rights

How to protect yourself when shopping online?

How to protect yourself when shopping online?

Considering the mass development of the internet and technology, many consumers find it convenient to do holiday shopping online. Shopping online can help save gas money, allows a consumer to easily compare prices, and can offer extra customization options for select products and services. Ohio consumers making purchases online are protected by the Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA), which is a series of regulations and rules the lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. have experience working with.

The CSPA protects consumers from misleading, unfair, and bad business practices. It makes the businesses recognize and honor all promises and warranties, and prevents them from taking advantage of consumers. In Ohio, lawsuits involving violations of the CSPA allow fee shifting. Therefore, if a business loses a lawsuit to a consumer, then the business may be required to pay all the attorney fees for the consumer.

Businesses who engage in online retailing are expected to comply with the CSPA. If a consumer purchases an item online but receives the wrong item in the mail, then the vender is required to correct the problem at no extra charge. Typically, online retailers will replace the item or refund the consumer. Details about resolving issues with online purchases are usually listed in the disclaimer or legal terms section of the order summary or receipt.

The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule protects all orders placed over the internet and protects consumers who never receive products purchased online. This rule requires online retailers to follow the 30-day rule and ship online orders to consumers with a reasonable time period of 30 days. If the online retailer cannot fulfill the 30-day rule, the retailer must ask permission from the consumer to ship an order late or refund their order.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, it is also illegal for a retailer to charge a consumer for an item that may have been shipped but was never delivered. Packages can be stolen, delivered to the wrong address, or misplaced. If the online retailer refuses to refund the consumer for an order that was never delivered, then the consumer may try to contact the charge card company they used to pay. The charge card company may be willing to refund the consumers money for the troublesome transaction.

Consumers shopping online should also take precautions when buying products from foreign companies located outside the United States. Prices may not be listed in U.S. dollars and consumers may get charged with a currency exchange fee. Shipping will be more expensive and most likely take longer too. If a consumer never receives a package shipping from another country, correcting the order will be extremely difficult. Most online retailers require consumers to correct the problem in the retailers’ local court. So, if the retailer is located in Japan, you may have to go to Japan to fix the problem.

Selling products and services online is a great way for retailers to market themselves to more consumers. Retailers can also sell items online that they may not have instore. Whether the retailer is selling products in a store or online, the retailer is expected to follow the regulations of the CSPA. The consumer lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. are experts at handling lawsuits involving the CSPA and can help consumers who have been misled and bullied by businesses during a transaction. Call us today at (614) 944-5219 for a consultation.

 

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Mobile Home and Manufactured Rights

Mobile Home and Manufactured Rights

Rental agreement laws are put in place to protect tenants who lease a mobile or manufactured home. Lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. can offer legal assistance to tenants whose park operators fail to comply with these laws.

A mobile and manufactured home parks rental agreement or lease must abide by certain requirements and include specific policies. Leases must be signed and completed by tenant and landlord before to moving in. The landlord must offer a minimum length of stay of one year and must offer renewal for when the term ends. The property owners name and address must be provided to the tenant and all rules associated with the park must be listed. A landlord must also state all fees and charges including monthly, extras, and for damages the tenant may cause.

A tenant is not required to purchase the rental property at the end of the lease. The agreement cannot modify the tenant rights or remove the landlord from liabilities or obligations. Landlords are obligated to keep the property sanitary and habitable and repair appliances and utilities. Landlords also have to give tenants a 24 hour notice before entering a leased property. A violation of these tenant rights may result in a lawsuit where damages are recovered and attorney fees are paid by the landlord. Contact Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. today at (614)944-5219 to verify if your tenant rights are being violated.

 

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Nursing Home Residents Can Now File Lawsuits in Court

Nursing Home Residents Can Now File Lawsuits in Court

A federal agency that controls a large amount of Medicare and Medicaid funding decided to stop providing funds to nursing homes that force residents to use arbitration and forbid the right to go to court.

Arbitration is a technique used outside a court room where an unbiased third party makes a decision to resolve a problem between two other parties. Nursing homes are placing rules and regulations in contracts detailing residents are not allowed to take legal action in court.

