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Debt Relief

Scam Calls and Emails - how to avoid being a Victim!!

To avoid becoming a scam victim regard any call or email that asks any personal, business or financial  information including a request to verify information as a possible scam!

Any legitimate callers or emailers will be willing to assist you in verifying that their calls or emails are legitimate.  If they are pushy,  anxious, evasive, or demanding when you ask questions or don't want to help you verify their identity or business legitimacy - they are scammers!

Here are the steps you need to take right from the start. 

  1. Just don't respond to any emails that request personal or business info.  Legitimate businesses that need your info will have a phone number and a person you can contact.  Just don't respond to any requests for information by email ever.  It is far too easy for people running international scams to send you emails with fake looking business logos and even fake return addresses.  Also when you respond you signal that they have contacted a real person and you become a live fish on the hook for them to play with.  You may also encourage them to further use your email address for spam.  If you have to respond, do so only to request their contact information.  But if you can tell who the business is from the original email, go to the next steps and don't reply.
  2. When contacted by phone, do not start answering questions or giving out information or any type - you start asking questions.
  3. Ask the caller to give you their full name, the name of the company they work for, the location and name of the office they are calling from, a working number that you can all them back on, and any extension you need to dial to get them back on the line.  At this point most scammers will hang up but not always.
  4. Politely say you will call them back and hang up.
  5. Next use an independent means to verify the business and to verify that this call is legitimately related to a department in that business.  Don't call the number you were just given.  Instead use reliable independent sources of information you already have to contact the business.  Remember that most billing statements have names, addresses and contact numbers so check your old statements for this info.  If it's a bank, call your local branch.   Once you have a good reliable number then call this number and  ask to speak to the appropriate department depending on what the initial call was about.   Discuss with someone in that department the call you received, who it was from, and the information you were given and what the caller wanted from you.  Verify that the call and the request for information is for a legitimate reason related to the business.
  6. If the call is verified as legitimate - don't hang up and go back to calling the original caller.  Instead ask to be routed internally to the call center where the person you need to talk to is located.  Scammers can mimic legitimate calls and even give you correct information and ask questions that a real department employee would ask you.  The problem is that there could be both legitimate calls and scam calls going on at the same time and asking the same questions.  By asking to be routed internally from an office inside the correct business, you can be sure that you get to a legitimate department or call center and that you don't accidentally release info to a scammer the is convincingly mimicking a real call.
  7. If you don't have a number for the business from prior contact, then it may be necessary to research the business on the internet to get the proper contact number.  This will only work for well known major businesses like American Express, or Bank of America.  If it's a business you have never heard of before then even the website you find could be phoney.
  8. Still not sure?  Then don't cooperate and give out any information.  If there is truly a legitimate business need for you info you will probably get something mailed to you at an address that your previously gave to the legitimate business.
  9. Check for scam alerts.  Below you will find information how to contact either the Oregon Department of Justice of the Federal Trade Commission to find out if the type of contact you have just gotten is a known scam.  You can also try typing in the language from an email into your Google browser.  The more common scams tend to use the same language over and over again and you will probably get a web page where your language is being reported and discussed by other consumers that have already spotted the scam. 
  10. Don't get involved in scam baiting.  There are even some consumers that will not only report the scam but will play along with the scammer and update their reports for you to read on various web pages.  This is called scam baiting.  I don't recommend playing this game because some of these scammers are real pirates with real guns and real bullets.  They may be in some foreign country but they could have friends or relatives in the US and you could end up in a life threatening situation.  So you can Google scam baiting if you want to read more about it but stick to just reading about it.

Other steps you can take:

Contact the Oregon Department of Justice.  (DOJ) They should be able to tell you if the type of call you got is part of a scam they are already aware of.  Sometimes the scammer may already be under investigation.
If you have a question about a consumer-related issue or would like to file a complaint against a business please contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or complete an online Consumer Complaint Form anytime.
Some of the services and additional information on the DOJ website include:
Oregon Scam Alert Network   Here you can read about current scams and submit your email so you can be notified of scams alerts as they are released.  There are also links to other helpful pages:


Go to the  Federal Trade Commission website and read about the various consumer fraud and identity theft problems that this website discusses.  There is also advice on steps to take to protect yourself and what to do after you have become a victim to minimize your damages:


FTC on
Under this topic you will find info on:
Limiting Unwanted Calls & Emails Some phone calls and emails are important, some can be annoying, and others are just plain illegal. Learn how to reduce the number of unwanted messages you get by phone and online.
Computer Security The internet offers access to a world of products and services, entertainment and information. At the same time, it creates opportunities for scammers, hackers, and identity thieves. Learn how to protect your computer, your information, and your online files.
Kids' Online Safety The opportunities kids have to socialize online come with benefits and risks. Adults can help reduce the risks by talking to kids about making safe and responsible decisions.
Protecting Your Identity Keeping your important papers secure, shredding documents with sensitive information before you put them in the trash, and limiting the personal information you carry with you are among the ways you can protect your identity. Find additional tips to reduce your risk of identity theft, including how and when to order your free credit report.
Repairing Identity TheftIf you suspect someone has stolen your identity, acting quickly to limit the damage is key. Take a deep breath, and then place a fraud alert on your credit file, order your credit reports, and call the FTC to report the crime.

