Cyber Security Awareness Month!

This October is Cyber Security Awareness Month! At Jason Shear Law, we’re spreading the word with these six tips to help keep your confidential information and identity out of the hands of scammers.

  1. Optimize your Usernames and Passwords:
    • Create unique usernames and passwords that are difficult to guess.
    • Don’t repeat the same password across multiple websites.
    • Change your password at least every three months or as soon as you suspect your account has been compromised.
    • Don’t allow your web browser to store login credentials for your banking website.
    • Deselect the “remember my password” option.
  2. Stay Alert when Banking Online:
    • Don’t log into your online banking account on a public or unsecured Internet connection (i.e. airports, cafes, shopping centers, etc.).
    • Avoid downloading or storing sensitive information when using a shared device.
    • Review your account activity on a regular basis. Immediately report any suspicious transactions to your bank.
  3. Guard Online Banking Devices:
    • Activate your computer or network firewall and install anti-virus software.
    • Complete software updates–from operating system to applications, even web browsers–as recommended by the manufacturer.
    • Utilize a device PIN, password or other security features to restrict unauthorized device access.
    • Enable the auto-lock feature to secure devices during periods of inactivity.
  4. Visit Secure Websites:
    • Inspect the search bar in your browser. Look for a small padlock icon and verify that the web address begins with https:// rather than simply https://. The “s” stands for secure. This encrypts your sensitive information as it travels across the Internet.
  5. Manage Your Bluetooth Access:
    • Disable Bluetooth when not in use. Devices can be accessed through Bluetooth and loss of personal information may occur.
    • Set Bluetooth enabled devices to “non-discoverable” mode when in use.
  6. Delete Unsolicited Emails:
    • Ignore requests to click on links or download attachments in unsolicited emails, doing so may install dangerous viruses or malware on your device.
    • Verify the source of an unsolicited email, even if it’s from a familiar person or organization.

Breach Prompts action by New York Attorney General

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a consumer alert following the report that Equifax Inc., one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, experienced a massive breach affecting 143 million Americans and over 8 million New Yorkers. Today, as part of a formal investigation into the incident, Attorney General Schneiderman sent a letter to Equifax seeking additional information about the breach. The breach lasted from mid-May through July, when hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Approximately 209,000 individuals had their credit card numbers stolen. “The Equifax breach has potentially exposed sensitive personal information of nearly everyone with a credit report, and my office intends to get to the bottom of how and why this massive hack occurred,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I encourage all New Yorkers to immediately call Equifax to see if their data was compromised and to consider additional measures to protect themselves.”
Consumers should also consider taking these additional steps:

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you do not recognize could indicate identity theft. This is a free service.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. It will not prevent a thief from using any of your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for unauthorized charges.  Call the credit card company or bank immediately about any charges you do not recognize.
  • Since Social Security numbers were affected, there is risk of tax fraud.  Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Consider filing your taxes early and pay close attention to correspondence from the IRS.

My phone didn’t ring. Who left a message?

There’s a new technology game in town, but nobody wants to play it. It’s called “leave me a message but don’t call me”. Big business and ringless voicemail providers love it. Consumers? Not so much. The technology is called ringless voicemail and it’s being used by debt collectors and telemarketers around the country to reach the masses. Unfortunately, consumers could be powerless to stop it.

Federal regulators, who are considering whether or not to ban these “instant” messages, are being pushed by pro-business and ringless voicemail providers to be exempt from consumer protection laws, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 which prohibits calling cellular phones with automated dialing and artificial or prerecorded voices without first obtaining consent — except in an emergency.

Fortunately, consumers along with their attorneys are vehemently against this exemption, stating that voicemail boxes could be flooded with messages making it nearly impossible to discern “junk” voicemail messages from important ones, including the one from your child’s school or from your elderly parent. Even worse? If allowed, debt collectors could leave a barrage of collection messages on a consumer’s voice mail and consumers would be powerless to stop them.

To make matters worse, even consumers on the “Do Not Call” list could potentially be barraged with unwanted messages since these ringless messages may not be considered calls. If these messages are not “calls”, then “Do Not Call” Registry would not apply, thereby allowing free will to an endless supply of messages from company after company.

Seems hopeless? Not yet. There is the chance to stop them but we need your help.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now collecting public comments (instructions below)on this vital issue. It is important that we come together and publicly comment against ringless voicemail. The alternative? Debt collectors and telemarketers will be legally permitted to release a litany of “non-calls” to consumers, flood our voicemail boxes with unlimited messages, and our ability to stop them could be hindered forever.

To Make Your Voice Heard…

To comment, click on “Express” under Filters. Enter Docket #02-278. Then, enter in your name and address and make your comment.

Court allows amending of pleadings in Class Action case against Collection Law Firm

In White v. Fein, Such & Crane, LLP, No. 15-CV-438V(Sr) (Nov. 1, 2016), plaintiffs filed a class action complaint under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and New York General Business Law §349 concerning the attorneys’ fees that defendant charged in mortgage foreclosure actions which it had previously commenced against plaintiffs. Prior to any discovery or class certification proceedings, plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint in order to “sharpen the class definitions” and “narrow the scope of the existing claims”. Defendant opposed the motion on the ground that the proposed amended complaint was futile because the factual allegations in it were “false”, and supported that opposition with an affidavit from a partner of defendant, which detailed the firm’s business records, attorneys’ notes, and files related to the underlying foreclosure actions. Plaintiffs objected to defendant’s attempt to introduce “evidence” in opposition to their motion to amend, especially because no discovery had been conducted. After noting that it  must confine its consideration to the facts stated on the face of the proposed amended complaint, the court held that defendant’s submission was beyond the scope of plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaint and inappropriate for resolution within the procedural confines of the motion. As a result, the court exercised its discretion and granted plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint.

Letter received from Debt Collection Law Firm violated FDCPA

In Douglass v. Forster & Garbus LLP, No. 16-CV-6487CJS (Oct. 26, 2016), plaintiff claimed that a debt collection letter from defendant violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) because the letter failed to disclose that the amount owed by plaintiff may increase due to interest and fees. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings and, when the plaintiff submitted an affidavit in opposition to the motion, the court converted it to a motion for summary judgment in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

In support of its motion, defendant claimed that plaintiff was “well aware” that her indebtedness could increase based on the accumulation of interest and fees, as evidenced by the fact that plaintiff had received notice of 42 prior wage garnishments in connection with  judgment enforcement proceedings on the underlying debt. The court rejected defendant’s argument regarding constructive notice, finding the recent Second Circuit precedent was “crystal clear”, and defendant’s failure to indicate in this letter that interest and fees would continue accruing beyond the date of the letter constituted “a false, deceptive, or misleading representation”. Accordingly, defendant’s motion was denied.