Friday, October 11, 2019

Debt Collectors: Who Owns Your Debt? - GQ

Debt Collectors: Who Owns Your Debt? - GQ


Debt Collectors: Who Owns Your Debt? - GQ

Posted: 11 Oct 2019 10:26 AM PDT

Maria wasn't even that interested in the pearl earrings that nearly ruined her life. But the saleswoman at the department store was insistent: She would be happy to hold on to the earrings, in case Maria changed her mind. All she had to do was provide the clerk with her store-branded credit card number. Why not, she figured. (The earrings were on sale.) After the clerk returned her card, Maria says, "I forgot about it."

Maria didn't use her card often, at the department store or anywhere else in her Texas town, and she never used it online. (We've changed the names and some identifying details of interviewees, including Maria, throughout this story, due to the sensitive nature of debt.)"When I buy something, I usually return it, because I feel guilty," she tells me over the phone. So when monthly bills of around $100 began arriving, she paid them off quickly, figuring she had fallen a bit behind. But when the bills didn't stop—and kept getting bigger—she grew alarmed. For months, Maria discovered, someone had used her account to buy jewelry, sportswear, handbags, lingerie—dozens of transactions that weren't hers. "I don't buy fancy underwear, believe me," she says, laughing.

She called the store to complain, but couldn't remember the clerk's name, and in any event, they told her she had waited too long to file a fraud claim. In the meantime, as her balance accumulated interest and late fees, Maria's minimum payments ballooned to the point where she, a retired barber in her late 60s, could no longer afford to make them.

A few months later, the debt collection phone calls started—not from the store, but from a company with an anodyne-sounding name she didn't recognize. She explained to these new people that her identity had been stolen, and asked them to stop calling. "They wouldn't take no for an answer," she tells me. "They didn't care." When Maria learned to recognize and ignore the company's phone numbers, she says that she noticed that it began masking its caller ID.

These calls continued, sometimes multiple times a day, for a year and a half. "It was a complete nightmare, because every day I knew something was going to happen," Maria says. "It scared me very much." Unable to afford a lawyer, she began to wonder if the collector had the power to put her in jail. One day, when she looked outside to see a woman in a car taking pictures, she feared it had decided to put a lien on her house.

Today, she acknowledges the photographer could have been anyone—a real estate agent, maybe, scouting for neighborhood comps. "But when you're my age, and you're ignorant, all these paranoid things come to mind," Maria says. "What are they going to do to me?"


Maria is not alone. More than 70 million Americans have at least some debt in collections, according to a 2018 Urban Institute analysis. A survey conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that one in three Americans with a credit record had been contacted about a debt at least once in the preceding twelve-month period.

Many of these collectors are not the original creditors, who are required by law to "charge off" most debt—to designate it, for tax purposes, as unlikely to be repaid—after a couple of months. Nor are they debt collectors contracted to recover on the creditor's behalf. Instead, they are debt buyers, who pay pennies on the dollar for the unpaid accounts of phone companies and gyms and hospitals, and specialize in the business of hounding people to pay them the full amount. Debt-buying accounts for about one-third of the debt collection industry's $11.5 billion in annual revenue. In other words, if you have debt more than a couple months old, there's a decent chance you don't actually know who owns it.

Andy Rubin’s Essential Gem Isn’t Just a New Phone - WIRED

Posted: 10 Oct 2019 12:26 PM PDT

On Tuesday, Andy Rubin emerged from his nearly year-long Twitter silence to show off a prototype of a mobile device, an elongated product that marries the body of a tiny TV remote with a more modern touchscreen.

"GEM Colorshift material," Rubin tweeted, followed by "...still dialing in the colors." His third tweet could have been ripped directly from the script of a technology keynote and, in a way, was a callback to an earlier era in tech, when the inventors of newfangled things made declarations about their products and willed new truths into existence: "New UI for radically different formfactor," Rubin said.

In that earlier era, tech enthusiasts and journalists would have no reason not to take that statement at face value—to give the unabashed benefit of the doubt that this shiny, colorful object and new user interface might usher in a new phase of mobile computing. And who better to put this forth into the universe than Andy Rubin, the cofounder of the Android mobile operating system? After the Twitter reveal on Tuesday, one prominent journalist tweeted that he didn't know what the product was, but he wanted one; another said he was ready for this "super-shiny prong of weirdness."