Under this topic you will find info on:
  • Children’s Privacy The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids.  The COPPA Rule — with new provisions in effect on July 1, 2013 —  puts additional protections in place and streamlines other procedures that companies covered by the rule need to follow.   If you run a website designed for kids or have a website geared to a general audience but collect information from someone you know is under 13, you must comply with COPPA’s requirements.  Questions?  Send them to CoppaHotLine@ftc.gov.
  • Consumer Privacy Think your company doesn't make any privacy claims? Think again — and reread your privacy policy to make sure you're honoring the promises you've pledged. Consumers care about the privacy of their personal information and savvy businesses understand the importance of being clear about what you do with their data.
  • Credit Reporting Does your business use consumer reports or credit reports to evaluate customers’ creditworthiness?  Do you consult reports when evaluating applications for jobs, leases, or insurance?  Here's information about your responsibilities under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws when using, reporting, and disposing of information in those reports.
  • Data Security Many companies keep sensitive personal information about customers or employees in their files or on their network.  Having a sound security plan in place to collect only what you need, keep it safe, and dispose of it securely can help you meet your legal obligations to protect that sensitive data.  The FTC has free resources for businesses of any size.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires financial institutions – companies that offer consumers financial products or services like loans, financial or investment advice, or insurance – to explain their information-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard sensitive data.
  • Red Flags Rule The Red Flags Rule requires many businesses and organizations to implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program designed to detect the warning signs  – or red flags – of identity theft in their day-to-day operations.
  • U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data outside the European Union in a way that's consistent with the EU Data Protection Directive.  To join the Safe Harbor, a company must self-certify to the Department of Commerce that it complies with EU standards.  The FTC enforces the promise that companies make when they certify that they participate in the Safe Harbor Framework.

Under this topic you will find information on:
  • Credit and Loans If you extend credit to consumers, are in the business of offering loans, or help companies that do, know your compliance responsibilities.  (Looking for information about credit reports or consumer reports?  Visit Credit Reporting.)
  • Debt If you market products or services promising to help consumers with their debts – or assist companies that do – are you up on the rules and laws that apply to your business?  (For resources related to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, visit Debt Collection.)
  • Debt Collection The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from abusive or harassing treatment by debt collectors and establishes guidelines for the industry.  Is your company complying with the law?
  • Mortgages The FTC enforces laws that protect consumers from deceptive mortgage practices by certain kinds of lenders.  The FTC also takes action when companies use illegal tactics directed to people facing foreclosure.  If your company is within the jurisdiction of the FTC, are you complying with the law?
  • Payments and Billing  Under the law, businesses must take steps to ensure that charges to customers' credit cards, debit cards, phone bills, and other accounts are authorized.  Those principles also apply to mobile payments.  Does your company process payments for others?  There are compliance standard

Under this topic you will find information on:
  • Shopping & Saving Realistic budgeting is the key to maintaining a financial safety net and spending wisely. Whether you’re shopping for things you buy routinely — or saving for that occasional big ticket item — planning is key. These shopping tips can help you save money on everyday purchases, as well as on some products and services you buy once in a while.
  • Buying & Owning a Car Having a car can be an expensive proposition. Read tips on buying vs. leasing, negotiating the best deal, financing, getting the most out of warranties and service contracts, using gas efficiently, and avoiding repossession.
  • Credit and Loans Decisions about credit and loans involve lots of factors, including how much money you need, what terms you’re offered, and who is behind the offer. If you are choosing a credit card or wondering whether offers of credit and loans are on the up and up, these tips can help.
  • Dealing with Debt Debt collection, debt management, debt relief, debt settlement... Debt is a four-letter word that’s the subject of some complex laws. Learn how to exercise your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — and how to recognize debt-related scams and frauds.
  • Resolving Consumer Problems Things don’t always go right. Sometimes you don’t get what you ordered; sometimes you get an item of the blue. What are your obligations? And by the way, are there advantages to using any particular method of payment in terms of consumer protections?

More options for Oregon Debtors: Oregonians can now elect to use Federal Exemptions When Filing Bankruptcy

Some really good news for Oregon Debtors facing bankruptcy.  Governor Kitzhaber has signed SB396 into law and Oregon debtors now have the opportunity to elect federal exemptions or Oregon exemptions when filing bankruptcy.  SB396 reversed the 30 year ban on use of federal exemptions in Oregon bankruptcy cases.  The bill can be used in all bankruptcy cases filed after July 1, 2013. 

In addition, there has been added to the already existing Oregon exemptions a new exemption for Health Savings Accounts in an unlimited amount.

