Archive for October 2015

I name unethical and illegal operators in consumer protection summit with Mike Colle, MPP

 

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This past week I drove from Kitchener to Toronto to the Ontario Legislature for a consumer protection summit meeting with Mike Colle, MPP (Lib. Eglinton-Lawrence)–a wide-ranging discussion regarding consumer protection issues facing Ontario residents.

 

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from the office of Mike Colle, MPP, the sitting member of the Ontario Legislature for the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.  The invitation indicated that this veteran Ontario lawmaker was interested in meeting with me at his office at Queen’s Park to discuss consumer debt.

We did meet a few days ago at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto.   During our meeting at his Queen’s Park office–literally a stone’s throw from the Legislature–we had a free-wheeling conversation focusing on consumer debt issues.  Mr. Colle shared with me some anecdotes regarding the credit reporting industry.  One of main topics of conversation were concerns I have raised over the past four months on this blog and in my LinkedIn posts regarding the conduct of those holding themselves out as helping consumers struggling with unsecured consumer debt.

During this meeting I provided Mike Colle, MPP, with the names of firms whose activities I believe warrant investigation by either the Ontario Registrar of Collection Agencies or the federal Superintendent of Bankruptcy.  I also provided Mr. Colle with some of the details of my firm’s four-month investigation into the post-July 1st regulatory regime for firms offering debt settlement services to Ontario residents.

 

Presentation of autographed copy of my book

At the end of our meeting I had the opportunity to provide Mike Colle, MPP, with an autographed copy of my book titled The Wolf At The Door:  What To Do When Collection Agencies Come Calling (2010), published by McClelland & Stewart.  This moment was captured for posterity in the photo, appearing below, taken by Mr. Colle’s assistant, Ms. Ashley Rensler.

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This past week I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Colle, MPP (Eglinton-Lawrence) at his Queen’s Park office and presenting him with an autographed copy of my book The Wolf At The Door:  What To Do When Collection Agencies Come Calling.

 

Future meetings with  lawmakers

I hope that my meeting this past week with Mike Colle, MPP, is not the last meeting where I have the opportunity to discuss my concerns regarding enforcement of the Ontario Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act with a member of the Ontario Legislature.  Earlier this year I reached out to several members of the Ontario Legislature with respect to my concerns regarding consumer protection. I can say that I am scheduled to meet with a second member of the Ontario Legislature in the next ten days.  My goal is to meet with a significant number of Ontario lawmakers to share my concerns regarding enforcement of Ontario’s consumer protection laws–in particular those relating to the conduct of collection agencies and firms offering debt settlement services.

In the future I would also like to schedule meetings with federal Members of Parliament at which time I can present them with some of the details of my inquiries with respect to the conduct of debt consultants–particularly in Ontario–and potential violations of the Code of Ethics for Bankruptcy Trustees.

Any lawmaker that is interested in scheduling a meeting with me is welcome to contact me by phone at (866) 996-9941 or (519) 827-5513 or via e-mail at mark@comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca.

 

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Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I hope to be able to present both Ontario and federal lawmakers with the names of firms–holding themselves as assisting consumers struggling with unsecured consumer debt–who should be investigated by regulators.

 

How prevalent is unethical marketing practices by Ontario bankruptcy trustees?

 

Over the past several months I have written numerous posts about firms offering debt settlement services to Ontario residents.  In several of these posts I have raised questions about whether some of these firms were acting in contravention of Ontario law.

During my research into debt settlement firms I stumbled across a much larger and insidious problem involving unethical marketing practices by some–but certainly not all–bankruptcy trustees in Ontario.  In Ontario today it is routine for many bankruptcy trustees to pay some form of referral fee or monetary compensation for referrals.  More specifically, these referral fees are being paid to a group that I will refer to as “debt consultants” most of whom advertise attractive results to consumers facing debt problems.

 

Who are these debt consultants?

Debt consultants are organizations–most of whom advertise on the internet–offering assistance to consumers struggling with unsecured consumer debt.  I would describe myself as a debt consultant.  Many debt consultants promise on their websites that they can eliminate 75 percent or 80 percent of a consumer’s debt under a federal government program.

Some debt consultants are independent financial advisors who provide quality advice to their clients at a reasonable price.  Other debt consultants provide services of limited value for exorbitant fees.  Finally, some debt consultants are little more than con artists.

Some of these debt consultants are heavily subsidized by a firm of bankruptcy trustees.  These shady debt consulting firms which hold themselves out as independent debt advisors are effectively exclusive marketing agents for one particular firm of bankruptcy trustees.  Reliable sources have told me that some bankruptcy firms pay the rent for a debt consulting firm in their community which serves as a referral funnel for them.  It is common knowledge among bankruptcy trustees in Ontario that some–but not all– trustees are paying anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500 for a referral from a debt consulting firm.

