Friday, November 18, 2011

Consumers, hide your cell phones!

A couple of weeks ago, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on HR 3035 the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011 – a dangerous bill that would open up cell phones to robocall.  We’ve already said that the bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  But, the name is a great misnomer and we here at the National Association of Consumer Advocates have been wondering what to call it:

•    The Robocall Act of 2011
•    The Invasion of Privacy Act of 2011
•    Cell Phone Debt Collection Abuse Act
•    The Robocall Hell Act

What do you think?  The picture and the main point is that the name of the bill ought to match the reality that will come in the form of 10 calls per second ambush calling that will unleashed on consumer cell phones if this bill passes.  NACA is joined by a number of other consumer advocates and privacy organizations who also oppose the bill.  And, across the states attorneys generals are banding together to fight this horrid legislation.

Of late, it also seems that the press is catching on and is also reflecting consumer sentiment that this is simply a bad idea.  There has been a great deal of press coverage on the bill and media interest in the is picking up.  Here are a few examples of recent coverage of the bill:

For more press clips

Here’s how you can help make sure your cell phone isn’t opened up to robocalls!

Since the hearing the National Association of Consumer Advocates continues to be in conversation with the bill sponsors and other House staff to reiterate our concerns that this is a harmful bill and that the bill is not necessary.  While these conversations are important, there are some ongoing initiatives will which help increase public awareness of this bill and help deliver a consistent message to Congress.  Take a minute now, through the links below, to sign one or all of the petitions below and let members of Congress know this bill is harmful! If you have a client distribution list, please consider sharing with them the following online petitions which have been created by organizations like and  These petitions allow individuals to send a message directly to Congress:


One thing is certain, consumers won’t just stand by and watch their cell phone minutes increase.  A new tool has recently been launched to give robocall makers a sense of what robocalling is like for consumers.

If you don’t want to sign a petition, help us re-brand this bill!  As we all know, sometimes it is helpful to rebrand things in order to make your message ring clear.  What should we call this bill?  Ideas we have so far are:

•    Robocall Hell Act?

•    Cell Phone Bill of No Rights Act?

•    Robocall Invasion 2011??

Do you have any suggestions?  If so, please let us know by emailing!  As we continue to talk to the press and members of Congress about this, it would be great if a more consumer friendly brand began to be used.

Thanks sincerely for all that you do every day for consumers!

NACA’s Legislative Unit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Can you effectively run a business, without a manager or business owner? Why should the CFPB?

In 2010 Congress took a bold and courageous move and passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which created a new consumer cop on the beat, in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau!  Consumers and Consumer Advocates lauded this bold and necessary move.  Finally, there would be a cop on the beat whose sole interest and mandate came from the consumer.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for Wall Street to recover and launch a counter insurgency against the new agency before it even started.  As usual, rather than doing it themselves, they sent their favorite minions, Congress!  Over the last year since the passage of Dodd-Frank, House Republicans have introduced measure after measure that would effectively handicap and weaken the CFPB if it passes and most recently Republican leaders in the Senate have made good on their pledge to block Richard Cordray’s nomination to direct the CFPB, leaving the Bureau without the full authority it needs to do its job.  Months after its launch and the presidential nomination, the CFPB still does not have a director.

This week there was a National Day of Action to draw attention to the fact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has no director.  The only thing standing in the way of a director being voted on is Congress.  NACA along with other consumer advocates are trying to get the word out and encourage consumers and advocates to call their Senators and let them know that the CFPB must have a director NOW! 

Call your senator let them know that this may work well for Wall Street banks, and financial industry special interests, but it doesn’t work for you!  

Written by Delicia Reynolds, Legislative Director, National Association of Consumer Advocates

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Obama Pitches New Mortgage Relief Plan

Picture Courtesy of the Associated Press
In 2009, Obama released the original economic stimulus plan, Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which was designed to stabilize communities hit by foreclosures or abandonment. At the end of October, Obama pitched his latest proposal to attempt to relieve the economic and political fallout of a housing crisis that has hindered him as he seeks a second term in office. He has decided that it is not worth waiting for a dysfunctional Congress to take the first steps.

The Federal Housing Agency has estimated that this revamped refinancing program will benefit an additional one million homeowners. Moody's Analytics say the figure could even be as high as 1.6 million.

What is Harp?

HARP attempted to help borrowers pay off existing loans that were backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and who were current on their payments. Basically, if you were making your payments on time but didn’t have enough equity to refinance, you would be able to lower your rate without having to pay down your mortgage balance or take out mortgage insurance.

