Yesterday a suit was filed in Washington State by Meghan Fitzgerald against Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, LLC, for violations of the Washington Debt Settlement Act, RCW 18.28, et seq. and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, RCW 19.86, et seq.
The lawsuit states:
In approximately August of 2010, Ms. Fitzgerald received a solicitation from LHDR offering to assist Ms. Fitzgerald with her debt.
In September of 2010, Ms. Fitzgerald signed a contract online with LHDR for the purpose of assisting Ms. Fitzgerald in resolving a $33,281.56 debt Ms. Fitzgerald owed to Bank of America.
Ms. Fitzgerald took LHDR’s advice to discontinue payments to Bank of America and instead make payments to LHDR.
At some time unknown to Ms. Fitzgerald, Bank of America sold the $33,281.56 debt to FIA Card Services, N.A.
After Ms. Fitzgerald signed the LHDR contract online, she never received a copy of the contract. Ms. Fitzgerald did not receive a copy of the contract until September 30, 2011, when she requested it over the telephone.
RCW 18.28.110 (2) requires that LHDR deliver a completed copy of the contract between the debt adjuster and a debtor immediately after the debtor executes the contract.
The LHDR contract received by Ms. Fitzgerald on September 30, 2011, contains no signature of any LHDR representative.
The LHDR contract signed by Ms. Fitzgerald fails to notify Ms. Fitzgerald that she is entitled to a copy of the contract at the time she signs it, as required by RCW 18.100(7)(b).
The LHDR contract fails to contain a notice, in ten-point boldface type or larger, directly above the space reserved in the contract for the signature of the buyer, that buyer should not sign the contract without reading the entire document, or, if any spaces are left blank, as required by RCW 18.100(7)(a).
The LHDR contract required Ms. Fitzgerald to pay an initial “flat fee retainer” of $500.00.
The LHDR contract requires Ms. Fitzgerald to pay $7,592.23 in total fees. The fees charged by LHDR pursuant to the contract are as follows:
The total fees charged by LHDR, $7,952.23, comprise over twenty-two percent (22%) of the $33,281.56 debt listed on the contract.
RCW 18.28.080(1) provides that in contracting to provide debt adjusting services, the total fee may not exceed fifteen (15%) of the debt listed by the debtor on the contract.
To ensure that payments by debtors are actually used to attempt to adjust debts, RCW 18.28.110 (4) provides that debt adjusters must distribute to creditors, at least once each forty days after receipt of payment, at least eight-five percent of each payment received from the debtor.
Although Ms. Fitzgerald has paid LHRD $6,284.21 since October of 2010, LHRD has failed to distribute any money to the creditor.
Ms. Fitzgerald never received a receipt from LHRD following the more than ten (10) withdrawals LHRD took from her bank account for payment.
RCW 18.28.110 (3) mandates that a debt adjuster deliver a receipt to a debtor for each payment within five days after receipt of such payment, unless the payment was made by check or money order.
LHRD failed to provide to Ms. Fitzgerald, at least once every month, an accounting of the total amount received from or on behalf of Ms. Fitzgerald, the total amount paid to each creditor, the total amount which any creditor has agreed to accept as payment in full on any debt owed the creditor by the debtor, the amount of charges deducted, and any amount held in trust.
Although the contract states that Ms. Fitzgerald had through 2014 to discharge the debt using LHRD’s services, representatives from LHRD told Ms. Fitzgerald in September of 2011 that unless she agreed to pay off the debt, at an escalated rate that was unaffordable for Ms. Fitzgerald, the creditor would sue her.
The pay scale in the contract demonstrates that Ms. Fitzgerald would settle with the creditor for $13,312.62. However, in September of 2011, Ms. Fitzgerald approached LHDR to inform LHDR that she had $10,000 and hoped that LHDR could get the debt settled for $10,000, or an amount close to that figure.
In response, LHRD insisted that Ms. Fitzgerald could only settle the debt by paying a total of $18,334.00 – $11,359.00 that month, and $2,325.00 each month for the next three months. The settlement amount of $18,334.00 did not include the $6,284.21 Ms. Fitzgerald had already paid to LHRD in fees.
Ms. Fitzgerald immediately advised LHRD that she could not afford to pay $18,334.00 in the next four (4) months, because all of her extra money ($7,952.23) was going to pay LHRD’s fees. In response, LHRD representatives screamed at and were verbally abusive towards Ms. Fitzgerald. LHRD representatives then told Ms. Fitzgerald that she would get sued by the creditor if she didn’t come up with $10,000 and $2,300/month for the next three months.
Ms. Fitzgerald’s telephone interactions with LHDR representatives caused her emotional distress, anxiety, loss of sleep, and missed work. – Source
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