The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute

The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute

Center for Consumer Protection Monthly February 2020

March 1-7 is National Consumer Protection Week and in recognition, the NAGTRI Center for Consumer Protection is highlighting the top consumer complaints and scams for 2019 as reported by many attorneys general on our website, ConsumerResources.org. The Center is also sharing advice from NAAG's Consumer Protection Committee Co-Chairs, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III. ConsumerResources.org provides consumers important information about their consumer rights, how to avoid being scammed, and how to file a complaint with their attorney general. Visit our website to learn more!

Consumer Chief of the Month: Mark Mattioli, Montana

I tell people I'm one part lawyer and two parts fly fisherman: My daughter Madison prosecutes for the Montana Attorney General's Office and my sons Max and Marcus are employed in the fly-fishing industry. Apparently, I taught them what I love too well. A proud native of Montana, I was born and raised in Butte, Montana, a blue-collar mining town with a rich history and a community bond and spirit that, if it were replicated nationwide, would be medicine for our ills. Growing up in Butte, I had two heroes who I knew had been lawyers, one from history, Abraham Lincoln, and another who was then living: Robert F. Kennedy. Thus, from a young age, I wanted to be a lawyer.

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Article of the Month: 

Timeshare Obligations, Regulations, and Challenges

Matthew du Mee, Unit Chief, Consumer Litigation Unit, Arizona Attorney General's Office

Grace Ordonez, Pre-Law Legal Assistant, Consumer Litigation Unit, Arizona Attorney General's Office

The timeshare industry comprises a significant segment of the hospitality sector. Buyers beware! According to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), the $9.6 billion U.S. timeshare industry boasts over 1.570 resorts and 205,100 units. About nine million households in the U.S. own timeshares, and sales increased approximately 25% between 2010 and 2016. Given this volume of sales and the substantial expense of timeshares, any deficiencies in consumer protection in this area will have a massive impact on consumers nationwide. Unfortunately, the current landscape of the timeshare industry has exposed significant inadequacies in protection for those seeking to purchase, lease, or exit their timeshare contracts.

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Scam Alert:  

Beware Coronavirus Scams

 

 



Federal Consumer Protection News

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

  • The CFPB (Bureau) announced a proposed settlement with Think Finance, LLC, formerly known as Think Finance, Inc., and six subsidiaries to resolve the Bureau's lawsuit alleging that the defendants engaged in unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) in connection with the illegal collection of loans that were void in whole or in part under 17 states' laws governing interest rate caps, the licensing of lenders, or both. The proposed stipulated final consent order, among other things, would prohibit the Think Finance Entities from offering or collecting on loans to consumers or assisting others in engaging in that conduct in any of the 17 states if the loan violates state lending laws. The proposed order would also impose a $1 civil money penalty for each of the seven Think Finance entities. The Bureau's proposed consent order is a component of the global resolution of the Think Finance entities' bankruptcy proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas, which includes settlements with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and private litigants in a nationwide consumer class action. Consumer redress will be disbursed from a fund created as part of the global resolution, which is anticipated to have over $39 million for distribution to consumers and may increase over time as a result of ongoing, related litigation and settlements.
  • The CFPB filed suit against Citizens Bank, N.A. (Citizens), a national banking association headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island. The Bureau's complaint alleges violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and TILA's implementing Regulation Z, including violations of amendments to TILA contained in the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD Act). The Bureau alleges that Citizens violated TILA, as amended by the FCBA, and Regulation Z by failing to properly manage and respond to credit card disputes, including by automatically denying consumers' billing error notices and claims of unauthorized use in certain circumstances. The complaint further alleges that Citizens failed to fully refund finance charges and fees when consumers asserted meritorious disputes or fraud claims and failed to send consumers required acknowledgement letters and denial notices in response to billing error notices.
  • The CFPB and the U.S. Department of Education announced a new coordination agreement regarding student loans. Under the newly signed Memorandum of Understanding, the agencies will share complaint information from borrowers and meet quarterly to discuss observations about the nature of complaints received, characteristics of borrowers, and available information about resolution of complaints.
  • The CFPB issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Supplemental NPRM) regarding the collection of time-barred debt. The Bureau proposes to prohibit collectors from using non-litigation means (such as calls) to collect on time-barred debt unless collectors disclose to consumers during the initial contact and on any required validation notice that the debt is time-barred. The Supplemental NPRM proposes model language and forms that debt collectors could use to comply with the proposed disclosure requirements. Comments are due 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register.

