Masterson Law https://mastersonlawllc.com Family Law and Consumer Lawyer in Springfield MO Mon, 04 Dec 2017 04:36:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Missouri Identity Theft and Data Breach Prevention https://mastersonlawllc.com/missouri-identity-theft/ Mon, 20 Nov 2017 19:45:10 +0000 https://mastersonlawllc.com/?p=946 First, the bad news: your information was hacked. Missouri identify theft is a serious problem, but there are ways to minimize the damage and prevent future problems. If you have ever bought a house or a car or had a credit card, your information was most likely involved in the Equifax breach. Even if you […]

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I have been a member of National Association of Consumer Attorneys (NACA) since I began practicing law. My commitment to consumer protection is evidenced by a solid track record. If you have been a victim of fraud or have an unfair credit reporting issues, we would love to help.

First, the bad news: your information was hacked. Missouri identify theft is a serious problem, but there are ways to minimize the damage and prevent future problems.

If you have ever bought a house or a car or had a credit card, your information was most likely involved in the Equifax breach. Even if you never gave permission to Equifax to have your information, nor ever actually used a service provided by Equifax, they still have your information and were wholly careless with it.

It’s unfair, it’s annoying, and yes, it’s now on you to deal with a headache they have caused.

Now, the good news: you’re not alone. Nearly half of all Missourians, some 2.5 million of your fellow statesmen, were affected by the Equifax breach. Plus, now that you know your information has been stolen, we can prepare you for how best to protect yourself against possible credit fraud.

 

MISSOURI IDENTIFY THEFT PREVENTION STEPS EVERYONE SHOULD TAKE:

 

Pull your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com:

AnnualCreditReport.com is a website where you can pull your credit report for free once a year. It was set up in order to comply with a 2003 federal regulation that required the three major credit-reporting bureaus to annually provide consumers a free copy of their credit report.

The website will not request any credit card information or enroll you in a subscription program by accessing your reports. Instead, it will ask you a few personal questions to verify your identity (such as what lending institution your mortgage is through) and then provide you a link to see your credit reports.

The caveat here is that you can only access this information one time a year, so I would highly recommend printing the report or saving it as a PDF.

Once you have the report you can review the information to ensure it is accurate. You check for incorrect personal information, credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted, missing money or wrong amounts related to your credit, and you should closely look at each account to confirm that you, in fact, opened them. If you see anything on your report that you did not open, then you are likely the victim of identity theft and you should immediately contact an attorney to discuss your options.

 

Credit Monitoring:

The next step I recommend is that you enroll in a free online credit monitoring service. There are several available for your use, however, these are for-profit entities, so be careful that you don’t mistake an advertisement for services offered by the site or sign up for additional services that will charge you monthly fees.

The credit monitoring site will provide you with real-time information concerning your credit including your credit score and what, if any, factors are bolstering or weighing it down.

Finally, it will provide you an email alert if an account is opened in your name. This is invaluable information to have, as the sooner you learn about potential identity theft, the sooner you can mitigate its potential damages.

 

File your taxes early:

One of the major concerns from this data breach is the potential spike in tax return fraud. The breach leaked personal identification information including names, social security numbers, birthdays, addresses, and driver’s license numbers, meaning criminals with access to the leaked information may attempt to fraudulently complete a 1040 on your behalf and reroute the tax refund into a bank account they control. You will have no idea this occurred until you go to file your taxes and are unable to do so because someone else has already filed in your name.

The best way to safeguard yourself against this type of fraud is to file your taxes as soon as possible before anyone else can do so using your information.

 

MORE ADVANCED STEPS IN MISSOURI IDENTITY THEFT PREVENTION:

 

If you are still worried about your credit, there are more advanced steps you can take to help safeguard your identity.

 

Freeze Your Credit:

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley suggests that placing a credit freeze on your files is something each at-risk party should strongly consider. Each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus permits you to freeze your credit, which will stop anyone, including you, from opening any new accounts under your name. This freeze will not affect any of your current credit accounts, nor will it stop a debt collection agency collecting on behalf of a current or former creditor. It will only stop new accounts from appearing on your credit.

