The State of Lending: Debt Settlement | Center for Responsible Lending

Debt settlement companies offer the promise of settling a consumer’s debt for a fraction of what they owe. The idea is simple: debt settlement companies offer to negotiate down the outstanding debt (usually from credit cards) owed to a more manageable amount so that a consumer can become debt free. Unfortunately debt settlement carries significant risks that may result in consumers becoming even worse off.

Debt settlement is inherently a risky venture: in order to enroll into debt settlement programs, consumers are required to default on their debt which often results in fees, increased interest rates, and sometimes even lawsuits from creditors. Even after assuming all this risk, consumers are offered no guarantees; in fact, some creditors refuse to negotiate with debt settlement companies at all. Even if a settlement is reached, a consumer unable to keep up with the new settlement arrangement risks falling back into default – and now without the fees paid to the debt settlement company for negotiating the agreement. CRL finds that consumers must settle at least two-thirds of the debt they enroll in a debt settlement program to benefit, a result that many will not achieve.

This chapter examines the debt settlement industry, the risks to consumers, and recommends actions at both the federal and state levels to reduce the potential harm to consumers.

The chapter finds:

  • Debt settlement is a risky strategy for debt reduction – and often leaves consumers more financially vulnerable.

  • Consumers must settle two-thirds of their debt to be better off than they were before – and many consumers are unlikely to reach that level of success.

  • Strong state and federal laws could curb risks associated with debt settlement.

Source: The State of Lending: Debt Settlement | Center for Responsible Lending

148,000,000 American ID’s at Risk – 5th UPDATE 05/11/2018

Credit Bureau Breached – 143,000,000 American ID’s at Risk – Use The Below Links

identitytheft (1)

Equifax, one of the major credit reporting agencies in the United States discovered their security systems have been breached.

Social Security, Driver License, Dates of Birth, Addresses and other personal information has been stolen.

This effects about half the population of the USA.

See if your personal information is potentially impacted. Schedule now to see if your ID has been compromised. There is no cost to you. Register now, there is a lag time. Many others are also registering.

Although it is a huge pain in the posterior (both to implement and to deal with when you apply for credit) I am now placing a freeze on my credit, too, with each of the four credit bureaus.

Equifax Freeze Link

TransUnion Credit Freeze

Experian Credit Freeze


The downside is having to remove the freeze whenever you wish to apply for new credit, open a new account with a financial institution, obtain insurance or in some cases get a new job. Another downside is having to pay to release the freeze for a specific purpose or to have it removed. And there are the new PIN numbers to keep safe. Aaarg.

It is actually rather easy to set up a freeze on your credit files with the three bureaus. I don’t think this can be said for the “free” credit report/free credit score sites. Frankly, I don’t think you can do anything to protect your information once it is provided to the “free” service provider.

Frankly, if Equifax cannot keep my information secure, I am not about to provide my personal information to sites that offer free credit and free scores. I have never forgotten what Robert Heinlein wrote in 1966: TANSTAFFL.


UPDATE September 11, 2017

The following information was provided to me this morning by EQUIFAX pursuant to my registration to determine whether my ID had been compromised.

A Progress Update for Consumers

September 11, 2017

We are committed to keeping consumers updated on the steps we are taking to provide them with the support they need and address any issues they are facing in response to this incident. We recognize that some consumers continue to face challenges and in response we have made the following updates:

1) Adjusted our PIN Generation for Security Freezes
We understand and appreciate that consumers have questions about how a PIN is currently generated for a consumer initiating an Equifax security freeze solution. All consumers placing a security freeze will be provided a randomly generated PIN.

2) Call Center Support
When we recognized that Hurricane Irma could impact some of our call center wait times, we arranged to ramp up agents quickly to replace agents impacted by the storm and updated our website to make consumers aware of the situation.

3) Clarification Regarding Automatic Sign-Up to TrustedID Premier
We are not requesting consumers’ credit card information when they sign up for the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection we are offering to all U.S. consumers. Consumers who sign up for TrustedID Premier will not be automatically enrolled or charged after the conclusion of the complimentary year of TrustedID Premier.