Federal Trade Commission:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is sending refund checks totaling more than $34 million to consumers who allegedly were tricked by Office Depot, Inc. and a software provider into buying computer repair products and services. Office Depot paid $25 million while its software supplier, Support.com, Inc., paid $10 million as part of 2019 settlements with the FTC. The FTC alleged that Office Depot and Support.com configured a virus scanning program to report that it found symptoms of malware or infections, even when that was not true, whenever consumers answered yes to at least one of four "diagnostic" questions. The false scan results were then used to persuade consumers to purchase computer repair and technical services that could cost hundreds of dollars. The FTC is sending out 541,247 checks averaging $63.35 per check.
  • The FTC is seeking public comment on whether to make changes to its Funeral Rule as part of the agency's systematic review of all current FTC rules and guides. The Funeral Rule, enacted in 1982, protects consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in the sale of funeral products and services.
  • The FTC settled with sellers of ReJuvenation. The FTC charged the sellers with making deceptive claims that their product is a virtual cure-all for age-related ailments, including cell damage, heart attack damage, brain damage, blindness, deafness, and even aging itself. Along with prohibitions on making claims not supported by scientific evidence, the settlement also requires payment of $660,000, which the Commission may use to provide refunds to defrauded consumers.
  • A court has granted the FTC's motion for temporary restraining order (TRO) to preliminarily halt a scheme involving hundreds of websites that promised a quick and easy government service, such as renewing a driver's license, or eligibility determinations for public benefits. The FTC's complaint alleges that defendant Burton Katz was the "mastermind" behind the corporations operating the websites. The FTC's TRO motion alleges that consumers provided their information because they believed the websites would actually provide the government services. Instead, consumers received only a PDF containing publicly available, general information about the service they sought.
  • The FTC settled with the operators of a website that compares student loans and other financial products to resolve allegations that they misled consumers to believe their website provided objective product information, when in fact they offered higher rankings and ratings to companies that paid for placement. In an administrative complaint against Delaware-based LendEDU and its operators Nathaniel Matherson, Matthew Lenhard, and Alexander Coleman, the FTC also alleged the company touted fake positive reviews of its LendEDU.com website.
  • In related news, the FTC announced that it will be seeking public comment on whether to make changes to its Endorsement Guides.

In other federal news:

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed charges against an Ohio-based businessman who allegedly orchestrated a digital asset scheme that defrauded approximately 150 investors, including many physicians. The agencies alleged that Michael W. Ackerman, along with two business partners, raised at least $33 million by claiming to investors that he had developed a proprietary algorithm that allowed him to generate extraordinary profits while trading in cryptocurrencies.
  • Wells Fargo & Company and its subsidiary, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., have agreed to pay $3 billion to resolve their potential criminal and civil liability stemming from a practice between 2002 and 2016 of pressuring employees to meet unrealistic sales goals that led thousands of employees to provide millions of accounts or products to customers under false pretenses or without consent, often by creating false records or misusing customers' identities, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced. As part of the agreements with the DOJ and the SEC, Wells Fargo admitted that it collected millions of dollars in fees and interest to which the company was not entitled, harmed the credit ratings of certain customers, and unlawfully misused customers' sensitive personal information, including customers' means of identification. The $3 billion payment resolves all matters and includes a $500 million civil penalty to be distributed by the SEC to investors.
  • A federal grand jury in Atlanta returned an indictment charging four members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army with fraud for hacking into the computer systems of the credit reporting agency Equifax and stealing Americans' personal data and Equifax's valuable trade secrets. The indictment alleges that the defendants engaged in a three-month long campaign to steal sensitive personal information of nearly 150 million Americans.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called on phone companies that allow international robocalls into U.S. networks to fully participate in efforts to trace back those calls. FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold sent letters to seven gateway service providers asking for their support in tracking down the originators of illegal spoofed foreign robocalls. Letters were sent to All Access, Globex, Piratel, Talkie, Telcast, ThinQ, and Third Base.
  • President Trump signed Executive Order 13859 announcing the American AI Initiative, the United States' national strategy on artificial intelligence.
  • The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, en banc, declined to reconsider an October ruling in Mozilla v. FCC that largely upheld the repeal of landmark net neutrality rules, rejecting requests by 15 U.S. states, and tech and advocacy groups. The FCC in December 2017 reversed Obama-era rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes. In orders issued, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declined without comment to rehear the decision, as did the three-judge panel that issued the ruling in October. The FCC is reopening the record to receive additional public comment in Restoring Internet Freedom Order proceedings in light of the D.C. Circuit's Mozilla decision.
  • The Commodities Futures Trading Commission announced that following a bench trial, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama entered a final judgment against defendants Husam Tayeh of Illinois and his companies, Dinar Corp., Inc., and My Monex, Inc., both Nevada corporations. The court's ruling orders the defendants to pay more than $22.6 million in disgorgement and civil monetary penalties in connection with Tayeh's fraudulent foreign currency (forex) scheme. The court previously found the defendants liable for violations of the Commodity Exchange Act, including fraud.
  • The U.S. DOJ held a public workshop in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 19, 2020, focused on immunity for Internet platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. DOJ's announcement of the workshop stated that "[c]ourts have interpreted the scope of Section 230 broadly, leaving a wide array of online activity immune from lawsuits. Now that the industry has matured, valid questions have been raised regarding the broad scope of Section 230 and whether the immunity is still required in its current form." U.S. Attorney General William Barr made opening remarks at the workshop echoing those concerns.