“This is a huge step forward for the rights of everyday citizens. I applaud the agency for this new rule and encourage other agencies to follow, especially those that govern banks and mortgage companies,” Troy Doucet, the firm principal here, said. “It’s time wrong doing comes out of the secret shadows of the arbitration clauses.”

Over a million Americans live in nursing homes. Many agree to abide by arbitration policies simply because their initial need for health aid is bigger than their future need to take legal action in court. Nursing homes forcing residents to use arbitration have prevented serious claims of sexual harassment, abuse and wrongful death from court.

Many nursing home companies prefer to force the residents to use arbitration because it is more cost efficient. Government agencies and lawyers believe nursing homes force arbitration to keep legal matters from destroying good reputations. Taking away a person’s right to take legal action in court is irrelevant to why a person decides to move into a nursing home. Nursing homes are supposed to protect a person’s health and provide a safe atmosphere, not dictate a person’s legal actions.

Last spring, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began creating a rule that would prevent credit card companies from forcing consumers to agree to arbitration practices. Since the turn of the century, arbitration regulations have started to appear in a variety of contracts including student loans, employment contracts and cellphone contracts.

 

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Fair Credit Reporting Act

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires credit reporting agencies to provide accurate information to lenders. The FCRA also creates legal rights for consumers whose information is being investigated and misrepresented by credit reporting agencies such as TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

Credit report agencies make money off of lenders who are requesting credit reports to justify loans and interest rates. Credit report agencies are not government funded. Credit reports are often required for loans on larger purchases such as cars and homes mortgages. Credit reporting agencies over report negative credit information to lenders, such as missed payments and debts. Lenders make more money off of people who are deemed a higher credit risk because they can enforce higher interest rates. Therefore, a lender will keep returning to a credit reporting agency who can help provide information that can support higher interest rates.

Consumer Rights Protected by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

A consumer has the right to have an accurate credit report distributed to lenders. A consumer also has the right to challenge credit report agencies who are providing false or inaccurate information. A lender must provide a consumer with the name of the credit reporting agency who allegedly provided inaccurate information on a credit report if requested.

The FCRA also made it illegal for credit reporting agencies to provide subjective information on a credit report such as religion, race, how long you have been committed to your job and details about other people you may live with.

How Can a Consumer Challenge a Credit Reporting Agency Under the FCRA?

A consumer must send a written letter to the credit report agency detailing the inaccurate information provided on the credit report. It is important for the consumer to provide as much documentation as possible to support why the information is inaccurate. Depending on the inaccurate information bank statements, records, and receipts of purchases are good examples of documents to provide.

A credit reporting agency who receives a letter must re investigate in the information being provided on the consumers credit report. Then must reply to the consumer detailing if the information was corrected or not. If a credit reporting agency refuses to fix inaccurate information, the consumer should then seek out a consumer lawyer to help sue the company.

What Type of FCRA Damages Can a Consumer Sue For?

  • Actual damages are real losses for the consumer. Regarding the FCRA, a consumer might experience financial loss due to inaccurate information being provided on a credit report. A consumer who receives a higher interest rate on a loan or mortgage can experience economic loss and possibly debt.
  • Statutory damages are when the credit reporting agency is providing inaccurate information, but the consumer has not financially been affected yet. The inaccurate information could be preventing the consumer from even acquiring a loan.
  • Punitive damages are deliberate wrongdoings by a credit reporting agency. An example of a wrongdoing would be a credit report agency refusing to read a letter from a consumer or refusing to re investigate the information being provided on a credit report. Punitive damages are rare in cases regarding the FCRA.

A credit reporting agency will also be responsible for paying lawyer fees if the consumer wins the case.

Why May There Be Inaccurate Information on a Credit Report?

Mistaken identity is an issue the credit reporting agencies battle. These mistakes are often due to a merged file. Consumers with common last names and the same first names can be confused. False addresses can appear on credit reports from someone with the same name living at a different address. Seniors and Juniors can be commonly confused especially if they live at the same address to.

