Blog

Active investigation: Wrongful overdraft and NSF fees

Have you been charged overdraft fees for a non-recurring debit card transaction or ATM withdrawal, despite never opting in to overdraft coverage with your financial institution? Have you been charged insufficient funds (NSF) or overdraft fees, even though you should have had sufficient funds in your account to cover the transaction in question? Our law firm wants to hear from you.

Consumers can fight back when their credit union or other financial institution wrongfully charges fees, such as for overdrafts or NSF transactions. Did you know the Federal Reserve requires consumers to opt-in for overdraft coverage for ATM and non-recurring debit transactions? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (pages 8-9) has found that certain financial institutions engaged in unfair or deceptive conduct by failing to fully disclose when and how an account enters overdraft status. Smith & Dietrich Law Offices, PLLC is currently investigating claims of wrongful overdraft and NSF fee charges by Washington credit unions and other financial institutions. We would like to hear from consumers who believe their rights have been violated.

Please note that while we welcome the opportunity to speak with you, this post is not suggesting that your bank or credit union has necessarily violated any law or your rights. We are conducting an investigation and only after a thorough review of your situation can we address whether you were improperly charged NSF or overdraft fees. Because each consumer’s situation is potentially fact-specific, we would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about your concerns, your rights, and your available options.

Don’t Be Taken for a Ride: Getting the Relief You Need in a Lemon Law Case

Maybe this scenario sounds familiar: someone you know spends thousands of dollars, perhaps financed with a loan at a high interest rate, to buy an exciting new car. Sadly, though, the excitement is short-lived, since the vehicle promptly begins to experience a seemingly endless series of mechanical problems. The warranty service provider does not know what to say about the vehicle; it’s just one of those unfortunate “lemons.” What options are available for this frustrated car owner?

The good news is that Washington has a “Lemon Law” that protects car buyers in certain situations. By law, the manufacturer has to honor a consumer’s demand to repurchase or replace their vehicle if it meets the legal standard of a lemon. To have a winning claim, the car owner must generally begin to experience problems with the vehicle early—within the first two years or 24,000 miles after the original sale. The law defines four specific lemon law claims that trigger repurchase or replacement by the vehicle’s manufacturer. Read more about the specific types of lemon law claims on pages 3-4 in this brochure provided by the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

If you or someone you know is dealing with a suspected lemon law case, a consumer protection attorney should be able to help you understand your options, value your claim, and protect your interests. If you plan to seek a repurchase or replacement of your vehicle, an attorney can help present your case to the manufacturer or arbitrator.

Our firm has experience serving consumers with lemon law claims. Contact us for a free initial consultation if you would like to discuss your rights concerning a potential lemon. Certain special remedies may be available for owners of specific vehicles covered by class-action settlements; for example, you may have up to six years to pursue a claim for repurchase or replacement of the following Ford vehicles equipped with a PowerShift Transmission if they were originally sold in the United States and its territories:

  • 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta;
  • 2012-2016 Ford Focus.

If you are having problems with a suspected lemon, especially if it is a Ford vehicle listed above, contact us today to discuss your rights.

Frequently Asked Questions: For Consumers Facing Debt Collection

Help, I’ve Been Sued by a Debt Collector! What Should I Do?

The highly profitable debt collection industry is dedicated to buying (typically for pennies on the dollar) and collecting on consumer debts like credit card accounts, club or HOA membership fees, or even outstanding parking tickets or court fees. If you are sued by a debt collector claiming the right to collect on a debt you owe, you may have a defense against the case. Defenses can include, for example, lack of proper service of process, mistaken identity, lack of standing to sue you, time-barred debts, or that the claimed amount is incorrect. You may also have additional defenses or even claims of your own against the debt collector if your debt collector violates laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or related state laws.

Unfortunately, many consumers fail to timely respond to a debt-collection lawsuit, leading to entry of a default judgment against them. Once it is entered, a default judgment can allow the debt collector to garnish the defendant’s wages or bank account, or collect on the judgment by seizing other assets. It is possible to ask the court to set aside a default judgment under certain circumstances, but for best results, the defendant should appear in the case and file an answer to the complaint by the deadline listed in the summons.

To prevent entry of a default judgment and ensure you have the best chance of protecting your rights, you should discuss the situation with an attorney promptly after you learn of a debt-collection lawsuit filed against you.

I Haven’t Heard about any Lawsuit against Me, but a Debt Collector Claims I Owe Them Money.

If a debt collector contacts you, before you say the debt is yours (which could affect your rights in defending against the claim), you have the right to review validation of the debt. You should obtain the name and mailing address of the debt collector if you are contacted by telephone and keep this information handy.

