Bankruptcy Court and COVID-19

Bankruptcy COVID clients that were awaiting hearings and those that have filed since March 2020 are benefiting from the Operating Orders and other changes that occurred in the Bankruptcy Court as Judges addressed safety and the economic hardship of debtors caused by COVID.

Hearings.  The dockets set for 341 Hearings (First Meetings of Creditors) and Confirmation Hearings were converted to telephonic hearings. Prior to COVID-19 SCLS clients traveled as far as 80 miles each way for hearings. The hearings set after March and continuing do not require internet or video, simply a working telephone. Clients and attorneys may dial in from wherever they are at a set time.

Plans. Chapter 13 Plans filed prior to March 13, 2020 can be extended from five to seven-year plans if related in some way to COVID. The Courts are liberally construing the cause of the hardships and approving amended plans.

Other Updates.

  • Chapter 13 Trustees have not filed Motions to Dismiss for Non-Payment since March; although this will resume this week with settlement options.
  • Trustees have not attempted to claim an interest in extra monies distributed during the crisis. In the past no tax refund was safe from their grasp.

To find out if you qualify for free bankruptcy representation, contact our Intake Office at 888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Be Wary of Work-At-Home and Other Business Opportunities

This pitch may sound familiar: Need to make extra money? Find it difficult to pay your bills? Were you laid off or fired? Be your own Boss with (insert supposedly great company here). Message me to achieve financial independence!

It is important to beware of scams in both times of happiness and success as well as in times of sadness and difficulty. Right now scams like this “Be your own boss opportunity” are among the most successful ones for shameless and clever scammers. People who are struggling financially are most susceptible to pitches that have to do with jobs and business opportunities.

Work-at-home opportunities are being promoted by scam artists now more than ever. There are all kinds of home-based businesses, including ones that are set up to fail. The key is that if the job seeker has to pay to get access to the job opportunity, it is likely they will spend more than they can earn.

Those searching for ways to make ends meet should steer clear of any company or person claiming to offer a “guaranteed” job placement or “risk-free” business opportunity. Often the reality of these scams is you end up paying for starter kits or certifications that are useless, find your credit card is charged without your permission, or get caught up in a fake check scam. Many work-at-home offers just don’t deliver on their promises. The ads don’t warn that you may have to work a lot of hours without pay, or don’t disclose all the costs up-front. You might spend money based on promises you’ll quickly earn it back — but you won’t. People tricked by work-at-home ads have lost thousands of dollars, not to mention time and energy.

How to Know If It’s a Scam

The Federal Trade Commission offers this advice:

Promises of a big income working from home, especially when the “opportunity” involves an up-front fee or requires that you give your credit card information, should make you very suspicious. It doesn’t matter if the ad shows up in a trusted newspaper or website, or if the people you talk to on the phone sound legitimate. It still could be a scam.

If you are thinking about following up on a work-at-home offer, do your homework. The FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule has safeguards in place to make sure you have the information you need to tell whether a work-at-home opportunity is a risky business. Under the Rule, sellers have to give you a one-page disclosure document that offers key pieces of information about the opportunity. Use the information in the disclosure document to fact-check what the seller tells you. In addition to reviewing the disclosure document, here are some questions to ask:

  1. What tasks will I have to perform? Are any other steps involved?
  2. Will I be paid a salary, or will I be paid on commission?
  3. What is the basis for your claims about my likely earnings? Do you survey everyone who purchased the program? What documents can you show me to prove your claims are true before I give you any money? Note: If a seller makes a claim about how much money a person can earn, the seller also has to give you an earnings claim statement with more specifics.
  4. Who will pay me?
  5. When will I get my first paycheck?
  6. What is the total cost of this work-at-home program, including supplies, equipment, and membership fees? What will I get for my money?

The answers to these questions may help you determine whether a work-at-home program is legitimate, and if so, whether it’s a good fit for you.

Check them out

It’s a good idea to research other people’s experience. Try entering the company or promoter’s name with the words “complaint,” “reviews,” or “scam” into a search engine. Read what others have to say. After all, it’s your money on the line.  You also might try checking out a company with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, the S.C. Attorney General, and even the Better Business Bureau. Check not only where the company is located, but also where you live. These organizations can tell you whether there are complaints about a particular work-at-home program. But remember: just because there are no complaints, this does not mean the company is legitimate. Dishonest companies sometimes settle complaints and change their names or move to avoid detection.

Fighting Debt Collection

NOTE: All the names in the article have been changed to protect the parties’ identities.

Tatiana Diaz came to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) in full panic mode. A day prior, someone came to her door and handed her a pack of court documents. She was being sued over some money she allegedly owed. Tatiana could not understand anything more than that. Her first thought was to ignore it and hope it goes away. She had heard about SCLS before and now, with nowhere else to turn, she applied for our help in figuring out what was happening.

What was happening was that a debt collection agency filed ten (10) separate lawsuits against Tatiana, trying to collect on debts it claimed she owed. The total amount of debt from all these lawsuits was just over $7,000. Tatiana admitted that she had a credit card that she used and was never able to repay. However, this was years ago, and she did not believe that she owed as much as the agency claimed in the lawsuits.

SCLS accepted Tatiana as a client to try and verify how much she actually owed, and if she did owe a debt, to negotiate a settlement or a payment plan. Tatiana was supporting a family on one income and could not afford to repay the full amount at once. Our first order of business was to file a response to each lawsuit. Failure to respond to a lawsuit can result in losing your chance to dispute the lawsuit. We did not want that.

Once we responded to the lawsuits, the agency would have to show prove that Tatiana owed this debt and how much she owed. Instead, the agency’s attorney reached out to us and offered to dismiss all ten cases based on Tatiana’s low income. The cases were later dismissed, and Tatiana did not have to pay anything.

If you have a debt collection case filed against you, know that you have options. Although an agency will not always be so quick to dismiss, know that an agency must meet certain requirements before the judge allows it to collect from you. First, the creditor has to prove that you owe that debt. Second, the creditor must prove the exact amount that you owe. Finally, the creditor must prove that it has the right to collect on the debt from you. Collection agencies are not always able to prove all these facts and may be willing to dismiss the case or settle for a smaller amount.

Additionally, the creditor may not be able to collect from you if any of the following are true: (1) the debt is too old and the court can no longer enforce it; (2) the debt was a result of mistaken identity or identity theft; (3) the debt has already been paid or discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding; (4) the creditor did not follow proper legal procedure in trying to collect from you. There may be additional defenses available based on your individual situation.

If you have been sued for consumer debt, apply to SCLS to see if you qualify for our legal services. Call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.