Woman Deceased in 1995 Continued to Robo Sign Till at Least 2008

How, may you ask, can a woman who has been dead since 1995 sign documents more than a decade later? Normally, one would hazard to guess that stamps with her signature on them were still in use (this is more common than you would think in foreclosure land). That would be plenty troubling.

But this little account comes from the debt collection realm, a cesspool of bad practices. Here, the credit card company Providian (acquired by WaMu in 2005) had employees signing affidavits in the name of Martha Kunkle for over a decade. Debt collection agencies continued to use these bogus affidavits. From the Wall Street Journal:

In 2008, Judy Montoya, an employee at Portfolio Recovery Associates, testified in a debt-collection suit filed by the company that its “legal specialists” sign as many as 200 affidavits a day. The company’s spokeswoman said such employees sign an average of 100 affidavits a day and are guided by “a very rigorous set of policies and procedures.” Ms. Montoya couldn’t be reached to comment.

Questions about Martha Kunkle first popped up in 2008 after her name appeared in thousands of affidavits generated by a unit of Providian National Corp. The credit-card issuer sold an undisclosed number of delinquent account balances to Portfolio Recovery Associates and other debt collectors, which then sued the borrowers to collect the debt…..

Concerns about Ms. Kunkle’s affidavits were raised in 2008 by lawyers for Jeanie Cole, one of thousands of Montana residents sued by Portfolio Recovery Associates to collect debts. After failing to locate Ms. Kunkle, lawyers for Ms. Cole interviewed her daughter, who worked at Providian in a document-processing division.

The daughter testified in a deposition that other Providian employees used the name Martha Kunkle when signing affidavits. Along with other employees, the daughter was responsible for signing affidavits. After countersuing Portfolio Recovery Associates for alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Ms. Cole was the lead plaintiff in a 2008 federal-court suit in Montana alleging the company targeted 16,000 borrowers using “false and misleading” affidavits.

Last year, Portfolio Recovery Associates agreed to settle the Montana suit. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the company’s spokeswoman said it admitted no wrongdoing. She wouldn’t say how many borrowers were sued using documents signed by Martha Kunkle.

And it is not clear that this practice has stopped:

After being sued for fraud, Portfolio Recovery Associates decided in early 2008 that any documents bearing Ms. Kunkle’s name had “defects” and shouldn’t be used when trying to collect debts, a company spokeswoman said.

Last July, though, lawyers for Portfolio Recovery Associates sought a court judgment in a lawsuit against a Seattle woman for $2,892.10 in credit-card debt and interest that she allegedly owed. It was a cookie-cutter case, except for one thing: To vouch for the debt’s validity, the Norfolk, Va., company included an affidavit signed by Martha Kunkle.

The wording is ambiguous, but I would assume the affidavit is dated 2010, which means at best the continued use of Kunkle’s signature has not been fully eradicated.

How much of this sort of thing has not even come to light? Some people ignore debt collection letters to their peril, assuming if it is from a creditor they don’t recognize, or an obligation they paid off, that they can ignore it. The use of robo signers is an abuse precisely because someone with actual knowledge of situation is supposed to affirm in the affidavit that the plaintiff’s records really do show that the debt is owed and the amount listed is accurate. So the robo signers allow financial firms to skip a step that also served as a quality control on their procedures. That throws the cost of correcting mistakes and malfeasance on borrowers and the court system, in effect socializing the collateral damage of cost cutting run wild.

The fact that the perps themselves are not mortified to have been caught out demonstrates how much this country is in thrall of “might makes right” rather than the rule of law.

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  1. indio007

    They have to have a robo signers. There are hundreds of thousands of void judgments on the books going back 15-20 years. Without this little piece of fraud they can not prove a debt absent a confession. They have been getting away with these defective affidavits for YEARS. The sad part is this. The exact same thing is happening in the criminal justice system . It’s being used to get arrest and search warrants. Imaginary witnesses that don’t really exist is one of the plies of the legal trade

  2. attempter

    The fact that the perps themselves are not mortified to have been caught out demonstrates how much this country is in thrall of “might makes right” rather than the rule of law.

    That sums it up all right. Hobbes himself said that once the “leviathan” abdicates its common-good responsibility and abrogates the social contract, the people are thrown back into the state of nature, and are entitled to act accordingly. (I add: Act that way upward, toward all system “contracts”; we shouldn’t act that way among ourselves, where we can make decent agreements among ourselves.)

    This essence of fraudulent robo-signing must be essentially true for all banks, must it not? After all, they themselves are all insolvent and are propped up only by rogue government subisidies, “the Bailout”.

    So by definition any signing by any bank officer purporting to represent an actual debt to a fictive private entity (the banks are fictive because we own them) is a fraud, and therefore a crime.

    Well, that’s just some musing. I know that’s not the way “the law” works at the moment. But I wanted to offer an alternative way of looking at things.

    1. Matt

      Some majority of recent mortgages were securitized and/or serviced by the big 4 or 5 firms.
      That said, there are actual US bank institutions that lent money and never sold the mortgage.
      It would be interesting to see how much of the US 10 Trillion dollar mortgage debt has not been sold.

  3. razzz

    While some things considered moral are not considered legal and some things considered legal are not considered moral, without morals there are no laws to enforce. This is reflective of the current times.

    1. razzz

      This is a better comment on the state of affairs….

      October 11, 1798, John Adams: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

  4. dearieme

    “how much this country is in thrall of “might makes right” rather than the rule of law”: hell, it was founded on the principle of “might makes right”. It expanded on the principle that “might makes right”. That’s true too for most (all?) other countries, but some of them are less given to romanticising their origins or their present state.

  5. Tom Crowl

    The whole thing is getting very hard to take!

    What ‘thing’ do I refer to?

    Sure, the mortgage fiasco is a major part of it… and the current pathology in politics and business that make it all possible.

    But these sorts of stories are thousands of years old and come in a variety of forms… over and over again… in civilization after civilization.

    Gee… you’d think people would wonder about what it is that is behind that.

    NO!!! I don’t think its some several thousand year old conspiracy.

    But it IS a product of natural human drives… and the inadequacy of social technologies (finance,law and government are technologies) to keep up with the way societies evolve over time and with scale.

    THERE IS A FUNDAMENTAL SCALING ISSUE IN HUMAN SOCIETIES ASSOCIATED WITH NATURAL HUMAN COMMUNITY SIZE (Dunbar’s Number), THE ALTRUISM PROBLEM (there’s an unavoidable discontinuity between biological and intellectual altruism) AND COGNITIVE LIMITS (the “attention economy”).

    I don’t claim this is the root of every problem in the world… but it IS a significant element… and further by exploring these aspects we can begin to search for pragmatic solutions.

    Frankly we don’t have a lot of time… so for me… the thing that’s so hard to take is the lack of attention to any examination of the real roots of the problem.

    Social Networks & The Social Organism: Healing the Breach

    Re-Igniting the Enlightenment: On Building Landscapes for Decision

  6. eagerly beaverly

    yet another article on naked capitalism that directly relates to my practice of law.

    The real tragedy isn’t so much the robosigning, which admittedly is bad, but we all know in most cases the people owe the money – it’s the inflation of the debt that happens over the years.

    These Providian cards that were sold were crappy little credit cards issued to subprime borrowers with $500 or $1000 credit limits.

    Over the years with interest, over the limit fees, late fees, attorneys fees, costs of collections, and god knows what other random charges are put on there….a $500 or $1000 balance on a defaulted credit card transforms into a $2,892.10 like the case above. I see this on a daily basis.

    In my county, the judges say that ‘interest is interest, fees are fees’ and enter judgment based upon those affidavits. The more scrutinizing judges make sure the chain of title is correct, but that’s about it.

    I tell my clients that unless you have a valid defense, like “This is not me” or “I’ve paid off this credit card here is the proof” or “This debt is older than 10 years” then there isn’t much defense but there is a strategy. You show up to court on the date of trial and guess what – Ms. Krunkle who signed the affidavit is dead – so no witness shows up in court and the case is dismissed.

