Small Businesses Sued Over Credit Card Equipment

Legal experts say the businesses are victims of a scam

Credit cards are the lifeblood of most small businesses, and Jack Emanuel's is no exception.

"It's a good 75% of the business. People want to use credit cards," says Emanuel.

Last year, a card processing salesman came to his Brookfield computer repair shop with an attractive leasing offer, but an unusual approach. He offered to lease Jack the processing equipment for 50 dollars a month, with no other fees or charges.

"I didn't sign anything with him, but he did ask to see my last agreement, brought it outside, came back after a minute did a handshake with me, and said I'd have a machine by the end of the week, " recalls Emanuel.

Within a month, Emanuel says the problems started. He noticed money coming out of his bank account. Hundreds of dollars at a clip. After what he describes as countless unreturned e-mails and phone calls, he closed his bank account, but the invoices continued to arrive. Earlier this year, he received a notice of a lawsuit from an attorney for Lease Finance Group for 2,302 dollars as well the copy of the contract he says he'd never seen before.

"I'm guessing he photographed my signature off my old contract and somehow put it on that, cause that's my exact signature, but I never saw that or signed it," says Emanuel.

New York attorney Krishnan Chittur says Jack's story about Lease Finance Group and its parent company Northern Leasing Systems is far from unique.

"It's a scam because when you keep getting the same complaints over and over, then any responsible businessman is going to say there's something wrong with this," says Chittur,.

In 2013, the New York Attorney General reached a settlement with Northern Leasing Systems and its affiliates based on what the AG described as a scheme "to drain nearly $11 million from the bank accounts of small business customers in New York State and across the country."

But Chittur says the lawsuits continue. He's represented hundreds of business owners who've had dealings with Northern Leasing and Lease Finance Group.

"We've gotten a lot of calls from law enforcement but at the end of the day, they're still in business," says Chittur.

In a search of New York County's electronic court database, the Troubleshooters found 33,000 suits filed by Northern Leasing Systems and another 4,000 with Lease Finance Group listed as plaintiff over the past two decades.

Chittur says most people just settle the cases because the cost of traveling to New York City for litigation is too high.

But Michele Leite of Milford did not back down from what she calls a "big, abusive bully."

In 2006, she leased credit card equipment for her Bridgeport gallery, but had to close her business because her father fell ill.

"I sent the equipment back, thinking I was done with it. Debits kept coming out of my checking account for up to four months after the shop had closed," says Leite

Six years later, Northern Leasing Systems sued her for $1700, but instead of simply paying and putting it behind her, she hired a lawyer and decided to fight.

"It is a matter of being harassed and wanting to defend myself. I have lost money. I have lost time. I have lost sleep, but it really is a principle issue," says Leite.

Meanwhile, Jack Emanuel is still in limbo and his business is struggling to regain momentum. He's decided he will never gain give anyone access to his bank accounts, As a result, he now requires customers to pay by either cash or check.

"A lot of people hear that I don't take credit cards and they go somewhere else that does... so it hurts the business quite a bit," says Emanuel.

The State of Connecticut is now getting involved. The Attorney General's office and Department of Consumer Protection have subpoenaed documents from both Northern Leasing Systems and Lease Finance Group.

Michele Leite's case is set to go to trial in the next few weeks.

Northern Leasing declined to comment on Leite’s case. A spokesman said the firm prides itself on the fairness of its business practices.

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