Each week, Crowell & Moring’s State Attorneys General team highlights significant actions that State AGs have taken. Here are this week’s updates.
- A coalition of 18 attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General James and the Federal Trade Commission, announced a settlement recovering $34.2 million for more than 46,000 servicemembers and veterans who were defrauded by Harris Jewelry. The company used predatory lending contracts and deceptive marketing tactics against active-duty servicemembers, falsely claiming that participating in the company’s financing program would improve servicemembers’ credit scores. Further, Harris Jewelry allegedly misrepresented the terms of purchase protection plans, failed to provide written disclosures and authorization requirements, and significantly overpriced poor quality jewelry. Harris Jewelry is required to provide refunds, stop collecting debt, and correct bad credit scores.
- A coalition of 7 attorneys general, led by Acting New Jersey Attorney General Platkin, announced a settlement with Wawa Inc. recovering $8 million. The settlement resolves an investigation by these states into a data breach that compromised approximately 34 million payment cards used by consumers for Wawa products. The breach occurred between April 18, 2019 and December 12, 2019 and affected stores in Pennsylvania, Florida, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. This is the third largest attorneys general credit card breach settlement (behind breaches at Target and Home Depot).
- California Attorney General Bonta issued an alert reminding Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396. This alert follows California Governor Newsom’s declaration of a state of emergency for Mariposa County due to the Oak Fire, which has destroyed homes, threatened infrastructure, and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.
- Colorado Attorney General Weiser announced a settlement requiring Savory Spice Shop to pay $30,000 for failure to safeguard payment card information of almost 14,000 Coloradan customers. Savory Spice Shop was the victim of a data breach at an unknown time between April 2018 and September 2020 that allowed the attacker to skim payment card information. Upon discovering the data breach, Savory Spice Shop failed to notify customers impacted by the breach for nine months and failed to implement recommended security measure to stop future breaches.
- Connecticut Attorney General Tong announced Jaguar Land Rover of North America will pay $26,500 for the company’s failure to comply with Connecticut’s Automobile Warranty statute, commonly called the Lemon Law. The statue provides owners of defective vehicles under 2 years old or with fewer than 24,000 miles by providing a low-cost arbitration process to resolve disputes. This is the first lawsuit filed under the 2021 amended Lemon Law, which allows the Department of Consumer Protection to levy a fine of up to $1,000 per day against a manufacturer that fails to comply with an arbitrator’s decision.
- Illinois Attorney General Raoul announced the release of informational guides and reporting templates that provide instructions to private education lenders to help them comply with the annual reporting requirements of the Know Before You Owe Private Education Loan Act. The Act, signed into law on August 26, 2021, provides potential student loan borrowers with information about federal financial assistance eligibility and requires lenders who issue private student loans to report information about their lending activity annually to the Attorney General’s office. The reporting deadline for lenders is November 1, 2022.
- Kansas Attorney General Schmidt announced Evergy Kansas Central, a subsidiary of the state’s largest electric utility, agreed to a consent judgment to pay $500,000 to the State of Kansas for alleged violations of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. The consent judgment is related to interior and exterior electrical home warranties offered via the affiliated HomeServe USA from September 2014 through December 2019. The attorney general investigated electrical home warranties that failed to provide a material benefit to consumers and made material misrepresentations.
- Massachusetts Attorney General Healey announced a settlement requiring TradeSource, a Rhode Island-based job placement service company, to pay $230,000 in penalties for failure to implement proper security programs necessary to protect personal information following a data breach impacting more than 3,000 Massachusetts residents. The Attorney General alleged that TradeSource violated Massachusetts data privacy laws by failing to have a written information security program prior to the data breach. The company must comply with the Massachusetts data privacy law moving forward.
- New Jersey Acting Attorney General Platkin issued cease and desist warning letters to a combination of service, retail and restaurant operators in New Jersey alerting merchants of their duty to disclose surcharges for using credit, debit or pre-paid cards. The Attorney General’s Office received multiple complaints in recent months prompting investigation and eventually the issuance of 14 warning letters. The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act does not prohibit card surcharges, but does require an establishment to conspicuously display a notice about the surcharge near the point of sale.
- New Jersey Acting Attorney General Platkin announced a $1.9 million judgment against a New Jersey family that defrauded financially struggling homeowners through the sale of sham mortgage adjustment services, providing no meaningful debt relief to homeowners. The Vanderpoel family used various corporate entities including Financial Services For America, Financial Processing Services, LLC, Tri-State Financial Relief, LLC, and Mortgage Help and Loan Audits of America, LLC. The summary judgment order permanently shuts down the sham companies and permanently bars the family from performing any services involving loan modification, debt adjustment, and mortgage compliance in New Jersey.
- New Jersey Acting Attorney General Platkin announced that the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy has temporarily suspended the license and shut down the pharmacy, AllCare Pharmacy, which was operated by Christina Bekhit, a Hudson county pharmacist arrested on charges of selling falsified Covid-19 vaccination cards and fraudulent reporting to the state-managed vaccination registry. Bekhit faces multiple criminal charges.
- New Jersey Acting Attorney General Platkin announced the creation of the Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Office. The SAFE Office is the first of its kind in the nation and has a mandate to bring civil enforcement actions against firearm companies for violations of the law that harm the health and safety of New Jersey residents. New Jersey recently enacted firearms public nuisance legislation (P.L.2022, c.56), signed by New Jersey Governor Murphy on July 5, 2022, which authorizes the Attorney General to bring lawsuits against gun industry members that knowingly or recklessly contribute to a public nuisance in New Jersey through unlawful or unreasonable conduct, or that fail to maintain reasonable controls, relating to their sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing, or marketing of gun-related products.
- New York Attorney General James announced an agreement that AmTrust Title Insurance Company and First Nationwide Title Agency (collectively “Amtrust”) will terminate any existing no-poach agreements with their competitors, pay the state $1.25 million, and cooperate with the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation of the industry. The Attorney General’s investigation concluded that AmTrust entered into no-poach agreements with other title insurance companies to stifle competition for employees.
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro announced legal actions against two used car companies, Carspot and JK Motor Cars, for violating state consumer protection laws. An investigation against Carspot, opened in August of 2020, found that Carspot had engaged in a pattern of deceptive and unfair business practices, following a previously filed Agreement of Voluntary Compliance against the company in 2016. The office of the Attorney General just filed suit against JK Motor Cars for similar deceptive and unfair business practices. Both businesses misrepresented the existence and coverage of warranties sold with cars.
- West Virginia Attorney General Morrisey filed suit against an unlicensed Raleigh county plumbing contractor, Jerry Smales, for defrauding consumers of approximately $6,000 without completing the agreed upon plumbing projects. The lawsuit seek restitution for the consumers and to block Smales from further future contracting work in West Virginia.
- Washington Attorney General Ferguson highlighted a recent independent economic study titled “The Effect of No-poaching Restrictions on Worker Earnings in Franchised Industries” conducted by four economists. The study evaluated the impact of Attorney General Ferguson’s No-Poach Initiative and concluded that it directly increased wages for low-income franchise workers nationwide. Attorney General Ferguson’s No-Poach Initiative was a two-year project that ended the use of illegal no-poach clauses in franchise agreements at all chains that operate in Washington, a total of 237 companies.