The Center for Consumer Protection’s monthly newsletter contains articles about consumer issues, summaries of federal and state attorney general enforcement actions, and other items of interest involving consumer issues. Click on this link to find this month’s newsletter. To subscribe, click on this link link.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a bipartisan, multistate settlement against medical technology company, C.R. Bard, Inc. (Bard) and its parent company, Becton, Dickinson and Company. The settlement requires Bard to pay $60 million to 48 states and the District of Columbia to resolve allegations that it deceptively marketed transvaginal surgical mesh devices to patients. Surgical mesh is a synthetic woven fabric that is implanted in the pelvic floor through the vagina to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. These are common conditions faced by women due to a weakening in their pelvic floor muscles caused by childbirth, age, or other factors. The attorneys general allege that thousands of women implanted with surgical mesh have suffered serious complications resulting from these devices. Although use of surgical mesh involves the risk of serious complications and is not proven to be any more effective than traditional tissue repair, millions of women were implanted with the device. The attorneys general also allege Bard misled women about serious and life-altering risks of surgical mesh devices, such as chronic pain, scarring and shrinking of body tissue, painful sexual relations, and recurring infections, among other complications. Bard stopped selling and promoting its surgical mesh products in the United States by December 31, 2016.
September 24, 2020
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers about alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are being packaged in containers that may appear as food or drinks and may put consumers at risk of serious injury or death if ingested. The agency has discovered that some hand sanitizers are being packaged in beer cans, children’s food pouches, water bottles, juice bottles and vodka bottles. Additionally, the FDA has found hand sanitizers that contain food flavors, such as chocolate or raspberry. Drinking only a small amount of hand sanitizer is potentially lethal to a young child, who may be attracted by a pleasant smell or brightly colored bottle of hand sanitizer.
August 27, 2020
Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed suit against the parent company of Washington Sports Club (WSC), Town Sports International, LLC (TSI), for failing to abide by promises made to gym members while its facilities were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-April, responding to a letter sent by AG Racine and other state Attorneys General, TSI had agreed to freeze memberships, credit consumers for dues paid while their gyms were inaccessible, and process requests for cancellations. Since reopening on June 22, however, the company has neither issued those credits to account holders, nor processed all membership cancellations. In response, Racine is seeking a court order forcing TSI to credit consumers and process cancellations, along with civil penalties.
August 20, 2020
New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Hillandale Farms, one of the country’s largest producers and wholesale distributors of eggs, for illegally gouging the prices of eggs during the coronavirus pandemic.
August 11, 2020
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a consumer alert warning about scams involving digital assets, such as cryptocurrencies. Recently, unscrupulous actors have impersonated well-known politicians, celebrities, and business executives on social media and YouTube channels in “giveaway” scams that falsely promised, for example, to double any digital assets sent to a specific digital asset wallet. These schemes are only the most recent example of attempts by scam artists to capitalize on novel technologies in order to rob Californians of their hard-earned savings.
August 8, 2020
Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry a bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general sent a request to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urging them to use their legal authority under the Bayh-Dole Act to increase the availability of Remdesivir, a drug which has shown promising results in reducing mortality and hospitalization from COVID-19. In the letter, the bipartisan coalition urges the federal government to license Remdesivir to third party manufacturers to scale up production and distribution and ensure the drug is made available to all those in need at a reasonable price. If these agencies are unwilling to exercise this authority, the letter requests that the agencies assign this authority for the states to use.
August 4, 2020
The court found that defendants operating as Federal Direct Group, Mission Hills Federal, The Student Loan Group, and National Secure Processing, charged consumers hundreds to thousands of dollars in illegal upfront fees after falsely claiming that consumers’ loans would be forgiven or their payments reduced to a specific amount, and that defendants would take over servicing of consumers’ loans and apply most or all of consumers’ monthly payments to pay down their student loans. The defendants also obtained consumers’ student loan credentials to log in and change consumers’ contact information, effectively hindering or entirely preventing consumers’ loan servicers from communicating with consumers.
July 20, 2020
On July 7, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia unsealed documents detailing Microsoft’s work to disrupt cybercriminals that were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to defraud customers in 62 countries around the world. Microsoft’s civil case has resulted in a court order allowing Microsoft to seize control of key domains in the criminals’ infrastructure so that it can no longer be used to execute cyberattacks.
July 7, 2020
A federal judge ordered the Department of Education to cancel roughly 7,200 former Corinthian Colleges’ student debt in Massachusetts and approve an application filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to have the debts discharged under the Department’s “borrower defense to repayment” regulation. Massachusetts filed the application in 2015 but it had not been acted upon. A class of students represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School sued the Department seeking to have the application approved.
June 26, 2020
A bipartisan coalition of 39 state and territory attorneys general asked Google and Apple to guarantee that contact tracing apps, when available to consumers, are affiliated with a public health authority and removed from Google Play and the App Store once no longer needed by public health authorities.
