Protect Yourself From Coronavirus Scams

Scammers are always looking to take advantage of unsuspecting victims, especially in times of uncertainty. The more you and loved ones know about scams, the easier it is to spot and avoid them.

Download these tips for protecting yourself from coronavirus scams.

Beware of Price Gouging 

North Carolina is under a State of Emergency and price gouging laws are in effect:

  • It is illegal to charge excessive prices during an emergency.  A price may be unreasonable if it exceeds the average price for the product or service during the preceding 60 days.
  • Contact NC Attorney General’s Office 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file an online complaint

Tips to Avoid Scammers and Fraudsters

  • Currently there are no cures or vaccines for COVID-19. ​Avoid offers for fake vaccines, cures, testing, air filters​, Medicare COVID-19 “kit” scams.
  • Don’t answer or hang up on Robo-calls.  Scammers are using robo-calls to pitch fake products, work-from-home schemes and insurance scams.  Try to avoid answering the call at all – if it is someone you know they will leave you a voicemail. 
  • Avoid false utility company representatives: Scammers are calling to dupe people out of their cash and personal information by convincing them their utilities will be shut off if they don’t pay. If you get a call from someone claiming to be your utility company, firmly tell them you will contact the utility company directly using the number on your bill or on the company’s website. Even if the caller insists you have a past due bill or your services will be shut off, never give banking information over the phone unless you place the call to a number you know is legitimate. Utility companies neither demand banking information by email or phone nor demand payment by gift cards (like iTunes or Amazon), cash reload cards (like MoneyPak, Vanilla, or Reloadit), or cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin), these are scams.
  • Avoid foreclosure rescue and “we buy homes” scams.  Scammers search public records for homeowners in danger of property tax, mortgage, and HOA foreclosure.   Never sign paperwork on the spot.  Scammers often try to trick homeowners into signing away ownership by signing a deed or other legal documents without disclosing the true nature of the transaction.
  • Be on the alert for Debt-Relief Scams. Avoid companies or out-of-state lawyers that offer to help. Under North Carolina law, it is illegal to collect upfront fees for debt settlement services.  Often these companies do nothing but put you further in debt and damage your credit.
  • Don’t pay someone in advance to help you access benefits.  The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get the stimulus money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.  See our April 19 post about stimulus payments.
  • Avoid Social Security scams. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.  Don’t “verify” your number or be scared into thinking your benefits are about to be suspended.
  • Watch out for phishing emails and texts about the coronavirus that appear to be from health officials, experts, or anyone else. Don’t open messages, click on links, or download attachments from senders you don’t recognize.
  • Be cautious of offers to help get groceries, do errands ​– there are a number of good Samaritans, but unfortunately there have also been reports of scams, money given, nothing delivered.
  • Beware of “person in need” and grandparent scams. Scammers pose as a grandchild, friend or relative stranded or otherwise in trouble and need money quickly and quietly.  They may ask for money by mail or gift card.  Don’t be pressured, hang up and call another relative or friend if you are still concerned to help you investigate.
  • Be careful before you donate to a COVID-related charity​.  Check legitimacy through the North Carolina Secretary of StateCharity Watch, or Charity Navigator.
  • Be cautious of any unsolicited door-to-door sales pitch or offers.  Don’t sign or agree to anything on the spot – if an offer seems too good to be true it probably is. 

Still have questions or need help? Contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Consumer Protection Program for more information, 704-376-1600.  Stay safe everyone!

Additional Resources

Read more information and report scams through the links below and pass it on: 

Federal Trade Commission scam page  
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau   
N.C. Department of Justice Consumer Complaints   
National Center for Disaster Fraud

Student Borrower Advocates Call for Canceling Student Debt to Tackle Economic Fallout

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has joined advocates from across the country in calling on Congressional leaders to address student loan debt issues being exacerbated by COVID-19.

Here is the letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer:

Download a PDF version of this letter

April 13, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader McCarthy, and Minority Leader Schumer:

The 66 undersigned community, civil rights, consumer, and student advocacy organizations thank you for taking swift action to pass the CARES Act to begin to grapple with the ongoing economic fallout caused by the coronavirus. However, much more must be done to ensure that student loan borrowers and the economy recover when this crisis ends. We urge you to include student debt cancellation in the next coronavirus package, and for those who will still have federal student debt, to extend suspension of those payments through March 2021.