Just to clarify, equity is the difference between the market value of your property (how much you could currently sell it for) and how much you owe on your mortgage. For example, if your home is worth $250,000 and your mortgage balance is $150,000, you have $100,000 in equity, or 40 percent of the property’s value ($100,000 divided by $250,000).

At first, the program was restricted to borrowers who owed between 80% and 105% the value of their homes. The program was eventually opened up to borrowers who owed up to 125% the value of their homes. However, fewer than 900,000 homeowners have refinanced under HARP over the past two years, and just 72,000 of those borrowers have loan-to-value ratios between 105% and 125%.


    With Obama’s new mortgage relief plan, borrowers will be able to refinance regardless of how far their homes have fallen in value, eliminating previous limits. Millions of Americans with homes have witnessed a significant drop in the value of their homes in the past few years. This plan will hopefully help deal with one of the most critical hurdles in the current economic recession—a slow housing market caused in part by an excess of homeowners who are unable to refinance. This should specifically have a large impact in certain parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Florida where many borrowers owe more than 125% of the value of their homes.

Furthermore, banks will only have to verify that borrowers meet a certain set of eligibility rules:

1.    That they’ve made their last six mortgage payments.
2.    That they have no more than one missed payment in the last year.
3.    That they have a job or another source of regular income.

This will make the refinance process a lot more efficient by mostly eliminating the need for borrowers to obtain estimates of the value of their homes or to provide extensive income documentation. Instead, borrowers will only have to show that they’re current on their mortgage and have a job or another source of regular income.

Read more about Obama’s new mortgage relief plan in the Wall Street Journal:

Written by Michelle Stricklin, National Association of Consumer Advocates

Friday, November 4, 2011

Big Banks Forced to Scrap Debit Fee Idea

"Imagine that: when the banks actually disclose a fee to consumers, they have the capacity to vote with their feet—in this case by migrating to competitor banks with a more customer-friendly policy.  This is free market economics at its best."

Facing a hue and cry from consumers, Bank of America announced on Friday that it will drop its planned $5.00 debit fee charge.

At the beginning of October, major banks including JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Bank of America announced the fee.  But consumers are showing some feistiness.  In the past month, consumers have mobilized against the fee, getting 300,000 signatures on a petition.  And worse for the banks, they are defecting at large rates from the big banks in favor of smaller, local banks.  In response, Bank of America (last but not least) became the final banking giant to nix the charge.

Could there be a better example of the benefits of transparency?  Imagine that: when the banks actually disclose a fee to consumers, they have the capacity to vote with their feet—in this case by migrating to competitor banks with a more customer-friendly policy.  This is free market economics at its best.

Transparency and disclosure makes it possible for the middle class to see the truth.  More transparency even trumps more regulation.  Let the public vote with their feet... and their mouse clicks.
Courtesy of The Corporate Observer

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Consumers beware – House proposal would make nuisance phone calls the new norm!

Hate those annoying, usually dinner time, phone calls with a long pause where it seems like there’s no one at the other end?  Then, just before you hang up, you hear the robo-voice on the other end.  A new House proposal – HR 3035 – will likely make this the new norm for consumer cell phones.
A coalition of debt collectors, the U.S. Chamber and other anti-consumer groups have obtained Congressional support for a dangerous proposal that would allow debt collectors and other businesses to flood cell phones with robo-calls.  The bill, HR 3035 Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, will be the subject of a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing this coming Friday, November 4, 2011 at 9:00am.  The bill’s sponsors are Congressmen Lee Terry (R-NE) and Edolphus Towns (D-NY).  

“Consumers already receive important notifications about data breaches, fraud alerts and flight cancellations when they consent to receive this information” says Delicia Reynolds, Legislative Director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.  “HR 3035 will remove a consumer’s ability to choose what calls they would like to receive and plunge consumers back into daily deluges of robo calls from debt collectors, market research and survey calls among other kinds of calls; but, now on their cell phones.” says Reynolds. 

HR 3035 will allow businesses with to use predictive dialers to and will shift the costs of ads, surveys and other annoying calls to consumers.   Consumers will no longer be able to opt out of receiving calls because HR 3035 would make ‘any prior relationship’ with a business would qualify as consent for the purposes of receiving a so-called ‘informational phone call.’  

