OCCA helps Deputy Judge Serafini and Ontario Debt Law enter debt settlement marketplace

 

Sometime shortly after June 30th of this year a new player, Ontario Debt Law (ODL), entered the debt settlement marketplace.  According to the firm’s letterhead, Ontario Debt Law’s address is in the same one-storey building as OCCA Consumer Debt Relief Inc., one of the largest debt settlement firms operating in Canada over the past decade.  OCCA’s 2014 submission to the Ontario Government states that the firm has 12,000 clients.

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OCCA’s office is located at 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 1, Brampton, Ontario.  The address appearing on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead is 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario.

 

Oakville lawyer Angelo Serafini is the owner of Ontario Debt Law

The owner of Ontario Debt Law is lawyer Angelo Serafini. According to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Lawyer and Paralegal Directory, Angelo Serafini practices law at an office located at 447 Speers Road, Unit 202, Oakville, Ontario.  In a letter dated August 12, 2015, on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead, sent to a potential client Angelo Serafini is described as “currently a Deputy Judge”.

 

Timing of the emergence of Ontario Debt Law

The entrance of Ontario Debt Law into the Ontario debt settlement marketplace coincides with the new debt settlement regulatory regime that came into effect on July 1st of this year.   Effective July 1, 2015, whenever an Ontario resident enters into a debt settlement agreement there are significant restrictions on fees that can be charged whenever the debt settlement service provider is subject to the Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act.

A debt settlement firm cannot charge a debt settlement client a penny in fees until such time that a settlement is actually paid out.  Furthermore, the maximum fee that can be charged with respect to a single debt is 10 percent of the amount of the debt as of the date the debt settlement agreement was signed.

The new regulatory regime, and in particular the significant restrictions regarding fees, will have and is having, a devastating impact on firms providing debt settlement services to Ontario residents.  The new regulatory regime for debt settlement firms do not apply to lawyers who can bring themselves within an exemption contained in the Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act.  Accordingly, it is much more attractive financially for OCCA to provide debt settlement services in conjunction with a law firm than to do so on its own.

 

 

Ontario Debt Law is flying beneath the radar

Some industry observers might conclude that Ontario Debt Law is making a conscious effort to carry on business below the radar.  The law firm does not have a website.  There is no reference to Ontario Debt Law on Angelo Serafini’s LinkedIn Profile.  Neither is there any reference to Ontario Debt Law on the website for Mr. Serafini’s Oakville law practice, www.serafinilaw.ca.  Finally, as of August 13, 2015, there was no signage for Ontario Debt Law at 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, in Brampton, Ontario, the address appearing on the law firm’s letterhead.

 

My discovery of the existence of Ontario Debt Law

The website for OCCA Consumer Debt Relief Inc. is www.occa.ca.  Website visitors on this site struggling with unsecured consumer debt are encouraged to call a toll free number, 1 (866) 873-6222.

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Visitors to OCCA’s website, www.occa.ca, are invited to call a toll free number, 1 (866) 873-6222.

 

This past week an Ontario resident, Jane Doe–not her real name–spoke to me after calling this toll free number on OCCA’s website.  Shortly after calling this toll free number, and speaking with a counsellor, Jane Doe received an e-mail from her counsellor–containing 11 pages of documents, including a debt settlement agreement–not from OCCA, but from an organization called Ontario Debt Law.

At the very end of this post you can read these 11 pages, in their entirety, that Ontario Debt Law sent to Jane Doe earlier this week.

One of the more interesting set of provisions in the Ontario Debt Law debt settlement agreement are those indicating that Ontario Debt Law can outsource a number of its obligations under the contract to OCCA.

 

 

One-page letter dated August 12, 2105, on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead sent to Jane Doe

The first page of the 11 pages sent to Jane Doe earlier this past week is reproduced below.

 

 

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This one page letter on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead dated August 12, 2015, was sent to Jane Doe, an Ontario resident.  The address on this letter on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead is 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario.  Certain text on this page has been highlighted.  The author of this letter is Monica Baci.

 

 

Odd information appearing on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead

When I tried to fact check the contact information appearing at the bottom of Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead I was surprised by what I found.  This can be summarized as follows:

  • The local number which appears at the bottom of Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead is always answered by a fax tone
  • The toll free number which appears at the bottom of Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead is the phone number for a business called DebtHelpers.ca

 

Photograph of 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario

On Thursday, August 13th I attended in person at 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 1 and Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario, in order to take some photographs.  The photograph which appears below is a photograph of 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario, the same address listed as Ontario Debt Law’s address on the law firm’s letterhead.