We are concerned about the increasingly grim predictions we hear about the state of our economy. Without a comprehensive long-term solution, the CARES Act suspension of federal student loans for eighty percent of borrowers merely kicks the problem down the road to this fall, when jobless claims are predicted to exceed Great Depression-era levels, and the financial crisis will have severely deepened. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, James Bullard, predicted the U.S. unemployment rate may hit 30% in the second quarter, a level five percent greater than was reached during the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs is projecting a record-breaking 24 percent drop in GDP for the second quarter of 2020, and that the world economy is expected to contract by 1 percent this year—which would be a greater worldwide contraction than the one following the 2008 financial crisis. And the downturn is expected to last well beyond this year: Morgan Stanley predicts that GDP in developed markets won’t return to pre-virus levels until the third quarter of 2021.

The student debt relief in the CARES Act fails to address this looming economic crisis. First, the six-month suspension on federally-held federal student loans leaves out an estimated one in five borrowers who owe on commercially-held FFEL loans or Perkins loans. Second, even for the eighty percent of borrowers who benefit from a six-month suspension, many will face the daunting prospect starting in October of choosing between paying for necessities including food, medical care, and rent, or making their student loan payment.

The next stimulus package must take the necessary steps to ensure economic recovery down the line: this means federal student debt cancellation, so the hardest hit don’t struggle, and an extended federal student loan payment suspension that is expanded to all borrowers to at least March 2021, so those who will continue to have payments will have more breathing room to get back on their feet. Without taking these additional steps, the CARES Act sets up millions of federal student loan borrowers to face the daunting prospect of trying to find the means to pay their student loans in the middle of economic devastation.

Cancelling federal student debt would bring impactful relief to 43 million Americans and their families. Loan cancellation would provide the greatest benefit to many struggling low-income borrowers who would likely see their debt extinguished. For those who would still have a balance, suspending payments until the end of the year would prevent them from facing yet another financial shock when the CARES Act federal student loan suspension expires in October. An extended payment suspension would enable many economically distressed borrowers to focus on recovering from a once-in-a-lifetime national emergency and free up extra dollars to inject into the economy. It would also strengthen the finances of student loan borrowers and their families over the long term by ensuring that tens of millions of borrowers come out of this crisis with lighter debt burdens.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating economic impact, it is crucially important to include student loan debt cancellation as a part of any economic stimulus. We support the proposals that Senate and House Democrats have put forward to cancel student debt by establishing a program to make principal and interest payments on outstanding federal student loans throughout the duration of this crisis. Such a program would ensure that loan balances go down throughout the duration of the crisis, putting millions of households in a better position to deal with the long-term economic fallout this crisis will create. We also support the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act by Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar to cancel a minimum of $30,000 in federal student loans.

Cancelling student debt would ensure that, come fall, borrowers are able to shoulder the ongoing costs of food, supplies, and medications if they, like many workers, face layoffs or smaller paychecks (due to reduced hours or slower business) because of the pandemic. And at a time when student loan servicers are shuttering call centers or reducing capacity, student loan cancellation would ensure there is less need for borrowers to take time out of their days to chase down their servicers and try and secure changes to, or help on, their student loans.

Reports show that cancelling student debt would also boost the economy for everyone in the medium-to-long term. It would boost GDP by up to $108 billion a year, and add up to 1.5 million jobs per year. Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that federal student debt cancellation increases borrowers’ incomes by about $3,000 over a three-year period.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was facing a student debt crisis: outstanding student debt surpassed $1.6 trillion, over 9 million borrowers were in default on their federal student loans, and another borrower goes into default every 26 seconds. The burden of default falls particularly hard on communities of color. Black students must borrow at higher rates and in larger amounts due to racial inequities in incomes and wealth. Additionally, women hold two-thirds of the country’s student debt and on average borrow $3,000 more than men to attend college—yet because of the wealth and wage gap, women find it harder to repay their loans. Three million Americans over the age of 60 still have student debt. More than 40,000 people over 65 have their Social Security payments, tax refunds, or other government payments offset or garnished because they have fallen behind on their student loan payments. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) Snapshot report, older borrowers are more likely than those without outstanding student loans to report that they have skipped necessary health care needs such as prescription medicines, doctors’ visits, and dental care because they could not afford it.

Now more than ever, we must ensure that all people prioritize the health and economic wellbeing and that of their families and neighbors. Federal student debt cancellation is an essential factor in making that possible, and we strongly urge you to include this relief in the next COVID-19 package.

