Uber’s No-Call Zone!

Uber has no allowance for one to call customer service, and the in-app responses appear to be bots or cut/paste from a list of ready answers that may or may not respond to the concern raised.  This is very concerning from a consumer protection perspective.  One may even be in a dangerous situation, or learn that someone at Uber compromised their personal data and credit…..but Uber still will not call the consumer or respond to emails with substantive attention.  Even the “emergency number” (one finds after diligent research) provides only a recorded message and no live person to answer in most of the country!

This means that if Uber charges too much or there is another issue, the consumer is often left with no remedy if the online system provides the old “we think we are right” wrote answer through the app.  Indeed, Uber may simply ignore multiple messages and send a cut/paste/bot answer:  “we are still researching” — which can go on for eternity.  With no number to call or supervisor to contact……the consumer is literally left with no remedy.  Furthermore, if one’s online account is inaccurate and failing to show the actual amounts charged, there is again no remedy.

It reminds one of being bullied, and leaves one feeling helpless.

It seems there should be a consumer protection law that requires that all companies must have a customer help line!  Perhaps the FTC act should be read to classify lack of customer support as a “deceptive trade practice”?

As a consumer law professor, and a victim of Uber’s “no-call zone” and lack of customer assistance, I am deeply troubled.

Negotiation: 10 Tips and Tricks; How to Find a Resolution Online

Whenever you find yourself buying, selling, or finding a resolution online, remember these tips to save yourself time, money, and a headache.

  1. Educate yourself.

If you know the value of what it is you are trying to buy or sell, you are in a place where you can approximate how much you can reasonably offer/demand as payment. Coming in with an estimation close to what is the likely outcome will demonstrate both reasonableness and intelligence. When in doubt, Google it.

  1. Check your tone of text.

Communicating online is difficult because there is no vocal tone or facial expressions to attach to a message. People can easily misinterpret something meant in a kind way as rude because of this. Attempt to read your message from different perspectives prior to submission.

  1. Confirm your source.

If you buy/sell something to someone who has bad intentions, it is possible to find yourself in a bad situation—particularly because you have never met some of these people in person. Make sure to read different reviews if they are available, and when you are finished, leave your own review to help people in the future. You can provide a lot of guidance!

  1. Anchor your price.

Although you may find yourself wanting a fair outcome, as a buyer, start a bit lower, and as a seller, start a bit higher. You might find that 1) your price is met or 2) you receive a better deal because it is hard to move too far from an offer/demand once it is made.

  1. Advocate for you.

If something does go wrong, remember your outlets for a resolution. Reach out to online sources if it is a large company with a website. You can use email, social media, and instant messenger to contact. In the end, never underestimate a phone call and lots of patience. If none of these outlets work, there are methods to report sellers/buyers on websites such as Ebay & Amazon. You can report businesses to the Better Business Bureau. Find these outlets and make some noise—the “squeaky wheel” gets the most attention.

  1. Remember your value.

You are a consumer. Whether you are using a platform to sell something or you are buying something. Sometimes these online interactions can go poorly, but remember, companies need you. They need you to use their platforms; they need you to buy their products; they need you to “advertise” and support them, otherwise they will fail to find success. Feel empowered.

  1. Try multiple avenues.

Try to look for what you want from different places. There are many avenues that will price match. If you can show that the product or a comparable product is sold for a different price, then you can often negotiate. If the buyer/seller is unwilling to negotiate, they might not be the best option for you, which leads to number 8.

  1. When in doubt, walk away.

The willingness to walk away is often a very powerful tool. Remember that there will always be another buyer/seller and another product. However, if it is something you really want, bluff. It is okay to mislead in this instance. If you feel that something is “shady,” follow your gut and walk away. You will have more regrets spending money on a product that never comes in the mail or driving to meet a buyer that never shows up, then going with someone/something different. Sometimes it is worth spending a little bit more money or searching a little bit longer for peace of mind.

  1. Push back.

If someone is attempting to bully you into a price, undervalue you, or even convince of an untrue fact about a product, push back. If someone is trying to meet you somewhere you do not feel comfortable with, push back. If you are not getting the resolution you believe you truly deserve, push back. Ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is you create a sour relationship with someone you will likely never see again. Be respectful, but also, say what you want. With all the online revenues, you have lots of options on how to go about finding a resolution; push back with a variety of those and see what will happen.

  1. Justify your stance.

Something might hold more value for you than someone else. Feel free to justify your stance. Let someone know why you believe that this has a particular value. Support it with evidence. Online dispute resolution is an amazing avenue because often, there is an electronic record of the efforts you have taken and the words that have passed between you. Use this. Finally, remember: you are your own best advocate. Empower yourself, and you will find what you are looking for.

Current Events and Future Possibilities of Consumer Protection

Over the past several months, many newsrooms have been covering the sexual abuse allegations within the Catholic Church. On March 19, the West Virginia Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the state’s Roman Catholic diocese claiming that the diocese “knowingly employed pedophiles.” You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with consumer protection?”

In line with a new trend, the lawsuit in question claims that the diocese violated consumer protection laws when they did not disclose to parents the potential dangers of sending kids to Catholic schools and camps. According to the lawsuit, the diocese hired pedophiles and then subsequently advertised safe environments for the children. Furthermore, the suit goes on to claim that the diocese didn’t conduct proper background checks of its employees at these schools and camps. The lawsuit claims that the parents in this case were “purchasers” that were purchasing services, here that would be schooling and church camp, for their children.