 

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This photograph was taken on Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario.  The name which appears on the door is QuickConnectSolutions.com.  Behind this door appears to be a wall made of cardboard.  This door contains a sign advising Canada Post to deliver mail addressed to Unit 2, 188 Wilkinson Road, to Unit 1, 188 Wilkinson Road.  This address, 188 Wilkonson Road, Unit 2, in Brampton is listed as the address for Ontario Debt Law on marketing material sent to an Ontario resident earlier this week.

 

Ontario Debt Law, Quick Connect Solutions and DebtHelpers.ca all list 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario, as their firm’s address

Ontario Debt Law lists 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario as the firm’s address on the firm’s letterhead.   The websites for both Quick Connect Solutions and DebtHelpers.ca also list 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario, as the address for their firms.

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According to the ABOUT US webpage on www.quickconnectsolutions.com, the firm offers telephony solutions to firms in the marketing, credit, collection, and debt purchasing industries.

 

 

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According to the ABOUT page on www.DebtHelpers.ca the firm does marketing for a number of firms offering a variety of programs designed to assist consumers experiencing debt problems.

 

 

OCCA and Quick Connect Solutions have run afoul of CRTC because of use of robocalls

In 2013, following an investigation by the CRTC into the use of robocalls, OCCA and Quick Connect Solutions agreed to pay $69,000 and $11,000, respectively, in fines.  Ontario Debt Law not only operates from the same business address as Quick Connect Solutions but its retainer agreement with consumers states it can assign any of its obligations under the agreement to OCCA.

 

 

Nine questions for Angelo Serafini and Ed Portelli, President of OCCA

 

After researching Ontario Debt Law and its relationship with OCCA this past week I have nine questions for Angelo Serafini and Ed Portelli, the President of OCCA.

 

1.  Is it appropriate for Ontario Debt Law’s marketing material to refer to Angelo Serafini, the owner of Ontario Debt Law, as a Deputy Judge?

Earlier this week Jane Doe, an Ontario resident, received 11 pages of documents from Ontario Debt Law.  The first of these 11 pages is a one-page letter appearing on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead.  You will find this one-page letter reproduced below.

The first two sentences of this letter on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead read as follows:

Ontario Debt Law (ODL) is a Canadian law firm that is owned and operated by Angelo Serafini, J.D.  Angelo has been practising law for over 30 years and is currently a Deputy Judge.

Is it appropriate for a lawyer who is a Deputy Judge to state that he is a Deputy Judge on the firm’s marketing materials?  The fact that Ontario Debt Law’s marketing materials says that Ontario Debt Law is owned by Angelo Serafini who is currently a Deputy Judge might lead a potential client to conclude that Ontario Debt Law’s services are approved or recommended by the Ontario courts or the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.

 

2.   Is it misleading for OCCA’s website to advise consumers to avoid debt settlement when OCCA is actively encouraging website visitors to enter into a debt settlement agreement with Ontario Debt Law?

OCCA’s website contains a webpage titled “Avoid Debt Settlement”.  Anyone reading this webpage might conclude that consumers should not hire a firm to provide debt settlement services.  In fact, OCCA Debt Relief Inc. possesses an Ontario collection agency license which permits it to provide debt settlement services.  Furthermore, website visitors who call the toll free number appearing on OCCA’s website speak to a counsellor whose job it is to encourage the caller to enter into a debt settlement settlement agreement with Ontario Debt Law.  Finally, the debt settlement agreement from Ontario Debt Law which is sent to a potential client states that Ontario Debt Law will outsource some of its obligations under the agreement to OCCA.

 

3.     Is the marketing letter used by Ontario Debt Law misleading when it states “We are NOT a debt settlement firm!”

The Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act defines “debt settlement services” in paragraph 1(c) of the Act as follows:

“debt settlement services”   means offering or undertaking to act for a debtor in arrangements or negotiations with the debtor’s creditors or receiving money from a debtor for distribution to the debtor’s creditors, where the services are provided in consideration of a fee, commission or other remuneration that is payable by the debtor.

It is true that Ontario Debt Law is not a debt settlement firm which is licensed under the Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act.  However, Ontario Debt Law does offer debt settlement services to Ontario residents.  Furthermore, the agreement which Ontario Debt Law sends to potential clients states that some of the services offered under the agreement will be performed by OCCA.