Sincerely,

National organizations:
Allied Progress
American Federation of Teachers
Americans for Financial Reform
Association of Young Americans (AYA)
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Economic Integrity
Center for Justice & Democracy
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Responsible Lending
Center for Survivor Agency and Justice
Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
Economic Opportunity Institute
The Education Trust
EMPath
Hildreth Institute
NAACP
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients) National Women’s Law Center
The Midas Collaborative
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
Public Citizen
Public Justice Center
Public Law Center
Student Action
Student Borrower Protection Center
Student Debt Crisis
Young Invincibles

State and local groups:
ACTION – Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods
Alaska PIRG
Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending
Arkansas Community Organizations
Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy
Convencion Bautista Hispana de Texas
Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc.
East LA Community Corporation
Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition
Faith Action Network – Washington State
Georgians Against Predatory Lending
Habitat for Humanity of Anderson County, TN
Just-A-Start Corporation
Lawrence CommunityWorks
Maine Center for Economic Policy
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance
Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance
Michigan League for Public Policy
Michigan Poverty Law Program
Montana Organizing Project
New Jersey Citizen Action
New Jersey Tenants Organization
PathWays PA
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
PHENOM (Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts)
Project LIFT
SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center
Tennessee Citizen Action
Tzedek DC
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council
VOICE OKC
Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice
WV Citizen Action Group

Release from Americans for Financial Reform

COVID-19 Relief for N.C. Homeowners

From Nicholas Holt, paralegal-advocate, and Leah Kane, senior attorney, of the Consumer Protection Program:

Download these tips (English)

In general, North Carolina homeowners are still required to make their contractual monthly mortgage payments during the COVID-19 crisis and their regular property tax and homeowner association (HOA) assessments.  However, there are a variety of ways a homeowner may be entitled to relief or assistance:

All North Carolina Mortgage, Property Tax and HOA foreclosure court hearings postponed:

  • All N.C. foreclosure court hearings (Special Proceedings or Superior Court) are continued for 30 days, until April 17, or later pursuant to a N.C. Supreme Court Order. If you have a pending foreclosure, you should receive a notice in the mail about the new court date. Open all mail and be sure to attend the next hearing.
  • FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, USDA, and HECM reverse mortgages have suspended foreclosures for 60 days, generally through May 17, 2020.  VA-backed mortgages may also comply with this moratorium.  Contact your mortgage servicer about specifics and to learn whether your loan is federally backed.
  • Based on the current N.C. Supreme Court directives in place, if a foreclosure hearing is held after April 15 but before May 17, the clerk will need some evidence at the foreclosure hearing that the loan is not subject to the 60-day federal moratorium before authorizing any sale.
  • N.C. court filing and case action deadlines extended in many situations. The N.C. Supreme Court Ordered that documents and papers due to be filed, or actions required to be done, in a case on or after March 16, 2020 shall be timely filed if done by close of business on April 17, 2020. 
  • Because of the Order extending case deadlines, any foreclosure sale that had not finalized before March 16 will be held open for upset bids through April 17, 2020.  It also appears that a homeowner may be able to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to stop the foreclosure during this time period. 
  • Foreclosure sales based upon a prior order are not prohibited by the N.C. Supreme Court Order but may be affected by the federal moratorium if the loan is a qualified federal loan (see below).
  • Although most Mecklenburg County civil court hearings on foreclosures will be postponed, the clerk’s office is currently open for filing between 9 a.m. and noon on weekdays.  Please exercise caution and do not enter the courthouse if you are experiencing symptoms of illness.

Determine whether your mortgage is federally backed or a private loan to learn about specific relief:

  • Most federally backed mortgages, which include FHA (HUD), HECM reverse mortgages, VA loans, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHFA, and USDA have suspended foreclosures and evictions of borrowers after foreclosure until May 17, 2020.
  • If you are going to face hardship because of a job loss or otherwise during the COVID-19 crisis, contact your mortgage servicer about specific relief available, even if not federally backed. 

    Many private mortgage lenders will likely be offering assistance during this time.  For both federal and private loans this may include:
    • Forbearance and payment relief programs (application and supporting documentation typically required);
    • Suspension of negative reporting to credit bureaus;
    • Waivers of penalties and late fees;  
    • Mortgage modifications to reduce interest rates and monthly payments;
    • Needs assessment and personal recovery plan;
  • Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, along with statewide and national consumer organizations, continues to monitor changes in this area and will share updates as they come in.