    Funny though, how everything has sort of an irony.

    Furthermore, over the years I’ve befriended these debt collectors and for the most part they’re actually decent people just trying make a living. They actually don’t make as much money as it appears – they’re just bottom feeders of sorts. For every 10 people they have judgments against, 1 will file bankruptcy before they can levy assets or wages, 1 will file immediately after, 3 don’t have jobs, and the other 4 don’t have any assets above the $4,000 exemption. They might get lucky and collect from one guy – and the first $500 or so dollars are usually just court fees and attorneys fees expended to even get to the judgment. It’s $200 bucks plus $60 for service in my county to collect on a $1,000 lawsuit. There are a lot of costs to recover.

    Regardless, the best thing to do is to just try and settle, if you have the money, they’ll usually take 40 cents on teh dollar or less if you throw out the work bankruptcy.

  7. eagerly beaverly

    I guess I’m just trying to say that despite all the robosigning, debt inflation, sometimes fraudulent activity – even with all of these short cuts – its extraordinarily difficult to collect the money. You can’t squeeze money from a stone or a deadbeat. A paper judgment for $2,800 based upon a dead robosigner is just that – a piece of paper. The debtor’s credit was ruined long ago when they stopped paying the $500 or $1000 card, they probably stopped paying all their credit cards, they usually owe at least two of the following creditors in addition to providan: victorias secret/T-Mobile/US Cellular/Comcast/Dish Network/local gas or electric company/Fingerhut/Capital One.

    They never have enough money in the bank account to levy, often their wages are too low for a garnishment *which is restricted to 15% of take home anyway; or the judgment dies before they can locate an employer to garnish. The court system is litered with dead judgments from past debt collectors. If the judgment is more than a few years old, it’s dead to them. They only want fresh judgments.

  8. eagerly beaverly

    I spoke with a debt collector just yesterday in fact about his collection efforts. He whacked my client’s bank account and paycheck at the same time. Unfortunately due to bankruptcy laws – my client’s administrative fine debt owed to my fine mid-western city – was not discharged last year in bankruptcy. So they whacked his paycheck. A $1,000 fine ballooned to $2,800 because of towing fees, collection costs, attorneys fees, and $800 interest at 9% per annum since 2005.

    I asked him how business was lately and he just put his head down and shrugged. Few are working full time jobs, few have more than $4,000 (the exemption limit) in their accounts to levy, often times the money is Social Security or otherwise. Times are tough for debt collectors now.

    They have the volume, lots of it, but they’re taking in less over all money. Talk about working longer & harder for less. The recession has effected nearly everyone except for teh banksters.

  9. Monika Haldey

    I sometimes wonder whether the entire robosigning “acknowledgement” by more of the media this fall– after *years* of consumer advocates and attorneys pointing out relentlessley that this *exact* same thing was going on – is but a distraction from years of criminal fraud. Incidentally, home seizures have moderately slowed, not stopped – the fact that attorneys at fairly prominent lawfirms have been committing felonies doesn’t matter in the USA. The fact that some judges with their aged custodial arrogance have decided to take the law into their own hands without being held accountable is the stuff of banana republics.
    Read William Black, he says the Justice Department will work diligently. to validate the mafia: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-k-black/the-role-of-the-criminal_b_802115.html
    The sons of bitches in DC, at Fannie Mae, in Congress, at the FHFA at the OCC, etc etc are all mere public officials and no one is above the law.

  10. Jim the Skeptic

    eagerly beaverly says: “They have the volume, lots of it, but they’re taking in less over all money.”

    They bought debt that the original creditor couldn’t collect. So they have a hard time collecting, act like scumbags, and now we should pity them! Sure!

    I pay my bills and always have. Now I am getting phone calls for some jerk who hasn’t paid his bills. Same surname but completely different given name, not even close!

    “Oh I thought this was his family.” or “Oh I was given this number.” or “Oh what is your name?” are all bullshit! These were fishing expeditions.

    And they are scumbags!

  11. deeringothamnus

    Could people here please comment on the possibility that the banks are deliberately throwing a wrench into the foreclosure process. Could this is a delaying tactic while the banks pray that property values increase?

