Led by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a bipartisan coalition of 51 attorneys general urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fight back against the scourge of illegal robocalls by moving up the deadline for smaller telephone companies to implement caller ID technology. Large companies were required to implement the technology by June 2021, and smaller phone companies were given an extension until June 2023. Because some smaller phone companies benefitting from the extension are also responsible for originating or facilitating high volumes of illegal robocalls, the attorney generals are asking the FCC to require these companies to implement the technology as soon as possible and no later than June 30, 2022.
A bipartisan coalition of 31 attorneys general led by Idaho, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee called for the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) to regulate e-cigarettes and oral nicotine products. The coalition wrote a letter calling on the FDA to use its regulatory power to prohibit all non-tobacco flavors—including menthol, limit the amount of nicotine in the products, and impose marketing restrictions and effective age verification to prevent youth access and appeal.
Led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, New York Attorney General Letitia James, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a coalition of 23 attorneys general submitted a comment letter supporting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule to strengthen protections against housing discrimination. The letter supports HUD’s proposal to reinstate the “disparate impact rule,” that was originally implemented in 2013 but was replaced in 2020. The 2020 rule was enjoined by a federal court in Massachusetts before it was to become effective.
Individual Attorney General Actions
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit seeking to recover an Arkansas business’s money that was allegedly wrongfully diverted as a result of a business email compromise scam. The attorney general alleges in a declaratory judgment action against JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. that more than $55,000 in funds were fraudulently diverted to a Chase bank account by a hacker who emailed change of banking information using a spoofed email account to an unsuspecting buyer during a business to business sales transaction.
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine launched a series of five clinics to help residents access support to pay rent and utility bills. Partnering with local nonprofit organizations the “STAY DC clinics” are being held to help residents navigate the application process so they can access federal assistance funds to pay their rent and utility bills, as many have struggled financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Partially as a result of application difficulties, less than 20% of assistance funds have been distributed to eligible residents.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody sued a Florida company selling drinking water systems that promised unproven health benefits and used deceptive financing offers. Wellness Program Services, LLC d/b/a Trusii, allegedly claims falsely that the use of its molecular hydrogen water machines could assist in ailments ranging from cancer, depression, diabetes, lupus, skin disorders, and other chronic diseases. Many victims of the deceptive and unfair practices include seniors and consumers with health conditions.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced a $19.8 million settlement with debt collector Turtle Creek Assets, Ltd. and its owner, Gordon Engle, resolving allegations that the company committed multiple violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act. Violations alleged included harassing and deceiving consumers by threatening arrest or imprisonment if they did not pay the debt; failing to disclose that they were debt collectors attempting to collect a debt; and failing to provide to consumers, within five days after the initial communication, a written notice containing certain information required by law. Attorney General Carr also filed a joint enforcement action with the Federal Trade Commission against companies allegedly making false claims about the benefits of stem cell therapy. The suit names as defendants Superior Healthcare, LLC, Regenerative Medicine Institute of America, LLC d/b/a Stem Cell Institute of America, LLC, Physicians Business Solutions, LLC, Steven Peyroux, and Brent Detelich.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden settled with a tax preparer who made false statements on tax returns leading to more than $50,000 in liability for Idaho taxpayers. Bushambale Kashunga of Wichita Falls, Texas, allegedly grossly overstated deductions and expenses on clients’ returns, resulting in liabilities for his customers, all of whom were members of Idaho’s refugee community. The settlement bars Kashunga from preparing Idaho tax returns in the future and requires payment of $51,640 to reimburse Idaho customers for tax liabilities resulting from the false returns.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey obtained $1.6 million from online loan servicer Avant resolving allegations the company used abusive debt collection practices against consumers. Alleged violations included failure to provide required debt validation notice and related materials and exceeding the legally permitted number of phone and written contacts with consumers.