“This bill, if enacted, would also facilitate a proposal found in the Administration’s recent deficit reduction plan which would make it easier for private debt collectors to call the cell phones of consumers delinquent on student loans and debt owed the federal government.  Debt collectors already have sufficient access to consumers and still frequently violate the law by repeatedly making collection calls to consumer cellular phones using automatic dialing systems and leaving prerecorded voicemail messages, in violation of the law.[1]” 

“HR 3035 is a terrible idea,” said Reynolds, “cell phones are uniquely personal devices; consumers, struggling to make ends meet and keep their jobs, would prefer to spend these valuable minutes on their family and friends.”

For more information contact Delicia Reynolds of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, 202-452-1989 ext 103, The National Association of Consumer Advocates recently sent a letter opposing HR 3035 to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  For more information on debt collection abuse and protections available to consumers, visit

Written by Delicia Reynolds, Legislative Director, National Association of Consumer Advocates

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Champion of Change

On October 13, my old friend, and consumer advocate extraordinaire,  Addison Parker was honored at the White House as a "Champion of Change." You can read below, the official "bio" that describes why Add was chosen as an honoree. I can tell you that, unofficially, Add is as final a legal services attorney as I have ever known, and that the number of Kentucky families he has helped are countless. I can also tell you, that sitting in the audience, watching Add being honored was a great thrill for me, particularly when he talked about the great loss of wealth he had seen in his community and how that problem needed to be remedied first, if we wanted a real economic recovery. I fear those are words not often enough expressed in our White House, and I am glad that in is moment honor, Add did just that!

Until his retirement in June 2011, Addison was Co- Litigation Director of Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, Inc. (“AppalRed”) and Director of AppalRed’s Stop Foreclosure Clinic. He worked for 32 years at AppalRed. Presently, as AppalRed Attorney Emeritus, Addison provides pro bono services to AppalRed and its clients. AppalRed provides free legal assistance to low income persons in 37 counties, located primarily in the Appalachian hill country of Eastern Kentucky. Since 1999, Addison supervised AppalRed’s consumer law practice, foreclosure defense, complex litigation, and appellate work, while maintaining a full case load. For two decades, Addison has been Chairman of the Consumer Law Task Force of Kentucky Legal Services Programs. He was chairman of the Kentucky Bar Association Bankruptcy Section in 2006-07 and has been a speaker on consumer law topics and foreclosure defense at numerous continuing legal education seminars in Kentucky and nationally at seminars and conferences sponsored by AARP, The National Consumer Law Center, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

As Director of AppalRed’s Stop Foreclosure Clinic, founded in 2008, Addison trained and supervised AppalRed attorneys and private bar partners to defend judicial foreclosure with consumer-protection based counterclaims and defenses arising from unlawful and deceptive origination practices; disclosure violations; and abusive, deceptive, or negligent loan servicing. Addison received the 2011 Kentucky Justice Association’s Consumer Safety Award for his work with the Stop Foreclosure Clinic.

Written by Ira Rheingold, Executive Director, National Association of Consumer Advocates

Friday, October 21, 2011

If not now, when? If not you, who? Consumers and Advocates, look out and get involved!

Under the guise of job creation, the Wisconsin GOP has clearly visited the American Legislative Exchange Council’s playbook and are pushing a few anti-consumer bills that will further shield corporations from liability for wrong doing. 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has called a "Special Jobs Session" to consider a list of bills, including one that appears to be a version of the ALEC "Drug Liability Act" and also two additional anti-consumer bills that strike at the heart of the Wisconsin Consumer Protection Statute and will make it harder for consumers to fight corporate malfeasance.  ALEC is the corporate-funded national organization that allows Big Business to craft, then vote to approve, "model bills" along with politicians that right-wing legislators then take home and push in their states. The Wisconsin bills, AB 12 and AB 14 are sponsored by Sen. Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee), who paid his ALEC dues with taxpayer dollars.

Our friends and colleagues in Wisconsin need your help!  There are currently two bills moving through the Wisconsin Legislature that, if passed, would undermine the state’s Consumer Protection Statute by shifting the cost of enforcement and remedying important consumer protections from unlawful acts of others to the individual harmed or the state.

Please click through the links here to access talking points about the bills and legislative information on each proposal.  BUT most important, here is how you can help:

1.    Send an email or letter to the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee and the Senate Committee on Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce, and Government Operations  – please use the sample text here but please do tailor it speak to any relevant stories or changes that have occurred in your state and why AB/SB 12 and AB 14 are bad bills.

2.    If you need additional information about this bill, please contact NACA member Gordon Leech at

The anti-consumer lobby has been busy and Wisconsin members need your help now; your state could be next!  Please take a moment to lend your support!

Written by Delicia Reynolds, Legislative Director, National Association of Consumer Advocates