Protecting Seniors from Fraud and Scams

Seniors are at high risk of being targeted by scams due to increased health needs and accumulated assets, savings, or income.

Learn about the types of scams that target seniors to protect yourself, your loved ones and your neighbors from becoming victims.

Types of Scams

  • Government Agency Scams:
    Scammers call demanding personal or financial information claiming to be government agencies like Social Security, Medicare, or the IRS

    Technological advances allow scammers to “spoof” numbers to look like they are calling from a particular location.
  • While scams can occur year-round, scammers take advantage of important deadlines such as:
    – Tax Season
    – Open Enrollment
    – Issuing new Medicare cards

Why are these scams so common?

Large government programs have complicated rules and procedures. Seniors fear getting in trouble and losing benefits they need to remain stable.

Medicare Scams

Nearly all seniors receive Medicare and rely on it for crucial health care.

Medicare is an entitlement – meaning you must receive written, timely notice before any changes are made to your benefits.

Medicare will NEVER call you and demand immediate payment. Everything is done on paper or in-person

Scammers are working 24/7, but they are particularly active in the fall during Medicare Open Enrollment (Oct 15 – Dec 7).

Common Schemes include:

  • Door to Door Agents
    • Agents often cold call or go door-to-door promising the best Advantage plans
    • The agents may not be legitimate or may offer plans that fail to meet your needs (e.g. Does the plan include your providers/networks?)
    • Medicare Imposters
    • Individuals calling from Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services asking for personal information.
  • Health Care Agencies
    • Salespersons from medical equipment companies or home health agencies promising free equipment or services

Tips to protect yourself:

  • NEVER give out your private information over the phone (including partial information like last 4 digits of your Social Security Number).
    • If you have an ongoing case with Social Security or Medicare, demand written notice and asks for an option to discuss the issue in-person
    • Your new Medicare Number should still be protected!
  • NEVER sign blank forms for insurance, services, or medical equipment.
  • ALWAYS review quarterly Medicare notices and report fraudulent activity.
  • ALWAYS use a reliable source to renew or change your Medicare benefits.
  • Questions? Contact: Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), 1-800-Medicare or a TRUSTED, certified agent/broker available year-round.

Social Security Scams

  • Similar to Medicare scams, seniors will receive a call from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration asking for personal information.
  • Caller ID will provide Social Security’s actual number
  • More calls are being made by live people (versus robocalls). Some callers claim to be law enforcement claiming your Social Security Number was associated with a crime.
  • Callers threaten to suspend your Social Security Number or terminate your benefits unless you provide personal or financial information. 

Tips to protect yourself:

  • Social Security will NEVER call you at random.
    • Legally, Social Security must send you written notice if there are any changes to your benefits.
    • You will receive a letter if SSA needs to talk to you. The letter will provide the date, time of the call and the name of the caller on Social Security Administration letterhead
  • Never provide your Social Security Number (or even part of your SSN)
  • Social Security Numbers will never be suspended
  • When in doubt, visit the Social Security Administation in person or check your benefits on socialsecurity.gov/myssa.

Other Scams and Exploitation

“Stranger Danger” is not enough! Seniors often lose money due to schemes involving family, friends, or caregivers.

  • Grandparent Scam – Someone calling on behalf of a child or other relative claims they need money immediately (usually via wire transfer or overnight courier).
  • Sweetheart Scam – A con artist begins a friendship or relationship with a senior, often incapacitated, to win over their trust.
  • Financial Exploitation – A person, usually a caregiver or loved one, takes the assets of another person without their knowledge or consent.

Examples:

  • Adult daughter uses mom’s debit card to buy groceries – She spends $50 on groceries and $150 on clothes for herself.
  • Son forges his mom’s signature on checks to “help her out.”
  • Step-daughter takes keys of her step-father’s car while he’s in a nursing home recovering from a stroke and refuses to give the car back.
  • Nephew takes his uncle with dementia to a lawyer’s office to sign some documents – a power of attorney and deed transferring his house to the nephew.

Consequences:

  • Reduced livelihood: One could possibly lose a house, car, savings, pension, etc. due to actions of the abuser or creditors
  • Health Risks: One could lose Medicaid benefits and access to health care due to transfer of assets penalty
  • Loss of independence: A court could appoint a guardian if the exploited individual lacks capacity to make decisions.

