The NAGTRI 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. To subscribe, click on this link and create an account with the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). Once you have set up an account, you will select “My Communication Preferences” and then choose to subscribe to the “Consumer Protection Newsletter.”
To access the archived editions of the Consumer Protection Monthly Newsletter, click here.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has released its annual report. The 2020 Internet Crime Report includes information from 791,790 complaints of suspected internet crime—an increase of more than 300,000 complaints from 2019—and reported losses exceeding $4.2 billion. State-specific statistics have also been released and can be found within the 2020 Internet Crime Report and in the accompanying 2020 State Reports.
The top three crimes reported by victims in 2020 were phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion. Victims lost the most money to business email compromise scams, romance and confidence schemes, and investment fraud. Notably, 2020 saw the emergence of scams exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic. The IC3 received over 28,500 complaints related to COVID-19, with fraudsters targeting both businesses and individuals.
March 17, 2021
A bipartisan group of 41 attorneys general, has settled with Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau d/b/a American Medical Collection Agency (“AMCA”) resolving a multistate investigation into the 2019 data breach that exposed the personal information of over 7 million individuals and potentially exposed the personal information of up to 21 million individuals throughout the United States.
March 11, 2021
Led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a bipartisan group of 30 attorneys general wrote a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to fund internet connectivity and internet-enabled devices to K-12 students whose schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who are learning online at home or other locations.
February 23, 2021
A bipartisan coalition of 48 attorneys general announced a $573 million settlement with McKinsey & Company for its role in the opioid epidemic. McKinsey & Company is one of the world’s largest consulting companies and allegedly advised Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma how to maximize profits including by targeting high-volume opioid prescribers, using specific messaging to get physicians to prescribe more OxyContin to more patients, and circumventing pharmacy restrictions in order to deliver high-dose prescriptions.
February 4, 2021
The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, released a staff report showing that baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals that endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function.
February 4, 2021
As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s continuing efforts to protect consumers from potentially dangerous or subpotent hand sanitizers, the agency has placed all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico on a countrywide import alert to help stop products that appear to be in violation from entering the U.S. until the agency is able to review the products’ safety. Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, the agency has seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products from Mexico that were labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but tested positive for methanol contamination. Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and life-threatening when ingested. Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient in hand sanitizer or other drugs.
January 26, 2021
The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) sent a letter asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to examine recent progress in the agency’s fight against the opioid epidemic. NAAG specifically is requesting clarification of how the FDA is using and plans to use powers granted under the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act). Those provisions include safer opioid packaging and disposal features, research, and issuance of new regulations on non-addictive alternatives to opioids and guidelines for opioid prescribing.
January 11, 2021
This holiday season (and year-round), gift cards are on scammers’ wish lists. Scammers always have a reason for you to pay them immediately with a gift card. And they often tell you which card to buy and which store to visit.The FTC’s data show that, nationwide, gift cards are a top way that people report paying most scammers. That’s why the FTC is launching a new Stop Gift Card Scams campaign to work with stores and law enforcement to fight these scams.
December 21, 2020
48 Attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Facebook Inc., alleging that the company has and continues to illegally stifle competition to protect its monopoly power. The lawsuit alleges that, over the last decade, the social networking giant illegally acquired competitors in a predatory manner and cut services to smaller threats— depriving users from the benefits of competition and reducing privacy protections and services along the way — all in an effort to boost its bottom line through increased advertising revenue. The coalition is asking the court to halt Facebook’s allegedly illegal, anticompetitive conduct and block the company from continuing this behavior in the future. Additionally, the coalition asks the court to restrain Facebook from making further acquisitions valued at or in excess of $10 million without advance notice to the plaintiff states. Finally, the court is asked to provide any additional relief it determines is appropriate, including the divestiture or restructuring of illegally acquired companies, or current Facebook assets or business lines.
December 9, 2020
A bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general announced a $113 million multistate settlement with Apple, Inc. regarding Apple’s 2016 decision to throttle consumers’ iPhone speeds to address unexpected shutdowns in some iPhones due to battery issues. The attorneys general allege that Apple’s concealment of the battery issues and decision to throttle the performance of consumers’ iPhones led to Apple profiting from selling additional iPhones to consumers whose phone performance Apple had slowed. Recently, Apple also settled class action litigation related to the same conduct, and under that settlement Apple will pay out up to $500 million in consumer restitution. More information on the settlement can be found here.
November 18, 2020
At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal court in Ohio has issued a temporary restraining order against 25 counterfeit websites that allegedly have been playing on consumers’ COVID-19 pandemic fears to trick them into paying for Clorox and Lysol products that the defendants never deliver.
November 5, 2020
The U.S. Attorney for Minnesota announced three separate indictments charging 60 defendants for their roles in a $300 million nationwide telemarketing fraud scheme that targeted elderly and vulnerable victims. The charges include conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and violating the Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act of 1994 (the “SCAMS Act”). The defendants are located in 14 states, 16 judicial districts, and two Canadian provinces.
October 28, 2020
A bipartisan coalition of 38 attorneys general filed an amicus brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case that will determine the scope of the protections of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). At issue is whether the TCPA’s restrictions on autodialers include any device that can store and dial numbers automatically, or whether it is limited to devices that use a random number generator. In their brief, the attorneys general argue that the TCPA applies to all kinds of devices that store and dial numbers automatically and that adopting a narrower definition would leave consumers less protected.
October 23, 2020
The Internal Revenue Service extended its October 15, 2020 deadline for non-filers to apply for COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. The new deadline is November 21, 2020. The IRS encourages people to use its Non-Filers: Enter Info Here
October 23, 2020
50 State Attorneys General announced an update to the global settlement framework agreement with generic opioid manufacturer Mallinckrodt (MNK), its subsidiaries, and certain other affiliates. MNK is currently the largest generic opioid manufacturer in the United States. Under the new settlement, MNK will pay $1.6 billion of cash over a period of years into a trust that will go toward abating the opioid crisis, including valid claims related to MNK’s role in the opioid crisis raised by non-governmental claimants. MNK also agrees that its 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.
October 12, 2020
A bipartisan coalition of 28 states announced a $5 million settlement with Community Health Systems Inc. (CHS) resulting from a 2014 data breach that impacted approximately 6.1 million patients nationwide. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, along with Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, led the group of attorneys general that reached the settlement with CHS and its subsidiary, CHSPSC LLC.
October 8, 2020
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