There are many complaints about credit report agencies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not have resources and funding to check all the information the credit report agencies are providing to lenders.

How Can a Consumer Check Their Credit Report?

Consumers are able to access their credit report annually from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Most negative information is only listed on a credit report for seven years. Bankruptcy is usually listed for ten years. Also consumers have to give permission to lenders to look at their credit report.

You can find more information about the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by reading 23 Legal Defenses to Foreclosure: How to Beat the Bank by Troy Doucet. If in Ohio, call Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. at (614) 944-5219 for a consultation.

 

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Assistive Technology and Consumer Rights

Assistive Technology and Consumer Rights

Assistive technology is tech that is obtained and used by people with disabilities or injuries. People in Ohio using this tech are protected by the Ohio assisted device lemon laws when encountering a defect with the tech or dealing with the details of a warranty.

Assistive tech devices covered by Ohio law include:

  • Wheelchairs
  • Motorized Scooters
  • Voice Synthesizers
  • Optical Scanners
  • Talking Software
  • Braille Printers
  • Environmental Controls
  • Communication Boards
  • Assistive Listening Devices
  • Devices intended to improve or maintain a disabled or injured person’s ability to function.
  • Hearing Aids (A similar Ohio law governs a consumer can return a hearing aid in 30 days for any reason.)

 

All assistive devices over 500 dollars are covered by a minimum one year warranty which the consumer should not have to pay extra for. The warranty begins the day a consumer comes into possession with the device. The warranty must include instructions for if the device is defective, the full cost of repair or replacement for the manufactured defect and all collateral costs associated with the repair or replacement. Accommodations should include shipping costs and sales tax.

Manufacturers also have rights when fixing defective equipment. The most important right being that the manufacturer is given the opportunity to fix a defect. They are allowed three attempts and 45 cumulative days to repair the assisted device before the consumer is entitled to a refund. If the repair takes more than 21 days, the consumer is also entitled to a loaner device. If the manufacturer ultimately cannot fix the defected device, then the consumer does have the right to a replacement or a refund.

Doucet & Associates Co. L.P.A. in Ohio helps people enforce rights based on the assisted device lemon laws. Please contact us today if you or someone you know needs help.

 

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Door to Door Solicitations

Door to Door Solicitations

A company selling goods or services to a consumer outside the company’s regular place of business and inside a buyer’s home is considered a home solicitation sale. In Ohio, there are laws to protect consumers involved in these types of business transactions which could result in damages for buyers and penalties for a company if it fails to comply. These laws include details about information the consumer must be provided with, the right to canceling a purchase and misrepresentation.

A company must provide their business’s name and address when contracting a sale solicited in a consumers home. The contract must also include information regarding the language used to make the sale and provide a copy of the contract to the buyer. This contract should include the buyers signature, the date the agreement was made and two copies of the notice of the buyer’s right to cancel the purchase. In Ohio specifically, the buyer is granted a three day right to cancel. The seller must orally notify the buyer of their right to cancel a purchase and refund all payments within 10 business days of cancellation. Also, services may be withheld until after the cooling off period has expired.

Misrepresenting the goods or services being sold by the seller is also an important concept of the buyer’s rights. The seller must make it clear that their intention is to make a sale. There cannot give any false or misleading information including that the buyer has been specially selected to receive a bargain, won a contest, or that the product cannot be sold in stores. Declaring there is no right to cancel is also an illegal and they cannot take on the authority to negotiate the final terms of the sale.

Doucet & Associates Co. L.P.A. in Ohio helps enforce rights regarding home solicitation sales. Please contact us today if you or someone you know needs help.