Tips to protect yourself:

  • Discuss finances only with people you trust.
  • Ask financial institutions about fraud monitoring services.
  • Consider executing a Durable Power of Attorney
    • Appoint trustworthy person, who is capable of handling your affairs
    • Name alternates to your Power of Attorney
  • Do not hesitate to report any suspected exploitation to financial institutions, Adult Protective Services, and/or police

Resources

  • National Elder Fraud Hotline 1-833-372-8311
    Adult Protective Services (APS) 704-336-CARE
  • Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) 1-855-408-1212
  • Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for Social Security  1-800-269-0271
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 1-877-FTC-HELP
  • North Carolina Dept of Justice 1-877-5-NO-SCAM
  • Legal Aid of North Carolina 1-866-219-LANC
  • Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy

Protect Yourself This Tax Season

Tax season is also the season for scams targeting taxpayers. Understand the most common scams to protect yourself, your personal information and your finances.

Identity Theft

This occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your Name, Social Security Number (SSN) or other personal identifying information, without your permission. It is often used by scammers to fraudulently file tax returns and claim refunds.

If you file a tax return and then receive a letter from IRS that another tax return was filed using your name, OR if you don’t file a tax return and then receive a letter that a tax return was filed using your name, the false tax filing could be due to identity theft.

Your identity could be stolen, or misused by a former spouse, family member or business partner. 

If you believe that you are at risk of identity theft due to lost, stolen, or misused personal information, contact the North Carolina Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Phishing

Phishing is usually carried out with unsolicited e-mails or fake websites to steal your personal and financial information. All you must do is click on false links and your personal information could be compromised. 

Keep in mind, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail to request personal or financial information. 

Some tax scammers also use snail mail; so be aware, when you receive regular mail that purports to be from the IRS too.  If you are not sure, contact the IRS directly.

Tax Preparer Fraud

Keep in mind, as a taxpayer you are legally responsible for the information you represent on your tax return, even if the tax return is prepared by a third-party professional.

“Free Money” from the IRS

There is NO SUCH THING as “free money” from the IRS. Be skeptical of flyers and advertisements promising you “free money” from the IRS. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Need Help?

Contact the North Carolina Low-Income Tax Clinic.

Check out our other Tax Season Resources:

What to remember this Tax Season

What NOT to do when filing your taxes

Then & Now: A Decade of Justice

In 2010 …

Charlotte was recovering from the Great Recession, which had destabilized thousands of people through job and home loss that eroded financial security.

As a result, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy saw the overall community need for legal assistance increase by 15%, including an overwhelming need from families facing foreclosure.

The Recession’s effects continued to be felt throughout the decade to shape our community, to define the issues of economic mobility and inequity we fight to address, and to steadily impact the people the Advocacy Center serves today.

As we mark the passing of a critical decade for Charlotte, we’re taking a look back at the work we’ve done to build a more just community for everyone in the Charlotte region.

Then

Our name was Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, a name we had been operating under since 1978.

Number of staff: 19

Now

Today we are Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy! In 2017, we changed our name and celebrated 50 years of service.

Number of staff: 50

Our new name reflects our commitment to providing both individual legal representation and systemic change to advance our mission of pursuing justice for those in need.

Growth to Address Systemic Problems in a Changing World

Since 2010, we’ve launched several projects to meet increased demand for assistance, creatively address the root causes of poverty and support our community’s most vulnerable populations, including:

Access to our legal system

Life altering decisions are made every day in our civil legal system that directly impact a person’s chance at a stable life and opportunity.

Despite the gravity of these decisions, no one is guaranteed legal representation in civil legal cases, leaving only those who can afford an attorney with true access to justice.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and legal service organizations across the country fight to provide equal justice for all in a legal system that is currently inaccessible for those who lack the money and resources to navigate it.

Federal funding for legal service organizations through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) peaked in 2010. The funding increase was necessary to support legal service organizations assisting an increasing number of people while having lost key funding resources during the Recession. Funding has not increased since, despite the fact 25 percent more people qualify for legal assistance today than in 2007.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy does not receive LSC funding (learn why), but we advocate for sustained and increased funding for our partners that do, such as Legal Aid of North Carolina.

A 2014 impact report from the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission showed that 2.2 million North Carolinians qualified for civil legal aid services and 80 percent of civil legal needs of low-income people went unmet.

