Category Archives: Consumer Advocacy

Stick with Security – Part 1

stick_with_security_1When it comes to data security, what’s reasonable will depend on the size and nature of your business and the kind of data you deal with. But certain principles apply across the board: Don’t collect sensitive information you don’t need. Protect the information you maintain. And train your staff to carry out your policies.

The FTC’s Start with Security initiative was built on those fundamentals. Some helpful tips follow.

DON’T COLLECT PERSONAL INFORMATION YOU DON’T NEED.

It’s a simple proposition: If you don’t ask for sensitive data in the first place, you won’t have to take steps to protect it. Of course, there will be data you must maintain, but the old habit of collecting confidential information “just because” doesn’t hold water in the cyber era. Continue reading

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Stick with Security: FTC Providing Insights on Data Security Practices

ftc_logo_430As part of its ongoing efforts to help businesses ensure they are taking reasonable steps to protect and secure consumer data, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is publishing a series of blog posts using hypothetical examples based on lessons from closed investigations, FTC law enforcement actions, and questions from businesses. These new posts will build on the FTC’s Start with Security guide for businesses.

FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen pledged earlier this year to be more transparent about the lessons learned from the FTC’s closed data security investigations and to provide additional information for businesses about practices that contribute to reasonable data security, culminating in this “Stick with Security” Initiative.

In the first blog post published July 21, 2017, the FTC highlights some of the themes that have emerged from an examination of closed FTC data security investigations. For example, while news reports might call attention to a data breach, they might not focus on the fact that the company that suffered the breach had encrypted the data, which substantially reduces the risk of consumer injury (and legal liability). Another lesson gleaned is that security researchers’ valuable work can alert us to new vulnerabilities, but sometimes the risk of a vulnerability being exploited to cause consumer injury is more theoretical than likely. Another key lesson is that in almost every closed case, the entities involved used the same common-sense security fundamentals outlined in the FTC’s Start with Security guide for businesses.

If you or your business have questions or concerns regarding fraud, computer law, privacy, or cybersecurity law matters, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices.

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FTC Cybersecurity Roundtables with Small Businesses

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting small business owners in a series of public roundtables across the United States to discuss the most pressing challenges small businesses face in protecting the security of their computers and networks.

Engage, connect, protect - small business & data security roundtablesThe Engage, Connect, and Protect Initiative: Small Business and Data Security Roundtables are part of an ongoing initiative by Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen aimed at helping small businesses, which included the launch of a new website in May focused on helping small business owners avoid scams and protect their computers and networks from cyberattacks. There are more than 28 million small businesses nationwide, employing nearly 57 million people, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).

“The FTC has been a leader in guiding businesses of all sizes on how to protect the data in their care,” Acting Chairman Ohlhausen said. “Companies with only a few employees face unique challenges when it comes to cybersecurity. We’ll use what we learn in the roundtables to tailor our practical resource materials for small businesses.”

The first roundtable event will take place July 25 in Portland, Oregon, in partnership with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), the SBA, and other organizations. This event will be followed by a roundtable discussion in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 6, hosted by the FTC and the Council of Smaller Enterprises and in collaboration with the SBA. Another roundtable event will take place later in September in Des Moines, Iowa, sponsored by the NCSA.

The roundtables will bring together FTC staff along with the SBA and other federal partners, industry associations, and the small business community. The comments and feedback generated by the roundtables will be used to help the FTC and its partners provide additional education and guidance for small business owners on cybersecurity issues.

If you or your business have questions or concerns regarding fraud, computer law, privacy, or cybersecurity law matters, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices.

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Central PA Residents & Businesses Switching to 10-Digit Dialing in ‘717’ Area Code in August

puc_sealThe Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today reminded residents and businesses across Central Pennsylvania served by the 717 area code of the upcoming switch to 10-digit dialing for all local calls – in preparation for the activation of a new “overlay” area code, which will serve the entire region.

According to the implementation schedule for the “223” overlay area code, mandatory 10-digit dialing for all local calls will begin on Aug. 26, 2017. Starting on that date, if callers only dial a seven-digit number, they will reach a recorded announcement instructing them to hang up and redial the number using the area code plus the seven-digit number.

For the past several months, telephone callers in the 16-county 717 service area have been encouraged to voluntarily use 10-digit dialing (717 + the full local telephone number). The new 223 overlay area was approved based on forecasts that the remaining supply of available telephone numbers in the 717 area code was close to exhaustion.

According to Neustar, Inc., the neutral third party area code relief planner for Pennsylvania, the dialing plan for the 717/223 area code is as follows:

  • Local & Toll calls from the 717/223 area to other numbers inside the 717/223 area:
    Dial 10-digits (717 or 223 + XXX-XXXX)
  • Local & Toll Calls from the 717/223 area to numbers in another area code:
    Dial 1 + 10-Digits (1 + XXX-XXX-XXXX)
  • Operator Services (Credit card, collect, third party):
    Dial 0 + 10-digit (0 + XXX-XXX-XXXX)

The PUC’s Order approving the overlay plan specifies that any new numbers for the 223 overlay area code shall not be released until Sept. 26, 2017, and that requests for numbers in the 717 area code will continue to be honored as long as resources are available.

To learn how Prince Law Offices, P.C. can assist you or your business with telecommunications law and PUC matters, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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Is the USPTO really contacting your company? Maybe not.

ftc_logo_430If your business has taken steps to protect your intellectual property with patents or trademarks, you’ve probably had correspondence or communications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). But some businesses report receiving letters or emails that look to be from the USPTO, but really aren’t.

Prince Law Offices, P.C., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the USPTO want you to know there are companies that contact patent and trademark holders asking for fees for “services” like renewing your trademark registration, signing you up for trademark monitoring services, recording your trademarks with government agencies, or listing them on a private “registry.” The names, emblems, and wording may seem official and the correspondence may even include USPTO application serial numbers, filing dates, or other publicly-available information. But the solicitations aren’t from the USPTO and some may offer services that are overpriced, unnecessary, or downright deceptive. Patent or trademark holders have paid companies hundreds or even thousands of dollars, mistakenly thinking they were paying fees to the USPTO – or paying fees the USPTO requires – to maintain and protect their patents and trademarks.

Our advice and that of the FTC to businesses: Read any notice about your patents or trademarks very carefully. Official mail from the USPTO will come from the “United States Patent and Trademark Office” in Alexandria, VA. If it comes via e-mail, the domain will be “@uspto.gov.”

The USPTO has more information about commercial solicitations that resemble official USPTO communications including a local example Patent & Trademark Bureau (Philadelphia, PA).

If you receive questionable patent- or trademark-related correspondence, report it to the FTC and email the USPTO at TMFeedback@USPTO.gov.

Prince Law Offices, P.C. clients that have completed trademark registrations with us often contact us when they receive such suspicious documents.  Desire more specific assistance regarding your business formation, agreements, intellectual property, trademarks, copyright, zoning, real estate law, cyber security, insurance, etc., contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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The Supreme Court’s decision in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson places too much reliance on Bankruptcy Trustees.

In a previous blog, I was asked to write a blog on the recent May 15, 2017 United States Supreme Court decision in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, docket no. 16-348. In a 5-3 vote the Supreme Court reversed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit holding that the filing of a time barred proof of claim in a bankruptcy matter was a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). In a majority opinion written by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court held that the filing of a proof of claim that is obviously time barred is not a false, deceptive, misleading unfair or unconscionable debt-collection practice within the meaning of the FDCPA.

The Supreme Court stated that “Congress intended [when it adopted the Bankruptcy Code] to adopt the broadest available definition of ‘claim.’” Therefore, while a claim may be unenforceable because it is time barred or stale, it is still a “claim” under the Bankruptcy Code. The Court further stated that the Bankruptcy code does not say that an ‘unenforceable’ claim is not a ‘claim.’”

