Couple Fined $3,500 For Truthful Negative Online Review Fights Back

I recently posted an article about a Utah couple who was “fined” by an online retailer for posting a negative review (see Products were ordered, but never received. The wife wrote a negative review on a customer complaint website that appeared to be accurate and truthful. The company fined the couple $3,500 for “disparaging” comments in accordance with the terms of sale on the retailer’s website. The retailer dinged the couple’s credit report for the unpaid fine.

Now, according to a recent ABA Journal article, the couple is suing the retailer for damaging their credit rating when they refused to pay the fine. The lawsuit alleges the retailer defamed its customers and violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Damages sought total at least $75,000.

By Robert Hawkinson

Lawyer and Client Fall for Nigerian Inheritance Scam

Email Scam AlertAccording to a recent ABA Journal article, an Iowa lawyer and his client fell for a time-worn scam involving $18.8M from a long lost Nigerian relative. The lawyer tapped other current and former clients for loans to raise $177,660 to pay the Nigerian inheritance taxes and for an “anti-terrorism certificate.” Believing the inheritance was legitimate, the lawyer agreed to perform his services on a 10% contingency. The lawyer transferred the money to the scammers. The client went to Spain to secure the inheritance, which supposedly was “stashed in two suitcases in Madrid.” Surprise! The client, lender clients and the lawyer ended up stiffed. The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board recently suspended the lawyer.

I’ve been getting e-mails like this for years. Here’s the takeaway from this debacle. When you get such an e-mail, chuckle while you send it to the trash file. It’s okay to dream about what you would have done with the money, though.

By Robert Hawkinson

Be Careful When Using Another’s Photo Or Image

A Seattle Times newspaper article alleges Fox News inappropriately used a photo from a Times article posted last week about a controversy over women-only hours at a public pool. The Seattle area women requested female-only pool times. Fox allegedly aired a story about a swimming pool in another state that had set aside hours for Muslim women. Fox supposedly used the Seattle Times photo taken at the Seattle area pool in a story about the “growing influence of Sharia law in the U.S.”

Using someone else’s photos or other images is a risky proposition. Many people are under the misimpression that if a photo or other artwork is posted on the internet, they are free to use it for any purpose. The Fair Use Doctrine allows for limited and reasonable uses of another’s copyrighted work. Fair Use does not mean free use. The safe approach is first getting proper permission before using someone else’s image or photo.

By Robert Hawkinson

TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau jailed by Federal judge for not disclosing his assets.


According to a recent AP article, TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau has been jailed for refusing to disclose his assets in court proceedings. The Federal Trade Commission won a $37 million judgment over five years ago against Trudeau for “hoodwinking viewers” about his weight loss books. Trudeau insists he is penniless and has paid nothing. However, a Federal judge in Chicago was unimpressed noting that Trudeau recently spent “hundreds of dollars on cigars and a haircut.” Two days later, Trudeau again told the judge he was penniless. The judge told Trudeau he didn’t believe him, and sent him back to jail. The judge also jailed Trudeau last month for being uncooperative.

Federal judges have lots of power and like all judges, hate getting the run around. I often get questions about moving assets offshore for protection against lawsuits. In my opinion, moving assets offshore can be ineffective and dangerous. Judges can put an uncooperative judgment debtor in jail for contempt if the debtor refuses to disclose assets or where the assets are located. It’s also risky to park one’s money in some foreign countries that promote themselves as asset protection friendly. One may never get them back. There are better approaches.


By Robert Hawkinson

photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

Want to Pay Other People’s Debts? Be a Captain Dave.

Seattle Times writer Danny Westneat recently wrote an engaging article about a fellow named Captain Dave. It goes something like this.

Captain Dave started the Seattle’s first modern floating farmers’ market at South Lake Union, “putting old boats back to work.” Unknown to Captain Dave, one of the market’s vendors was running up big dollars in back parking tickets, penalties and interest going back about 10 years. The City couldn’t find the scofflaw and they went after Captain Dave instead.

Last Winter the farmers’ market received a garnishment for wages from the City’s collection agent for the entire $7,800 debt. Captain Dave didn’t know where the vendor was. He called the City and the collection agent and explained the farmers’ market didn’t have any employees, thinking the whole thing would be dropped. Big mistake! When an employer doesn’t formally respond to garnishment papers, the employer can be come liable for the entire debt of the debtor even if the debtor is not an employee. Now the farmers’ market is shuttered.

Small business owners especially hate garnishments. The fee paid to the employer-garnishee to process an employee garnishment is a pittance, which doesn’t cover the employer’s costs and time. I always tell my clients, either process the garnishment or be prepared to pay what the debtor owes. Its the law.

By Robert Hawkinson


If you’d like to read Danny Westneat’s entertaining article, Parking enforcers sink Capt. Dave, here’s the link –

© 2013 Robert K. Hawkinson. All Rights Reserved

Loophole in End of Life Law Needs Fixing

A loophole in the Washington Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) law needs a quick fix by the Legislature. See (Seattle Times). I remember when a long-time local resident in her 80s ended up with a broken sternum from CPR years ago. She died a few days later. Those days were very painful. I remember the look on my elderly mother’s doctor’s face when she told him she wasn’t going to sign a POLST form. He went pale as a ghost and persuaded her to sign it.

We all want our loved ones to live forever. My wife and I provided elder care for five relatives over a 13-year period. Each of them wanted to move on when life became too heavy a burden and there was no hope of improvement.

By Robert Hawkinson

Who Really Owns Your Home Loan?

Are you aware of the differences between a lender, loan holder and loan servicer? Your lender is the bank or lending institution from which you originally borrowed money. Your lender may keep your loan or sell it, usually as part of a package of many loans. Your loan may be sold many times during the loan period.

The loan holder currently owns your loan. Lenders and loan holders often hire another party to service your loan. The servicer sends out statements, collects your payments, answers your questions and processes your requests such as postponing payments, forbearance or canceling the loan. Your lender or loan holder may choose to service the loans they own in which case they are also the servicer.

Your monthly statement comes from your servicer, but you may not know the identity of your current loan holder. Some servicers are very responsive to questions and requests for information. Others are not. You need to know who owns your loan if you are considering a short sale or want to renegotiate terms, or are having serious problems getting questions answered or requests considered working through your servicer.

By Robert Hawkinson