Florida Consumer Law
Consumer Law is a broad category of law covering many topics. At CPC Law, our consumer practice involves legal matters for individuals and families, rather than small businesses and investors. We are all consumers, including business owners and investors, so our clients often overlap in these categories. Quite often, we represent consumers in disputes with businesses and these disputes are usually against big companies such as mortgage lenders and creditors.
Consumer protection is a vital matter in our society. In recent years, especially during the rise of the internet, consumer fraud and abuse has increased dramatically. Florida was at the front lines of the real estate collapse and foreclosure crisis resulting from the global economic meltdown. The lending industry, through its reckless and greedy practices, contributed greatly to these historical events.
The Problem with Big Banks
Though there is much blame to be passed around for the foreclosure crisis, including some irresponsible and dishonest consumers, mortgage lenders deserve the lion’s share of the blame. They completely abandoned all rationality and decades of sound business principles to create an environment where all you needed was a social security number and a pulse to qualify for a mortgage.
Following the crash, the lending industry was completely unprepared to handle the foreclosures and loss-mitigation applications including loan modifications and short sales. During the foreclosure crisis, many of their practices were exposed, including committing outright fraud and perjury to foreclose against homeowners when they didn’t have the legal right to do so. Their ugly practices included “robo-signing” affidavits used to prove their cases and forgery. At CPC Law, we’ve defended several homeowners being sued by two separate lenders, each claiming to own the rights to the same mortgage on the same home.
Because big banks and their Wall Street allies will abuse and cheat consumers without hesitation, it’s so important to have attorneys fighting for consumers’ rights. In recent years, one of the biggest banks in the world, Wells Fargo, has illustrated how the potential for consumer fraud has no limits.
Wells Fargo has been caught red-handed in several shameful scandals including opening thousands of customer accounts without consent, selling their mortgage borrowers home warranty products they never agreed to buy and forced placement of auto insurance for their car loan borrowers, again without the consumers’ knowledge. They even had the nerve to repossess thousands of cars for failure to pay premiums the owners didn’t even know they owed.
In Florida, there were some laws passed to hold the lenders more accountable, but in general, they haven’t been very effective. Lenders now need to state certain allegations in foreclosure cases as affidavits under oath. Among the many problems in the legal system is a general lack of knowledge of consumer rights and what people can do to fight back.
In non-mortgage collection actions for example, there is a very lucrative industry of buying and selling “paper.” Creditors sell bad debt for pennies on the dollar (as mortgage lenders do also) and often sell the same debts to multiple buyers and without legally-required procedures and documentation to transfer rights to those debts. The result is collection lawsuits brought by a party that has no legal rights to sue for that debt.
Unfortunately, only a small minority of consumer debtors ever try to challenge these suits. Most people never respond or appear in court and the cheating “creditors” win on default. This leads to court judgment, which in Florida are good for up to 20 years, being filed in the public records. The consequences can be severe and long-lasting, including perpetually bad credit ratings that make it very hard to get ahead in life.
Many consumers are unaware that attorneys will often take good cases for no advance fees. In some cases, we’ll work on contingency for a percentage of the recovery. More commonly, CPC Law will take on clients to sue corporations for consumer law violations that have attorney’s fees provisions allowing the winning party to collect from the defeated. In these cases, we track our hours and submit a bill for attorney’s fees that may never come out of our clients’ pockets.
Consumers Have Legal Rights
These stories are the tip of the iceberg. Corporate America rips off consumers in ways in which the victims may not be aware. Fortunately, there have been government reforms enacted to protect consumers since the recent “Great Recession.” These include the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
There are Florida State and Federal laws that protect consumers. These laws includfe the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the State Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. We educate our clients on their consumer rights and help them pursue claims against wrong-doers who have violated those rights. Often, we file lawsuits and take big businesses to court for these violations.
There are other legal issues that fall under the category of Consumer Law that don’t involve disputes and litigation. These issues usually include protecting and planning services for our clients to protect individuals and families against the bad things that happen in life. These services include estate planning, probate and asset protection.
How We Help Consumers
CPC Law represents clients in the following Consumer Law practice areas: