Privacy Class Action Filed Against East Coast Alpine

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against East Coast Alpine. The case alleges that East Coast Alpine violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

East Coast Alpine, Comm. Ave. Boston

East Coast Alpine, Comm. Ave. Boston

 

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of East Coast Alpine of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Unpaid Interns – Should You Be Paid For Your Work?

Unpaid internships can seem like a great opportunity.  Sometimes, however, unpaid internships benefit the employer far more than the intern.  In some cases, unpaid internship programs violate state and federal labor laws.

Have you been negatively affected by an unpaid internship? We are accepting stories about unpaid internships in Massachusetts. We are also accepting clients who wish to seek financial compensation after working as unpaid interns. 

The use of unpaid interns obviously allows employers to reduce labor costs. Starving for opportunity, energetic and naive young people are routinely exploited through unpaid internships.

Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours that they work.  Unlike apprenticeship programs of the past, many interns are not taught a trade, or given paid employment after their internship. Instead, most interns are required to do general menial tasks and gopher work with no educational value, for no pay.

Minimum wage laws require that employers pay all employes (even college students and recent grads who are desperate for work) the minimum wage, as well as overtime for hours over forty in a workweek.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has no exemption for interns unless they are apprentices or in a vocational training program. The Department of Labor (DOL) uses a six-factor test to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee.  It is only permissible to pay interns and less than minimum wage (and even then at no less than 75% of minimum wage) after applying for and being granted an authorizing certificate from the DOL, pursuant to Section 14(a) of the FLSA.

Another aspect of the use of unpaid interns is the unfair business advantage that this business practice creates.  The competitive disadvantage suffered by businesses not supplemented by unpaid intern labor in unfair.

The Department of Labor published a fact sheet about how federal law applies to unpaid internships — see below:

Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

This fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the services that they provide to “for-profit” private sector employers.

Background

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines the term “employ” very broadly as including to “suffer or permit to work.”  Covered and non-exempt individuals who are “suffered or permitted” to work must be compensated under the law for the services they perform for an employer.  Internships in the “for-profit” private sector will most often be viewed as employment, unless the test described below relating to trainees is met.  Interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.*

The Test For Unpaid Interns

There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation.  The Supreme Court has held that the term “suffer or permit to work” cannot be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his or her own interest an employee of another who provides aid or instruction.  This may apply to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit if the training meets certain criteria.  The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.  This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad.  Some of the most commonly discussed factors for “for-profit” private sector internship programs are considered below.

Similar To An Education Environment And The Primary Beneficiary Of The Activity

In general, the more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience (this often occurs where a college or university exercises oversight over the internship program and provides educational credit).  The more the internship provides the individual with skills that can be used in multiple employment settings, as opposed to skills particular to one employer’s operation, the more likely the intern would be viewed as receiving training.  Under these circumstances the intern does not perform the routine work of the business on a regular and recurring basis, and the business is not dependent upon the work of the intern.  On the other hand, if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.

Displacement And Supervision Issues

If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing workforce during specific time periods, these interns should be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.  If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled compensation under the FLSA.  Conversely, if the employer is providing job shadowing opportunities that allow an intern to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees, but the intern performs no or minimal work, the activity is more likely to be viewed as a bona fide education experience.  On the other hand, if the intern receives the same level of supervision as the employer’s regular workforce, this would suggest an employment relationship, rather than training.

Job Entitlement

The internship should be of a fixed duration, established prior to the outset of the internship.  Further, unpaid internships generally should not be used by the employer as a trial period for individuals seeking employment at the conclusion of the internship period.  If an intern is placed with the employer for a trial period with the expectation that he or she will then be hired on a permanent basis, that individual generally would be considered an employee under the FLSA.

1 Comment

Filed under Class Action Investigations, Uncategorized

Judge Posner affirms TCPA class certification and upholds 7th Circuit’s TCPA standing precedent

In a good decision [PDF] for TCPA class actions, Judge Posner today ruled for plaintiffs in ARNOLD CHAPMAN and PALDO SIGN & DISPLAY COMPANY, v. WAGENER EQUITIES, INC. and DANIEL WAGENER.

“…our decision in Holtzman v. Turza, 728 F.3d 682, 684 (7th Cir. 2013), holds that no monetary loss need be shown to entitle the junk‐fax recipient to statutory damages. Whether or not the user of the fax machine is an owner, he may be annoyed, distracted, or otherwise inconvenienced if his use of the machine is interrupted by unsolicited faxes to it, or if the machine wears out prematurely because of overuse attributable to junk faxes.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Starbucks, “Greek Yogurt,” and Consumer Law

In early 2013, the Leonard Law Office wrote to Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz challenging the “Greek Yogurt,” claim made on various yogurt products sold at Starbucks in Massachusetts.

Authentic Greek yogurt has two main ingredients: milk and active yogurt cultures. It differs from ordinary yogurt in that most of the whey is strained out of it, producing an end result that is higher in protein, lower in fat, and has a thicker consistency than ordinary yogurt. Greek yogurt costs more than ordinary yogurt because it requires more milk and more work to make it, and has health benefits that make Greek yogurt more desirable than ordinary yogurt.

Before: 

  • Contains Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Contains Pectin
  • Calories: 300
  • Protein: 8g
Starbucks greek yogurt label 600dpi black and white cropped

Starbucks’ previous “Greek Yogurt” version

After:

  • Whey Protein Concentrate 
  • Pectin
  • Calories: 260
  • Protein: 15g
2

Current Ingredients Label

*     *     *

Current Lid Label — “15g of Protein”

*     *     *

Starbucks has obviously changed the packaging and the product contained inside, despite Mr. Shultz’s lawyers dismissing the substance of the letter:

ScreenHunter_39 Mar. 30 20.28

“no legal basis”

*     *      *

The new version tastes better, has more protein, fewer calories, and costs the same.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Class Action Alleges Massachusetts Employees Misclassified as Independent Contractors

In March of 2014, we filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against The Boston Institute for Psychotherapy, Inc. (“BIP”) alleging that BIP failed to pay its employees in accordance with the Massachusetts Wage Act and that BIP misclassified its employees as “independent contractors” in violation of Massachusetts law.

The lawsuit alleged that BIP classified its psychotherapy clinicians, and other employees, as “independent contractors” to avoid expenses commonly associated with having employees, such as employment tax, health insurance, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and other employee benefits. The lawsuit also claimed that BIP, by classifying these employees as “independent contractors,” attempted to skirt the Massachusetts Wage Act by paying its employees once per month, which exceeds the permissible time frame allowed by law.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts sought class certification on behalf of all current and former clinicians and other employees who were affected by BIP’s allegedly unlawful payroll practices.

PDF Doulamis v. BIP Class Action Complaint

This case resulted in a classwide settlement.  The BIP closed its doors in 2016.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Privacy Class Action Filed Against Fresh

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against Fresh. The case alleges that Fresh violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

Fresh

Fresh — Newbury Street, Boston

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Fresh of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts store from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Information About Fresh:

Fresh is a for-profit corporation, organized under the laws of Delaware with a principal place of business at 560 Harrison Avenue, Suite 407, Boston, Massachusetts 02118. It sells cosmetics, skin cream, and hair care products.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Free People Privacy Class Action Filed

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against Free People. The case alleges that Free People violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

Free People -- Prudential Center, Boston

Free People — Prudential Center, Boston

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Free People of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts store from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Information About Free People

Free People LLC is a limited liability company, organized under the laws of Delaware, with a principal place of business at 5000 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19112. Defendant Free People of PA LLC is a limited liability company, organized under the laws of Delaware, which merged with Free People LLC in 2005.  Free People is a subdivision of Urban Outfitters. The President of Free People is Margaret Hayne.

Free people one

 

*    *    *

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Patagonia Privacy Class Action Filed

Update:

The Settlement Administrator sent out an email to class members. This email, sent on 11/25/14 from millerpatagoniasettlement@tgcginc.com is below:

NOTICE OF PENDING CLASS ACTION AND NOTICE OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT
MILLER v. PATAGONIA, INC.

You are receiving this e-mail because, between March 18, 2010 and April 17, 2013, you may have provided a zip code (that Patagonia did not previously have) during a Credit Card purchase transaction at Patagonia’s Massachusetts Retail Store, and Patagonia maintains an email address for you.

A court authorized this Notice.  This is not a solicitation from a lawyer.  You are not being sued.

Why did I get this notice?  A settlement (“Settlement”) has been proposed in a class action lawsuit pending in the Suffolk County Superior Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts titled Miller v. Patagonia, Inc., C.A. 14-0888 (the “Action).  According to available records, you may be a “Settlement Class Member.”  The purpose of this notice is to inform you of the Action and the Settlement so that you may decide what steps to take in relation to it.

What is the Action about?  The Action was filed against Patagonia, Inc. (“Patagonia”).  Plaintiff Lauren Miller claims that Patagonia improperly collected customers’ zip codes at Patagonia’s Massachusetts store and sent customers unwanted marketing materials.  Patagonia denies that its actions violated the law, and no court or other entity has made any judgment or other determination that Patagonia violated the law.  Plaintiff believes that Patagonia’s conduct, as alleged, violated Massachusetts law and that her lawsuit has substantive merit. Both parties have agreed to a settlement to avoid the cost and risk of a trial.

Who is a member of the Settlement Class?  The Settlement Class – which includes you – is comprised of all Massachusetts customers who provided a zip code during a credit card or debit card purchase transaction at Patagonia’s retail store located at 346 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02115 (“Patagonia’s Massachusetts Retail Store”) from March 18, 2010 to April 17, 2013, for whom Patagonia did not already have a zip code and for whom Patagonia maintains a mailing or email address.

What relief does the Settlement provide me?  Patagonia has agreed to provide a merchandise certificate (“Certificate”) to all Settlement Class Members redeemable for $13 toward a future purchase from Patagonia.  The Certificate shall be fully transferrable.  The Certificate may not be used in conjunction with other offers, coupons, discounts, and promotions.  Only one Certificate may be used by each customer.  The Certificate is to be used on a single, in-store purchase at Patagonia’s Massachusetts Retail Store.  The Certificate is not redeemable for purchases from mail order catalogues, from Patagonia.com, for gift cards, or for prior purchases.  No minimum or maximum purchase amount is required to use the Certificate.  The Certificate cannot be redeemed for cash back, and any remaining balance not used in a single, in-store transaction shall be forfeited.  No monetary refund, cash, or change of any kind shall be provided for all or any portion of the Certificate’s value.  The Certificate cannot be redeemed as cash or merchandise credit if the merchandise is returned.  The Certificate is not a gift card or a gift certificate under federal or Massachusetts law, it cannot be replaced or redeemed if lost or stolen, and copies of the Certificate will not be accepted.  The Certificate shall be immediately available for redemption upon receipt, and shall expire 180 days after issuance.

                How can I get a Certificate?  If the Settlement is approved, you do not need to do anything to receive a certificate.  Instead, within 30 days after the settlement has been finally approved, Patagonia will send you a certificate by email or, if you do not have a valid email on file with Patagonia, by mail at the mailing address on file with Patagonia.  In the event that any such email or postal mailing is returned as undeliverable, Patagonia shall have no further obligation to deliver a Certificate to you unless you provide Patagonia with a valid email or postal mailing address within 60 days after the Settlement has obtained Final Judicial Approval.

                What happens when the Settlement is approved?  If the Settlement is approved, Patagonia will send you a Certificate.  In addition, you (and any person claiming by, for, or through you) will give up any right to bring your own lawsuit or participate in any lawsuit about the issues in this case.  The Settlement releases Patagonia and affiliated parties from all the claims as described in the settlement agreement, available for you to read on the settlement website here.

What other options do I have?  You may object or ask for permission for you or your own lawyer to appear and speak at the hearing – at your own cost – but you don’t have to do either.  Written objections and requests to appear must be sent to Civil Clerk’s Office, Suffolk Superior Court, County Courthouse, 12th Floor, Three Pemberton Square, Boston, MA 02108 and received by January 2, 2015 (with a copy to counsel for Patagonia and the Class).  Details on how to object, along with more information, are described here.  The Court will hold a hearing on February 3, 2015, at 2:00 p.m. to consider whether to approve the settlement and attorneys’ fees and awards for the Class Representative.  The hearing will take place before the Honorable Janet Sanders (or another Superior Court judge sitting in her stead) in Room 1017, County Courthouse, Suffolk Superior Court, Three Pemberton Square, Boston, MA 02108.

Where can I find more information about the Settlement?  For more detailed information about your rights in connection with this case, please visit www.millerpatagonia-settlement.com.

*                             *                              *                                   *

Original Post

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against Patagonia.  The case alleges that Patagonia violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

Patagonia

Patagonia — Newbury Street, Boston

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Patagonia of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts store from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards , recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

A recent article from CNNMoney discussed the significant privacy violations that result from the practice of collecting ZIP codes. According to CNNMoney:

[T]he five-digit zip code is one of the key items data brokers use to link a wealth of public records to what you buy. They can figure out whether you’re getting married (or divorced), selling your home, smoke cigarettes, sending a kid off to college or about to have one. Such information is the cornerstone of a multi-billion dollar industry that enables retailers to target consumers with advertising and coupons. Yet, data privacy experts are concerned about the level at which consumers are being tracked without their knowledge — and what would happen if that data got into the wrong hands. Acxiom, one of the biggest data brokers in the business, claims to have a database that holds information — including one’s age, marital status, education level, political leanings, hobbies and income level — on 190 million individuals. Major competitors, like Datalogix and CoreLogic, tout similarly vast databases. In most cases, all that is needed to match the information these data brokers compile with what you buy is your full name — obtained when you swipe a credit card — and a zip code, according to data privacy experts. This allows them to figure out that you are the Sally Smith who lives in Butte, Mont., not the one who lives in Denver, for example. “For the majority of the country, the zip code is going to be the piece of the puzzle that is going to enable a merchant to identify you,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Source “What Your ZIP Code Reveals About You,” April 18, 2013 (available at http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/18/pf/data-privacy/).

Information about Patagonia

Patagonia is a California company founded by Yvon Chouinard. It is best known for its high quality outdoor clothing, and esteemable corporate ethics.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Massachusetts State, County, and City Consumer Protection Offices

Massachusetts State Offices
 
Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108-1518
617-727-8400 (Consumer Hotline)
TTY: 617-727-4765
email: ago@state.ma.us
http://www.mass.gov/ago

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hangtime Text Message / Privacy Class Action Filed in Massachusetts Federal Court

The Leonard Law Office  is representing plaintiffs in a class action against California app company Hangtime. The case is about unsolicited text messages that allegedly violate federal telemarketing and Massachusetts consumer protection law.

A text from hangtime is below:

Invite to MA Resident (7.6.14)

The Hangtime TCPA Class action complaint (PDF) asserts:

– In a misguided effort to promote its mobile application or “app,” Hangtime engages in an invasive and unlawful form of marketing: the unauthorized transmission of advertising in the form of “text message” calls to the cellular telephones of consumers throughout the nation.

– By effectuating these unauthorized text message calls (“wireless spam”), Hangtime has violated consumers’ statutory rights and has caused consumers actual harm, not only because consumers were subjected to the aggravation that necessarily accompanies wireless spam, but also because consumers frequently have to pay their cell phone service providers for the receipt of such wireless spam.

Hangtime - California App Company

– In order to redress these injuries, Plaintiff, on behalf of himself and a nationwide class of similarly situated individuals, and a Massachusetts subclass, brings action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq. (“47 U.S.C. § 227”) (the “TCPA”), which prohibits unsolicited voice and text calls to cell phones, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, M.G.L. c. 93A, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

– Unlike more conventional advertisements, wireless spam invades privacy and can actually cost its recipients money, because cell phone users like Plaintiff must frequently either pay their respective wireless service providers for each text message call they receive or incur a usage allocation deduction to their text plan, regardless of whether or not the message is authorized.

– Over the course of an extended period beginning in at least 2013, Hangtime and its agents directed the mass transmission of wireless spam to the cell phones nationwide of what they hoped were potential customers of Hangtime’s social networking services.

– For instance, on or about December 29, 2013, Plaintiff’s cell phone rang, indicating that a text call was being received.

– The “from” field of the transmission was identified cryptically as “14158153107,” which is a special purpose telephone number known as a long code operated by Hangtime and its agents.  The body of such text message read:

Mikey Leftside shared events with you on Hangtime. http://hangti.me/XiEpF6mLKc

Hangtime’s and its agents’ use of a long code enabled Hangtime’s mass transmission of wireless spam to a list of cellular telephone numbers.

Hangtime sent these messages using equipment with the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator and to dial such numbers

– By use of these methods, Hangtime sent text messages that were the same or practically the same as the message sent to Plaintiff, referenced in Paragraph 15 above, to numerous cell phones throughout the country.

– These text messages, including the text message sent to Plaintiff did not originate from, nor were they created by, the individuals referenced in the messages (though the messages were intended and made to appear that way).  Rather, the messages sent to Plaintiff and other class members originated from and were created by Hangtime as a promotional device for its service.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Cases

Securities Fraud Class Action Investigation: Merge Healthcare Inc. (Nasdaq: MRGE)

What is Securities Fraud?

Securities fraud takes a variety of forms.  All dishonest actions on the part of publicly traded corporations can cause their investors serious financial harm. When the market reacts negatively to news of wrongdoing, share prices decrease, and investors lose money.

Merge Healthcare’s Falsified Contracts and Overstated Figures

On January 8, 2014, MRGE issued a corrective disclosure (PDF) confessing that the company had “falsified the existence or amount of certain customer contracts.” This is the second time Merge Healthcare has had problems with ethics. In 2009, the SEC charged two former senior executives with accounting fraud, in a scandal that caused the stock price to plummet. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Harvard University’s “Collossal” Payroll Blunder – Potential Class Action Investigation

According to two Harvard Law School professors (see below) Harvard’s initial handling of massive payroll error was misleading and inadequate.

  • Did Havard’s tax error and resulting payroll mistakes violate Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws?
  • Does Harvard owe far more than it claims?

If you were affected by this issue, you are welcome to contact us. You may be entitled to significant financial compensation. The Leonard Law Office is now accepting Massachusetts Wage & Hour Law Violation / Wage Theft cases.

================================================

To: HLS Faculty and Staff
From: Professors Alvin Warren and Daniel Halperin
Date: February 4, 2014
Re: Major Harvard Tax Error

We write in response to requests for our views regarding a letter from the Harvard Benefits Office dated January 21, 2014 concerning Harvard supplemental life insurance. If you received this letter, it is because the University reported too much taxable income for you to the federal and state governments for one or more taxable years beginning in 2009. If you did not receive the letter, you need not read any further.

In our view, the letter misstates the law and is misleading as to both the scope of the problem and the University’s responsibility to make some 11,000 employees whole for a monumental mistake by the central administration. After reviewing the letter, we met with a group of responsible personnel in Harvard’s central administration. The good news is that we think that they understand just how misleading the letter is. Although nothing has been decided, they are also aware of our position that the University must make its faculty and staff whole for excess taxes we paid on more than $20,000,000 of income that we did not receive, but which was erroneously reported by Harvard to the federal and state governments on our W-2 forms.

These are the facts as provided to us by the central administration: Prior to 2009, the University’s pricing of supplemental life insurance resulted in some employees receiving what the IRS regarded as taxable subsidies that had to be reported as income. In 2009, the University changed the pricing of the insurance so that there were no more taxable subsidies. The Harvard administration nonetheless continued to report taxable income to the federal and state governments, as though no change had been made. This taxable income was included on employees’ W-2 forms, so we paid taxes on income that we did not receive. The central administration first became aware of possible overreporting in October 2013. The first communication to the faculty and staff regarding the issue was the January 21, 2014 letter.

The letter misstates the law. It says that “IRS regulations do not allow the University to assist you in filing for a state or federal income tax refund.” There is no such regulation.

The letter does not accurately present the scope of the problem. It says that “For many people, the amount of the over-reported income was less that $200 per year.” That is true, but for some employees, the amount exceeds $10,000. Nowhere is the total scope of the problem frankly presented. We were told in our meeting that more than 11,000 current and former employees are affected, with the total amount of overreported income exceeding $20,000,000. In our judgment, to mention in the letter only those employees for whom the amount involved is less than $200 per year is misleading as to the true extent of the problem.

The letter fails to reveal all of the years for which there is a problem. The letter only discusses 2011-13, but the overreporting also occurred in 2009 and 2010. This fact is obscured by the vague expression in the first paragraph, which states that the problem involves “several years prior to 2014.” The full scope of the years involved is never disclosed. The federal statute of limitations has run for 2009, so no refund can be claimed for that year unless an employee’s tax return is still open due to, for example, an audit. The federal statute of limitations for 2010 runs on April 15, 2014, but the administration does not believe it can provide corrected W-2 forms by then.

Most grievously, the letter fails to accept Harvard’s responsibility to make its employees whole for its monumental error. Although 11,000 Harvard employees were victims of the administration’s error, the only remedy presented in the letter is for each of the victims to file amended tax returns with the state and federal governments. The only “resources” offered in the “Frequently Asked Questions” that accompanied the letter are a couple of links to federal (not state) government tax sites.

In our view, Harvard has a responsibility to make its employees whole for its colossal error. For taxable year 2013 (for which returns are due on April 15, 2014) , the central administration hopes to send us corrected W-2 forms somewhat earlier than the March 21 date mentioned in the letter. As to earlier years, it seems to us that the only viable choices are as follows: (1) For years in which amended returns are precluded by the statue of limitations (2009 and 2010, depending on the circumstances), Harvard should offer to reimburse employees for the excess taxes they paid due to the University’s error. These amounts should be compounded to present value. (2) For years in which amended returns are possible, the University should offer employees either (a) reimbursement of excess taxes paid (again compounded to present value) or (b) free professional preparation of amended tax returns. The latter might be done in easily accessible locations on campus or by reimbursement of professional fees for faculty and staff who preferred to use a different return preparer. Some employees might, of course, prefer not to accept either offer and to prepare their own amended returns.

To do anything less than the steps described in the preceding paragraph would indicate that the central administration does not believe that it has an obligation to take responsibility for its errors. Nothing could be further from the core values of truth and honesty that infuse teaching and research at this University. At our meeting with the central administration, we expressed this view with considerable force.

Finally, if you want to see the amount that was overreported for you, it does not appear on your W-2 form. As indicated at the top of the second page of the “Frequently Asked Questions” that accompanied the January 21 letter, that information can be found in a year-to-date total on your December paycheck for each year.

==================================================================================

February 7, 2014

Dear Colleague:
You received a letter from the Harvard Benefits Office dated January 21 regarding an error in IRS Forms W-2 in which Harvard incorrectly reported imputed income on supplemental life insurance for you and others. I offer my sincere apologies for the error itself and for the failure of the initial letter to communicate effectively, including about the nature and scope of the problem, and Harvard’s proposed response.

I write now to correct inaccuracies in the letter, to inform you of steps Harvard will take to assist affected individuals, and to provide additional information in the interest of greater clarity and transparency that you have every right to expect.

The University began to investigate a possible error in reporting of imputed income in October 2013. The problem resulted from a change in the structure of the supplemental life insurance plan in 2009 which meant that income should no longer have been imputed for the benefit.

Overall, the income incorrectly reported for years 2009 through 2013 was significant, estimated to be in excess of $20M for approximately 11,000 affected former and current University employees, while the effect on individual employee’s taxes varied widely. For example, in 2013, the error resulted in less than $200 of imputed income for approximately 60% of affected employees. However, the annual impact was significantly greater for some over $1,000 of imputed income in 2013 for about 13% of those employees affected last year and over $10,000 of imputed income in 2013 for a small number of individuals.

The initial letter misstated the type of assistance the University is able to provide in rectifying the erroneously imputed income. We had intended the letter to note that the University itself could not apply for a state or federal income tax refund on an employee’s behalf. The letter instead said that the University could not assist employees in filing for a refund. This was not accurate. Indeed, the University can provide assistance and, as described below, is actively considering how best to do so.

The original communication did not include steps Harvard would take to support affected members of the community. That was a mistake and we recognize our obligation to ensure that those affected do not incur any financial losses related to this situation. Specifically:

* For 2009 and 2010 we will make payments to current and former employees for excess taxes paid, plus interest. If taxes are due on the foregoing payments, we will reimburse individuals for taxes owed.

* For 2011 and 2012, affected employees can recover the excess tax payments by filing amended tax returns. We recognize that this represents an inconvenience and are committed to doing all that we can to help. We will reimburse individuals for out-of-pocket tax preparation costs, after taxes, if any, that they incur as a result of filing amended returns. We will offer educational programming on filing an amended return. We are also exploring the feasibility of making available tax preparation services that will provide confidential assistance and that will be independent of the University. For individuals with small refund claims, for whom the cost of filing a claim would exceed the amount to be refunded, we will offer the alternative of a cash payment by Harvard in lieu of the individual’s filing a refund claim. If taxes are due on these payments, we will reimburse individuals for taxes owed. We currently anticipate that corrected Forms W-2 for 2011 and 2012 will be available in the early summer.

* We are ahead of schedule for the issuance of corrected Forms W-2 for 2013 and expect they will be delivered earlier in March than originally anticipated and communicated. To avoid the need to file an amended tax return for 2013, we suggest that you delay your filing until you receive the corrected Form W-2.

Going beyond support for affected individuals, we plan to undertake a review, with the assistance of outside experts, of the tax treatment of our benefits programs to ensure there are no additional deficiencies in our processes and practices.

More details of the University’s mitigation efforts will be sent to you in the coming weeks. If you have any questions about this matter, please contact Harvard Benefits at Benefits@harvard.edu.

In closing, please accept my sincere apology. We are working to remedy this situation and to ensure an error like this does not occur again.

Sincerely,

Marilyn Hausammann
Vice President for Human Resources

===========================================

Related Articles

Havard / Yale Football Game -2013

Harvard / Yale Football Game – 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Michael’s Stores Credit Card Privacy / Unsolicited Marketing Case Settles

Massachusetts federal judge William G. Young granted preliminary approval on Wednesday February, 12, 2013 to an $875,000 settlement resolving a class action that accused arts-and-crafts retailer Michael’s Stores Inc. of improperly demanding ZIP Codes from its customers during transactions and then sending them junk mail.  See the settlement docs: [PDF]

In this class action, Michael’s stores was sued for allegedly violating M.G.L. c. 93A sec 9 (Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act) and M.G.L. c. 93 sec. 105(a) (Massachusetts Credit Card Privacy Act). This is the seminal case in the area of credit card privacy under Massachusetts law. Class counsel took the case all the way to the SJC. In mid 2013, they won a decision from the Commonwealth’s highest state court declaring that (1) ZIP codes constitute “Personal Identification Information” in the context of M.G.L. c. 93 sec. 105(a); and (2) receipt of unsolicited marketing materials or  junk mail occasioned by an underlying violation of sec. 105(a) is an injury under 93A.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston News

Neiman Marcus Data Breach Class Action Investigation

Neiman Marcus has had a data breach comparable to Target’s. Personal identification information and card data from as many as 110 million customers has allegedly been exposed.

If you shopped at Neiman Marcus with a credit or debit card from July 16, 2013 – October 30, 2013, or January 2013 – January 2014, you are welcome to contact us. You may be entitled to financial compensation

According to a notice posted on the Neiman Marcus website (pdf) and (url):

“It appears that the malware actively attempted to collect or “scrape” payment card data from July 16, 2013 to October 30, 2013. During those months, approximately 1,100,000 customer payment cards could have been potentially visible to the malware. To date, Visa, MasterCard and Discover have notified us that approximately 2,400 unique customer payment cards used at Neiman Marcus and Last Call stores were subsequently used fraudulently.”

According to another disclosure (pdf) from Neiman Marcus, the company had another data breach from January 2013 – January 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Phishing Attacks, Paypal Accounts, and Fraudulent Charges

What does it mean if you have fraudulent charges on your Paypal Account?

It probably means two things:

#1: You opened a “phishing” email.
#2: A keylogger is recording everything you type and capturing your secret login/password information, as well as other private materials, and sending it to all to a wrongdoer.

Phishing

Phishing is a way to send a real-looking email to an unsuspecting victim to fraudulently obtain something of value.  In the words of an actual phisher:

“PayPal’s security is not the best but it’s well secured. The probable reason for the fraudulent charges are phishing mails, that probably installed a Keylogger on his computer and got the Login details from that way. It’s the easiest way, if he doesn’t have a hi-tech antivirus software.”

A keylogger is a program that records each keystroke and sends the information to someone else through the Internet.

Successful phishing attacks depend on a valid-looking email, and a link contained in the email. Below is an example of one such email claiming to provide a death notification:

From: Hubbell Funeral Home <info@assortjapan.com>
Subject: Death notification

Hubbel Funeral Home
Simply Compassionate

We would like to express our deepest sorrow for the untimely death of your beloved
friend and inform you about the life service celebration that will take place at
Hubbell Funeral Home on February 20, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.

Please follow this link [malware link removed] to get funeral invitation.
Please be there to honor the memory of your friend with her closest people.

Our best wishes and prayers,
David Parks,
Funeral home assistant

99 North Indian Rocks Road | Belleair Bluffs, Florida 33770
Phone 727-584-7671 | Fax 727-584-1073

Phishing Attack

Email Security

(1) Be suspicious. First of all, a sender’s email address is easy to fake. There are ways to digitally forge information in such a way that an email appears to be from a trusted source – ie. security@citibank.com. So, just because you trust the sender, the message may not really be from a trusted source.

(1) If an email asks you for personal information, NEVER provide it.  Banks and legitimate online businesses such as Ebay, Amazon, and Paypal do not send customers emails asking them for:

  • First and last name
  • Password
  • Driver’s license number
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security number
  • Credit and debit card numbers
  • PIN numbers
  • Bank account numbers

(2) Do not click on links within emails, unless you are 100% sure it is from a real person whom you trust,  i.e a friend emailing you an interesting article from the New York Times. Unfortuntely, you can unknowingly download keylogging software or other malicous programs just by one click on the wrong hyperlink.

(3) Do not open software or attachments sent you to from an untrusted email sender.

Computer & Financial Account Security

It is foolish not to have a high quality anti-virus program that is up to date. AVG Free 2014, which doesn’t cost anything, may be good enough to scan for keyloggers and keep your machine secure.

If you have had fraudulent charges on a credit card, debit card, or Paypal account, you should have your cards inactivated and reissued.

Password Security

The easiest way to compromise an account is by guessing the password. Never use an idiotic password such as “Password.” Frequently change all of your passwords, and do not use the same password for everything. A secure password has these characteristics:

  • Contains no words found in the dictionary
  • Consists of a blend of uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Has at least one number and one symbol
  • Is at least ten characters in length
  • Impossible to guess based on who you are
  • Known only to one person: you
  • Has not been used for your other accounts in the past

Varieties of Phishing Attacks

Phishing emails are infinitely creative.   Scammers will stop at nothing to trick people into clicking on a link contained within an email. The notice below from February 2014, warns of a creative tactic used by criminals:

PUBLIC NOTICE
SCAM EMAILS ABOUT PHONY COURT CASES CARRY COMPUTER VIRUS
The federal judiciary has learned of an email scam, in which emails purporting to come from
federal and state courts are infecting recipients with computer viruses.
According to the Security Operations Center of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the
emails are instructing recipients to report to a hearing on a specified day and time. The emails
also instruct recipients to review an attached document for detailed case information. When the
attachments or links in the email are opened, a malicious program is launched that infects the
recipient’s computer. Several state courts have reported similar schemes, and also are warning
the public about potential viruses.
Unless you are actively involved in a case in federal court and have consented to receive court
notifications electronically, you generally will not be served with court documents electronically.
If you receive an email regarding a federal court case or matter of which you are unaware that is
purported to be from this district court, you should contact the CM/ECF help desk at 866-239-
6233 before opening any attachments or links. You may use the court locator
(http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx) to find contact information for other federal courts.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

23 and Me — Investigation Closed

DNA tester 23andMe Inc. has been hit with a class action in which the company is accused of falsely advertising its saliva collection kit and personal genome service product as accurately providing health reports on more than 240 genetic medical conditions.

 

23 and me

According to the Complaint:

“This proposed class action alleges that 23andMe, Inc. (“Defendant”) falsely and misleadingly advertises their Saliva Collection Kit/Personal Genome Service (“PGS”) as providing “health reports on 240+ conditions and traits”, “drug response”, “carrier status”, among other things, when there is no analytical or clinical validation for the PGS. In addition, Defendant uses the information it collects from the DNA tests consumers pay to take to generate databases and statistical information that it then markets to other sources and the scientific community in general, even though the test results are meaningless.

3 Despite Defendant’s failure to receive marketing authorization or approval from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), Defendant has slowly increased its list of indications for the PGS, and initiated new marketing campaigns, including television advertisements in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDC Act”). Defendant 23andMe, Inc., a Delaware Corporation, was and is a corporation founded in 2006, headquartered in Mountain View, California, existing under the laws of the State of Delaware and doing business in the State of California and elsewhere throughout the United States of America.”

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS from the 23and Me Class Action:

  • ” PGS is a direct-to-consumer DNA genetic test. After a consumer purchases the PGS for $99.00 plus applicable taxes, Defendant mails to the customer a packet including a saliva depository. The customer spits into the depository, thereby providing his or her DNA sample, and mails the packet back to Defendant. Defendant allegedly runs a DNA test for 240+ conditions and traits, and mails a report to the customer regarding the risks or family history characteristics such as coronary heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, the customer can log-in to Defendant’s website for more features.
  • Defendant Advertises and Markets PGS as a Reliable Health Aid 10 To benefit Defendant’s sales of PGS, Defendant advertises and markets PGS in multiple media forms, including internet, print, and television.
  • A small sample of such advertising and marketing under the “Health” tab of Defendant’s website shows representations regarding the value of the PGS to a customer’s health:
    •  “Learn hundreds of things about your health. Using your DNA information, 23andMe helps you know more about your health so you can take an active role in managing it. With reports on over 240+ health conditions and traits, here are a few of the things you’ll learn about you.”
    • “Plan for the future. Find out if your children are at risk for inherited conditions, so you can plan for the health of your family.”
    • “Living well starts with knowing your DNA.”
    • “Health tools – Document your family health history, track inherited conditions, and share the knowledge.”
    • “Drug response – Arm your doctor with information on how you might respond to certain medications.”
    • “Below are a few examples [diabetes, arthritis, coronary heart disease, breast cancer, plavix, lactose intolerance] where we can help you learn more. And when you know more, you can make better lifestyle choices, look out for common conditions and take steps toward mitigating serious diseases.”(https://www.23andme.com/health/ Accessed 11/26/13)
  • Defendant markets and advertises specific examples of diseases and conditions for which the PGS can aid the consumer. Further, Defendant claims, “Get personalized recommendations. Based on your DNA, we’ll provide specific health recommendations for you.” Defendant offers information on a consumer’s risk regarding such serious diseases as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer. (https://www.23andme.com/health/ Accessed 11/26/13)
  • Defendant describes the PGS service further: “23andMe is a DNA analysis service providing information and tools for individuals to learn about and explore their DNA, We use the Illumina HumanOmniExpress-24 format chip…Our chip consists of a fully custom panel of probes for detective single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) selected by our researchers. The selection was made to maximize the number of actionable health and ancestry features available to customers as well as offer flexibility for future research.”
  • Defendant Has Provided No Support for Such Advertisements and Marketing to FDA.
  • Defendant has reaped the profit involved in marketing seemingly useful and reliable PGS health services while simultaneously failing to provide proof of the validity of such marketing claims to FDA in violation of the FDC Act
  • Beginning in July 2009, FDA worked diligently with Defendant to try to help Defendant comply with regulatory requirements regarding safety and effectiveness and to obtain marketing authorization for the PGS device.
  • FDA sent Defendant a “Warning Letter” on November 22, 2013, citing concerns over whether or not these tests work. The FDA cited concern about the public danger involved in false positives and false negatives for such serious health conditions purportedly tested by PGS.
  • The FDA Warning Letter further indicated, among other things, that, ‘To date, 23andMe has failed to provide adequate information to support a determination that the PGS is substantially equivalent to a legally marketed predicate for any of the uses for which you are marketing it; no other submission for the PGS device that you are marketing has been provided under section 510(k) of the [FDC] Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360(k).
  • After more than 14 face-to-face meetings, hundreds of email messages, and dozens of written communications between Defendant and FDA concerning the public health consequences of inaccurate results from the PGS device, FDA has concluded, “…even after these many interactions with 23andMe, we still do not have any assurance that the firm has analytically or clinically validated the PGS for its intended uses…”
  • After FDA cited specific examples of potential dangers to consumers, its letter states, “The risk of serious injury or death is known to be high when patients are either non-complaint or not properly dosed; combined with the risk that a direct-to-consumer test result may be used by a patient to self-manage, serious concerns are raised if test results are not adequately understood by patients or if incorrect test results are reported.”
  • Defendant has marketed and sold PGS to consumers for years without any analytical or clinical data to support the device’s efficacy. Despite lacking data to support their claims, Defendant made material representations to customers.
  • Without clinical data, Defendant continues to make health and efficacy claims about the PGS. Without such claims, consumers would lack incentive to purchase the product. Thus, Defendant has benefitted, and continues to benefit, from its misleading and unfair advertising and marketing.
  • If the data is unknown or cannot be produced by researchers, the marketing claims are hollow and misleading, created without backing and with the aim of drawing customers to purchase the product.
  • In a January 9, 2013 letter, Defendant stated to FDA that it was “completing the additional analytical and clinical validations for the tests that have been submitted” and “planning extensive labeling studies that will take several months to complete.” Thus, a full 5 years after the commencement of marketing the PGS to consumers, Defendant cannot support its marketing claims with scientific validation. In the absence of validation, 5 years of marketing claims were unfair, deceptive, and misleading to the consumers who trusted Defendant with potentially life-altering health matters.
  • Defendant also publishes “research” based on the test results it complies from individual consumers paying to have the PGS test administered, falsely claiming the results provide meaningful statistical data and useful scientific results.
  • Plaintiff alleges that, in committing the wrongful acts alleged herein, Defendant, in concert with its subsidiaries, affiliates, and/or other related entities and their respective employees, planned, participated in and furthered a common scheme to induce members of the public to purchase the PGS by means of misleading, deceptive and unfair representations, and that Defendant participated in the making of such representations in that it disseminated those misrepresentations and/or caused them to be disseminated.”

1 Comment

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Target Data Breach Class Action Complaint Filed in Massachusetts

The Target Data Breach Class ActionTarget

 

Update (8/27/14)

The Consolidated National Target Data Breach Class Action Complaint (PDF) was filed on 8/25/14.

Update: (4/4/14)

The Target cases have been transferred (PDF) to Minnesota, Target’s home state.

Update: (1/21/14)

How to Limit Your Losses 

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) offer protection if your credit, ATM, or debit cards are lost or stolen.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Class Action Lawsuits

The Incredible Nuisance of Junk Faxes

Unsolicited faxes damage their recipients. A junk fax recipient loses the use of its fax machine, paper, and ink toner. An unsolicited fax wastes the recipient’s valuable time that would have been spent on something else. A junk fax interrupts the recipient’s privacy. Unsolicited faxes prevent fax machines from receiving authorized faxes, prevent their use for authorized outgoing faxes, cause undue wear and tear on the recipients’ fax machines, and require additional labor to attempt to discern the source and purpose of the unsolicited message.

In 1991, Congress enacted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 et seq. (“TCPA”) to regulate the explosive growth of the telemarketing industry. In so doing, Congress recognized that “unrestricted telemarketing . . . can be an intrusive invasion of privacy . . .” See 47 U.S.C. § 227, Congressional Statement of Findings #5. Specifically, in enacting the TCPA, Congress outlawed telemarketing via unsolicited facsimile (“Junk Fax”). See 47 U.S.C. §227(b)(1)(C).

Section 227(b)(1)(C) of the Act makes it “unlawful for any person within the United States. . . to use any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement.” See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(C); see also 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(a)(3).

Under the TCPA, recipients of unsolicited fax advertisements can file suit in federal or state court to collect the greater of $500 or actual damages for each violation, and/or obtain an injunction. See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(3)(B). If a court determines that the violations were willful or knowing, damages can be tripled. This means that every distinct junk fax sent out could result in damages of $1,500.

Example of a “Junk Fax”:

junk fax from regents capital finance

IF RECEIVE UNWANTED TEXT MESSAGES, ROBOCALLS, OR FAXES FROM A BUSINESS, YOU ARE WELCOME TO CONTACT US. THE LEONARD LAW OFFICE, LLP IS ACCEPTING NEW TCPA CASES. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

FTC Finally Stops (well, not really) The Most Annoying Robocallers Ever: “Rachel from Card Services”

According to the FTC, the agency has reached a settlement with the people behind the “Rachel from Card Services” robocalls. The individuals mentioned are Emory L. “Jack” Holley IV and Lisa Miller. Going after the source of these obnoxious robocalls was one the most useful activities of the FTC in 2013. Unfortunately, however, it didn’t work. I received a call from Rachel on December 16, 2013.

Rachel

FTC’s announcement:

Final Six Defendants in ‘Rachel Robocall’ Scheme Settle FTC Charges – They Will Be Permanently Banned from All Telemarketing and Debt Relief Services – The final six of 10 defendants named in an alleged “Rachel from Cardholder Services” scam have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers with bogus claims that they would lower their credit card interest rates.The FTC settlement bans Emory L. “Jack” Holley IV, Lisa Miller, and the remaining corporate defendants from telemarketing and marketing debt relief services or assisting others in such conduct, prohibits them from misrepresenting any products or services, and imposes a partially suspended $11.9 million judgment. The FTC filed its complaint in this matter in October 2012, alleging that the defendants violated Section 5 of the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by charging illegal up-front fees during telemarketing calls in which they made false promises to reduce the interest rate on consumers’ credit cards and save them thousands of dollars.”

Questions:

  1. How did they get away with it for so long?
  2. Will they really stop?

Case Documents:

Update:

Rachel from Card Services is back at it as of December 16, 2013!

Rachel

Call from Rachel from Card Services (December 16, 2013)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

MAC Faces Privacy Class Action in Massachusetts

On November 5, 2013, the Leonard Law Office filed a class action lawsuit against MAC Cosmetics, alleging violations of Massachusetts credit card privacy and consumer protection laws.

MAC Cosmetics - Newbury St.

MAC Cosmetics – Newbury Street

If you have information about MAC’s business practices related to credit card transactions, or believe you were affected by conduct that is the basis of this case (by MAC or any other Massachusetts retailer) you are welcome to contact us.

Excerpts of the class action complaint are pasted below:

“Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of MAC of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.”  This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston News, Class Action Lawsuits

Do weight loss products containing Hydrocitric Acid (HCA) work as advertised? Do they contain as much HCA as advertised?

Does Hydroxycitric acid (“HCA”) work as a weight loss agent? If you have purchased a weight loss product containing Hydrocitric acid (HCA) or Garcinia Cambogia, and found that the results did not live up to product claims, you are welcome to contact us.

Top Garcinia (HCA) supplement brands

  1. Absolute Garcinia Cambogia
  2. Healthy Clip Pure Garcinia Rapid
  3. Pure Health Garcinia Cambogia
  4. Bio Nutrition Garcinia Cambogia
  5. Labrada Nutrition Garcinia Cambogia
  6. Puritan’s Pride Super Citrimax
  7. Futurebiotics Garcinia Cambogia
  8. Molecular Research Labs Pure Garcinia Cambogia
  9. Vitamin Shoppe Garcinia Cambogia Extract
  10. Garcinia Cambogia Select
  11. Nature’s Plus Citrimax
  12. Vitamin World Super Citrimax
  13. Genesis Today Garcinia Cambogia
  14. Nutritional Sciences Garcinia Lean

Warning: Six HCA products on this list have been been found to contain 16% to 81% of the HCA claimed on the label. If you have purchased any of these products, and believe you were misled, you are welcome to contact us. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Are Annoying Telemarketing Calls, Spam Text Messages and Junk Faxes Illegal — and Can You Make Them Pay?

Obnoxious Robocalls, Unsolicited Text Messages, and Junk Faxes Are Often Unlawful

Examples of TCPA violations:

  • Bill receives a call on his cell phone from an unfamiliar number, and when he picks up, hears a pre-recorded voice offering to sell him something.  He is annoyed and hangs up. After Googling the phone number that called him, and reading all the complaints, it is clear the call was placed by a robocalling telemarketing operation.
  • Sarah sits on the subway on the way to work. She receives a text message from her new hairstylist: “Goddess hair salon offers text reminders. Reply with ‘Y’ to sign up. ” She never gave the salon permission to send her text messages in the first place.
  • Joan runs a small business. One day, she receives an unsolicited fax from a fast food company offering her coupons.

Text Messages and Federal Law

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “The TCPA and the FCC’s rules ban many text messages sent to a mobile phone using an autodialer. These texts are banned unless (1) you previously gave consent to receive the message or (2) the message is sent for emergency purposes. This ban applies even if you have not placed your mobile phone number on the national Do-Not-Call list of numbers telemarketers must not call.

Robocalls aka Telemarketing Calls And Federal Law

Federal law regarding telemarketing calls is embodied in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) and FCC Rules enacted to interpret and enforce the purpose of the TCPA:

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Legal Discussion: Stalking, Harrassment, and Massachusetts Law

Massachusetts has several laws dealing with unwanted, harassing contact. Criminal charges for Stalking, under M.G.L. ch. 265 s. 43 can result in a term in state prison of up to 5 years or a fine of up to $1,000. Criminal Harassment under M.G.L. ch. 43A carries a sentence of up to 2 ½ years in prison. Some forms of electronic communication, i.e. harassing email, text messaging, or Facebook messages can result in a fine of $500 or imprisonment for not more than 3 months, under the “Annoying telephone calls or electronic communication law,” codified at M.G.L. ch 269 s. 14A. It is possible to to obtain a Harassment Prevention Order against a perpetrator under M.G.L. ch 258E.

Stalking

“Stalking”

1 Comment

Filed under Legal Discussions

Is National Union Fire Insurance Company / AIG A Company To Be Wary Of?

American International Group, Inc. (

American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”)

Complaints about National Union Fire Insurance Company

Some consumers have complained about fees imposed by this company in a way they perceive as unfair and deceptive.

Complaintsboard.com

Rippoff Report (37 Complaints)

Information about National Union Fire Insurance Company and AIG

The National Union Fire Insurance Company sells and provides insurance products to consumers and businesses. It operates as a subsidiary of American International Group, Inc. (“AIG“) (formerly Chartis U.S., Inc.). The CEO of NUFIC is Mr. John Q. Doyle.  NUFIC’s primary place of business is located at 70 Pine St., New York, NY 10270. Their phone number is (212) 770-7000.  AIG is led by Mr. Robert H. Benmosche, whose yearly compensation is $10,573,900.  According to documents filed with the SEC, “In March 2012, the National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (NUFI), an AIG Property Casualty company, became a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Pittsburgh.”

AIG

American International Group, Inc.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Legal Discussion: Foreign Driver’s Licenses in Massachusetts & International College Students

Issue:

Do validly licensed foreign college students in the Commonwealth temporarily for school have an obligation to obtain Massachusetts Drivers Licenses? If so, what are the time frames that govern these requirements? If they remain in Massachusetts for over a year without leaving the U.S., does that change things?

Example A: Alfred, who is a citizen of Spain, has a valid driver’s license from Spain. He is admitted to Boston College and purchases a car upon arrival. Alfred registers the car in the Commonwealth. Must he obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license immediately? Can he drive here on his Spanish license temporarily? If so, how long does he have before the Spanish license becomes invalid here?

Example B: Assume same facts as above, except that Alfred returns home each summer for vacation and then returns in the fall. How does leaving and re-entering the country affect this situation?

Example C: Upon graduation, Alfred remains in Spain through the summer, then comes back to Massachusetts for a job. He does not obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license. Does the Commonwealth honor his Spanish driver’s license indefinitely? At what point must he obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license?

Answer:

It depends.

First, it is necessary to determine whether the foreign driver’s license in question is honored in the United States at all.  That depends on whether the license was issued by a country which is one of the Parties to the 1949 Road Traffic Convention and the 1943 Inter-American Automotive Traffic Convention.

Explanation of the 1949 Road Traffic Convention and its application:

  • According the 1949 Road Traffic Convention, a non-resident foreign student from one of the countries listed therein who is at least 18 years of age and is validly licensed in his/her home country can drive a passenger type of vehicle authorized by the license for up to one (1) year in the U.S. on the valid foreign license.
  • If he/she is still here at the end of the 12-month year, they lose the right to operate a motor vehicle on their foreign license in the U.S.
  • If the student goes home at the end of the academic year and returns the following academic year (leaves in May-June and returns in September) then, a new one (1) calendar year period is established on return in September.
Driver's license from Brazil, as issued in the...

Brazilian Driver’s License
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal Discussions, Uncategorized

Job Seekers: Be Alert to FCRA Violations!

Companies often violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when screening applicants.

Generally, there are five very important requirements that employers must follow when seeking an investigative consumer background report  on employees or applicants.

Employers must:

  • Make a clear and accurate written disclosure to the employee/applicant of its intent to obtain the investigative consumer report;
  • Obtain express authorization from the employee/applicant to obtain the investigative consumer report;
  • Give the employee/applicant a pre-adverse action notice if the employer plans to take an adverse action against the employee/applicant based on the information contained in the investigative consumer report;
  • Provide the employee/applicant with an adverse action notice after taking the adverse action;
  • Provide an updated “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” to employees/applicants when an employer provides the pre-adverse action notice.

If you have applied for a job, and the prospective employer failed to meet any of the above requirements, you are invited to contact us.

Federal law provides for stiff monetary penalties against FCRA violators.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Class Action Investigation: Are Micro Center’s Return Policies Unlawful?

Some consumers in Massachusetts have complained about making software purchases at Microcenter, and then finding they cannot return the software at all because the box has been opened.  If you have purchased software or games from Micro Center and were refused an opportunity to return the item, you are invited to contact us.

Micro Center - Cambridge MA

Micro Center – Cambridge MA

Refund, Return, and Cancellation Policies  & Massachusetts Law 

Below is a direct quote from the MA Attorney General’s website:

“Massachusetts law requires merchants to disclose their refund, return, and cancellation policies prior to the consummation of a transaction. A seller can have any type of return policy it wants – “all sales final,” “merchandise credit only,” “full cash refunds within 30 days,” and so on. A seller’s refund, return, or cancellation policy must be disclosed to the buyer clearly and conspicuously before the transaction is completed. Usually, this is done by means of a sign at the point of purchase. If a return policy is only listed on the sales receipt, that is not considered clear and conspicuous prior disclosure, as you only get a receipt after the sale is completed.

You may return goods within a reasonable period of time if no return policy was disclosed. Restrictions in return policies do not apply to defective goods – goods which cannot be used as intended, such as the toaster that will not toast or a television that does not get a picture. The store is required to give you a choice of a refund, repair or replacement.

A seller cannot misrepresent its refund, return, or cancellation policy, or fail to honor any promises about it. Specially-ordered merchandise may have additional restrictions.”

Are Micro Center’s Return Policies Deceptive, Unfair, and Unlawful?

Below is an actual Micro Center receipt that discloses a special policy regarding software purchases. Since it is on the bottom of the receipt, this disclosure is obviously made post-transaction.

Micro Center receipt

Micro Center receipt

Zooming in to the fine print on the sales receipt:

Microcenter - Receipt (return policy) (2)

Can Micro Center customers return software or not?  Why does Micro Center’s posted return policy even use the phrase “If you need to return software”?

"If you need to return software"

“If you need to return software”

Micro Center’s Return Policy

Mirco Center Return Policy

Micro Center Return Policy

Micro Center’s return policy is posted on the back wall near the service desk area at the Cambridge Store. It is also in the Micro Center website.  The policy is found at: http://www.microcenter.com/site/customer-support/return-policy.aspx and backed up as a .PDF on this site’s servers: Microcenter return policy.

Micro Center Return Policy

“New merchandise may be exchanged or returned for refund with your original packing slip subject to the conditions listed below. Micro Center® reserves the right to decline any return or exchange where the product is not in “like-new” condition. “Like-new” means the complete product in the original carton with all equipment, packaging, warranties, manuals and accessories. Returns / exchanges require an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) Number, which is valid for 10 days. To obtain an RMA Number, contact Customer Service. Shipping charges incurred in connection with the exchange or return of new merchandise are non-refundable.

We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund — and you won’t even need a receipt.* We want you to be satisfied with your Micro Center purchase. However, if you need help or need to return an item, we’re here for you!

If an item you have purchased from us is not working as expected, please visit one of our in-store Knowledge Experts for free help, where they can solve your problem or even exchange the item for a product that better suits your needs.
If you need to return an item, simply bring it back to any Micro Center store for a full refund or exchange. *If you are a Micro Center Insider or if you have provided us with validated contact information (name, address, email address), you won’t even need your receipt.

Desktop / notebook computers, tablets, processors, motherboards, digital cameras, camcorders and projectors, and CD/DVD duplicators may be returned within 15 days of purchase. All other products may be returned within 30 days of purchase. Merchandise must be in new condition, with original carton / UPC, and all packaging / accessories / materials. If you need to return software, a game or a movie, remember that you may not retain any copies — it’s not legal, and it’s not nice (emphasis added).

Wireless Phones & Devices
Wireless phones and devices may be returned within 14 days of purchase. When returning a wireless phone or device with a plan, you are responsible for ensuring that your service is cancelled with the carrier. If you don’t cancel your service, you may incur additional charges from your carrier. All carrier charges are your responsibility.

Refunds will take up to 14 business days to process from the date that Micro Center receives the merchandise, and will be credited to the credit card or debit card account used for the original purchase.

PLEASE SAVE YOUR PACKING SLIP

Please note that we are not responsible for expenses, fees or other costs incurred by our Customers as a result of defective or incompatible products.

For further information on how to return merchandise online, click on the following link: How to Return an item to Micro Center Online. Merchandise is deemed returned online on the date that an RMA is obtained provided that Micro Center receives the merchandise within 10 days of the issuance of the RMA. Merchandise received after the expiration of 10 days from the date of issuance of the RMA is deemed to be returned online on the date that Micro Center receives the merchandise, and Micro Center may exercise the rights and remedies set forth in the Terms of Sale including, but not limited to, the right to refuse to accept delivery of the merchandise and to charge the customer the retail price of the merchandise plus a handling charge. You may also return or exchange new merchandise at your local Micro Center store in accordance with the return policy of that store.”

About Microcenter

According to Bloomberg, Micro Center is a privately held company with a primary place of business at 4119 Leap Road, Hilliard, OH 43026. The compay was founded in 1979. The primary phone number is (614) 850-3000. Website: www.microcenter.com.

Micro Center Locations

California
 Orange County/Tustin
Colorado
 Denver/Denver Tech Center
Georgia
 Greater Atlanta/Duluth
 Greater Atlanta/Marietta
Illinois
 Chicagoland/Central
 Chicagoland/Westmont
Kansas
 Kansas City/Overland Park
Massachusetts
 Boston/Cambridge
Maryland
 Beltway/Rockville 
 Baltimore/Towson
Michigan
 Detroit/Madison Heights
Minnesota
 Twin Cities/St. Louis Park
Missouri
 St. Louis/Brentwood
New Jersey
 North Jersey/Paterson
New York
 Long Island/Westbury
 Westchester County/Yonkers
Ohio
 Central Ohio/Columbus
 Northeast Ohio/Mayfield Hts.
 Cincinnati/Sharonville
Pennsylvania
 Philadelphia/St. Davids
Texas
 Houston/West Loop
 Dallas Metroplex/Richardson
Virginia
 Northern Virginia/Fairfax

Pissed Consumer (67 Complaints)

2 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Brooks Brothers Faces Privacy Class Action

Brooks Brothers Logo

Massachusetts law prohibits businesses from requesting and recording a customer’s personal identification when accepting payment by credit card.  Leonard Law Office, LLP and Bailey & Glasser, LLP are representing Massachusetts consumers in a privacy class action against Brooks Brothers, filed in August, 2013.

If you have received junk mailing from Brooks Brothers after using a credit/debit card at a retail location and providing Brooks Brothers with your zip code or home address, you are invited to contact us.

Brooks Brothers Newbury St

Brooks Brothers – Newbury St.

The Class Action Complaint alleges:

  • Brooks Brothers requests customers’ zip codes when they make a purchase using a credit card.
  • Brooks Brothers has a policy of automatically requesting a customer’s zip code in all credit or debit card transactions, and, if provided, recording the zip code electronically in connection with the transaction.
  • Brooks Brothers has a policy of using its customers’ zip codes, and information obtained from third party databases to send marketing materials to customers.
  • Brooks Brothers has a policy of sharing this information with other Brooks Brothers brands.
  • Brooks Brothers’ policies harm Massachusetts consumers by subjecting them to unwanted junk mail, and other marketing without their consent, and using customers’ personal information without their consent for its own business purposes. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Boston News, Class Action Lawsuits

Urban Outfitters Faces Privacy Class Action in Massachusetts

The Leonard Law Office, PC is representing clients regarding credit card privacy claims against Urban Outfitters. This class action, alleging violations of Massachusetts privacy and consumer protection laws, was filed on August 15, 2013. If you have received “junk mail” from Urban Outfitters, you are welcome to contact us.

Urban Outfitters - Massachusetts Ave.

Urban Outfitters – Massachusetts Ave.

Information about the class action lawsuit against Urban Outfitters

The complaint alleges that Urban Outfitters collected ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who made purchases with credit cards, recorded that information as part of credit card transactions, and then used that information for marketing purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” The complaint further alleges that: Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Papa John’s – “Never Frozen” Dough?

There is a dramatic controversy unfolding about claims made by pizza chain retailer Papa John’s.

The box claims:

“Better pizza. Better ingredients.” The CEO’s statement on the box says: “When I founded Papa John’s in 1984, my mission was to build a better pizza,” says “Papa” John Schnatter. “I went the extra mile to ensure we used the highest quality ingredients available – like fresh, never frozen original dough, all-natural sauce, veggies sliced fresh daily and 100 percent real beef and pork. We think you’ll taste the difference.”

Papa John's Pizza Box

Papa John’s Pizza Box

A recent article, entitled What Papa John’s Doesn’t Want You to Know About Its Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Equity Residential Faces Class Action Lawsuit About Heat and Water (Habitability) Issues at the Walden Park Apartments

Update (1/10/15)

The past few weeks have been cold.  According to the Boston Globe, “Yesterday’s high was a bitter 18 degrees, and if the forecast holds, temperatures in Boston may not break freezing for several days.” In the face of this cold weather, and despite conversion from oil to natural gas at Equity Residential’s Walden Park apartments in Cambridge, complaints continue to come in to this office regarding insufficient heat at the apartment complex.

Update (2/15/14)

On February 12, 2014, a Massachusetts Federal Judge issued an eighteen page opinion (PDF) remanding (sending back) this case to state court, summarizing: “[b]ecause Equity ‘has not demonstrated a reasonable probability that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million,’ the case must be remanded. ” We continue to receive complaints from tenants about heat and hot water problems at this apartment complex.

*     *     *     *

Original Post (4/15/13)

Equity Residential now faces its sixth class action lawsuit in Massachusetts since 2012. This is believed to set the record for the most class action lawsuits against one company in any one year period in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Leonard Law Office PC, and the Law Offices of Joshua N. Garick PC together filed suit against Equity Residential on behalf of tenants of the Walden Park Apartments in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Leonard Law Office PC is representing Massachusetts consumers in two other class actions against Equity Residential.

If you reside at the Walden Park Apartments, you are welcome to contact us about heating issues such as lack of hot water or inadequate heat in your apartment.  

THE SUIT SEEKS $3M IN DAMAGES FOR TENANTS

Case Documents:

1. Class Action Complaint (PDF).

220-225 Walden St. (Walden Park Apartments)

220-225 Walden St. (Walden Park Apartments)

The complaint alleges: “On November 4, 2011, Equity acquired Walden Park, which includes two large apartment buildings located at 205 and 225 Walden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Walden Park has approximately 250 apartment units. When Equity acquired Walden Park, the heating and hot water systems were fully operable and in good working order. The plaintiffs entered into a written lease agreement with Walden Park’s previous owner, the Dolben Company, to rent the apartment located at 225 Walden Park, Cambridge, MA. When the Dolben Company owned Walden Park, the plaintiffs had no issues with the heat or hot water system. After Equity acquired Walden Park, issues with Equity-provided utilities, including heat and hot water, began. Starting in April of 2012, and continuing for well over a year thereafter until the present date, the plaintiffs and the Class experienced significant deficiencies and outages with the heat and hot water, including, without limitation, issues on the following dates:

May 8, 2012
May 12,2012
May 16,2012
June 27, 2012
August 23, 2012
October 20, 2012
October 21,2012
October 23, 2012
November 1, 2012
November 3, 2012
November 6, 2012
November 7, 2012
November 16, 2012
November 17, 2012
November 19,2012
March 28, 2013
April 3,2013
April 10, 2013
April 17, 2013
April 18, 2013
April23, 2013
June 6, 2013
June 25, 2013
August 15, 2013

These outages were systemic, and affected all Walden Park units. Over the course of this year, Equity exhibited no urgency in resolving these issues and provided misleading and contradictory reasons for shutting off the utilities. These reasons included, among other stated reasons, conversion from oil to natural gas, a water conservation project, a heating and cooling project, fuel supply/consumption issues, operator error, and automatic shutdowns. The problem was so egregious that the Cambridge Board of Health, which received numerous reports from Walden Park residents, cited Equity for violations of the State Sanitary Code, and deemed the violations to materially impair the health, safety or well-being of the Walden Park’s residents. On numerous occasions, the plaintiffs, (as well as other Walden Park residents) complained to Equity’s staff including complaints by telephone, e-mail and in person. These complaints were not resolved, forcing the plaintiffs to pursue formal litigation against Equity.” The Complaint further alleges that Equity Residential Equity backed out of a settlement deal reached earlier this month between Equity’s lawyers, and attorneys representing tenants.

Equity Residential & Cambridge Inspectional Services Division (ISD) Violations

Violation

Violation – “Deemed to Endgr. or Impair Health of Safety”

Equity Residential Walden St. Apartments, Cambridge, MA

Equity Residential Walden St. Apartments, Cambridge, MA

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston News, Class Action Investigations, Class Action Lawsuits

LexisNexis Marketing Calls Investigation

Under Investigation: LexisNexis

Has LexisNexis robocalled your cell phone? Are you a lawyer (or nonlawyer) and they won’t stop calling your cell?

Complaints about LexisNexis Sales Calls

Whocallsme.com:

Example:
Received two calls from this number (585-200-5316) on my cell phone at 7:35 this morning while I was still in bed and the phone was on my nightstand. No message left. If this is Nexis-Lexis calling, I can assure them my law firm will no longer be doing business with them as well. BTW, if you get telemarketing calls on your cell phone, just assign the calling number a silent ring tone – problem solved.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Class Action Investigation: Protein Powders — Prolab Advanced Essential Whey Protein Powder & Others

Protein Powders — Separating Fact from Fiction

ProLabs Advanced Essential Whey

ProLab Advanced Essential Whey

A recent study found that some popular protein powders had serious deficiencies.

  • less protein than claimed on packaging
  • more carbs than claimed on packaging
  • undisclosed Lead

Many athletes spend money on protein powders looking for increases in lean muscle mass and to improve their overall fitness and health.  Thinking they are getting a certain amount of protein, come athletes and body builders plan workouts and food intake around  what they think is in a particular protein supplement. If you have information or complaints about protein powders, please contact us.

According to a ConsumerLab.com study published June 11, 2013, “31% of Protein Powders and DrinksFlunk Tests of Quality.”

A few of the study’s conclusions:

If you have purchased ProLabs protein products, you may have been misled.

The following protein prouducts were tested (problems were found with 5)

  1. Atkins Day Break
  2. Body Fortress Whey Isolate
  3. Dymatize Nutrition Elite Casein
  4. EAS 100% Whey Protein
  5. Endurox R4
  6. Genisoy Soy Protein Shake
  7. GNC AMP Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60
  8. GNC Pro Performance 100% Whey Protein
  9. GNC Total Lean – Lean Shake 25
  10. GNC Total Lean – Lean Shake
  11. Jay Robb Whey Protein
  12. Marked 100% Whey Protein Complex Gourmet
  13. Marked Mass Gainer Gourmet
  14. Metagenics UltraMeal Rice
  15. MET-RX Engineered Nutrition Meal Replacement
  16. Muscletech Nitro Tech
  17. Nature’s Bounty Optimal Solutions Complete Protein Vitamin
  18. Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein
  19. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg
  20. Prolab Advanced Essential Whey
  21. Pure Protein Shake
  22. Shakeology Greenberry
  23. Six Star Pro Nutrition Whey Protein Plus
  24. Slim Fast 3-2-1 Plan Shake Mix
  25. Solgar Whey To Go The Biggest Loser Protein Powder
  26. Twinlab Whey Fuel Triple Thick

Leave a comment

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Efax – A Company to be Wary of?

Some consumers have complained that efax makes it difficult to cancel after signing up for the efax free trial, and have been billed for monthly efax service, despite cancelling, or attempting to cancel.

ScreenHunter_12 Jul. 17 17.48

efax

Questions About Efax

Does efax intentionally make it difficult to cancel their service? Does efax continue to charge consumers and small businesses even though they have requested that the service and billing be discontinued?  Is the efax free trial essentially a scam that results in overbilling or bogus charges to credit cards?

efax free trial

efax free trial

Why is it so Hard to Cancel an efax Free 30 Day Trial?

Failed Efax Cancellation Attempt

Failed Efax Cancellation Attempt

Complaints About efax

The Internet is littered with complaints about efax billing practices:

Ripoffreport (92 complaints)

Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Ocwen – A Company To Be Wary Of?

INVESTIGATION CLOSED — PLEASE REFER COMPLAINTS TO:

Ocwen is a mortgage servicing company headquartered in Florida.  A “mortgage servicer” is a debt collector by another name. Ocwen’s phone number is (561) 682-8000. Ocwen (Ocwen Financial Corporation) is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol OCN.

Ocwen

Complaints about Ocwen

Complaints at Consumeraffairs.com (408 complaints)

Complaints at RipoffReport.com (2,026 complaints)

Complaints at Complaints.com (45 complaints)

Complaints at Complaintsboard.com (682)

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Under Investigation: Derma Silk

Questions about DermaSilk — False Advertising?

Many skin creams and serums make anti-aging and anti-wrinkle claims, but few are as aggressive as the claims made by the DermSilk line of products.

Question:

Does using DermaSilk products result in any of the results listed below?

–  “…Age Erasing” effects”

–  “Reverses the effects of aging while you sleep”

–  “Reduces the appearance of wrinkles, crow’s feet, smile lines, dull skin.”

– “Turn back the clock on aging”

–  “…age reversing effects”

–  “…age reversing complex”

–  “…delivers a regenerating complex designed to reverse the effects of aging while you sleep.”

–  “…diminishing the appearance of skin damage, and restoring a youthful appearance.”

–  “…reduces the appearance of existing facial wrinkles”

–  “…relaxes ‘crease memory’ and offers long-term relief from visible laugh lines and crow’s feet.”

–  “multi-action age-reversers”

(DermaSilk Night Repairing Face Lift “Age-Erasing Skin Repair”)

DermaSilk night face lift

DermaSilk Night Repairing Face Lift “Age-Erasing Skin Repair”

The DermaSilk Anti Aging Product Line:


1 Minute Collagen Lift
5 Minute Beauty Peel
1 Minute Wrinkle Erase Pen
Night Repairing Face Lift
Skin Perfect
Flawless
5 Minute Face Lift
90 Second Eye Lift
Miracle Cream

Information about DermaSilk

DermaSilk is a product of Biotech International Corporation in Glastonbury Connecticut.  According to records held by the Connecticut Secretary of State [PDF], Biotech International Corporation was incorporated under the laws of Connecticut in 1994. Biotech’s principal place of business is 65 Kreiger Lane, Glastonbury, CT, 06033, and is led by Gregory J. Kelly, President and C.E.O. The company’s customer service number is (800) 886-9052, website: http://www.dermasilk.org.

According to the website,

  • “Biotech Corporation understands very well how both women and men feel about this change in their skin. For over fifteen years, we have been dedicated to anti-aging research in the field of cosmetics. The Biotech Corporation is a cutting edge cosmetics company. With our development of DermaSilk® Anti-Wrinkle we believe we have finally unlocked the secret to overcoming the natural signs of aging by reducing the appearance of aging skin. With DermaSilk we can all face the future with confidence and grace.”
  • “DISCLAIMER: DermaSilk is intended solely for use as an anti-aging cosmetic; DermaSilk is not intended as a substitute for cosmetic or medical procedures.”

8 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

J. Crew Faces Privacy Class Action in Boston Federal Court (Settled Case)

Updates

July 25, 2014 – This case has settled. The official settlement website is www.millercrohnjcrewsettlement.com, where notices and claim forms can be found. Email notices went out on 7/25/14. The claim form can be downloaded here (pdf), or filled out and submitted online (recommended). The deadline to file a claim to receive a $20 J. Crew voucher is September 25, 2014.

If You Made a Credit Card Purchase at a J. Crew Massachusetts Retail Store Between June 20, 2009 and June 27, 2014, you could receive compensation from the Class Action Settlement.

This Settlement is for individuals who made a credit card purchase at one or more J. Crew retail stores in Massachusetts between June 20, 2009 and June 27, 2014 and whose Personal Identification Information (i.e. ZIP code or other information) was requested and recorded by J. Crew. The Settlement does not include purchases made online. Class Members will receive a voucher for $20 that may be redeemed at J. Crew retail stores in Massachusetts.

Miller v. J Crew Settlement Notice (front)

J. Crew Zip Code Settlement Notice (front)

 

Miller v. J. Crew - Settement Notice (reverse)

J. Crew Zip Code Settlement Notice (reverse)

The email notice is not a scam.

From: “Miller and Crohn J. Crew Settlement Administrator ” <Administrator@qgemail.com<mailto:Administrator@qgemail.com>>
Date: July 25, 2014 at 2:00:27 PM EDT
Subject: LEGAL NOTICE OF SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION

________________________________
NOTICE OF PENDING CLASS ACTION AND NOTICE OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT MILLER V. J. CREW GROUP, INC.
________________________________
If you engaged in a Credit Card transaction at a Massachusetts
J. Crew Store between June 20, 2009 and June 27, 2014 and your
Personal Identification Information (e.g., ZIP code) was requested and
recorded you may be entitled to receive a Voucher for $20 off your
next J. Crew Store purchase….etc.

June 30, 2013 – The Leonard Law Office is representing clients regarding credit card privacy claims against J. Crew. This class action alleges violations of Massachusetts privacy and consumer protection laws.

J crew

Information about the class action lawsuit against J. Crew

The complaint alleges that J. Crew collected ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who made purchases with credit cards, recorded that information as part of credit card transactions, and then used that information for marketing  purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.”  The complaint further alleges that:

  • J. Crew does not collect, record, and use the customers’ ZIP code information in order to verify the customer’s identity or for any other legitimate purpose in connection with the Credit Card transaction.
  • J. Crew uses this information for its own marketing and promotional purposes. Possession of the consumer’s ZIP code information, together with the customer’s name, enables Defendant to identify the customer’s address and/or telephone number through the use of publicly available databases.
  • J. Crew uses the ZIP code information it collects from customers and the addresses and other information it then obtains, to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail,” to customers, including Plaintiff and Class members.
  • J. Crew also has the ability to sell the ZIP code information it collects from customers (including Plaintiff and Class members) and the addresses and other information it then obtains, to third parties for a profit or to use the information for other marketing and promotional purposes.

Information about the Class

The proposed class would consist of all persons whose ZIP codes were collected and recorded at any J. Crew retail location in Massachusetts while making Credit Card purchases during the period from June 20, 2009 through June 20, 2013.   The class has not yet been certified.  If you have questions about whether you may be involved, you are welcome to contact the Leonard Law Office.

Information about J. Crew

J. Crew is a privately-held corporation, organized under the laws of Delaware with a principal place of business at 770 Broadway, New York NY 10003.  J. Crew has sixteen retail locations in Massachusetts, three of which are factory outlets and the remainder of which are traditional retail stores.

6 Comments

Filed under Class Action Lawsuits, Current Cases

SEO Company 29 Prime Faces TCPA (Robocall) Class Action

cancer

Actual complaint filed about 29 Prime a/k/a “Reliable Places”

Updates

July, 2016 – 29 Prime has filed for bankruptcy. This is not a surprise, since Russell Wallace filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009.

March 13, 2016 – Check out this blog about 29 Prime and Russell Wallace: 29 Prime Scam Warning – Exposing the truth behind 29prime.com -another Russell Wallace scam and the highly negative Yelp reviews about 29 Prime here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/29-prime-irvine

November 4, 2015 – If you receive unwanted robocalls to your cellphone, or prerecorded calls to your landline from 29 Prime (or whatever this company is calling itself now), contact the Federal Trade Commission here: www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

July 28, 2015 – This morning I received a robocall on my personal cell phone from someone regarding a free Google listing (caller id: 617-207-0003). The obnoxious fellow I spoke with said he was in Orange County California (caller id obviously spoofed).  He claimed he was with “Lighthouse Marketing” and directed me to a website. I later learned that the owner of this business has been receiving complaints for over a year because someone has been giving out her company’s name when placing robocalls about free Google listings. Lighthouse Marketing is a reputable small business that does not place outbound sales calls about SEO optimization or Google rankings. Did 29 Prime robocall my cell phone?

July 27, 2015 – Please note: Our class action lawsuit against 29 Prime only addresses allegations of robocalls. If you have other complaints about 29 Prime (i.e. page ranking promises, quality of SEO services, billing problems, etc.) the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may be able to assist you.  The link to register a complaint with the FTC is: www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

April 23, 2015 – Second Amended Class Action Complaint (pdf) filed in California against 29 Prime, Inc., OC Listing Inc., Local Zoom, Tony Redman, Russell Wallace.

September 4, 2014 – First Amended Class Action Complaint (pdf) filed, adding as defendants OC Listing, Inc., Local Zoom, Russell Wallace, and Tony Redman. Summons Issued as to Local Zoom, OC Listing, Inc., Tony Redman, Russell Wallace.

July 29, 2014 – The following transaction was entered into Pacer on 7/29/2014 at 2:47 PM EDT and filed on 7/29/2014 Case Name: Russell v. 29 Prime, Inc.  Case Number: 1:13-cv-12814-NMG Docket Text:  ELECTRONIC Clerk’s Notes for proceedings held before Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton: Scheduling Conference held on 7/29/2014: Automatic Discovery to be completed by 8/12/14; Amendments and/or Supplements to the Pleadings due by 8/25/2014; written discovery served by 11/30/14, answered by 12/31/14; all fact Discovery to be completed by 3/6/2015; Motion for Class Certification due by 4/15/2015, opposition due by 5/15/2015, reply due by 5/31/2015. Motion Hearing set for 6/25/2015 03:00 PM in Courtroom 4 before Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton. (Court Reporter: No Court Reporter Used.)(Attorneys present: Pastor, Smith, Baruch (by phone), Salinger) (Patch, Christine)

July 25, 2014 – 29 Prime filed its Answer to the Class Action Complaint (Russell v. 29 Prime, Inc. Case Number: 1:13-cv-12814-NMG) (pdf)

July 15, 2014 –  Judge Gorton’s Denial of Motion to Dismiss Opinion featured on Leagle:

“…I) PURPOSEFUL AVAILMENT

29 PRIME’s phone calls to Massachusetts residents, through its resellers, also constitute sufficient contacts to satisfy the purposeful availment inquiry. See, e.g., Hudak v. Berkley Grp., Inc., No. 3:13-cv-00089-WWE, 2014 WL 354676, at *3 (D. Conn. Jan. 23, 2014). 29 PRIME must contact prospective customers in order to secure sales but not all solicitations will result in business relationships. Because the forum selection, choice of law, and arbitration clauses only apply to customers who execute the Terms & Conditions sheet, it was reasonably foreseeable that these clauses would not govern all of 29 PRIME’s contacts with Massachusetts…”

…II) PUBLIC INTERESTS
The public interest factors do not compel jurisdiction in California. Massachusetts has a local interest in providing a convenient forum for its residents against foreign corporations. Rodriguez v. Samsung Elec. Co., Ltd., 734 F.Supp.2d 220, 228 (D. Mass. 2010). California, however, also has an interest in remedying injuries caused by one of its resident corporations. See id. Given both interests, the public interest inquiry is a wash. Id. Because this Court defers to plaintiff’s choice of forum and the private factors weigh in favor of jurisdiction, defendant’s motion to dismiss for improper venue will be denied.”