4) Obvious Link from
To make it easier for consumers to find the website dedicated to providing information about this incident, we have reconfigured our website,, to feature the link more prominently.

5) Adjusted the TrustedID Premier and Clarified
We’ve added an FAQ to our website to confirm that enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not waive any rights to take legal action. We removed that language from the Terms of Use on the website, The Terms of Use on do not apply to the TrustedID Premier product being offered to consumers as a result of the cybersecurity incident.

We are listening to issues consumers have experienced and their suggestions. These are helping to further inform our actions, and we are now sharing regular updates on this website. Thank you for your continued patience and feedback as we continue to improve this process.

Following are the snips I gathered while enrolling in the EQUIFAX Trusted ID this AM.

Equifax JS ID Compromised

My ID has been impacted

Equifax JS Enrolled in Trusted ID

For better or worse, this is what it is.

UPDATE: Here is an article from Mawlwarebytes, published on September 14, 2017, which offers additional insights into identity protection: Equifax aftermath: How to protect against identity theft 

UPDATE: 10/3/2017: Here is an article from HousingWire updating (increasing) the number of consumer files breached: EQUIFAX reveals data breach bigger than first thought. Fret not, Equifax won the NO BID contract to protect all IRS files from being hacked. Seriously. I can’t make this up. For more info you may read this from NPR.

Never too late to join the party, the FTC weighs in as of December 13, 2017 with this post: Fraud Alert, Freeze or Lock after Equifax? FAQs

UPDATE: February 5, 2018 – “The Trump administration has chosen to protect Equifax while denying Americans justice and accountability.”

February 6, 2018 – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday said he wants to know how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is handling a probe into a hack of credit bureau Equifax Inc (EFX.N) after a report that the agency’s chief has pulled back from investigating the matter. Treasury’s Mnuchin says he wants answers on Equifax breach

February 6, 2018 – Consumer Affairs – Report claims CFPB is backing away from Equifax probe – Sources say the consumer agency shows little interest in the agency’s 2017 data breach

February 8, 2018 – Democratic senators demand answers on CFPB’s stalled Equifax data breach investigation

February 22, 2018 – Specifically, the [House] Democrats want Equifax to provide at least three years of credit protection and identity theft services to the breach victims, rather than the one year Equifax is currently providing.

UPDATE: March 1, 2018 – Oh Joy! <insert sarcasm font> BREAKING NEWSEquifax reveals 2.4 million more people were victims of data breach Equifax revealed Thursday that an additional 2.4 million people are victims of the company’s 2017 data breach. Initially, the company said the personal information of approximately 143 million people was stolen. Now, it turns out that the number of victims is actually closer to 148 million. Click the headline to read more. Sadly,  Trump’s Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, a/k/ the Dual-Hatted Acting Director of the CFPB will do nothing to help/direct Equifax protect our private information.

March 1, 2018 – Equifax’s bottom line not dented by data breach, profits rose 20% in 2017 – Net income up 40% in fourth quarter

UPDATE: May 11, 2018 – Equifax reveals how much information was really exposed in data breach How Bad Was It? Bad.

The credit agency did not reveal any new, previously unknown victims of the breach, but it did detail the types of identifiable information, and how much of it, that was left exposed because of the breach.

In its letter, Equifax said that the names and dates of birth for approximately 146.6 million people were exposed, as well as 145.5 million Social Security numbers, the address information for 99 million people, the gender data for 27.3 million people, 20.3 million consumers’ phone numbers, 17.6 million driver’s license numbers, 1.8 million email addresses, 209,000 payment card numbers and expiration dates, 97,500 tax ID numbers, and the state information for 27,000 driver’s licenses. See the chart below for a full breakdown.

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Financially Speaking™ James Spray RMLO, CNE, FICO Pro | CO LMO 100008715 | NMLS 257365 | September 8, 2017 | Most recent update: May 11, 2018

Notice: The information on this blog is opinion and information. When a business is named, it is not due to commercial purposes as I do not accept or solicit compensation from any individual or entity which may be mentioned. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only. You may use this information in whole and not in part providing you give full attribution to James Spray.


National Elder Abuse Resources and Colorado Financial Elder Abuse Mandatory Reporting Law

Elderly folks tend to be more trusting and less informed of the latest scams, making them the perfect target. To learn more about elder abuse, on the national level, two great resources are the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the National Center on Elder Abuse.

In Colorado, there is the Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights and Abuse Prevention.

As well, Colorado has a mandatory reporting law (including financial abuse) for certain categories of professionals and other workers.

Sadly, it is all too common where a family member is committing financial abuse of a parent, grandparent or other senior family member.

While it is encouraged that reporters of elder financial abuse contact local law enforcement, we’ve learned many local law enforcement agencies are unaware of the Colorado financial elder abuse law and are not trained on how to deal with it.

To report elder abuse in Colorado, the first option is to contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) intake office within the county department of human services were the at-risk adult lives. Click anywhere in this sentence for a current list of phone numbers to report elder abuse.

If reporting to the county APS office is not a viable option, contact the District Attorney’s office for the county in which the at-risk adult lives.

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Financially Speaking™ James Spray RMLO, CNE, FICO Pro | CO LMO 100008715 | NMLS 257365 |August 26, 2017

Notice: The information on this blog is opinion and information. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only. You may use this information in whole and not in part providing you give full attribution to James Spray.

A Bankrupted Second Mortgage Can Foreclose

Sleeping dragon

Be aware, sleeping dragons can awaken.

The second mortgage can foreclose even after the Promissory Note was eliminated with a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Discharge. Quite simply, the second mortgage initiates the foreclosure process under the rights of the second mortgage Trust Deed subject to the rights of the first mortgage trust deed.

By foreclosing under these circumstances, the holder of the second mortgage, following a specific legal action starting with the posting of a three day notice, may evict the residents. Should one be threatened with a three day notice to quit the property, you may wish to immediately call your attorney as this is a serious invitation to professionally negotiate a short settlement immediately.

By way of background, once the payments to the second mortgage aren’t made, the mortgage is in default. The mortgage holder has four separate options to protect its interest. First, it can do nothing and sit on its rights. Second, in Colorado, it can initiate a Public Trustee foreclosure. Third, it can file for a judicial foreclosure, although this rare in Colorado. Fourth, it may buy-out the first deed of trust and thereby perfect its position. If the junior (second) mortgage selects either the second or third option, it is most likely that the first deed of trust will also foreclose.

The Basics

A mortgage consists of two legal documents: the Promissory Note and the Deed of Trust or Trust Deed (TD). The second TD lives on, in virtually all cases, following the Chapter 7 Discharge.

Equity is returning to many real estate markets throughout the country. Among the markets enjoying substantial equity growth are several areas in Colorado, particularly along the Front Range as well as many mountain and resort counties.

Statute of Limitations

The Statute of Limitations (SOL) on a second mortgage is 15 years following the original due date; however there are exceptions and particular legal nuances which apply to this SOL. To determine how the SOL may or may not apply to a particular set of facts, you are advised to consult with legal counsel well versed with both bankruptcy and real estate law. One needs to understand that TD that has been written off continues to be a collectible debt for so long as the SOL hasn’t run the term. Written off is merely an accounting term, nothing more or less. Written off is not a ‘get out of debt free’ card.

The Short Payoff

Let’s discuss possible solutions to this situation which is becoming more common as equity returns to certain real estate market.

A short payoff occurs when a borrower cannot pay the mortgage on the property and is allowed to sell the property for less than the full amount due. This results in a loss to both the lender/servicer and the investor. All parties must agree to the mortgage being paid “short”. Providing there is a ‘make sense deal’, the lender will do this so as to avoid the expense and time of the foreclosure process. Given there are several parties involved in this decision making process, reaching consensus can take quite a lot of time – often months.