Some industry observers might find the statement “We are NOT a debt settlement firm!” on Ontario Debt Law’s one-page marketing letter to be misleading.

 

4.  Why doesn’t Ontario Debt Law have appropriate signage for its office located at 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, in Brampton, Ontario?

The address listed for Ontario Debt Law on a letter dated August 12, 2015, sent to an Ontario resident earlier this week is 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, Brampton, Ontario.  When I attended at that address on August 13, 2015, the signage on the door at this address was not for Ontario Debt Law, but for a firm called QuickConnectSolutions.com.

When I visited 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 1 and Unit 2, on August 13th I could not find any signage for Ontario Debt Law.  There is, however, signage in the vicinity of Unit 1 and Unit 2 of 188 Wilkinson Road, Bramtpon, Ontario, advising Canada Post to deliver mail addressed for 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 2, to 188 Wilkinson Road, Unit 1.

NoticeforCanadaPostremailforUnit2188WilkinsonRoad

On August 13, 2015, when I visited 188 Wilkinson Road, Brampton, Ontario, I found this sign on the door for Unit 2 and on the door immediately to the right of Unit 1. 

 

5.   It is appropriate for the toll free phone number which appears on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead to be that–not for Ontario Debt Law–but for a marketing firm DebtHelpers.ca?

 

6.   Is it appropriate for Ontario Debt Law to share office space with Quick Connect Solutions and DebtHelpers.ca and do they have any concerns about the security of clients’ confidential information?

Quick Connect Solutions provides telephony solutions to firms in the marketing, credit, collection and debt purchasing industries.  DebtHelpers.ca is a firm that provides marketing services for a number of firms that provide a variety of programs for consumers experiencing debt problems.  Is it appropriate for Ontario Debt Law to be sharing office space with Quick Connect Solutions and DebtHelpers.ca?  Does this arrangement raise any concerns about the security of the firm’s client information?

 

7.   Who is Moncia Baci’s employer?

Earlier in this post you can read a one-page letter dated August 12, 2015, on Ontario Debt Law’s letterhead sent to an Ontario residient.  The person whose name appears as the author of this letter is Monica Baci.  Who is Monica Baci’s employer?

According to Monica Baci’s LinkedIn Profile she is an employee of OCCA.

MonicaBaciLinkedInProfile

 

Is it appropriate for the name of an OCCA employee to appear as the author of a letter on Ontario Debt Law letterhead?

 

8.   Does Ontario Debt Law have a credible legal opinion confirming that its relationship with OCCA does not contravene any of the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers in Ontario?

Earlier this week I came into possession of a copy of an agreement Ontario Debt Law is sending to prospective clients in Ontario.  The document informs potential clients that some of the services offered under the agreement would be performed by OCCA which is not a law firm.  Only time will tell whether or not this business model will attract scrutiny from not only those responsible for regulating debt settlement firms but also those responsible for regulating the conduct of lawyers in Ontario.

 

9.   Is Ontario Debt Law’s entrance into the Ontario debt settlement marketplace bringing the administration of justice in Ontario into disrepute?

Will the public’s perception of lawyers and the administration of justice be prejudiced by the activiteis of Ontario Debt Law and its existing business relationship with OCCA?

 

 

Opportunity for comments from Angelo Serafini and Ed Portelli

Angelo Serafini declined the opportunity to be interviewed in connection with this post.  Ed Portelli agreed to meet with me but he requested that any comments he  made during the interview were “off the record”.

 

 

Invitation to contact Mark Silverthorn if you have been in communication with marketing representatives from Ontario Debt Law

If you live in Canada and you have received documentation from Ontario Debt Law then I would invite you to contact me at 1 (866) 996-9941 or (519) 827-5513.  Furthermore, if you have spoken to a marketing representative from Ontario Debt Law and you have recorded the telephone conversation then I would invite you to contact me.  Alternatively, you are welcome to send me an e-mail at mark@comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca.

 

 

Copy of documentation sent by Ontario Debt Law to an Ontario resident on August 12, 2015

 

On August 12, 2015, an Ontario resident received 11 pages of documents from Ontario Debt Law after calling the toll free number on OCCA’s website and requesting information about its services.  These 11 pages are reproduced below.  Some content has been highlighted.

 

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