But if you happened to scroll through Rubin's timeline, you'd see that his most recent prior tweets, from October 25, 2018, were in response to a thoroughly reported New York Times article. The story chronicled the sexual misconduct allegations made against Rubin during his time at Google, which Google reportedly investigated and found credible. These ranged from pressuring a woman into having oral sex, to berating subordinates, to viewing bondage sex videos on a work computer. Still, he was given a friendly farewell (in the form of tens of millions of dollars). Rubin tweeted that the story contained "numerous inaccuracies" about his employment at Google and "wild exaggerations" about his compensation, and said the allegations were part of a smear campaign. Then he went silent.

Until this week, when Rubin decided to share the phone-like thing. Based on geolocation information displayed on the device, the photo appears to be taken from Playground Global, the Palo Alto–based investment firm and engineering lab Rubin founded after he left Google. The map on the device happens to show a route to Palo Alto Airport, where Silicon Valley's wealthiest park their private aircraft. Post-Google, Rubin also started a smartphone company called Essential. This new product, named Gem, is part of the Essential group.

Does it matter, though? Does it matter which umbrella the product falls under, whether it has a 12-megapixel camera, how many widgets it runs, or whether it has a new UI for a radically different formfactor? Does it matter if it has a color-shifting case? For tech enthusiasts and early adopters, these things might matter, if and when it ships. But the bigger question is whether, in an era of heightened scrutiny of the technology sector, it is possible to divorce new gadgets from the people who make them and the ethos of the corporations that fund them. And even if it's possible, should we compartmentalize these factors? Or should we just accept new products as new products?

Almost as swiftly as some people embraced the new Rubin prototype, and a couple of press outlets published articles with hardly a mention of Rubin's prior alleged misconduct and Google payout, others were quick to remind everyone that the internet never actually forgets. "Created by '$90m-payoff-from-Google' Rubin," NBC News technology editor Olivia Solon tweeted. "Just going to recirculate this terrific NY Times story from last year instead of tweeting about a smartphone company with zero market share," said Bloomberg's Shira Ovide.

Then, on Wednesday morning, David Ruddock, the editor in chief of Android Police, published a lengthy statement regarding the publication's plans for covering Essential products going forward. Ruddock said that, while Android Police may eventually write about a new Essential phone, it will no longer be accepting any access from Rubin's startup, including press conferences, briefings, or review devices.

Two West Kentucky electric companies suing Marshall County Fiscal Court over 911 fees - WPSD Local 6

Posted: 11 Oct 2019 04:05 PM PDT

MARSHALL COUNTY — The Marshall County Fiscal Court is facing a lawsuit over its new 911 fee, which passed in August. The lawsuit was filed in federal court about a month ago. Jackson Purchase Energy and West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative are suing the fiscal court for requiring them to collect a monthly $7 fee on customers' electric bills.

The utility companies claim the ordinance takes away the regulatory authority of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Kentucky Public Service Commission. They oversee the of the two local companies suing the fiscal court.

The 37-page lawsuit outlined at least a dozen reasons why the ordinance is unenforceable and unconstitutional.

The complaint brings into question the validity of the ordinance, because the $7 fee wasn't revealed until its final reading. The suit says the fiscal court conducted a first reading "without the qualifications to determine the necessary fee themselves." The lawsuit also claims the 3% administration fee the electric companies would get for collecting the fees is not enough.

In a letter to the fiscal court, the TVA said it would not allow West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative to collect the fees if it wasn't "fully compensated for all costs associated with the administration, billing, collecting and accounting for the fees." That also includes additional software and supervisory costs.

JPEC said the only entity that can regulate its rates and services is the Kentucky Public Service Commission — not the fiscal court.

Three other counties in Kentucky do collect 911 fees on utility bills, but not electric bills. Those fees are collected on water bills. The electric companies have previously told us they will not cut off someone's electricity if they didn't pay the fee.

County Attorney Jason Darnall told me over the phone he's advised the companies not to talk about the pending litigation.

All parties in this suit came to an agreement to hold off on putting the new fee in place until litigation is complete.

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