Short Payoff Settlement -Financial Negotiation

Typically the least successful negotiator is the one with an emotional involvement in the negotiation. The saying, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, describes this situation quite well: “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

This is a business transaction which may involve disclosing your income, assets, liabilities as well as proof of your ability to pay a certain amount to obtain a Release of the Trust Deed. It is suggested that by having a well prepared Comparative Market Analysis coupled with a professional Home Inspection Report to submit with your proof of ability to pay will be beneficial to reach a decision. You may expect the lender/servicer will pull a credit report in addition to thoroughly investigating your request for a short payoff settlement. They must and will investigate and verify who you say you are and your circumstances. Short Payoff Fraud is of great concern to lenders and investors alike which explains, to some degree, how difficult these negotiations can be.

Short Payoff Settlement – Hardship Negotiation

Hardship criteria include: involuntary unemployment; divorce; long-term disability; a change of employment that is more than 50 miles from the current home; a business failure; death of the primary or secondary wage earner; or a natural or man-made disaster.

I had the opportunity to assist a senior couple negotiate a hardship short payoff on a “written off” second mortgage last year. This second mortgage had been discharged in a 2011 Chapter 7 and had been “written off” a few years before the bankruptcy case was filed. The principle balance due on this second was $55,000.00; the final settlement to Release the Trust Deed was just under $7,000.00.

From the time this negotiation process began until it was successfully completed took 220 days. The hardship in this situation was long-term disability with both borrowers. We documented both of their hardships with letters from their physicians as well as photographs and x-rays documenting specific medical procedures. Finally we documented their ability to pay the negotiated short payoff by providing evidence of the gifted funds in a bank checking account.

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Financially Speaking™  James Spray, MLO, CNE, FICO Pro | CO LMO 100008715 | NMLS 257365 | April 15, 2014

Notice: The information on this blog is opinion and information. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only. You may use this information in whole and not in part providing you give full attribution to James Spray.

Internet Mortgages: Are Ya’ Feelin’ Lucky?


This is a true story involving one of my clients. This is not about one of my mortgage customers. This is a client who hired me as an expert witness. He brought me aboard to help clear up a mess created when he sought and was approved for a mortgage refinance via an out-of-state lender he found on the Internet.

We’ll call my client Jed (not his real name). He determined that it was time to refinance and take advantage of the lowest mortgage interest rates in history. He searched the Internet, found a lender and applied for a plain vanilla, no-cash out, rate-term refinance. In other words, he simply wanted to shorten his loan from 30 to 15 years and get a lower interest rate.

Everything on the Internet is true… Right?

Jed found an out-of-state Internet lender who, for discussion purposes, we’ll call KwikNEZeeLoans.k0d (KNEZL)*. Jed researched KNEZL as best he could prior to submitting his refinance loan application. Not surprisingly, the information Jed was able to gather on the Internet about KNEZL was positive. Indeed, they have a high powered CEO who, prior to founding this company, had an impressive track record with one of the original Internet mortgage lenders. As we all know, everything on the Internet is true.

The initial interest rate offered was great! Almost unbelievably great, as the rate offered was 2.5% while most others were quoting rates in the range of 2.75/2.875% for Colorado at the time of his loan application.

Rate increase was not surprising.

Sufficient groundwork has been established, so let’s jump to one of the endings – indeed, the most obvious ending. You are quite right, perceptive reader; Jed did not get the initially promised deal. He ended up with an interest rate of 2.75%. Although a great rate, it’s not the rate initially offered. However this was not the most disturbing problem and the rate bump wasn’t really a huge surprise.

Was this attempted theft by conversion?

Let us now get to the real thrust of this story, and why Jed hired me in the first place. Jed paid his original lender the August payment. Jed’s loan with the Internet lender closed in August. The payment to Jed’s original lender was shown on the HUD1 Settlement Statement at closing as a credit to reduce the principal balance. In fact, it was not credited to the principal so he paid, in essence, an unearned bonus to the Internet lender in the amount of his entire monthly mortgage payment – principal, interest, taxes and insurance in the amount of about $2,500.00. Note that this amount was disclosed, just not credited in fact for Jeb’s benefit. Had this error not been corrected, it is conceivable this could be considered theft by deception and may have required a lawsuit to resolve. On such a lawsuit, it is possible the damages could have been trebled as well as having all legal fees paid. In such a situation as this, where an expert is required, it is typical for the expert fees to be paid along with all other legal fees including attorney fees and court costs.