Attorney General Consumer Protection News and Other Items of Interest

Forty seven state and territory attorneys general announced a global settlement framework with the opioid manufacturer Mallinckrodt (MNK), its subsidiaries, and certain other affiliates. MNK is currently the largest generic opioid manufacturer in the United States. In the agreement, MNK agrees to pay $1.6 billion in cash to a trust that will cover the costs of opioid addiction treatment and related efforts, with the potential for increased payment to the trust. MNK also agrees that its future generic opioid business will be subject to stringent injunctive relief that, among other things, will prevent marketing and ensure systems are in place to prevent drug misuse.

Led by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a bipartisan group of 37 Attorneys General wrote a letter to the court overseeing multidistrict opioids litigation to oppose a motion regarding attorneys' fees filed by the Plaintiffs Executive Committee (PEC). The PEC, the lead group of private attorneys representing local governments and others in multidistrict litigation, have filed a motion seeking to establish a "common benefit fund" to award attorneys' fees and litigation costs to private counsel representing local governments in the cases. The proposed order, if granted, would direct that seven percent of the total monetary recovery awarded by the court or agreed upon by settlement be set aside to pay the attorney's fees and costs for private counsel. The seven percent assessment would be applied not only to the portion of the recovery for local government clients, but also to the states' portion of the recovery. According to the letter, the newly requested seven percent assessment would not reduce the amount of attorneys' fees the local government and other plaintiffs previously agreed to pay their private attorneys from funds eventually recovered if the litigation is successful.

Attorneys General from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas announced a bipartisan, multistate investigation into JUUL Labs. The 39-state multistate coalition is investigating JUUL's marketing and sales practices, including targeting of youth, claims regarding nicotine content, and statements regarding risks, safety, and effectiveness as a smoking cessation device.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and 12 other attorneys general recently urged the federal appeals court in Cincinnati to reverse an Ohio federal judge's order that the AGs argued undermines the ability of states to negotiate a comprehensive opioid settlement. The 12 attorneys general allege that no grant of legislative or constitutional authority permitted the District Court to certify a "negotiation class" to resolve multidistrict litigation against entities who played a role in the opioid crisis. The attorneys general state that they are better suited to coordinate with other states and negotiate a comprehensive settlement that will provide for all citizens rather than just specific political subdivisions.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich also announced that his office obtained a preliminary injunction against Eonsmoke, LLC, regarding its advertisement and sale of illegal vaping products to Arizonans, including Arizona's youth. The injunction immediately prohibits Eonsmoke from selling its illegal products in the state.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced entry of a judgment against Jonathan Funk and his company Jonathan Funk Photography, LLC for violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Rutledge's lawsuit alleged that consumers paid in full after their photography sessions and never received their portraits. Under the Order, the LLC must pay $98,625 in restitution, $100,000 in civil penalties, $1,135 in filing fees and service costs and is also required to transfer images to consumers.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued revised proposed regulations implementing the California Consumer Protection Act which were published and noticed for public comment on October 11, 2019. The changes were in response to comments received regarding the proposed regulations and/or to clarify and conform the proposed regulations to existing law. The commenting period for the revised proposed regulations ended on February 25.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine issued a consumer alert warning that more than a dozen auto thefts in the District are believed to be related to the use of the Getaround app. Getaround allows consumers to rent vehicles by the hour or day from owners who make them available through its online platform. Consumers can create a profile on Getaround and search for cars based on location and type of vehicle. After a rental request is submitted and approved by the owner, consumers can go to the car's location and unlock the vehicle using the app on their smartphone. Keys to the vehicle are left inside and consumers return the car at the end of their rental period. According to the alert, vehicles listed on Getaround could be at an increased risk of theft because keys are left inside the car and the car's location is visible to anyone searching the platform.