There are debt consultants who not only offer independent advice but also who do not receive referral fees.  Unfortunately, a significant percentage of debt consultants are nothing more than marketing fronts for unethical bankruptcy trustees.  If a trustee is paying a debt consultant $1,000 for a referral is a debt consultant going to tell a consumer that they don’t need a consumer proposal because Ontario’s 2-year statute of limitations has expired on their $45,000 worth of unsecured debt?

 

Unethical for trustees to offer financial benefit for a referral

Bankruptcy trustees in Canada are licensed by the federal government and their conduct is supervised by the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.  The conduct of bankruptcy trustees is governed by a document known as the Code of Conduct for Trustees in Bankruptcy.  Section 47 of this Code reads as follows:

Trustees shall not, directly or indirectly, pay to a third party a commission, compensation, or other benefit in order to obtain a professional engagement or accept, directly or indirectly from a third party, a commission, compensation or other benefit for referring work for a professional engagement.

 

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Payment for referrals is becoming a pandemic amongst trustees

It is becoming increasing evident to me that a significant percentage of bankruptcy trustees in Ontario today are violating section 47 of the Code of Conduct for Trustees in Bankruptcy on a regular basis.  I have no knowledge as to whether or not the Superintendent of Bankruptcy is aware of this problem which would appear to be a growing problem–particularly in Ontario.  It constitutes a growing pandemic amongst federally licensed bankruptcy trustees and a major intervention is required.

It is unfortunate that those bankruptcy trustees with a questionable moral compass are now sullying the reputation of all bankruptcy trustees.  I want to reiterate that many bankruptcy trustees do not offer any financial compensation when a file is referred to them.   I am reluctant to say that a few bad apples are the problem because I believe that it would not be accurate to describe the number of trustees contravening the Code of Ethics as “a few”.  It would be more accurate to say that a significant number of bankruptcy trustees in Ontario are engaging in unethical marketing practices in contravention of the Code of Conduct for Trustees in Bankruptcy.

 

Request for assistance from the public

I would ask that anyone who has information about an inappropriate relationship between a debt consultant and a bankruptcy trustee to contact me.  People who are in the know would include bankruptcy trustees, as well as current and former employees of bankruptcy firms and debt consulting firms.  Anyone with information is welcome to call me at (519) 827-5513 or (866) 996-9941.  Alternatively, you can contact me via e-mail at mark@comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca.  My goal is to bring this information to the attention of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.

 

Anyone with information regarding an inappropriate realtionship between a debt consultant and a bankruptcy trustee is invited to contact Mark Silverthorn.

Anyone with information regarding an inappropriate relationship between a debt consultant and a bankruptcy trustee is invited to contact Mark Silverthorn.

 

This is not the last post on this blog on this issue!

 

 

What was the rationale behind my resignation as Senior Editor of Bankruptcy Canada Inc.?

I anticipate that by the end of 2015 that I will be contributing content concerning consumer debt to a growing number of websites.

I anticipate that by the end of 2015 that I will be contributing content concerning consumer debt to a growing number of websites.

 

For a period of 18 months –from June 1, 2014, to September 30, 2015–I had the opportunity to serve as the Senior Editor of Bankruptcy Canada Inc.  The firm’s website has been described as one of the two most popular bankruptcy-related websites in Canada.  During this 18-month period I contributed 60,000 words worth of articles on a variety of issues related to consumer debt.

On September 30, 2015, I tendered my resignation as Senior Editor of Bankruptcy Canada Inc. in order to devote more time to a number of exciting new initiatives.  I want to thank the ownership group at Bankruptcy Canada Inc. for giving me the opportunity to serve as Senior Editor of the firm’s website and I want to wish them success in the future.

Now I would like to share with you some of my new initiatves in the coming months.

 

Consumer Experience Audit work

There are a host of firms that offer professional services or offer services to consumers struggling with debt making a significant financial investment in not only the firm’s website but also on advertising.  Many of these firms end up wasting this money because the resulting consumer experience is lacking.

An example will help illustrate this.  Earlier this year my firm, Comprehensive Debt Solutions Inc., conducted a Consumer Experience Audit in a community on behalf of a bankruptcy trustee.  We arranged to have a mystery shopper request an interview with several bankruptcy trustees by completing an online request form found on the trustees’ websites. The results were a real eye-opener.  One national firm of bankruptcy trustees failed to book an appointment with our mystery shopper despite three online requests and one telephone call to the trustee’s office initiated by our mystery shopper.