What does this mean for Oregon Debtors?  It means more ways to protect your property and assets that youare allowed to retain when filing bankruptcy.  For example the Oregon exemption for an automobile is $3,000.00.  But if you elect to use the Federal Exemption you would be able to exempt a car worth $3,675.    The real benefit of using the Federal Exemptions is that you can borrow the unused portion of the Federal Homestead exemption up to $11,500 for an individual can be used instead to increase another Federal Exemption amount.

So you could exempt a car worth up to $15,175 by adding the $11,500 to the existing car exemption of $3,675.00  Or maybe you have some property that doesn't fit into a specific category.   Combining the wild car exemption of $1,225 with the transferable amount of $11,500 gives you an exemption of $12,725 to apply to any property you want to keep.   (This amount doubles for a married couple for an amount of $25,450.00)
 
Whether you use the Oregon Exemptions or the Federal Exemptions is something you will need to discuss with your bankruptcy attorney as part of your pre-filing bankruptcy strategy.  But this gives you a lot more options.   So if you considered filing bankruptcy in the past but were told you would lose certain property which kept you from filing, you might want to talk to a bankruptcy attorney again and see if the outcome will be more favorable given the change in Oregon's exemption laws.

Here is a list of the various Federal Exemptions that  can now be used by Oregonians filing bankruptcy if they chose to elect:

11 U.S.C. (Title 11 of the United States Code) Section 522(d)
Homestead:
522(d)(1), (5) - Real property, including mobile homes and co-ops, or burial plots up to $22,975. Unused portion of homestead, up to $11,500 may be used for other property.
Personal Property:
522(d)(2) - Motor vehicle up to $3,675.
522(d)(3) - Animals, crops, clothing, appliances and furnishings, books, household goods, and musical instruments up to $575 per item, and up to $12,250 total.
522(d)(4) - Jewelry up to $1,550.
522(d)(9) - Health aids.
522(d)(11)(B) - Wrongful death recovery for person you depended upon.
522(d)(11)(D) - Personal injury recovery up to $22,975 except for pain and suffering or for pecuniary loss.
522(d)(11)(E) - Lost earnings payments.
Pensions:
522(b)(3)(C) - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans). (Fully exempt.)
522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to $1,245,475.
Public Benefits:
522(d)(10)(A) - Public assistance, Social Security, Veteran’s benefits, Unemployment Compensation.
522(d)(11)(A) - Crime victim’s compensation.
Tools of Trade:
522(d)(6) - Implements, books and tools of trade, up to $2,300.
Alimony and Child Support:
522(d)(10)(D) - Alimony and child support needed for support.
Insurance:
522(d)(7) - Unmatured life insurance policy except credit insurance.
522(d)(8) - Life insurance policy with loan value up to $12,250.
522(d)(10)( C ) - Disability, unemployment or illness benefits.
522(d)(11)( C ) - Life insurance payments for a person you depended on, which you need for support.
Wildcard:
522(d)(5) - $1,225 of any property, and unused portion of homestead up to $11,500.

Bankruptcy and Tax Refunds

As 2011 draws to a close some of you are still stunned by the lack of recovery of our economy.  Maybe you finally found a new job but it's for lower pay or less hours.  You remain buried in debt.  This might be a good time to consider getting rid of the debt that piled up during a long period of unemployment or during an extended illness or other calamity that put you behind. 

There are limits to the amount of income you can earn and still completely discharge your debt in a chapter 7 bankruptcy so filing when your income is still relatively low may be your best chance to wipe out debt for a fresh start.   If you wait until your income improves and still can't pay your debt you might be limited to a chapter 13 bankruptcy plan which will require you to make payments towards your debt for up to 5 years.  By using a chapter 7 bankruptcy now to get rid of all your debt, you will be debt free and able to move on in your life rebuilding your credit to again plan for your future retirement and other future needs.

First you are going to want to collect any 2011 tax refunds due to you since unlike wages owed to you where 75% of the back wages are exempt, tax refunds don't get that same favorable treatment in bankruptcy and up to 100% of the tax refund due to you can be collected by a bankruptcy trustee and used to pay your creditors.  With some simple advanced planning you can file for your refund as soon as you get your W-2s from your employers and your tax refund will be on it's way.  Once you receive the refund you can use the funds to pay for your bankruptcy and spend any additional money on necessities for you and your family.  

You can consult with an attorney now about whether bankruptcy is a good option for you.  I offer a free preliminary phone consultation and more intensive office screening at a low cost.  It is important to talk to an attorney before you spend your tax refund just to certain you don't inadvertently spend it in a way that the bankruptcy trustee will object to or that you buy some other asset that is not exempt and can be taken from you.  

As a general rule you can spend your refund on reasonable expenses for food, clothing, shelter and medical expenses as well as attorney fees related to your bankruptcy.  It is still a good idea to get legal advice first.   Talking to a lawyer about bankruptcy does not commit you to filing a bankruptcy.  It is only a preliminary step to explore solutions to your debt situation.  In the course of talking to you I might be able to suggest other non-bankruptcy solutions.

For more free information on Bankruptcy please use the tool bar and click on "Articles and Links"

Joanne Reisman
Attorney at Law
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