June 16, 2020
The Federal Trade Commission is making more state-level information available to the public about the complaints it receives from consumers related to COVID-19, with reports about online shopping problems topping the list of complaints in most states.
Under its expanded reporting, the FTC is now releasing the numbers of different types of fraud, Do Not Call, and other complaints received from consumers in each state. You can find national and state-level data on the FTC’s new interactive COVID-19 complaint data dashboards.
June 11, 2020
Led by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong a coalition of 51 states and territories filed the third federal lawsuit stemming from the ongoing antitrust investigation into a widespread conspiracy by generic drug manufacturers to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition, and unreasonably restrain trade for generic drugs sold across the United States. The new complaint, focuses on 80 topical generic drugs that account for billions of dollars of sales in the United States. The topical drugs at the center of the complaint include creams, gels, lotions, ointments, shampoos, and solutions used to treat a variety of skin conditions, pain, and allergies.
June 10, 2020
A multistate group of seven attorneys general (Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas), filed suit against a pair of Texas businesses accused of blasting billions of illegal robocalls over the past two years in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and state deceptive trade practices and do not call laws. The attorneys general’s complaint alleges that Rising Eagle Capital Group LLC and JSquared Telecom LLC are behind a “tidal wave” of robocalls offering fake extended car warranties and health care services. John Spiller II, owner of the businesses, and his business partner, Jakob Mears, are also named as defendants.
June 9, 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have taken on new roles in our families and communities. You may be delivering groceries, helping neighbors with yardwork, or hosting video check-ins with quarantined relatives. But if someone asked you to help plan a funeral, would you know where to start? The FTC’s information about funeral goods and services, types of funerals, and your rights can help. The FTC enforces the Funeral Rule, which makes it possible for you to compare prices and choose only the things you want or need.
June 9, 2020
The Federal Trade Commission announced it has sent letters warning 50 more marketers nationwide to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their products and therapies can treat or prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This is the fifth set of warning letters the FTC has announced as part of its ongoing efforts to protect consumers from health-related COVID-19 scams. In all, the Commission has sent similar letters to more than 120 companies and individuals.
May 21, 2020
With a variety of steps underway to speed Economic Impact Payments, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service urged people to use Get My Payment by noon Wednesday, May 13, for a chance to get a quicker delivery.
May 8, 2020
A New York resident was arrested and criminally charged for his role in allegedly advertising and selling stolen COVID-19 testing services for $135 to $200, falsely claiming that he was connected to labs that would test the kits, shipping test kits without any prior medical screening, and providing no results to consumers, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced. Additionally, the United States Secret Service, Pittsburgh Field Office Cyber Fraud Task Force, successfully shut down the websites that advertised and sold these stolen test kits.
May 7, 2020
As provided in the April 2020 HUD Office of Inspector General “COVID-19 OIG Bulletin for Homeowners”:
“In response to the pandemic caused by the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19), Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which requires FHA mortgage servicers to offer mortgage forbearance as an option to homeowners who are facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. HUD OIG reviewed the information that the top 30 FHA mortgage servicers are providing to borrowers on their websites. These entities service over 90% of FHA-insured mortgages. We found the information on several websites regarding forbearance options under the CARES Act was incomplete, inconsistent, dated, and unclear. HUD OIG has provided a memo to the Office of Single Family Housing outlining our findings. [which is available at the link in the headline of this news item].”
According to the F.B.I., fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem. Scams include blackmail, offering false cures, investment scams and charity scams.
Click here for tips on how to protect yourself.
April 13, 2020
The Department of Justice announced its first action in federal court to combat fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The enforcement action filed in Austin against operators of a fraudulent website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” alleges the defendants are engaging in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19. Information published on the website claimed to offer consumers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, which consumers would pay by entering their credit card information on the website. In fact, there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine. In response to the department’s request, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order requiring that the registrar of the fraudulent website immediately take action to block public access to it.
March 22, 2020
The affected consumers are receiving compensation for 100 percent of their losses. The FTC’s complaint alleged that Western Union failed to put in place effective anti-fraud policies and procedures and to act promptly against problem agents. The company’s settlement with the FTC required Western Union to pay $586 million in monetary relief. This distribution is the first of multiple payments over the coming months to consumers who lost money due to Western Union’s actions.
March 10, 2020
The warning letters are the first issued by the agencies alleging unapproved and/or unsupported claims that products can treat or prevent coronavirus (COVID-19). The agencies sent the letters to the following companies: 1) Vital Silver, 2) Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., 3) N-ergetics, 4) GuruNanda, LLC, 5) Vivify Holistic Clinic, 6) Herbal Amy LLC, and 7) The Jim Bakker Show.
March 9, 2020
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.
February 24, 2020