Or just an honest mistake?

On the surface, one could have observed this Internet lender casually pocketed Jed’s August payment and only properly credited it for him when two events occurred. First, I had been retained to investigate the transaction. And second, upon my strong suggestion, Jeb filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“Bureau”). The Bureau is perceived as being the nine hundred pound gorilla charged with protecting consumers of virtually all financial services conducted in the United States.
I am truly hopeful this oversight was not done as a normal course of business by this Internet lender. If this was deliberate, such activity is outrageous as very few customers would ever notice such deceptive accounting as the correct amount was printed on the Settlement Statement. As such, all appeared to be straightforward and honest.

The rest of the story.

Jeb’s loan closed in August 2012. He was concerned that the August payment he made to his former lender prior to the closing was not reflected on his final statement from the previous lender. The funds appeared to have vanished. He began writing letters to his new lender and his former lender attempting to get an accounting of his missing money. He received no responses from anyone. His phone calls were likewise ignored. Out of exasperation he called me in late October and explained the situation. I suggested that rather than engage me, just yet, he should go around all the middle people and write directly to the CEO of his new lender to see if he could get satisfaction. By the time he hired me in early December, he still could not get a response from his new lender. After four months he was fed up with getting the complete brush off. He was quite ready for me to document the problem(s) in order to file a lawsuit and force the issue into open court. For what it’s worth, KNEZL reimbursed Jed for my fees.

Jed is very detail oriented and a sophisticated borrower. 

He knew something was wrong, just not what it was. Rightly, he sought the help of an expert to help find exactly what was wrong. Frankly, though, no one should have to hire an expert to audit the closing trail to assure that the promised refinance was delivered as promised.

* KwikNEZeeLoans.kod (KNEZL) is a fictional name created entirely from my imagination.
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Financially Speaking™ James Spray, MLO, CNE, FICO Pro 
CO LMO 100008715 | NMLS 257365 | January 11, 2013
Notice: The information on this blog is opinion and information. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only. You may use this information in whole and not in part providing you give full attribution to James Spray.

Know Your Credit Reports – Your Credit Scores Will Follow


I trust that my regular readers understand that all mortgage lenders in the US rely only on FICO® Scores in credit lending decisions, not FAKO® Scores. In fact, the vast majority of lenders of any stripe rely on FICO® Scores, not FAKO Scores. Lenders do not rely on the scores sold to consumers under various brand names such as those referenced in this partial listing of FAKO Scores:,,,,,,, Free Credit Click,,,,,,,,, et al. To be clear, these scores are for consumer amusement purposes only. The “free scores” are not, in fact, without cost. Many can expect to get junk mail and spam offers for high cost credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and etc. Remember, too, you are providing a great deal of personal information. Be careful out there.

We suggest that one focus far less, if at all, on FAKO credit scores and more on the facts which are reported to the Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs). It is from these facts that credit scores are derived.  One has no control over the mathematical predictive tools developed by the math scientists at FICO®. We only have control over how we interact with our creditors. Do we pay on time? Do we overextend ourselves?

The details of the information reported hold the keys to your scores. Get your free annual credit report.  Check to see if everything reported is accurate. If not, initiate dispute action(s) to correct the errors. The more one understands what is being reported and how it affects scores, the easier it is to improve credit scores. There are important consumer rights guaranteed by federal consumer financial law, These rights are best preserved by first going through the credit reporting company’s complaint process. If you are still not satisfied, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now accepting consumer complaints against CRA’s. Given this link is not very easy to find, this is the CFPB CRA complaint link.

Those buying credit scores tend to buy this.