  12. Chris

    Re this site and its search feature.
    I wanted to show someone the 12/28/10 story on racketeers and banks. Searched it, got the link internally and clicked on it.
    I continually get referred back to today’s page.

    Happy New Year and a hearty thank you to Yves for a great and informative site.

  13. sudop

    Debt collector skipped a few steps with me so I just chiseled on my taxes for a few years to get it back with about 400% interest. now everybody’s happy.

  14. DumpTheBankInfoJulian

    The lesson that we are continually teaching the next generation is that CRIME PAYS! And pays well.

    I sit in awe when I continue to hear these white collar crimes are going un-prosecuted. When I think I cannot be more shocked, yet another case comes to light that is even more unbelievable.

    When are we all going to stand up for morality and integrity in U.S. business? When are we going to stop just blogging about the unbelievable nature of these crimes and get to protesting this bullshit?

    I stand for the foreclosed homeowners every week at the trustee’s sales. I challenge each and every one of you bloggers….take up a protest sign and find the nearest business you want to stand in front of. This week I suggest Wells Fargo. Next week, Chase. Hold off on BOA until the Wikileaks dump, then they get it with gusto.

    1. aletheia33

      i agree that more of us need to be doing more than commenting on blogs. to help with this, can you serve as a model for us and fill us in on your own protest activities, and how you are managing to integrate them with keeping your job, keeping your mortgage servicer happy, raising your family, or whatever your own situation, etc.? i need the inspiration!

      to speak for myself, i am currently working with neighbors to figh an attempted sale and development of a public green space on the part of my local town government (long story, and educating myself about town government in the process, so as to perhaps become further involved in same, with the understanding that holding the local community together is going to be crucial in the coming hard times for local governments). and i am talking with everyone i know about the nationwide foreclosure abuses, which to my surprise none of them know anything about until i tell them. meanwhile i am working on keeping myself financially afloat, managing chronic health issues, worrying about losing my livelihood to outsourcing, and hoping my mortgage servicer doesn’t go bankrupt or something else doesn’t lead to my getting foreclosed on, aware that when i obtained my HAMP mod, i signed a piece of paper under duress that asserts that i am in default, though i have never missed making payment in full. i admit i am subject to some “i could be next” fearfulness and inhibition of action beyond the local scene. there is a sense of wanting to lie low, hunker down, and conserve my energy for dire things on the horizon that look pretty real. i would be surprised if this isn’t the case for many. not an excuse–but how do we address this?

      i am very curious to know whether those who comment and express outrage on blogs are really just doing nothing but that, or are not in fact also the same minority who are acting as well as speaking. (answers on this anyone?)

      in addition, let us not forget how important speaking is, and figuring out where and how most effectively to speak. carrying a sign, after all, is another form of speech and may even get less exposure than a posting online. what would effective protest specifically look like in our society today?

      1. DumpTheBankInfoJulian

        My story is a long one.

        Needless to say, I am a single woman, so I don’t have obligations of husband or children for my time. I spend quite a bit of time protesting. I have an outside sales job that I can spend the 2 hours during the day at the Friday auctions, and then spend 2 hours that evening making up for it. So, I guess my job helps with the schedule that is flexible.

        But, I do take a couple hours and protest in front of a visible Chase location on Saturdays.

        We need to be more visible! We need to take to the streets. Frankly, I cannot believe there have been 6 million foreclosures and no f***ing riots. Or at least some peaceful demonstrations. Come on, People!

    1. indio007

      Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

      But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

      Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.

      When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.