For people that don’t intend to buy anything with financing (a car, house, etc.) in the short term, this provides an additional level of security for a low cost. In Missouri, it costs $5 per reporting agency to freeze your credit (or $15 total to freeze Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and you can lift the freeze at any time by simply calling and requesting your credit be unfrozen for no fee.

You can place a freeze on your credit by calling the credit reporting agency at the numbers listed below:

Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872

IMPORTANT– When you call to freeze your credit you will be provided with a confidential Personal Identification Number (PIN). Do not lose this number as you will be unable to un-freeze your credit without it.

 

Enroll in an Identity Theft Protection Service:

No identity theft protection service, despite whatever promises they make, can guarantee absolute safety from identity theft. Instead, these services act as an insurance policy to protect you against any losses you suffer from identity theft.

For a monthly or annual fee, the service will monitor your credit and identify any potential risks or fraudulent activity. Should you become a victim, they will provide you with assistance in correcting and removing the issue. Some will also reimburse you for any expenses associated with the theft.

 

VICTIM OF IDENTIFY THEFT?

The most important thing you can do is to be vigilant about your credit. Whether you know it or not, it is likely that your personal information was already compromised well before this breach; it’s just the reality we face in our digital world. While there is little you can do to stop identity theft from happening, you can greatly minimize the damage by closely watching your credit and taking action immediately when something suspicious occurs.

If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, The Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline is available to assist consumers in reporting it (800-392-8222) but you should also immediately contact our office to ensure that you are protected to the fullest extent that federal and Missouri law will allow.

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Automotive Fraud in Missouri: The Essential Guide for Lawyers https://mastersonlawllc.com/automotive-fraud-missouri/ Mon, 10 Jul 2017 01:28:01 +0000 https://mastersonlawllc.com/?p=1   As the old adage goes, true wisdom comes from knowing what you do not know; nowhere is this more important than in the legal community where the sheer breadth of the law makes specialization a necessity. Consumer advocacy work, particularly in the fields of automotive fraud and car scams, is one such niche that […]

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Summer Masterson-Goethals has a strong commitment to defending victims of automotive fraud in Missouri. She has litigated cases involving auto fraud, wrongful repossession, no-title purchases, “Buy Here-Pay Here” lot problems, and range of other consumer protection cases.

 

As the old adage goes, true wisdom comes from knowing what you do not know; nowhere is this more important than in the legal community where the sheer breadth of the law makes specialization a necessity. Consumer advocacy work, particularly in the fields of automotive fraud and car scams, is one such niche that requires specialized expertise that falls outside the general purview of most Missouri attorneys but is critically important to many clients. Knowing the ins and outs of auto dealer fraud laws in Missouri is essential for lawyers who seek to offer a full-service practice to their clients.

Automotive Fraud in Missouri is on the Rise

The number of potential automotive fraud cases are many and varied; issues can result from defective vehicles, “as-is” sales, wrongful repossession, “yo-yo” deals, and a host of other car scams practiced by disreputable auto dealers.

Auto fraud in Missouri is on the rise and consumers need to be on the lookout. Thomas SanFilippo of The Law Firm of Thomas San Filippo & Associates in St. Louis has seen a steady increase in consumer auto fraud cases. “Unfortunately, auto-fraud seems to have remained remarkably prevalent in Missouri despite the State’s reasonably strong consumer protection laws; mainly, the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act or MMPA.”

Joseph Backer also concludes that “auto fraud cases are on the rise” in Missouri and his firm, The Backer Law Firm in Independence, Missouri “cannot take all of the cases that come in.”

Billions Lost in Auto Fraud Every Year

Nationally, auto fraud costs billions every single year according to Frank McKenna, the Chief Fraud Strategist for PointPredictive, a firm that provides fraud solutions for financial institutions. “Auto Fraud represents anywhere from $4-$6 billion dollars a year in risk to the industry.  Some lenders have been able to tie much of their risk to just a few car dealers in their portfolio.  Unscrupulous dealers that are defrauding lenders are often defrauding consumers at the same time.   A finance manager, for example, may fill out an application for a borrower with false information, when the lender calls the borrower to confirm some of the information later the borrower often has no idea.  Borrowers should fill out the applications themselves and review it in detail to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.”