In recognition of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a Consumer Alert with tips for Floridians to avoid falling victim to tax and IRS scammers. One common scam involves the fraudulent filing of an individual's tax return in order to steal the refund. The Alert advises that the best thing taxpayers can do to avoid scams like this is to file their taxes as early as possible and avoid giving their personal information out to those who would do them harm.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has announced a settlement with Access Life's Adventures, LLC, and its owners Craig Keith Fletcher and Crystal Fletcher for alleged violations of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act. The Meridian, Idaho company allegedly accepted payments for Alaskan fishing and other trips that it failed to deliver. The settlement requires the Fletchers to pay more than $100,000 in customer refunds.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller reported that a Polk County judge has ordered a Quad Cities-based telemarketing operation to pay nearly $2.6 million and permanently banned it from doing business after finding the operation had defrauded small businesses across the nation. The court granted Miller's request for summary judgment against owner Alphonso Barnum of Davenport, several of his associates, and 10 companies, and ordered the defendants to pay more than $200,000 in restitution, $640,000 in civil penalties, and more than $1.7 million in disgorged profits. In related news, Miller announced the filing of another telemarketing case against alleged associates of the defendants in the Barnum case also for engaging in national advertising and telephone scams. Iowa has found consumers allegedly targeted by the defendants in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office has sued JUUL Labs Inc. for allegedly creating a youth vaping epidemic by intentionally marketing and selling its e-cigarettes to young people. Healey's complaint alleges that JUUL intentionally chose models and images that appealed to young people, that the company advertised its products on websites geared toward kids, and that JUUL shipped e-cigarettes to underage youth who ordered them directly from JUUL online.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that a Lansing gym, Go Workout Frandor LLC, and its owner, Steven Millenbach, were ordered to pay a civil penalty and damages totaling $123,020 after the business violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) through deceptive practices including: failing to provide promised refunds, advertising no-contract memberships but selling 12-month memberships, continuing to sell memberships at a location the owner knew would not continue at the same location, and offering inadequate alternatives to customers of the closed location.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against Martin Management, a timeshare exit company formerly located in Springfield, Missouri, and its owner Steve Martin. The lawsuit alleges that company employees, at the direction of Martin, solicited large sums of money from customers on the promise to obtain a release of their obligations within 180 days or money back, guaranteed but failed to obtain the releases and extracted additional payments after consumers complained. The suit also alleged the company instructed its clients to redirect maintenance expenses to them claiming the payments were no longer necessary. As a result, several consumers found themselves in debt with their timeshare holding companies.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced he has filed a lawsuit against the McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health, Inc., two leading distributors of narcotic opioids, for their alleged role in the opioid crisis.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit against Google, LLC alleging the tech giant is illegally collecting personal information from New Mexico school children under 13, in violation of the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act. Google offers its G Suite for Education products (including Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, and other services), along with Google Chromebook laptop computers, to school districts across New Mexico at no cost. In his lawsuit, General Balderas alleges that Google then uses its products to collect large quantities of valuable personal information, without their parents' consent, from children under 13 who are often required by their schools to use these services. In addition to filing the suit, Attorney General Balderas has communicated with schools across New Mexico and let them know that there is no immediate harm to the continued use of these products and that this lawsuit should not interrupt daily instruction in the schools.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and the FTC announced a settlement banning Buffalo-based debt collector, Robert Heidenreich, also known as "Bobby Rich," from the debt collection industry for misleading consumers on how much money they owed and using illegal tactics to collect inflated debt, a practice known in the industry as "overbiffing." In addition to the ban, the settlement also includes a suspended judgment of $1.7 million. The complaint also alleged that collectors employed by Heidenreich pretended to be law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and process servers to collect on inflated debts by falsely threatening consumers with arrest and other legal actions.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued a central Ohio company, Idea Buyer LLC, that was supposed to help consumers launch their inventions but instead kept their money and did little to assist them. According to the complaint, dozens of consumers lost more than a combined $800,000. Consumer complaints allege that Idea Buyer pressured customers into signing contracts and paying large up-front fees, typically over $10,000. The company told some consumers their inventions had been specially chosen by Idea Buyer investors and they needed to sign up fast.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter joined with Walgreens and the financial literacy non-profit, EVERFI, to launch an interactive prescription drug safety course designed for high school students. The program, Prescription Drug Safety, is an innovative digital course that provides high school students with the knowledge and tools to make healthy, informed decisions related to prescription medications.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced his office's lawsuit against JUUL Labs for allegedly violating Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection law and jeopardizing the health of Pennsylvanians, in particular the young people JUUL allegedly targeted with their products. Attorney General Shapiro's lawsuit calls for JUUL to cease sales of their products in Pennsylvania. General Shapiro also announced that his office filed a civil lawsuit against extended automobile warranty company Delta Auto Protect to get money back for consumers and repair shops which fell victim to its car repair scam. The lawsuit alleges Delta is operated by Omega Vehicle Services LLC and its managing member Charles Seruya. According to the complaint, the company advertises and sells vehicle service and repair contracts to thousands of consumers in multiple states from a virtual office in Exton, PA, but refuses to honor the contracts it sells and, after accepting payment from consumers, refuses to cover the necessary repairs promised under contract.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha and utility company National Grid are warning electric and gas customers to be vigilant of potential scammers posing as bill collectors trying to take advantage of them. According to the alert, over the past several weeks there has been an increased volume of reported scam attempts targeting residential and business customers by phone.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III has filed a lawsuit against Walker Stalkers, LLC and James Frazier for alleged violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act in connection with cancellations and postponements of Walker Stalker Con and Fan Fest events for fans to meet famous actors and artists associated with the popular television program "The Walking Dead," as well as other popular television shows. The state's complaint also alleges that Mr. Frazier withdrew large sums of money from Walker Stalkers accounts on a regular basis and used those sums for personal expenses.

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced that he has filed suit against VA Certificate Service, LLC (VACS), a business that has sent deceptive mailings to numerous Virginia businesses, purportedly offering services for nearly ten times the price that the same service would cost from the State Corporation Commission (SCC). General Herring alleges that VACS sent advertisements to businesses registered with the SCC seeking a $67.25 fee in exchange for a "Virginia Certificate of Good Standing," a document that can be obtained from the SCC for $6.00.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Bellevue-based Reed Hein & Associates LLC, alleging numerous unfair or deceptive business practices related to services to "exit" consumers' timeshares. Reed Hein does business under the name Timeshare Exit Team. General Ferguson's complaint alleged that Reed Hein advertised a 100 percent money-back guarantee, but that in reality, many consumers have struggled to obtain refunds, and are still denied refunds even after the company has failed to deliver for years. The complaint also alleges violations of the Washington Debt Adjusting Act.

A New York State appeals court struck down most of a law that authorized fantasy sports in the state. The law, signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August 2016, declared that fantasy sports did not constitute gambling and provided for consumer safeguards, minimum standards and the registration, regulation and taxation of daily fantasy sports providers. A lawsuit challenging the law argued that it carved out an illegal exemption to the New York constitution's prohibition on gambling, which forbids the practice except for a few exceptions, including at a limited number of horse tracks and casinos.

Facebook agreed to a $550 million settlement in a class action suit filed under Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). If approved by the California district court, the settlement will compensate Facebook users in Illinois for Facebook's use of facial recognition technology known as "tagging" without their consent and in violation of BIPA. Facebook disclosed the settlement as part of its quarterly financial results, in which it took a charge on the case.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case interpreting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act's "automatic telephone dialing system" ("ATDS") provision. There is a split in the circuits on whether the ATDS covers only equipment that can generate random or sequential numbers, or instead covers anything that can automatically dial from a list. In Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Company, LLC, the Eleventh Circuit, agreeing with the Third Circuit and disagreeing with the Ninth Circuit, held that the ATDS provision covers only equipment that can generate random or sequential numbers.

Four national associations that represent internet service providers have sued Maine officials over a law that requires companies to get opt-in consent from customers before sharing or using their personal data. A 32-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, says Maine's law violates First Amendment protections by, among other things, restricting ISPs from advertising or marketing services to customers or from offering discounts or rewards in loyalty programs.

