NH Lawyers Setting Things Right for Wronged Clients

In New Hampshire, what happens when a lawyer acts unethically and harms clients financially?  The rest of the legal profession rallies to provide a measure of relief to the victims and help restore faith in the legal system through the Public Protection Fund.

“There is no other profession that I am aware of anywhere… that has anything like this,” says Kevin Collimore of CullenCollimore, who recently stepped down as chair of the NHBA’s Public Protection Fund Committee. “When one steals from somebody, all of the others get together and compensate them.” The Public Protection Fund, established in 1998 by Supreme Court Rule 55, is supported by a mandatory court fee. The PPF is administered by a nine-member Bar Association committee, under the oversight of the Supreme Court.

The PPF recently experienced its biggest influx of claims against one attorney in its history, following the suspension in December 2010 of former Exeter bankruptcy attorney Brian McCaffrey, an attorney in NH since 1978.

By many accounts, McCaffrey was seen as an upstanding and friendly local guy. But after a complaint was filed, the New Hampshire Attorney Discipline Office launched an investigation that revealed that in scores of cases, fees for bankruptcy filings had been collected, but little or no legal work had been done, according to the ADO. It alleges that funds placed in client trust funds were mishandled. McCaffrey was suspended on an emergency basis.

The ADO turned over files for approximately 300 clients to attorney Philip Pettis, of the Boynton and Waldron firm in Portsmouth, who was appointed by the court to review the files and notify clients about McCaffrey’s suspension.

“I was just in a position to answer their questions and help them either transition to a new attorney or help them understand how to handle their case on their own,” Pettis said. “In many cases, I had to assure the client that I, the ADO, and other lawyers would do everything we could to help them address any pending issues with their cases or transition to a new attorney.” (See related story about how attorneys rallied to help many of McCaffrey’s former clients.)

Pettis also informed the affected clients about the Public Protection Fund and the opportunity to recoup the money they had paid to McCaffrey. The clients couldn’t claim against McCaffrey’s professional liability insurance, because he stopped paying on the policy around the time of his suspension. While some chose not to file claims with the PPF or didn’t meet the statutory deadline, 94 clients filed claims that averaged about $1,500 each. Many of the claimants were particularly vulnerable, relying on Social Security income, some suffering with disabilities or in the midst of a divorce. Members of the PPF committee, which included Kevin Collimore, Thomas Irwin, Keith Diaz, and Thomas Quarles, who recently moved from vice chair to chair, investigated and/or voted on each claim. Also, the late Roland Morneau, a longtime member of the committee, assisted in reviewing many claims before his retirement from the committee last year. The committee also includes public members Jay Haines and Sandra Keans, a longtime member of the NH House of Representatives, who voted on the claims. Because of the extraordinary workload, the committee sometimes operated remotely using a secure online spreadsheet, via technology supported by the NHBA, to track the progress of the many claims.

Some of the claims were rejected, because there was no proof of wrongdoing, but the majority of them were approved. In all, 81 claims totaling $120,000 were paid to former clients of McCaffrey. Most of the claims were investigated, approved and paid within six months.

This was only possible because of a new claims process for PPF claims of less than $2,500 that the New Hampshire Supreme Court approved not long before McCaffrey’s suspension.

Read the entire story by Kristen Senz of the New Hampshire Bar Association.

There are several option available if a client believes his/her attorney has done wrong.  Sometimes the issue can be a simple misunderstanding and a lack of communication between the client and the attorney.   Sometimes attorneys do make mistakes, in which case filing a claim against his or her malpractice insurance may protect the client (IF they have insurance!).  In the rare instance that an attorney defrauds a client, the Public Protection Fund is a safety net.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to a competent attorney who specifically handles Legal Malpractice.  All LRS attorneys are required to carry malpractice insurance.   A consultation with an attorney may be all you need to determine which option makes the most sense for your particular circumstances.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

Beware of Smishing!

Smishing is when a scam artist pretends to be a lottery business on your cell phone.   They say you are a winner and ask for your bank information. The calls are computerized and are just calling numbers at random, which is how they get your cellphone number. Watch this video by the Better Business Bureau for more information.

 

 

If you have been “SMISHED” or otherwise scammed, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to an attorney who may be able to assist you with sorting out the financial mess created by the scam artists. Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

How to Prevent Property Fraud

According to the FBI, property fraud is one of the fastest growing white collar crimes, and anyone who owns property is at risk.