 

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Craigslist Buyers Have Rights Under the CSPA

Craigslist Buyers Have Rights Under the CSPA

In 2012, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against a Cincinnati man for failing to deliver goods he offered for sale on Craigslist, charging him with violating Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act (the “CSPA”). Kevin L. Hunter of Cincinnati was charged by the Ohio Attorney General for failing to deliver goods he offered for sale on Craigslist, primarily automobile tires and rims. State and federal databases indicated that victims lost more than $50,000 to Hunter over seven years.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit charged the man with multiple violations of Ohio’s CSPA, including failure to deliver, misrepresenting price advantages, and advertising and selling without possessing the goods to be sold. In the lawsuit, the Attorney General sought consumer restitution, injunctive relief, and civil penalties.

In a press statement, Attorney General DeWine stated, “It’s bad enough when a consumer ends up paying for shoddy workmanship or products that don’t perform as promised, but paying for something and getting nothing is outrageous.”

The scammer was found to have committed unfair and deceptive acts and practices in violation of the CSPA by: 1) accepting payments from consumers for goods and then failing to deliver the purchased goods and failing to return payments to consumers; 2) representing that specific price advantages existed, when they did not; 3) selling consumer goods without taking reasonable steps to acquire the goods necessary to complete the transactions; and 4) advertising and selling goods without having ownership or possession of the goods and failing to disclose that fact to buyers.

These acts constituted unconscionable acts and practices in violation of the CSPA where the scammer entered into consumer transactions while knowing of the inability of the consumers to receive substantial benefits from the subject of the consumer transactions. The Court found him liable for the scam and ordered him to pay $3,200 in consumer restitution and $50,000 in civil penalties.

The Craigslist scam has since been added to the Ohio Public Inspection File (“PIF”) database, located on the Ohio Attorney General’s website. The searchable Public Inspection File contains decisions from Ohio courts establishing those acts or practices deemed to violate Ohio’s consumer protection laws. While the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1345) prohibits unfair, deceptive or unconscionable acts by suppliers, the statute does not identify every prohibited practice. Such determinations are often left to the courts.

The CSPA allows for enhanced damages to be assessed against a supplier for a violation that has been previously addressed in an administrative rule or by any Ohio court if the Attorney General’s Office has that decision available in its Public Inspection File. In such a case, a consumer may recover three times the amount of actual damages or $200, whichever is greater.

If you have been the victim of this type of scam, or think you may have been involved in a consumer transaction that violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, call Doucet & Associates. We specialize in consumer defense and may be able to assist you in protecting and asserting your rights.

 

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If a Consumer Pays a Deposit as Part of a Consumer Transaction, the Supplier Must Have an Articulated Refund Policy

If a Consumer Pays a Deposit as Part of a Consumer Transaction, the Supplier Must Have an Articulated Refund Policy

William and Joan Layne, consumers as that term is defined in the Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §1345.01, et seq., entered into a consumer transaction with Tru-Built Homes, Inc., to build a detached garage on their property.  The contract price of $7,196.00 was to be paid in three installments, with the first as a down payment at the time the contract was signed.  The contract went on to guarantee that the supplier would: “fix, replace, or repair any part that goes wrong, that is our fault, because of poor workmanship or faulty materials for one full year at absolutely no cost to the consumer.”

The concrete garage floor that was poured by the contractor did not conform to the contract’s specifications in that it did not align with the house.  The parties negotiated for several weeks, trying to resolve the non-conformity, without reaching an acceptable solution.  Finally, it was agreed that the contractor would remove and re-pour the pad.  A subcontractor started the task, but did not complete it.  Finally, the Laynes terminated the contract relationship, and filed litigation alleging breach of contract and violations of the Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §1345.01 et seq.

A jury awarded damages of $6,277.00 on the breach of contract claim, but the trial court ruled against plaintiffs on the CSPA claim.  On appeal, the 2nd District reversed, finding that there was sufficient evidence in the record to find that the defendant had engaged in deceptive and unconscionable practices by accepting a deposit without articulating a refund policy, engaging in a pattern of inefficiency and incompetency, and failing to honor an express warranty, all of which have been held to violate the CSPA.