Despite these unmet needs for civil legal aid, the N.C. General Assembly eliminated $1.7 million in funding for the Access to Civil Justice Act that enabled the state’s legal service organizations, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina and Pisgah Legal Services, to help people navigate their way out of crisis.

Today, the gap between access and justice is still wide:

  • 1 in 3 Mecklenburg County residents is low-income.
  • 71 percent of low-income people experienced at least one civil legal problem in the last year,
  • Only 14 percent received the legal help they needed to address their problem.
  • In Mecklenburg County, there ONE legal aid attorney available to every 11,500 low-income residents between the Advocacy Center and Legal Aid.

Learn about the justice gap and how you can help

Affordable housing and protection from housing displacement

By 2010, the Advocacy Center was assisting families who were fighting foreclosure and trying to put their financial lives back together in the wake of the global financial crisis. When the housing crisis peaked in 2009, more than 12 million homeowners were experiencing negative equity across the U.S.

Today, the Advocacy Center helps families and communities navigate Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis as more people struggle to find and remain in affordable places to live. That assistance includes foreclosure prevention; defense against unfair and deceptive sales and purchases; property tax relief; and impact litigation on behalf of tenants to ensure safe and habitable housing conditions under N.C. law, including a class action lawsuit on behalf of residents of Lake Arbor Apartments.

Welcoming Immigrants into Our Community

Charlotte’s Immigration Court opened in 2008 to serve applicants from North and South Carolina. The Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program began serving applicants who could not afford legal assistance in the court, which quickly gained a reputation as one of the most hostile in the country.

With the Immigration Working Group, the Advocacy Center began the Immigration Assistance Project in 2010 to help unrepresented people in the court, providing consultation, education and referrals to assist them in court proceedings. Since its creation, it has been a vital legal resource to thousands of people that is not available in most immigration courts.

Today Charlotte’s Immigration Court continues to be one of the most hostile courts for applicants seeking immigration relief with judges known for their high denial rates.

By 2014, violence and instability in Central America generated a wave of unaccompanied migrant children traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, safety and reunification with family already living in the U.S.

The Advocacy Center launched the Safe Child Immigrant Project to ensure these children had an advocate.

Without our intervention, these children would have had not have had legal assistance to make their case for asylum, special immigrant juvenile status or other forms of relief they were entitled to receive.

Due to an overwhelming backlog, the first green cards from many of these cases were finally granted in 2018, allowing these children and their families to remain safely in the U.S. without fear of return to dangerous situations in their home countries.

This victory is a stark comparison to the current reality for thousands of children seeking relief at the U.S. border. They will not see the same outcome under current federal immigration enforcement, even though they have endured the same hardships and have the same valid claims for relief as these new green card recipients.

The Advocacy Center remains a presence in Immigration Court serving as a legal resource for individuals who otherwise would not receive any assistance and an advocate fighting to ensure dignity, fairness and due process for applicants.

Economic mobility

The Advocacy Center fought to maintain public benefits that stabilize families, while also ensuring access to them with increased demand for social support after the Recession, including SNAP benefits (food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Today, the Advocacy Center is still fighting cuts and policies that destabilize families at the federal and state level, while helping families understand what is available under changing laws and policies.

Since 2018, the Advocacy Center has fought changes to the federal Public Charge rule to consider use of public benefits to determine approval for people seeking to immigrate to the U.S. or applying for a green card to become legal permanent residents. Confusion and fear surrounding the rule change has led local families who are eligible to receive public benefits to forego support out of fear. Federal courts halted the rule’s implementation in October 2019, and the Advocacy Center continues to monitor ongoing litigation.

Our Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic is educating N.C. taxpayers on new regulations stemming from federal tax reform passed in 2018, while continuing to help taxpayers protect themselves from scams and fraud.

In conjunction with a new state law changed the waiting period for expunging non-violent misdemeanor and felony criminal convictions in 2017, the Advocacy Center began helping Mecklenburg County residents apply for removal of non-violent, eligible offenses from their criminal records. This project sought to remove barriers to economic mobility that come with having a criminal record. In FY19, we assisted 217 people to expunge criminal records in N.C. and advocated for passage of expanded eligibility for expungements in the N.C. General Assembly.

In 2016, the Advocacy Center partnered with Central Piedmont Community College’s Single Stop program to provide legal assistance that helps students overcome barriers to their education and pursue economic opportunity. In the first two years, the partnership provided $72,855 in legal assistance while obtaining or preserving $103,462 in public benefits for students and their families.