Unfortunately, it’s not difficult for a criminal to record a fraudulent deed for your property, making it appear as if they now own your home.  Once this is  done, they can use your home as collateral on a loan or even attempt to sell your home to an unsuspecting buyer.  You are the one left to sort out the mess once the criminals  have skipped town with the money.

To prevent this from happening to you, register for the Property Fraud Alert System at www.propertyfraudalert.com.  This service will alert you anytime someone records anything with your information on it with your county.  There is no charge for this service.  Most NH County Registries of Deeds offer the service directly from their websites, or you may call 1-800-728-3858 to register.

If you do become a victim of property fraud or any other type of identity theft, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to an attorney who is trained to handle this type of legal matter.  Call LRS at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

 

American Central Lending Services – Consumer ALERT

Released December 14, 2011 by Michael A. Delaney, New Hampshire Attorney General

NEWS RELEASE

    
Attorney General Michael A. Delaney has issued a consumer alert to warn consumers about a fraudulent Internet lending operation using the name American Central Lending Services and falsely representing that they are located in Portsmouth, NH.  Investigators have determined that this company does not do business in New Hampshire, has no ties to New Hampshire and is engaging in false and deceptive practices in attempts to steal money from consumers.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau warns consumers to exercise extreme caution when applying for a loan through the Internet and to not provide sensitive and confidential information on any on-line application, such as address, date of birth, social security information or banking/credit card information without having particular guarantees that the company is legitimate and the website is secure.  Consumers are also cautioned that any request to wire money, especially out of the country, is a red flag indicating a potential consumer scam.  Consumers should only wire money when they have personal knowledge and familiarity with the recipient.  Often scam artists operate outside of the United States and are skilled at concealing their true identities and location.

Consumers may obtain other information about consumer protection issues, or report consumer complaints, on the Consumer Protection Bureau’s website at <http://www.doj.nh.gov/consumer>.  

If you  have been victimized by an internet scam, the Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to competent attorneys who are trained to handle this type of legal matter.  Call LRS today at (603) 229-0002 or request a referral online at https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us.

Consumer & Business Alert – Fake BBB Email

    Better Business Bureau Alert – 11/23/2011

 

Important Alert!


For Immediate Release

 

The Better Business Bureau has received several calls this morning regarding a “complaint email” that businesses are receiving. The email states that this is regarding a pending complaint with the BBB from either services@bbb.org or alert@bbb.org. These email addresses are not connected with the BBB. We have confirmed that this is an email Phishing Scam. It has been sent to businesses across the country.
 

If you receive one of these emails DO NOT open any attachment found within the email. The body of the email asks recipients to respond to the complaint by directing them to a link shown as our national website at http://www.bbb.org.  This link is actually disguised to go to a third party website and may be malicious.

 Because the message is fraudulent, the BBB advises any business that receives this email to take the following steps:

  • Do not click on any links or reply to the message,
  • Completely delete the message from your inbox and/or forward it to phishing@council.bbb.org, and
  • Run a full virus scan on your computer if you did click on any links.

Read Full Alert

If you are the victim of an internet scam, the Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to competant attorneys who specifically handle internet scam issues.  Call LRS today at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral

Foster Children Often Targeted For Identity Theft

As reported by Gerry Smith, in the Huffington Post series Burdened Beginnings:

“experts say foster children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because their personal information passes through many hands, increasing the chances their Social Security numbers will be used to commit fraud.”

“Now, lawmakers and child welfare advocates are looking at ways to protect the financial reputations of foster children amid growing concern over child identity theft. With increased frequency, thieves are hijacking children’s unblemished Social Security numbers to take out credit cards, car loans and mortgages, thereby destroying the credit histories of young adults.”

Read the full story

If you are a victim of identity theft, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to competent attorneys who specifically handle identity theft issues.  Call LRS today at 603-229-0002 or request a referral online at https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us.

Guidance for Charitable Giving

Press Release by Michael Delaney, NH Attorney General

The holiday season is a time when New Hampshire citizens receive dozens of solicitations in the mail, over the telephone, and through social media for contributions to charitable and charitable-sounding organizations.  While the vast majority of these organizations are legitimate, the Attorney General’s Office receives numerous reports of charitable solicitation scams seeking donations to nonprofit-sounding entities which either do not exist or are not legitimate.

In order to better protect the generous donors in New Hampshire from false or fraudulent solicitations, New Hampshire Attorney General Michael A. Delaney offers the following guidance to help insure your donation is used for a legitimate charitable purpose.