Like many states, West Virginia has consumer protection laws in place that the Attorney General can bring lawsuits under. The West Virginia code states that “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” Here, the parents or purchases purchased a service from the diocese. Allegedly, these services were then given under unfair or deceptive acts or practices, i.e. not informing the purchasers of the potential dangers presented by the staff hired by the diocese to work at the schools or camps.
Later, the New York Times article that discusses the lawsuit mentions that consumer protection laws are beginning to be used more frequently, with consumer protection laws being cited in cases involving everything from the opioid epidemic to cases involving environmental issues.

This case and the others mentioned above are beginning to show a trend towards applying consumer protection laws to out of the box cases. Oftentimes, when we think of cases involving consumer protection, we conjure up pictures in our head of angry calls with credit card companies or cars that turn out to be lemons. However, consumer protection laws can cover more aspects of life than one may think. Realizing that deceptive practices can cover an array of topics or issues that one may experience in his her life is a great step forward in becoming an empowered consumer.

The umbrella of consumer protection laws is large and as time goes on it seems that it will only get larger. As recognition of the opioid epidemic and environmental issues, as well as the Me Too movement increases, consumer protection laws as a way to receive a remedy may also increase. Right now, we will have to wait and see how these current cases unfold. However, the door has been opened to a whole new world of consumers making a statement and taking charge.





Bankruptcy: Costs, Credit Scores, and Life After Discharge in Missouri

Bankruptcy is a court-supervised process where a debtor in files papers with the federal courthouse. This blog post answers three frequently asked questions about bankruptcy: (1) How much does a bankruptcy lawyer cost? (2) How bad will filing for bankruptcy hurt my credit score? (3) How quickly after bankruptcy will my credit score begin to improve? The answers are all specific to bankruptcies filed in Missouri only.

Bankruptcy is a tool used to halt your creditors in their tracks; as soon as one files the appropriate papers with the federal court, creditors must stop all collection attempts. This gives debtors something extremely valuable: breathing room. There are two federal court systems in Missouri: the Western District of Missouri and the Eastern District of Missouri. You file bankruptcy in one of those two districts depending on where you live. Additionally, there are two types of bankruptcy that debtors can file. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the fastest option (approximately 3-6 months from beginning to end), whereas Chapter 13 bankruptcy lasts between 3-5 years before the court gives you a fresh start. Most debtors hire an attorney to consult and assist them throughout the bankruptcy process.

Frequent Question #1: “How much does a bankruptcy lawyer cost in Missouri?”

The Answer: it depends. Each bankruptcy lawyer will agree to a unique price with each client, and several factors go into this final price. I spoke with one lawyer who uses a flat-fee method. He will file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for his clients on the western side of Missouri for $2,000. The same lawyer charges $1,300 for his clients on the eastern side of Missouri. If a client wants to pursue Chapter 13 bankruptcy, this lawyer charges a flat fee of $3,600 for clients in the western half of Missouri and $2,800 for clients in the eastern half. He requires that his clients pay $300 up front to cover certain expenses he will incur on the client’s behalf (doing a credit check, paying for the pre-filing credit counseling, etc.).  The full amount of the bill must be paid prior to the end of bankruptcy.

Another lawyer, located in Jefferson City, Missouri, will file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for as low as $675. However, this is not a flat fee; the price may go up depending on the complexity of the case and how many debts a client will discharge.

Frequent Question #2: “How bad will filing for bankruptcy hurt my credit score in Missouri?”

The Answer: it depends. One lawyer I spoke with told me that his clients usually take a 250 point hit to their credit score. Other research shows debtors who file bankruptcy experience a decline in their credit score between 180-260 points. Bankruptcy affects every debtor differently, but it will most likely result in a debtor having a “poor” credit score (a poor credit score is usually anything below 600 points). The hit to your credit score will appear once you file for bankruptcy. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy will stay on someone’s credit score for 10 years, and fling or Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on a credit score for 7 years. Discharged debts that disappear after bankruptcy will still remain on a credit report for 7 years. This is because while a bankruptcy court can wipe away your debts, it will still show up as a debt that was not paid in full.

Frequent Question #3: “How quickly after bankruptcy will my credit score begin to improve in Missouri?”

The Answer: it depends, but it can begin healing almost immediately. Filing for bankruptcy can be viewed as dropping a bomb on your credit score; it will be damaged for a while. But, like a forest fire, sometimes scorched earth can reveal new life underneath. One Missouri bankruptcy lawyer told me that he had a client who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the summer of 2017, she received her discharge (non-secured debts were wiped away forever) at the end of 2017, and a car dealership gave her a new car loan in January of 2018. While this result is specific to that particular debtor, the take away is that your credit will rebuild if you make it a priority.

Additionally, in the world of home loans (mortgages), most banks will begin to loan to someone 24 months after their bankruptcy discharge is issued. While most lenders will not extend credit (a loan) in the immediate months after bankruptcy, a person who works hard to improve their credit (by paying bills on time, for example) will eventually be back on their feet.

Congress Overturns CFPB Proposed Rule on Arbitration


Well, that proposed rule has been put to rest.  Vice President Pence broke the tie in the Senate to overturn CFPB’s proposed rule on arbitration.  See https://www.wsj.com/articles/congress-votes-to-overturn-cfpb-arbitration-rule-1508897968.  See also https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/pence-breaks-tie-senate-votes-kill-rule-allowing-class-action-n814021?cid=eml_onsite.