Access to quality, affordable health care

The Advocacy Center has been litigating to ensure families have the health care they are entitled to receive under the law through major cases, including:

  • Pashby v. Cansler, later Pettigrew v. Brajer: The lawsuit, initially named Pashby v. Cansler, was filed in 2011 by the Advocacy Center, Disability Rights N.C. and the National Health Law Program, alleging that the state violated federal Medicaid law and the Americans with Disabilities Act by determining eligibility for personal care services under more restrictive criteria for people living at home than for those who live in institutional settings known as adult care homes. A settlement was reached in 2016, allowing vulnerable citizens who need health services to safely remain in their homes and have their services restored.
  • Pachas v. NCDHHS: The Advocacy Center brought the case on behalf of a terminally ill man, who had been the primary provider for his wife, two young daughters, and elderly in-laws. Pachas was trying to support his family on Social Security disability benefits before eventually qualifying for Medicaid benefits that covered his medical treatment for a stroke and a brain tumor. Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services determined Pachas’ income was above the federal poverty level based on the level of an individual, not for a family, and required him to pay a large deductible on his Medicaid benefits. In 2018, attorneys argued before the N.C. Court of Appeals that the state was violating federal Medicaid law in applying its definition of family size to determine eligibility for benefits. The N.C. Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in 2018 and unanimously ruled in favor of the Center to vacate the Court of Appeals ruling. The case is now with the Court of Appeals for a ruling on the merits of the case.
  • Hawkins v. Cohen: The Advocacy Center and the National Health Law Program filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2017 to stop illegal terminations of Medicaid benefits in North Carolina that resulted in a preliminary injunction and a certified class action.  The improper actions included due process violations, failure to reasonably accommodate the disabled, and creating barriers to access for recipients with limited English proficiency. The class action is ongoing. As a result, the state changed its computer system earlier this year to stop Medicaid coverage from automatically terminating when a county worker does not timely complete a required eligibility review. Under this programming change, Medicaid coverage for more than 124,000 cases was extended in the past two months that would otherwise have been terminated without notice.

With the first open enrollment season for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Advocacy Center launched the Health Insurance Navigator project to help consumers understand their options and get the health care they needed under the new law.

Since 2013, we’ve helped thousands of people understand their options and get health coverage, while reducing the state’s uninsured rate. The navigator project has been recognized as a national model and received a visit from Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in 2015.

At the end of 2019, our health insurance navigators completed their seventh open enrollment season, helping residents in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties understand their coverage options in a changing healthcare landscape to select health plan that meet their individual needs and budget.

The ACA included opportunity for states to expand their Medicaid programs and close the coverage gap for low-income people to insure all Americans. The Advocacy Center began advocating for expansion of the state’s Medicaid program in the N.C. General Assembly, which has failed to act. Expansion would insure an estimated 500,000 NC residents who make too little to afford private health coverage but too much to receive financial assistance paying for coverage. Expansion also would have lowered overall health costs for residents and spurred an estimated $2.9 billion in business growth by 2020.

Today we are still urging the N.C. General Assembly to expand Medicaid so that more residents have access to health care. Residents like Allan.

The N.C. General Assembly approved changes to the state’s Medicaid program in 2015 that privatized the administration of the program. The Advocacy Center has been working with providers and beneficiaries to make sure they understand what the change means and how to continue receiving health care. The Advocacy Center is also monitoring the change to ensure access under the law. The implementation of the new program was supposed to take place in fall 2019, but it has been delayed due to the legislature’s inability to pass a budget.

Protection from exploitation

To improve quality of life and ensure independence, the Advocacy Center has worked to empower seniors through education, legal representation and specific services that enable them to remain self-sufficient, their property unencumbered and their finances protected through the Legal Services for the Elderly program and other projects.

The Advocacy Center’s Consumer Protection program has continually worked to protect low-income people from scams and bad actors taking advantage of vulnerable groups who lack access to resources to understand their rights as consumers.

Immigrants have historically been targets for exploitation in our country. The current administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward immigrants who are undocumented has exacerbated their vulnerability and stoked fear in families, regardless of immigration status.

For 12 years, Mecklenburg County’s 287(g) program facilitated hundreds of deportations by assisting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in implementing federal immigration enforcement at the local level. The voluntary program directed police to target, arrest and hold residents living in our community without a legal immigration status.