The most important way an attorney can service clients with automotive fraud concerns is informing them how best to protect themselves from such troubles in the first place. There are a number of simple measures consumers can employ to insulate themselves from potential auto dealer fraud issues. The following are some of the best tips an attorney can give to his clients before they go to an auto dealer to purchase a new car.

 

1. Do not leave the dealership without a title. Period.

Automotive Fraud

Some of the most common automotive fraud cases arise from the consumer failing to acquire the car title at the time of purchase. Missouri law requires that the dealer must provide title to the purchaser at “time of delivery” or else the sale is fraudulent and void, as is the underlying contract to the lender. Still, the best way for a consumer to protect themselves from the lengthy ordeal of suing a car dealer is to head the problem off at the pass. 

“We’ve seen a plethora of aggrieved consumers over the past several years who were brazenly cheated by used car dealerships who either fail to adequately train and supervise their employees to ensure ethical, lawful conduct in the automotive business unscrupulous or who were just frankly unscrupulous.  The latter of the two seems to be more prevalent,” SanFilippo adds.

 

2. Do not take the car without an executed contract for purchase between the car dealership and the consumer and a promissory note executed by the finance company

car dealer misrepresentation

Another common car scam is what’s referred to as a “Yo-Yo sale” wherein the dealership gives the consumer a car but says they need time to finalize the transaction. The consumer believes they have a deal but later, the dealer informs the consumer that the transaction fell through for one reason or another and makes the consumer either return the car or agree to different terms than originally bargained for; in some instances, the dealership may have already sold the consumers trade-in vehicle as well. By making sure they have an executed contract for purchase and a signed promissory note for financing, consumers can substantially reduce their potential to be the victim of automobile dealer fraud.

 

3. Have the car looked at by a mechanic before purchase and make sure the car has passed inspection

Auto Fraud

Another way consumers can protect themselves from fraud is to be sure they don’t leave the dealership until the seller has provided written obligations if they are going to fix or repair or add any items on the vehicle. The buyer’s contract or a separate agreement must note any promises the dealer makes to the buyer because if it is not in writing, it is not enforceable.

Often times, dealers will promise to repair a noise the car makes, or a scratch the buyer finds, or issues with the radio, for example. The dealer will usually promise the buyer, “oh yeah, sure, we’ll gladly take care of that if you buy the car” but when the buyer leaves with a promise from the dealer to repair it later, they often find the dealer won’t repair the issue later or weasels out of the promise they made in some way. If the buyer gets the promises in writing, the dealer is much more likely to actually follow through to perform the repair.

Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety adds, “One of the most dangerous forms of auto fraud occurs when unscrupulous auto dealers make false, deceptive, and fraudulent claims about a used vehicle’s safety, without getting the free safety recall defects repaired.”

4. Paperwork is key!

Paperwork is key! Make sure there are no additional terms to the agreement that are not in writing.

Perhaps the most common auto dealer fraud cases come from failing to properly inspect vehicles before purchase. Shady automotive dealers have been known to rebuild salvage vehicles while failing to disclose their status on the car title as required by law. Dealerships may then try to indemnify themselves by hiding behind an “As-Is” disclaimer, and while such a disclaimer is not a legal defense to automotive fraud, consumers can circumvent the ensuing automotive lawsuit by taking a proactive stance before purchasing a vehicle.

Backer echoes this advice for lawyers, that “an ‘as is’ clause in a sales contract does not kill your case.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg for the unique field of automotive fraud law and the tips outlined above provide an excellent starting point for an attorney with clients concerned about purchasing automobiles or possible auto dealer fraud in Missouri.

For more information, please contact us directly or connect on LinkedIn.

Many thanks to the gracious experts who contributed to this article, you can find more information about their respective businesses and organizations below. 

Frank McKenna – PointPredictive
Thomas SanFilippo – The Law Office of Thomas SanFilippo
Rosemary Shahan – Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety
Joseph Backer – The Backer Law Firm

 

Related Reading:

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