  15. aletheia33

    webster’s dictionary, definition 1a of “displace”:

    1 a : to remove from the usual or proper place; specifically : to expel or force to flee from home or homeland *displaced persons*

    i suggest that we begin using this term as often as possible to refer to the collective effect of the current foreclosure system. how many thousands of people without resources to hire a lawyer have been removed from their homes SYSTEMATICALLY without due process of law? at what point do we begin to understand this situation as what it is–something disturbingly similar to the first stage of the bureaucratic execution of the nazis’ strange concept of justice: seizing people’s property (with the mass-media-repeated rationalization that they were parasites on society, and everyone scared they would be next). they too preyed first on the most vulnerable: marginals like gypsies, homosexuals, the elderly and disabled, the “non-Aryan”, etc. i don’t mean to suggest that mass exterminations are the next step here but only to point out the resemblance in terms of a situation wherein bureaucracy and system have rendered due process unattainable for a very large class of people, with no accountability for this travesty of any kind for individuals at any level.

    in view of the above, the rationalization that “many of these people really do owe the money” can be seen as the hollow, immoral, collective delusional lie that it really is. suckering people into signing pieces of paper that render them “liable” for sums they are patently unequipped to ever assume responsibility for–in what sense is that paper valid? when you with full knowledge of the consequences persuade someone to sign on to an interest-only “mortgage” that should be an illegal instrument, who deserves what down the line? and in what sense does having signed one’s name on such a contract (or any contract) render one deserving of being deprived of due process of law?

    in what sense has “‘they (collectively)’ deserve it” EVER been rationally, morally regarded as justification for depriving anyone of due process? yet this is being presented as a “moral” “argument”. how far have the more intelligent americans forfeited their intelligence that they accept this as even logical?

    we need to treat the fact that the “clean up the deadbeats” rationale has so much traction in our society right now as an important indicator of the extent to which it has already lost its basic societal glue.

    where is the mainstream intellectual who will write a serious essay of suitable length–how about just one or two pages, for starters–clarifying or even just raising the moral questions involved here? (anyone who has seen one, could you please post the link here?)

    let us take note of how eerie this current silence really is.

    1. Stupendous Man - Defender of Liberty - Foe of Tyranny

      You’re making a pretty good start on such a piece. I would suggest, and appreciate, your spending a little more time on it, to further develop it, and then present it either to media sources or to be posted on as many blog pages and websites as possible.

  16. Michael H

    Monika Haldey said: “I sometimes wonder whether the entire robosigning “acknowledgement” …. is but a distraction from years of criminal fraud.”

    Exactly. More and more people are starting to look at our leadership and smell something rotten, to suspect the entire system is rotten to the core, and the power elites can’t have that. So rather than defend 100 of their rottenness 100 percent of the time (which might cause them to lose all credibility), what the elites do instead is they acknowledge a few of the lesser crimes, maybe one percent, in order to distract attention away from the 99 percent of the crimes that remain hidden.

    For example, they might have a war criminal such as Henry Kissinger go on CNN to complain about the widespread use of derivatives on Wall Street. And the CNN reporters all put on their most somber expressions and nod their heads in agreement. Yeah, we’re all deeply concerned about derivatives. But no one asks him about his policies in Cambodia that led to the death of 600,000 men, women and children.

    And so, in this way, by having the corporate media admit to occasional misbehavior, and pointing out a few bad things here and there, the overall propaganda system can still function smoothly. This allows the US leadership to commit unlimited crimes without any suggestion that the crimes are systemic; for them, crime is simply a way of life, but they have to rely on propaganda to keep this hidden, and to make certain that the laws they insist on for others will never be applied to themselves.

    The American public must *never* understand that this is how things work, otherwise people might get ideas. The working class might ask themselves: “if Afghanistan is *so* important, then why are children of the elites not also risking their lives to support corrupt leaders such as Hamid Karzai?” There might be social unrest; if left unchecked it could lead to more serious disturbances, some of the elites might need to to shorten their vacation in the Hamptons and deal with the unrest. In order to keep the rabble in line, they might need need to throw out a few scraps of meat, and this would be a nuisance for them, they might get their hands dirty.

    It’s so much easier, for them, if they can keep misdirecting us by propaganda.

    “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
    — Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow)

    1. Patrice

      Michael H said: The working class might ask themselves: “if Afghanistan is *so* important, then why are children of the elites not also risking their lives to support corrupt leaders such as Hamid Karzai?”