R.C. §1345.09(B) states that when a supplier in a consumer transaction has engaged in a deceptive or unconscionable act, a consumer is entitled to three times actual damages or $200, whichever is greater.  On remand, the lower court did not separate the breach of contract damages previously found by the jury from the CSPA violations damages, as the appellate court clearly contemplated, and simply trebled the jury’s finding of $6,277.00, totaling $18,831.00, as plaintiffs’ actual damages.  Defendants appealed again, and the appellate court agreed that damages were due and owing for the several CSPA violations but disagreed with the trial court’s basis for its finding of actual damages, so the court remanded that matter a second time for the trial court to re-examine each CSPA violation to fashion an appropriate damages award.

The 2nd District left alone the trial court’s award of attorney fees under the CSPA, reasoning that the supplier had knowingly committed the violation, which is enough to justify awarding attorney fees under R.C. §1345.09(F).  Quoting from the Supreme Court decision in Einhorn v. Ford Motor Co., (1990) 48 Ohio St. 3d, 27, 30, the appellate court stated that knowingly committing an act or practice “ ‘means that the supplier need only intentionally do the act…The supplier does not have to know that his conduct violates the [CSPA]. ’ ”   Id., at p. 6.  The trial court had held a separate hearing on attorney fees following the first remand, finding that $18,329.70 was a reasonable amount for plaintiffs’ attorney fees in the pursuit of their CSPA claims.

Layne v. McGowen, 2nd Dist. Case No. 16400, November 14, 1997

PIF #10001592: Decision under Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §1345.01, et seq.

 

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Your Rights under the Prepaid Entertainment Contract Act

Your Rights under the Prepaid Entertainment Contract Act

The Prepaid Entertainment Contract Act (PECA) provides protection to consumers who have entered into agreements for prepaid agreements for certain services.  PECA covers a variety of contracts, ranging from Gym Memberships, Dance lessons, Martial Arts lessons, to online dating services.

In 2012, the Ohio Attorney General instituted an action against a Fitness Center for purported violations of PECA.  The court in Ohio v. Riffle concluded that the Fitness Center violated PECA by, amongst other things, the following actions:

  • Failing to provide consumers with proper notice of their right to cancel a prepaid entertainment contract as required by PECA
  • Closing the fitness facilities and failing to provide refunds for the unused portions of the contract and failing to arrange for a substantially similar fitness facility located within 25 miles of the customers’ residences as required by PECA, which was also a violation of the Consumer Sales Protection Act (CSPA)
  • Failing to honor cancellations made by consumers during PECA’s three-day mandatory cooling off window
  • Failing to honor valid cancellations made due to a consumer’s disability that prevented the consumer’s enjoyment of the contract’s purpose as required by PECA
  • Failing to honor cancellations made after consumers moved outside of a 25 mile radius of the facilities
  • Failing to provide refunds to consumers within 10 days after valid cancellations of contracts as required by PECA
  • Representing in the contract that certain services, such as childcare, would be available, and failing to provide such services

In Riffle, the Defendant was permanently enjoined from committing any unfair, deceptive, or unconscionable act or practice which violated the CSPA or PECA. The Defendant was further ordered to pay consumer damages and a civil penalty, as well as cease all pending collection actions against other consumers.

 

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LA Fitness Loses PECA Lawsuit

LA Fitness Loses PECA Lawsuit

An LA Fitness in Columbus lost a lawsuit to Doucet & Associates this year. The lawsuit alleged that our client was tricked into signing contracts for services that she had no intention of using and would cost her almost nine times as much as she intended to pay. There were numerous violations of the Prepaid Entertainment Contract Act (PECA) concerning LA Fitness’ conduct in this case, and a judgement was taken against LA Fitness after it failed to appear at trial.

In early February, our client signed a contract with LA Fitness for five personal training sessions. The deal, as she understood it, was for her to pay for four personal training sessions and get the fifth one free. However, the contract she signed locked her into a year’s worth of training sessions and renewed automatically each year. Similarly, the contract she signed for access to the gym had the same expanded language.

PECA requires that contracts do not exceed three years in length, arguably making these contracts indefinite. Our client was never informed of her right to cancellation, which was also a clear violation of PECA. Finally, our client was never given a copy of the contracts she signed, resulting in the final violation of the Ohio law.