This practice tore families apart, made immigrants vulnerable targets and eroded trust of law enforcement, all while diverting local taxpayer funds away from public safety to enforce federal immigration policy, which is outside the jurisdiction of local law enforcement agencies. The Advocacy Center has long believed this policy has harmed our community by undermining public safety, depriving individuals of due process, wasting county resources, and exposing tax payers to potential legal settlements.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden ended the 287(g) program in late 2018 after winning election on the issue. In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the N.C. General Assembly’s mandate that local sheriffs cooperate with ICE and honor detainer requests. The Advocacy Center continues to monitor local and state policies that negatively impact immigrants in our community.

In 2018, the Advocacy Center fought against ICE presence in our courts after officials arrested a woman and her 16-year-old son at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, leaving her 2-year-old child behind in the court’s day care center as they took her into custody and placed her in deportation proceedings. This woman, Maria, and her son are survivors of domestic violence who were appearing for a hearing in their case.

The arrest became part of a national dialogue on how ICE activity in courthouses negatively impacts public safety and the ability for crime victims, especially victims of domestic violence, to seek justice.

The Charlotte Immigration Court later terminated her deportation case with the support of ICE, allowing Maria and her family to remain in the U.S. as they pursued a U-Visa, which provides protected status to victims of crime. The victory came after months of negotiation with ICE through the partnership of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Comunidad Colectiva and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

In response to increased ICE activity since 2017, the Advocacy Center has partnered with community groups, including Action NC, Comunidad Colectiva, El Puente Hispano and the Latin American Coalition to help individuals understand their civil rights and provide emergency planning for families in the event of family separation through arrest and deportation.

A decade of justice

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has covered a lot of ground over the  last 10 years, but the gap between access and justice remains wide.

In the decade ahead, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy remains committed to closing that gap by building a more just community where all are treated fairly and have access to legal representation to meet their basic needs and thrive.

In 2020 and beyond…

We will always fight to ensure

  • Access to our legal system
  • Affordable housing and protection from housing displacement
  • All feel welcome in our community
  • Economic mobility
  • Access to quality, affordable health care
  • Protection from exploitation

While the means to accomplishing our mission will change with the needs of our community, our resolve to pursue justice for those in need remains constant. Because we believe …

justice lives here.

10 things to remember when buying a used car

Buying a used car can sometimes feel overwhelming. Consumer protection attorney Edward Byron lists the top 10 things to keep in mind when buying a used car.

  1. Know the market value. Check resources at your local library or websites like kbb.com, nadaguides.com, or edmunds.com to find out the market value of the year, make, and model you want to buy before you visit the dealership
  2. Research the dealership. Check out the dealership with the state Attorney General’s Office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or N.C. Department of Justice website. Also check your local Better Business Bureau before you go. Read reviews using websites like Google and Yelp.
  3. Get pre-approved. Get pre-approved for a loan before you head to the dealership. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what kinds of cars you can afford and what interest rate you can qualify for. Be aware that dealerships may profit by charging you a higher interest rate than what you actually qualify for.
  4. Price first, then the rest. Negotiate the price of the car before discussing the monthly payments or your trade-in’s value, otherwise you can be tricked into paying far more for the vehicle than it is worth. 
  5. Front-end add-ons like paint treatment, fabric finish, undercoating, appearance packages are very expensive and add little value to the car. If you agree to pay for them, make sure you get them.
  6. Back-end add-ons like GAP insurance and service contracts may provide little coverage. Be sure you understand what is covered and what isn’t before you decide to buy. 
  7. Most used cars are sold “as-is.” This means that if the vehicle breaks down days after you buy it, there is usually very little that you can do. So, be sure to test drive the vehicle, inspect the car thoroughly, and consider taking the car to a mechanic and body shop that you trust before you buy.
  8. Find out about the car’s history. Ask the dealership whether the car has ever been in an accident and get the answer in writing. Get a Carfax or AutoCheck vehicle history report.
  9. Review the vehicle history disclosure statement. This document is required by law and shows if the car has been involved in a major accident or has been salvaged or flooded.
  10. Always read contracts carefully before you sign them and make sure all written documents match what you’ve been promised. Never sign a document that you don’t understand or that has blanks to be filled in later. 
  11. Get a copy of all purchase and financing documents before you leave the dealership and keep them in a safe place (not in the car’s glove compartment, just in case the car is repossessed). 

If you still have questions or you think you have been taken advantage of by a used car dealer, contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and ask to speak to someone in ourConsumer Protection Program.