      The WikiLeaks document mentioned below might be one reason elites wouldn’t allow their own kids anywhere near Afghanistan, and it’s also another reason the entire US government was so upset with WikiLeaks, why some of them were calling for Assange’s execution:

      A document released by WikiLeaks described efforts by high-ranking Afghan officials to quash reports of police officers and other Afghans arrested for “purchasing a service from a child.” The leaked diplomatic cable quoted former Minister of the Interior Hanif Atmar’s concern that publicity about the arrests, which involved the hiring of “dancing boys,” would “endanger lives.”

      “I know Marines and soldiers who have refused to work with Afghan military or police,” said one U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s not about homosexuality as much as it is about the young boys. Some of them like to show pictures on their cell phone — that should be illegal. Some of the Afghans have their own young boys they use for sexual purposes and we can’t do anything about it.”

    1. Jim Haygood

      You’d think Providian could at least erect a statue of the dedicated Mrs. Kunkle at their headquarters, pour encourager les autres.

      Lord knows it’s hard to find good help these days.

  17. Jim Haygood

    By the way, I used to receive letters from a nice Ms. Larson at Citibank’s credit card operation in South Dakota.

    Once I phoned up and asked for her by name. The operator admitted that Ms. Larson is just a fictional identity — a robosigner, if you will.

    Makes you wonder whether ‘Jamie Dimon’ is just a cardboard cutout that they wheel out for the annual report photos.

  18. John Lenihan

    Every week at least, some poor slob, in places as remote as Japan or Europe or Asia, “forgets” to tell a government or a bank paying pensions, that old Joe the geezer has died, and the clown continues to collect the pension and tries to get away with it, which he usually does for a short time.

    The federal and foreign prisons are full of these deluded people. Why aren’t the federal prisons full of the “banksters” doing the same thing for thirteen or more years?

    1. Cameron Hoppe

      John, you are dead right. The most important principle, IMHO, is fairness. The rules should apply equally to everyone regardless of their position in society. Defrauding the court is one of the most basic crimes in any civilization.

      A personal friend of mine had a run-in with Citibank’s collectors recently. He finds a letter in his mailbox advising him of a 2000 or so dollar debt from a credit card they had ostensibly issued him 12 or so years prior. He had no recollection of ever opening an account with Citibank, credit or otherwise. But time and memory being what they are, he asked for a copy of the signed credit agreement and some description of the charges. I imagine that if the debt had appeared legitimate he would have made a deal.

      Needless to say, no copies, no evidence, nothing was forthcoming. The so-called debt may have been manufactured from whole cloth. More likely, he had a name similar to someone in their system so they mailed him a letter. Throw a bunch of shit at the wall, see what sticks.

      In a lot of ways it’s like Weiss and Hickman’s Kicksey-Winsey.
      All the workers and not-really-workers go about performing their segregated tasks, trying to stay off the infernal machine’s radar. But nobody knows if the machine is funtioning properly or even what its function is.

      1. Francois T

        “The most important principle, IMHO, is fairness.”

        There is no fairness in the US justice system anymore. Just watch the soon to be published book by Glenn Greenwald on this very topic.

        The title will be:
        With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.

        Knowing Glenn Greenwald, this promises to be quite the seminal indictment that is overdue.

        Just a little sample of what is wrong with the system today:


  19. Psychoanalystus

    This îs truly inspiring. I just started writing the script to a horror film called Attack of the post-mortem robosigners, starting Ms. Kunkle in The role of a greedy dishonest bitch. Coming to a theater near you, rated R because of gratuitous financial obscenity.


  20. Francois T

    Last year, Portfolio Recovery Associates agreed to settle the Montana suit. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the company’s spokeswoman said it admitted no wrongdoing. She wouldn’t say how many borrowers were sued using documents signed by Martha Kunkle.

    And it is not clear that this practice has stopped

    You don’t say! Why in the world would this practice stop when executives at the offending corporations never, ever have to personally suffer the consequences of their behavior?

    Could we please (a wish for the Year 2011 onward) have in this country morphing into a Banana Republic, have prosecutors who, well, prosecute and convict??

    Is it really to much to ask?

    If justice won’t be served by the system…it shall be served outside the system, no?

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