Thanks to Doucet & Associates Co LPA, our client ultimately won the case, resulting in a complete refund to our client, damages, plus attorney fees and costs. Our law firm often works with cases concerning PECA, which applies to a variety of entertainment contracts including, martial arts facilities, dating services, dance studios, spas and gyms. If you feel that you signed an entertainment contract that was not what you were led to believe, call Doucet & Associates at (614) 944-5219.

 

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Can I Stop Spam Email?

Can I Stop Spam Email?

While federal law prohibits junk faxes and robo-dialed calls to cell phones ($1,500 per fax/call), there is no federal law that allows you to sue for spam email.  There is a law, but that law allows the government to sue and does not provide a private cause of action for consumers.

However, there may be a way to stop spam email in Ohio if you are a consumer getting emails from a business trying to sell you something.  If you are a consumer (rather than a business getting business solicitations), the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act may provide some assistance.  That Ohio law has been used to enforce consumer rights under federal laws that do not directly allow a consumer to sue.  That “theory of extension” allows you to go to court in Ohio and seek both an injunction to prohibit the spam and damages including attorneys’ fees.

If you think you have a case, the first thing we recommend doing is emailing the spammer and asking to be removed from their email lists.  If there is an opt-out provision in the email, you may want to email that address asking to be removed, but be careful about clicking on links from unknown addresses to avoid unknowingly downloaded a virus.  Try this 3-4 times to bolster your case, and if the emails still haven’t stopped coming, contact our law firm for help in filing a lawsuit.  Another option is to contact your ISP to see if that can block that address.

 

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Let Me Call You Back… Why Auto Dialers Are Bad for Business

Let Me Call You Back… Why Auto Dialers Are Bad for Business

Have you ever received a phone call from a number you did not recognize, only to find it was a robocall about a service you did not want or need? Did that phone call end with the nagging question of how were they able to get your phone number? Our client, Rick W., went through an experience like that. When he answered his cell phone, he was autodialed about a problem that no homeowner ever wants to get a call about: his mortgage.

In setting up his mortgage, our client was careful to only to write his home phone number in the section marked “borrower information” and gave his cell phone number to the bank solely as a work number. Rick did not volunteer this number to be called by his mortgage company. As such, his rights were violated under the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) when his mortgage company, Carrington Mortgage Services autodialed his cellphone. Doucet & Associates filed a class action on his behalf, which recently settled for over $1 million.

The TCPA was passed in 1991 to protect consumers from tactics that were becoming increasingly pervasive among telemarketers, such as using auto dialers to advertise to cell phone users. In many cases, calling a cell phone would result in a charge to the owner of that device, meaning that unsolicited calls were not only an annoyance, but an actual expense to anyone receiving them. Automated messages, or robocalls, are also prohibited by the TCPA, because Congress found that they are a greater nuisance and invasion of privacy than their human counterparts.

Our client never intended to have his cell phone number used for unsolicited calls. He maintained that Carrington repeatedly used an auto-dialer to communicate with him about his mortgage, in some cases calling his cell several times a week to leave threatening automated messages. His lawsuit alleged that Carrington even called him twenty-six times in the span of 3 months, which equates to roughly one call every three or four days.

Vanessa R. believed herself to be in a similar situation with Carrington, but when she took over her current mortgage from her ex-husband in 2008, she did not even have a cell phone. She eventually got one in 2010, and alleged that Carrington began sending her threatening messages regarding her mortgage roughly a year after that point. She did not know how Carrington obtained her number, but she claimed that when she asked Carrington about the matter, they responded by saying “we have ways of locating that information.” She co-sued in the class action lawsuit.

Much like Rick, Vanessa claimed to have received multiple automated calls a week from Carrington on a cell phone that was never volunteered. The parallels in these cases led attorneys to believe that this was likely a pattern of behavior from Carrington, resulting in the class action lawsuit. If any of this sounds similar to an experience you have gone through, regardless of whether or not Carrington was involved, call us at (614)-944-5219.

 

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