The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute (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. Click on this link to find this month’s newsletter. To subscribe, click on this link link.
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.
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.
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.
The FTC update shows the number and types of COVID-19-related consumer complaints and consumer losses from January 1- April 9, 2020. During that period, the FTC received 15,006 overall reports claiming $11.95 million in fraud loss with a median fraud loss of $576. The top consumer complaints related to travel/vacations and involved refund and cancellation issues. Other leading complaint categories involved online shopping, mobile text messages and imposters posing as businesses and government officials.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The president has signed into law the TRACED Act, giving Attorneys General, the FCC and the FTC more tools to go after individuals and companies who break the law by making illegal robocalls. Fifty-four attorneys general wrote a letter in March of 2019 urging congress to pass the TRACED Act.
Attorneys General have expressed concern about Facebook’s business practices which may have put consumer data at risk, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising.
50 Attorneys General have announced a multistate antitrust investigation of Google. The Attorneys General plan to investigate Google’s overarching control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have led to anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers.
The FTC is mailing more than 30,000 refund checks totaling more than $2.6 million to small businesses that lost money to an office supply scheme that used the names A-1 Janitorial, Target Supplies, Century Manufacturing, and CMC. According to the FTC, the defendants called small businesses throughout the United States and Canada, offered a free sample of a cleaning product or other office supply, shipped the sample, and then billed the business for the full cost of the product, even when the business refused to accept the product.
50 Attorneys General settled with Equifax over massive 2017 data breach affecting more than 145 million consumers’ personal information. The settlement required Equifax to pay more than $600 million including $425 million for consumer restitution.