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel settled with a Michigan-based business regarding allegedly false COVID-19 prevention claims. Skin Envy, LLC owner Stephanie Davison, during a television show promoting ipamorelin/sermorelin injections, made claims that suggested the injections prevented COVID-19 including that “people in the medical field [told her] that it is probably due to” her having received injections that she had not become ill with COVID-19. Under the settlement, Davison agreed to post a public retraction on her Instagram account for 30 days, add language to the Skin Envy website warning customers of potential injection side effects, and pay $4,000 to the state for investigation costs.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison held two wedding dress shops accountable for failing to honor their commitments to Minnesota brides-to-be. The jointly owned shops allegedly often failed to deliver dresses on time, with some brides receiving their dress only days before their wedding, resulting in rush alteration fees, or, in some cases, forcing the brides to buy back-up dresses. Under the terms of an assurance of discontinuance, the stores paid $50,000 for restitution and agreed to make significant changes to their business practices.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt charged a Kansas City contractor for allegedly defrauding customers in connection with his businesses, Metro Home Rehab and All Hands on Deck Outdoor Restoration. Cory Richards allegedly promised his victims, including elderly consumers, contracting and construction services in exchange for large advance payments, but did not provide the services as promised.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sued the developer of the Angry Birds game for alleged federal privacy law violations. The lawsuit alleges that Rovio Entertainment knowingly collects personal information from children under the age of 13 that play the Angry Birds games without verifiable parental consent in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Rovio then allegedly sends the information to third party marketing companies that analyze, repackage, resell, and otherwise use the information to sell targeted advertising to those children.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and the U.S. Department of Labor announced a $14 million settlement to benefit consumers who were denied mental health care coverage. UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurer, allegedly unlawfully denied health care coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment for thousands of Americans. As a result of the settlement, United will pay approximately $14.3 million in restitution to consumers affected by the policies, including $9 million to more than 20,000 New Yorkers with behavioral health conditions who received denials or reductions in reimbursement.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein sued two gasoline marketers for price gouging on gasoline during the Colonial Pipeline-related state of emergency. A Durham station allegedly raised the price of mid-grade gas by 60% and a Charlotte-area station allegedly raised its prices 19% on regular, 278% on mid-grade, and 278% on premium. Neither station had incurred a correlating increase in their costs for the fuel.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro obtained $500,000 in restitution for harmed consumers seeking home ownership. Defendants Harbour Portfolio Capital, LLC, affiliated Texas companies, and their leader, Charles A. Vose III, allegedly sold Pennsylvania residents homes that were usually in run-down condition and often lacked basic essentials like heat, electricity, or appliances, without disclosure of defects. The defendants required large non-refundable down payments and charged interest more than twice the maximum allowed for such transactions.
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan reached settlements with three different online sellers of electronic cigarettes for violations of Vermont’s Delivery Sales Ban and Consumer Protection Act. It is illegal to sell electronic cigarettes and related vaping products over the internet to individual Vermont consumers. Pure Laboratories, LLC d/b/a HaloCigs ($137,500); The Boiler Electronic Cigarette Company, LLC d/b/a Carolina Vapor Mill ($20,000); and VapinUSA-WI ($7,500) will pay a total of $165,000 in civil penalties to the state.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring sued two companies for allegedly defrauding tenants. The attorney general’s complaint alleges that JumpStart University and Vasilios Education Center, and the operator of both companies, Carl Vaughan, solicited low-income tenants by promising “wraparound services,” such as credit counseling, education services, and assistance with obtaining employment that would allow them to obtain homeownership in as little as three years. The defendants allegedly failed to provide tenants these services, and instead, in many instances, filed allegedly wrongful detainer and eviction cases against them. Attorney General Herring also sued a Virginia Beach-based foreclosure rescue lender, ANE Investments, LLC, and its managing member, Richard A. Maxino, for charging consumers facing foreclosure illegally high interest rates to help them out of potential foreclosure on their homes.
Other articles in this edition include:
- Consumer Chief of the Month
- Consumer Protection During COVID-19: What We’ve Learned So Far
- Federal Consumer Protection News: August 2021