Those buying credit scores tend to buy this, too.

The (CFPB) has issued a report and set up a consumer resource center to learn about the scores used by lenders. There are excellent guides and details about almost everything one wants to know about consumer credit on the CFPB site. The CFPB provides a wonderful site for facts presented with little bias. For facts and tip on improving and managing your FICO scores this blog is an excellent resource; all that’s required is the application of the techniques coupled with your discipline to manage your use of credit.

I think the essence of the CFPB report on what I call FAKO Scores is the sellers of these scores are simply taking advantage of consumers every which way possible. Will this be determined to be deceptive or false advertising? Will a disclosure that these are not lending scores suffice for adequate consumer protection? Or will the broad new powers granted the CFBP bring forth an era of strong consumer protection. Will this new protection balance with the borrowing needs of home buyers? Only time will tell.

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Financially Speaking™ James Spray, MLOCNE, FICO Pro 
CO LMO 100008715 | NMLS 257365 | December 11, 2012

Notice: The information on this blog is opinion and information. While I have made every effort to link accurate and complete information, I cannot guarantee it is correct. Please seek legal assistance to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. This information is not legal advice and is for guidance only. You may use this information in whole and not in part providing you give full attribution to James Spray.

Rent to Own After Foreclosure/Short Sale?

I frequently hear questions like this: “We just short-sold our home and we have to move. We want to rent to own, or get a lease option to purchase.” 

My answer is, no, you really do not want to do this and following are some of the reasons why.

In most cases, the earliest one will be eligible for a new mortgage following the conclusion of a short sale is three years, and it may be as much as four. Some think that FHA will begin to lighten the regulations on purchasing after short sale, but to date, this has not happened. Conventional lenders aren’t allowed to fund a new mortgage for a minimum of five years (up from four last year) following a short sale. I will continue to discuss this topic periodically until the housing finance market opens up to more sensible underwriting standards.

In spite of well intentioned information to the contrary, a short sale, by any other name, is still one’s failure to complete the terms of a contract.

 Be very cautious about ‘Lease to Purchase’ or ‘Rent to Own’ offers. Many are frauds, and some, while not outright frauds, may be based on false premises. Check the fraud alerts section of your State Attorney General’s office and do your due diligence via the Better Business Bureau as well as the Bad Business Bureau. Do not sign a lease/purchase or rent to own contract without having your own attorney bless the transaction. Paying a legal fee of a few hundred dollars on the front end can save you thousands on the back end – as well as providing a certain measure of assurance and a great deal of savings on your emotional investment.

Cases of inadvertent or initially unintentional fraud are not uncommon. By way of explaining, a client came to me after not one, but two back-to-back lease to own frauds. Emotionally, she felt she had to own a property to assure herself she was a truly worthy person. In both cases, she entered contracts to purchase at a later date, paid her deposits and advance lease payments. In both cases, the landlord or pseudo-seller defaulted on their mortgage payments and in both cases the client was evicted following the foreclosures on her former landlords. The moral of this story is to perform your due diligence. You may wish to hire your trusted local Realtor to look into the public records of the particular property you are thinking of leasing.

Particularly following a short sale or foreclosure, aside from being on a short term hiatus from obtaining your own home loan, it is perfectly fine to be a renter. As stated by one of the most successful Realtors in the USA, Larry Nordine a/k/a The Big Kahuna, “There is a lot to be said for renting.” Finally, keep in mind what Vincent Daniel says: “A home without equity is just a rental with debt.”

As always do not hesitate to write back with comments or questions.  I read everything that comes back, even though I don’t always get a chance to respond as quickly as I would like.

Financially Speaking – James Spray, CCMB, CNE – June 25, 2011

Legal Notice: The content of this blog are copyright 2011 by First Place Development Corporation. All rights reserved – Reproducing any of this document is prohibited without express written consent from James Spray. Protected by U.S. Copyright Law – Title 17 U.S.C. Section 101 et seq., Title 18 U.S.C. Section 2319 – Violations can be punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $250,000
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