Debt collectors and creditors can make mistakes, so it’s important to verify any information about a debt you supposedly owe. By law, debt collectors are required to give you validation of the debt either in your initial communication with them, or within five days of their first contact with you about the account (unless the debt has already been paid). These rules come from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Validation has to include the amount owed, name of the creditor, and three statements— that: 1) unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector; 2) if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within thirty days that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and 3) that if the consumer requests it in writing within 30 days, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor. The validation letter gives the consumer a chance to dispute the claimed debt, if the debt collector’s information is wholly or partially inaccurate.

If you don’t receive validation of the debt during or shortly after your first contact with the debt collector, you may send them a written request for validation. If you have questions about whether a debt collector has acted inappropriately in attempting to collect a debt, you should discuss the situation promptly with an attorney familiar with consumer protection laws. An attorney may be able to help you dispute the validity of a debt if you act promptly, within the 30-day period after receiving a validation letter.

How Do I Know if a Debt Collector Has Violated the Law?

Consumer protection laws governing debt collection can be complex to understand and apply. You should discuss your situation with an attorney familiar with consumer protection laws to understand your rights and options for addressing legal claims against debt collectors who violate your rights.

Some of the key rules applicable to debt collectors are listed in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Washington statutes governing debt collection agencies. For example, they may not:

  • Collect any amount unless authorized by law and/or by agreement (for example, in a credit card agreement you signed);
  • In most circumstances, contact third parties like your friends or family members about your alleged debt, unless you authorize such communications;
  • Engage in harassment or abuse, make false or misleading misrepresentations, or use unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt.

An attorney can help you understand how the laws apply to the specific facts of your situation.

Will It Cost Me to Discuss My Debt Defense Case with an Attorney?

Generally, attorneys at our law firm offer potential clients a free initial consultation. If you are facing a lawsuit by a debt collector, we may be able to offer you representation for your defense. And if your rights were violated by a debt collector, we may be able to offer you a contingent fee representation for any claims you have under consumer protection laws.

Because a consumer who wins a case under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and related law is generally entitled to receive their attorney fees from the losing party, our firm can represent clients in those cases without having to charge you up front for our attorney’s fee. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your defense in a debt collection case, or your rights as a consumer in the debt collection process.

SEPA/Land Use Appeal Addresses Daylighting of Olympia’s Moxlie Creek

Our firm is pleased to announce a recent appeal we filed on behalf of a local organization, the Olympia Urban Waters League, from a City of Olympia land use and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) decision. The appealed decision approved a real estate development in the vicinity of an urban stream, Moxlie Creek, a salmon-bearing stream which runs under downtown Olympia in a culvert.

In the League’s initial appeal brief, we argue that the decision fails to acknowledge the proposed development would cause probable, significant, adverse environmental impacts to the water quality in the Moxlie Creek watershed and Budd Bay estuary where it empties. These impacts arise because the development would take up land located at the mouth of a historic estuary which is apparently needed to remedy significant water quality issues in the Bay, including low dissolved oxygen and high levels of nitrates, through a creek daylighting project. Removing urban waterways from buried culverts and exposing them once again to the air is associated with various environmental benefits, and cities around the United States have benefited from creek daylighting efforts. You can read a copy of our initial appeal brief here:

AppealBrief-OUWL-Color-03082018

You can read more about our client’s perspective on Moxlie Creek and the positive effects of daylighting buried urban creeks at their website, https://urban-waters.com/, and their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/OUWLs/.

Case closed: Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights PAC pays $15k to settle campaign finance enforcement action

Our firm recently settled a campaign finance enforcement action against the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights PAC, a political committee registered with the State of Washington. The complaint alleged numerous violations of state law related to the committee’s failures to timely report contributions, expenditures, and lobbyist employer activity. Interestingly, the Executive Director who drew a salary from the PAC was the same person who has filed hundreds of campaign finance complaints against various other candidates, political committees, and other entities in Washington since late 2016, a Thurston County resident named Glen Morgan.

“I’m glad to announce that we have prevailed in this action through a settlement that will benefit the State and send a message to political committees and lobbyist employers to properly report their financial activity,” says Walter Smith of the firm. “These violations bothered me because Mr. Morgan knew enough about the laws to file complaints against others, but his committee failed to live up to those laws. Our firm feels vindicated by this settlement and we see it as an appropriate punishment for hypocritical behavior.”

The defendant has paid $15,000 to resolve this action. As part of the resolution of the case, the firm has tendered $1,000 of the defendant’s settlement payment to the State of Washington.