Be an informed donor:

The Charitable Trusts Unit of the Attorney General’s Office posts a list of all charities registered with the Attorney General as well as a list of all registered professional fundraisers on its website: http://www.doj.nh.gov/site-map/charities.htm.  All professional fundraisers soliciting donations on behalf of nonprofit organizations are required to obtain a permit from the Attorney General before the solicitation campaign is commenced and a listing of all approved campaigns are on the website. 

Follow these 10 Tips for Making Smart Donations:

1. Ask the solicitor for some identification before giving out any personal information.  By law, paid solicitors must identify the charity for which they solicit and their status as a paid solicitor. Do not be afraid to ask and if they refuse, do not hesitate to hang up and contact your local law enforcement agency.

2. Ask for printed or electronic materials from the charity.  Any legitimate charity can provide printed materials for you to study in order to better understand the charity and the charity’s purpose. Ask for materials that clearly state: (1) the name, address and telephone number of the charity; (2) a description of how and where charitable funds will be used; and (3) the name, address and telephone number of the paid solicitor.

3. Ask how much of your contribution actually goes to the charity. Professional fundraisers retain a portion of your donation as payment for the service provided to the charity.  According to New Hampshire law, solicitors and the charities for which they solicit are required to file an accounting of the fundraising campaign, which must include a copy of the terms of the fundraising agreement. This filing should indicate how much of the proceeds actually go to the charity and should be available for the solicitor to disclose to all potential donors.

4. Beware of high-pressure sales tactics and abusive behavior by solicitors.  No legitimate charitable fundraiser will refuse to take the time to explain the purpose of fundraising and the objectives of the charity in a courteous manner.  If you encounter abusive solicitation you should end the communication and contact your local law enforcement agency.

5. Keep records of all donations, including receipts and cancelled checks.  This information is especially important for tax deduction purposes and in case you have a complaint in the future.

6. Beware of solicitors “soliciting” for organizations that may have deceptively similar names to legitimate charities.  Many for-profit organizations style their names after charitable organizations.  Do not be deceived by these copy-cat businesses whose titles may differ by such minor terms as “association,” “federation,” “national,” “American,” “incorporated,” and “foundation.”  Do not hesitate to ask for more information and contact your local law enforcement agency if you are unsure of the legitimacy of any campaigns.

7. NEVER pay by cash and NEVER give out your credit card number over the phone.  When making a donation, simply make a check out to the charity itself, not to the paid solicitor, and use the charity’s full name. That way you have a record of the contribution and the money goes directly to the charity.

8. Call the charities that are the beneficiaries of the charitable fundraising campaign and ask if they are aware of the solicitation.  If the charities are unaware of the solicitation campaign on their behalf do not donate any money and contact the Charitable Trusts Unit or your local law enforcement agency immediately.

9. Don’t be deceived by solicitation gimmicks.  Use caution when purchasing products or tickets, or when receiving free merchandise in exchange for a donation. These methods may be legitimate but they add costs to the fundraising campaigns which are ultimately deducted from your donation. Also use caution when dealing with sweepstakes which may request donations worth more than the prize awarded, or which do not provide a prize at all.

10. Take time to verify all information before making a donation.  All charities and paid solicitors are required to register with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office prior to solicitation.  If you have any questions or problems, write to OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, CHARITABLE TRUSTS UNIT, 33 CAPITOL STREET, CONCORD, NH 03301-6397.

If in doubt, check it out:

While it is generally preferable to donate to charities that you are familiar with, please do not hesitate to call the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Unit before giving to any charity, especially one you are unfamiliar with.  The Unit’s telephone number is (603) 271-3591.  Most information filed by nonprofit organizations with the Charitable Trusts Unit, including annual reports and fundraising contracts, is open to the public under the State’s Right to Know Law and is available upon request. 

The holidays are a wonderful time for supporting charitable organizations and causes and this information is designed to assist New Hampshire citizens in selecting the best recipients of their charitable giving by providing donors with the information needed to make informed giving decisions.

If you believe you may have been the victim of a scam, contact the Lawyer Referral Service now at 603-229-0002 for a referral to an attorney who handles fraud related legal matters or request a referral online at https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us.

Receive Scam Alerts

Sign up to receive scam alerts  through email from the NH Consumer Education Partnership, formed by the NH Banking Department, the NH Insurance Department, the NH State Treasury, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, and the NH Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau.

http://www.nh.gov/consumer/

If you think you may have been scammed or suspect your identity may have been stolen, the Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to attorneys who have experience assisting people with consumer law and/or identity theft issues.  Call 603-229-0009 or fill out the online request form.