The Court further wrote that whether a claim is stale or unenforceable due to the expiration of the limitations period is an affirmative defense to be raised by a debtor. The claim while unenforceable still remains a claim which debtor may raise an affirmative defense to.

The Court’s holding I believe minimizes the appearance of debt validation that a filed a proof of claim may have on the least sophisticated consumer. The FDCPA requires any conduct by a creditor be viewed from the perspective of the least sophisticated consumer. In other words, a court’s standard of review is whether an unsophisticated, uninformed, naïve, trusting, possession below average intelligence consumer would find the filing of a time barred proof of claim in bankruptcy matter misleading or deceptive. Blum v. Fisher & Fisher P.C., 961 F. Supp. 1218 (N.D. I.ll. 1997).

The Court addressed this by stating that in “determin[ing] whether a statement is misleading normally requires consideration of the legal sophistication of its audience” and that the “audience in [consumer] bankruptcy cases includes a trustee … likely to understand [the importance of objecting to an untimely claim].”

In other words, because the matter is in bankruptcy and subject to the review of a trustee, the debtor is receiving the benefit of his/her knowledge and therefore can not be mislead as easily.

The problem with that is a trustee will be reviewing claims only within the context of the bankruptcy matter. Unsecured debts are likely to be discharged and the Trustee may pay little attention to the proof of claim. While unlikely, there is a risk that unsophisticated debtor will believe that the acceptance of time barred proof of claim has rendered the claim valid and subject to collection when the debtor is no longer in bankruptcy. The risk is greater should a debtor’s bankruptcy petition be dismissed without debtor receiving a discharge of his debts.

The Supreme Court acknowledge that several lower courts have found it improper to enforce stale claims directly, largely based on the view that “a consumer might unwittingly repay a time-barred debt.” Justice Breyer suggested that because the consumer initiates the bankruptcy proceeding, the consumer is not likely to pay a stale claim just to avoid going to court. Justice Breyer also pointed out again that the “knowledgeable trustee” is a likely source of objections protecting the consumer.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, responded with a dissenting opinion. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent was focused on the large market for consumer debt (“trillions of dollars”), and the third party buyers of debt who buy long-stale “debts for pennies on the dollar.”

Having represented many of those same debt buyers, I am all too familiar with their practices. Third party debt buyers purchase debt on a large scale and then forward hundreds of claims to debt collectors and attorneys. The debt collectors/attorneys are looking to collect on the debt with as little effort as possible and hope a debtor will pay the debt after receiving an initial demand. Under the FDCPA, attorneys are considered debt collectors may be prosecuted for violations. Because of this, attorneys usually will normally not take any action on stale claims. However, given the volume of claims, mistakes occur and attorneys may make demands on time barred claims which debtors may assume are valid and pay.

Similarly Justice Sotomayor recognize that the claims have monetary value only because of the possibility the trustee will forget to object to them. As Sotomayor noted in her dissent, the trustees’ trade association filed an amicus brief in support of the debtor, explaining the impractical burden of interposing objections to the flood of stale claims appearing in consumer bankruptcies in recent years.

Third party buyers of debt factor in to their costs the risks of stale claims being acted on by their debt collectors and attorneys. They know they may be sued under the FDCPA but because of the volume of debt they accept the risk.

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PA Gas Drilling Impact Fees Total Distribution Tops $1 Billion

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today (June 15, 2017) posted detailed information about this year’s distribution of Impact Fees on natural gas producers, totaling $173,258,900, on the PUC’s interactive Act 13 website.puc_seal

Over the past six years, the PUC has collected and distributed more than $1.2 billion in Impact Fees to communities across Pennsylvania.

County and municipal governments directly affected by drilling will receive a total of $93,128,340 for the 2016 disbursement year. Additionally, $62,085,600 will be placed into the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which provides financial support for environmental, highway, water and sewer projects, rehabilitation of greenways and other projects throughout the state. Also, $18 million will be distributed to state agencies specified by the Act.

To learn how Prince Law Offices, P.C. can assist you or your business with energy law and PUC matters, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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