Our mystery shopper then scheduled an appointment with any firm that was capable of scheduling an appointment.  We then looked at the consumer experience from the initial phone call with the trustee’s office to book the appointment to the actual appointment.  Some firms scheduled an appointment within two business days–others took more than ten days.  In one case our mystery shopper was 20 minutes late to an appointment because the trustee’s name could not be found on the digital directory in the lobby.  One trustee kept our mystery shopper waiting so long after the scheduled time for his appointment that he wanted to leave prior to the meeting–but remained solely because he was being paid to speak with the trustee.

Our mystery shopper surreptitiously made an audio recording of the meeting with each trustee.  Not surprisingly, despite the fact that our mystery shopper provided each trustee with identical facts regarding their debt situation, our mystery shopper received different advice.

Based upon our experience, prospective clients should be aware of red flags of a less than optimal service provider. If a prospective client does not receive a rapid response to an inquiry then that service provider might not give priority to client satisfaction, and the prospective client might be better served looking elsewhere.

 

New Blogging and ghostwriting opportunities

Over the past few weeks our firm has had a number of discussions with entities providing information or services to consumers experiencing debt problems.  The purpose of these discussions was to determine whether or not it was a good fit for me to provide content for their website or their social media campaigns.  In some instances, Danielle Lorimer, Comprehensive Debt Solutions Inc.’s Business Manager has arranged for me to  contribute a regular guest blog post for an organization.  In some other cases, she has arranged for me to ghostwrite content for an organization.

A few days ago I wrote my first blog post for moneyproblems.ca titled “Who Are These Bill Collectors Calling Me?”  I am scheduled to write my first blog post for shedthedebt.ca later this month.

Comprehensive Debt Solutions Inc.’s Business Manager, Danielle Lorimer, has informed me that there is a good chance that Comprehensive Debt Solutions Inc. will be entering into an agreement for either contributing blog posts or ghostwriting content for several organizations over the next few weeks and months.

 

Mark Silverthorn Blog and my LinkedIn posts

In February of this year I began publishing posts on both the Mark Silverthorn Blog and on Linkedin.  During the first few months these posts were on relatively mundane topics.  It was not very long, however, before some of these posts raised questions about the conduct of specific organizations.  Some of posts this summer involved significant inquiries–researching government records, taking photographs and screenshots from websites, the use of mystery shoppers, and obtaining copies of debt settlement agreements.

These posts which were investigative in nature began to generate some interest not only in the financial services industry but also in the media.  Over the past eight months the number of my LinkedIn Connections grew eightfold–from 330 to over 2,750.  The Mark Silverthorn Blog was referred to in an article dated August 1, 2015, written by journalist Sunny Freeman in Huffington Post Canada.  More recently, I wrote an article dated September 21, 2015, for the paper edition of the Law Times titled “Questions raside by deputy judge’s debt settlement activities”.

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Comprehensvedebtsolutions.ca to carry advertising

Our firm’s website, comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca, was launched in mid-February of this year.  Our marketing budget since February of this year has been zero.  If anyone would have asked me then if we would be carrying paid advertising for a national firm in October of this year I would have simply laughed.  The fact remains, however, that I anticipate that sometime this month advertising will appear on comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca.

This past week Danielle Lorimer, Business Manager, for Comprehensive Debt Solutions, informed me that our firm has entered into an agreement to carry advertising for Consumer Debtor Protection of Canada Ltd. on our firm’s website.  Yesterday, Danielle Lorimer, released the following statement on behalf of Comprehensive Debt Solutions.

 

PRESS  RELEASE

For immediate release:

October 2, 2015

Kitchener, Ontario:  “Comprehensive Debt Solutions, a firm focusing on assisting consumers struggling with consumer debt, will now offer advertising opportunities on our firm’s website.  We are pleased to announce that our first paid advertising client is Consumer Debtor Protection of Canada Ltd. (CDPCL),–cdpcl.com.” says Danielle Lorimer, Business Manager, Comprehensive Debt Solutions.  CDPCL is a firm that represents consumers across Canada seeking representation when they resolve their debt situation by way of a consumer proposal.  CDPCL’s goal is to assist their clients obtain the best possible terms when meeting with a bankruptcy trustee to make a consumer proposal.

Any inquiries regarding advertising opportunities on comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca should be directed to Danielle Lorimer, Business Manager, Comprehensive Debt Solutions Inc.

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For further information contact:

Danielle Lorimer

Tel. : (866) 996-9941          e-mail:  danielle@comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca

 

Mark Silverthorn serves the public

While I might write content for a number of websites, offer advice to other organizations, and our firm’s website will accept paid advertising–our integrity is paramount.  Our goal is never to let any issue distract us from serving the public. The fact that I contribute content to an organization’s website or that comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca accepts paid advertising from a particular firm should not be construed as an endorsement of that organization.

I make a commitment to those who read the Mark Silverthorn Blog or those reading content on comprehensivedebtsolutions.ca that our goal is to serve our readers, to provide accurate information, and to educate and inform you–our loyal readers.