said, the first thing I’m going to want is the contract. I want all the communications, any letters, any emails, and also any advertisements that they saw.
Then what I’m going to do is review and confirm that the company is not a licensed debt management company. There are legitimate companies. GreenPath is one. They’re a legitimate company that does debt management plans.
If they’re not covered under the debt management law – if they’re not licensed to do that – I then determine if that entity is collectible. There are a lot of entities that are small that invade, that use false phone numbers, that spoof their phone numbers. They might be calling from foreign countries. You can never really locate them.
The best debt settlement companies to go after are debt settlement law firms because they tend to want to keep their licenses and they don’t want a lot of complaints. They tend to be more agreeable as far as refunding money.
As I said, the Michigan Credit Services Protection Act does allow for actual damages plus costs and attorney fees, and it does allow the judge to award punitive damages if a judge believes it is proper. That is a legitimate concern to a lot of debt collection law firms and also to some debt settlement companies.
Retaining an Attorney
Interviewer: It goes without saying but just for the sake of a Q&A, would you say that hiring a lawyer would help save someone money in the long run?
Andrew Campbell: Financially, yes. The mistake I see over and over and over again with many people who are filing for bankruptcy is that they don’t take precautions. For example, they don’t take the time before they buy a car (especially like a used car) to hire a mechanic who might cost $100 to $200. Instead they rely on some suave salesperson who’s basically lying through their teeth.
A lot of people don’t even do Carfax or even AutoCheck. AutoCheck is a company like Carfax that allows you to look up the history of a car. Those things are only $30 or $40 and those save you from flood-damaged vehicles, salvaged title vehicles, rental cars.
People are penny-wise, pound foolish. They just don’t think about the long-term.
As far as a lawyer goes, most lawyers like me will give a free consultation and that’s not costing me anything but a few minutes of your time. I don’t charge people to come in and talk to me about problems with debt settlement companies. I don’t charge them to come in and talk about bankruptcy.
Obviously, if they want to hire me, in some instances, like obviously with bankruptcy, they do have to pay me up front, but with debt settlement type of scams I don’t ask for any money. I only get money if the consumer is awarded or is offered a settlement of monies, and then I get a percentage.
There’s very little risk to consumers. In Michigan, they are liable. All consumers in Michigan have to be liable for court costs if a lawsuit is filed. That’s an ethics rule. Obviously, there’s a little bit of risk there but if the client’s not willing to assume a low level risk of a couple hundred bucks, then they’re not serious about solving their problem.
Interviewer: What are some qualities in an attorney that I should be looking for?
Andrew Campbell: The attorney should be an attorney who’s dedicated to fighting for consumers, because most attorneys who engage in this kind of practice have a lot of experience in other consumer laws. That’s important because you want somebody who can look at your situation in its entirety – who can look at your credit report and look for violations of the law, who can look at court filings, garnishments – and look for violations of the law, and who can hear you out and identify different causes of action that a person can have. That kind of lawyer who has that level of experience and expertise can really help a person turn a table on creditors. They can come up with ideas, solutions, and legal remedies that can sometimes eliminate the debt or at least reduce it.