Charities

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a Consumer Alert to ask Floridians to report suspicious crowdfunding charity pages. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) made the Attorney General's Office aware of a suspicious-looking page purporting to raise money for the family of a fallen FHP Trooper. In less than an hour, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, working with GoFundMe.com, secured the suspension of the page and the more than $500 that had been raised is being returned to donors.

Legislation

The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter, signed by 42 state and territory attorneys general, to members of Congress voicing support of the Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2019 (H.R. 4421). The legislation is designed to prevent forum shopping and allow governmental attorneys, (not just U.S. attorneys) to appear without charge and without being required to associate with local counsel. Currently, corporations are permitted to pursue bankruptcy in any district in which they have a minor affiliated interest and may select such a forum for litigation advantages. If passed, the bill would limit where businesses may file bankruptcy to a jurisdiction in which their "principal place of business" or "principal assets" are located.

In late December 2019, Congress revived and extended an important protection for struggling homeowners: the Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness (QPRI) exclusion. Now homeowners with a short sale or other modification for their home mortgage loan may be able to avoid tax liability on debt forgiven in tax years 2018, 2019, and 2020, despite receiving 1099s indicating the forgiven debt as income. The National Consumer Law Center has written an article explaining QPRI and the law's benefits.

The Uniform Law Commission has formed a drafting committee for a uniform Collection and Use of Personally Identifiable Data Committee Act, which was presented at the committee's first meeting February 21-22, 2020, in Washington D.C. The committee's goal is to draw up legislation by 2021 for states to adopt, potentially creating a more unified approach to privacy law across the country.

Veterans and Military News

The CFPB, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs filed suit against Candy Kern-Fuller, Howard Sutter III, and Upstate Law Group LLC. The complaint alleges that the defendants worked with a series of companies that brokered contracts offering high-interest credit to consumers, primarily disabled veterans, and provided substantial assistance to others committing deceptive and unfair acts or practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and South Carolina debt collection law. The companies and individuals the defendants allegedly assisted were involved in prior litigation and a settlement regarding the same scheme.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the sentencing of Michael Erber of Brooklyn for stealing money intended to pay the rent of homeless New York City veterans from four community-based organizations. Erber was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 10 1/2 - 21 years.

A for-profit education company agreed to pay $512,000 to resolve misrepresentation claims impacting veterans' Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition subsidy program, United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced. Fort Myers-based Florida Academy, which provides adult professional education programs in the beauty-and-wellness and skilled trades industries, allegedly made misrepresentations to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in order to maintain its eligibility to receive VA funding under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Upcoming Events

2020 NAGTRI Anatomy of a Complex Consumer Case Training
March 31 - April 3, 2020, Chicago, Illinois

This intensive three and one-half day program for assistant attorneys general is intended to enhance the participants' knowledge and skills in a constructive and positive learning environment facilitated by experienced attorneys serving as faculty. The program's primary goal is to afford participants the opportunity to gain an understanding of and overcome the challenges when enforcing consumer protection laws. Although this training discusses civil litigation issues, it is NOT a trial advocacy course in the strict sense of the term. Rather, it is designed to expose the participants to the wide and varied issues they will encounter when working on complex consumer protection investigations, settlements, and lawsuits. The deadline to submit a scholarship nomination has passed, but attorney general offices may pay to register additional staff. The deadline for registration is Tuesday, March 17.

Click here for more information.

2020 NAAG Consumer Protection Spring Conference
May 19-21, 2020, Raleigh, North Carolina

Save-the-Date: This year's NAAG Consumer Protection Spring Conference will be held in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Raleigh Marriott City Center from May 19-21, 2020. The agenda aims to address pressing and relevant issues specific to your role in consumer protection. On Tuesday, May 19, from approximately noon until 8:00 p.m., the private, nonprofit, and government sectors are invited to attend the public portion of the conference, which also includes lunch and an evening reception. Morning sessions on Tuesday, May 19 and all of Wednesday, May 20 and Thursday, May 21 are open to attorney general office staff only.

Sessions during the public portion of the conference include a panel of attorneys general, as well as sessions on facial recognition software, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, and advertising issues. There will also be an open-mic discussion of private sector issues. Please note that the agenda is subject to change as we prepare for the conference, and we plan to keep the website updated with current information. Registration will open soon!

Todd Leatherman, Program Counsel for the Center for Consumer Protection, is the editor of Center for Consumer Protection Monthly, a compendium of information that may be of interest to the attorney general community and others interested in consumer protection. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of the matters, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked materials. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please email tleatherman@naag.org or call 202-326-6044.

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