July 14, 2014 – Law 360 Article – Tech Co. Can’t Escape Massachusetts TCPA Class Action (pdf).

“A Massachusetts federal judge on Thursday refused to toss a proposed class action accusing search engine optimizer 29 Prime Inc. of making mass phone calls to consumers in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, rejecting its argument that the court lacked jurisdiction.

Plaintiff alleges that 29 Prime made mass solicitations to him and other putative class members using autodialers without their consent, but the company filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for improper venue to transfer this case…”

July 10, 2014 – 29 Prime’s Motion to Dismiss Denied – Memorandum and Order (pdf).

July 8, 2014 – Freedom of Information Act documents from the FTC (pdf) and FCC (pdf) about 29 Prime and robocalls.

February 5, 2014 – three months after our case, a copycat federal TCPA class action was filed against 29 Prime by Washington and California lawyers. The copycat case is Marlowe v. 29 Prime (pdf ).

 New Court documents:

  • Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Law in Oppostion to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (pdf)
  • 29 Prime’s Motion to Dismiss (pdf)
  • Affidavit of Russell Wallace (pdf)

*     *     *

On November 6, 2013, Leonard Law Office LLP, Pastor Law Office LLP, Sweetnam LLC, and Milberg LLP filed a class action lawsuit against California search engine optimization company 29 Prime for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The TCPA is a federal law that generally forbids telemarketing calls to cell phones.

29 Prime

29 Prime, Inc.

A Summons [PDF here] was filed on November 18, 2013. 29 The Class Action Complaint [PDF here] alleges:

“Plaintiff brings this action for damages, and other legal and equitable remedies, resulting from the actions of Defendant in negligently, knowingly, and/or willfully placing calls to Plaintiff’s cellular telephone using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) (i.e., “robocalls”) without his prior express consent in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 et seq. (“TCPA”).

Plaintiff is the primary user of the cellular telephone to which Defendant placed calls using an ATDS without his express consent and is a member of the class defined herein.

 Defendant, 29 Prime, is a corporation organized under the laws of Nevada with its principal place of business at 9701 Jeronimo Road., Irvine, California, 92618. The nature of 29 Prime’s business is to place calls to telephones throughout the United States to solicit unsuspecting customers for search engine optimization services, making claims about their ability to improve Google rankings. Defendant has in the past and continues to operate under unincorporated alter egos with similar websites, such as “Reliable Places.” The company was founded in 2010 by Russell Wallace and Tony Redman.  The Defendant placed robocalls to Plaintiff and other class members in violation of the TCPA, as alleged herein.”  More Excerpts from the class action complaint are pasted at below.

If you have information about 29 Prime’s business practices, or have been affected by telemarketing to your cell phone, you are welcome to contact us

Information about 29 Prime

29 Prime is a web site design and search engine optimization company. This is an industry whose validity and efficacy has been questioned.  29 Prime is apparently one of the most successful SEO companies. “In 2012, 29 Prime, Inc. placed 36 on Inc. Magazine‘s Inc. 5000 list, which ranks the fastest-growing companies in the country based on revenue growth. According to the list, the organization ranked sixth among the top 100 advertising and marketing companies in the United States, seventh among all companies in California, including fourth in Los Angeles and second in Orange County.”

Inc. Magazine’s online profile of the company describes 29 Prime as a company which “specializes in increasing small and midsize local businesses’ visibility on the Internet. The company guarantees front page placement on Google as well as placement on Yahoo and Bing, and also offers video SEO, coupons, and Facebook and Twitter strategies.”  The article reported 2011 income of 6.4MM.

In October, 2012, the Orange County Business Journal [PDF] ranked 29 Prime as number one on the list of fastest growing private companies, with 2012 revenues of 8.7 MM, located at  9701 Jeronimo Road, third floor, Irvine CA 92618-2020.

Is 29 Prime’s Autodialler Responsible for the Company’s Explosive Growth?

“the dialer calls out”

29 Prime CEO Russell Wallace claims: “Our goal is to help business owners that aren’t Web savvy to get online, build their reputation and grow their business.” According to his Linkedin profile, Russell Wallace, 31, is “Co-Founder and CEO of 29 Prime, Inc.,” with “more than 10 years’ experience directing as many as 300 employees in companies with revenues in excess of $30 million.” Russell Wallace and Tony Redman founded the company in 2010.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Boston News, Class Action Lawsuits

Under Investigation: Acting and Modeling Gig Websites

UNDER INVESTIGATION: Are acting and modeling websites taking unfair advantage of people?

For example, is the company called “Explore Talent” (www.exploretalent.com) deserving of the litany of complaints below?

Complaints about Explore Talent:

There are 74 Complaints about Explore Talent at RipoffReport.com: http://www.ripoffreport.com/directory/Explore-Talent.aspx

  • “…such a headache as Explore Talent, just don’t bother signing up for the free account, and definitely DO NOT give Explore Talent ANY MONEY! You will regret it later on when they continue to charge you credit card even after you thought you canceled you account… http://www.ripoffreport.com/modeling-talent-agencies/explore-talent/explore-talent-an-obvious-scam-w3bbc.htm
  • “They are a scam. They post unpaid (low paid), outdated or phony castings. Every now and then there is a legit casting but they’ve more than likely stole it froanother website. So that is what your monthly fee goes for.” http://www.modelmayhem.com/po.php?thread_id=30397 Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Legal Discussion: Are debit/credit bank cards “credit cards” subject to the same privacy safeguards under Massachusetts Law?

There are a number of Massachusetts statutes governing the use and misuse of credit cards.  Most address criminal conduct, and unfair business practices. Some define the term “credit card.”  They were all enacted before debit/credit cards issued by banks became prevalent.  Case law indicates that these debit card amounts to the functional equivalent of a credit card.  This is important, because the Massachusetts credit card privacy law (G.L. c. 93, § 105) should also apply to debit cards.

CIVIL

G.L. c. 93 § 104 (definitions for § 105 Credit cards; checks; personal identification information)

  • “Credit Card”, any instrument or device, whether known as a credit card, credit plate, or by any other name, issued with or without fee by an issuer for the use of the card holder in obtaining money, goods, services, or anything else of value on credit. Credit card shall not include a check guarantee card.

G.L. c. 140D §1 (Consumer Credit Cost Disclsoure; definitions)

  • “Credit”, the right granted by a creditor to a debtor to defer payment of debt or to incur debt and defer its payment.
  • “Credit card”, any card, plate, coupon book, or other credit device existing for the purpose of obtaining money, property, labor, or services on credit.

CRIMINAL

G.L. c. 266 § 37A (Misuse of credit cards; definitions)

  • “Credit card”, any instrument or device, whether known as a credit card, credit plate, or by any other name, issued with or without fee by an issuer for the use of the cardholder in obtaining money, goods, services or anything else of value on credit.

G.L. c. 266 § 37C (Fraudulent use of credit cards to obtain money, goods or services; false embossment of credit cards, multiple possession, presumption; arrest)

G.L. c. 140D § 27  (Unauthorized use of credit cards)

CASE LAW

  • “a debit card fits within the ambit of a “credit card” as defined for purposes of G.L. c. 266, § 37C.  COMMONWEALTH v. RYAN, 79 Mass. App. Ct. 179, 183-186) (2011) .

*               *               *

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal Discussions, Uncategorized

Fair Debt Collection in Massachusetts

Fair Debt Collection

The Massachusetts Attorney General‘s Debt Collection Regulations, 940 C.M.R. 7.00, prohibit many unfair debt collection practices by creditors, and regulations of the Massachusetts Division of Banks, 209 CMR 18.00, prohibit unfair debt collection practices by debt collection agencies.

Communication with Creditors and Collection Agencies

When communicating directly with you, creditors and collection agencies may not:

  • Call you at home more than twice for each debt in any seven-day period, or more than twice for each debt in any 30-day period at some place other than your home, such as your place of work.
  • Call you at work if you have requested that they not call. Your oral request that a collector not call you at work is valid for 10 days only. Written requests are valid until you write to the collector removing the restriction.
  • Call you without identifying both the name of the creditor and the name of the person calling. The caller may use a name other than his or her own, but the creditor or collection agency on whose behalf the call is being made must be able to identify that person.
  • Contact you directly, if you have told the creditor or collection agency you are represented by an attorney.
  • Use profane or obscene language.
  • Cause expense to you in the form of long distance calls, express mail charges, wire fees, or other similar charges.
  • Falsely threaten to take legal action that the creditor does not take or reasonably intend to take.
  • Tell anyone (including your friends, neighbors, relatives, or employers) about your debt, without your written consent.
  • Mail to you any printed or written materials that reveal or imply that you owe a debt (for example, by using a postcard to contact you or using a descriptive return address).
  • Solicit post-dated checks from you.
  • Visit your home at times other than your normal waking hours. A collector may not visit you more than once in any 30-day period for each debt, unless you give permission for additional visits.
  • Call you at times other than your normal waking hours. If your waking hours are unknown, then the collector may only call between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
 Additional Rights

A creditor must allow you or your attorney to inspect any document on which the creditor is relying to prove that you owe the debt being collected, e.g., a credit card application, account statement, promissory note, ledger, account card, or similar record in the creditor’s possession, which reflects the date and amount of payments, credits and charges related to the debt. Failure to do so is an unfair or deceptive act or practice under the Attorney General’s Debt Collection Regulations, 940 CMR 7.08 pdf format of    940 CMR 7.00 Revised Clean PDF   .

Under State and Federal Law, if you want all debt collection contact to stop, and it is a debt collection agency (as opposed to the creditor itself) that is contacting you, you have the right to make a request in writing that all such contact stop ( 15 U.S.C. 1692c(c)209 CMR 18.14(3) ). Once you have made such a written request, the debt collection agency may not contact you again; however, the agency will still be permitted to sue you to try and collect the debt.

Locating a Debtor

Creditors and debt collection agencies are permitted to try to locate a debtor by contacting persons other than the debtor or persons residing in the debtor’s household, if the creditor or debt collection agency reasonably believes that it no longer has current information on the debtor’s location. However, it may not inform anyone it calls about your debt.

===============================================Source: Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, 2013, (http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/consumer-information/credit-and-financial-literacy/consumer-credit/fair-debt-collection.html), last accessed 5/15/2013.

English: Sketch of Richard Mentor Johnson free...

Debtor’s Prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leave a comment

Filed under Practice Areas

Zbiddy.com – a company to be wary of?

About Zbiddy.com

Zbiddy is an internet auction site. Unlike Ebay, the site charges users money to place bids (“Purchase your bids Bids cost $0.60 each and come in packs of all sizes starting as little as $13.50!.”)

Complaints about Zbiddy.com

Ripoff Report (79 Complaints)

ComplaintsBoard.com

 

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Nationstar Mortgage — A company to be wary of?

INVESTIGATION CLOSED — PLEASE REFER COMPLAINTS TO:

About Nationstar Mortgage

Nationstar Mortgage, LLC is a mortgage servicing company headquartered in Lewisville, TX.  A “mortgage servicer” is a debt collector by another name.  Nationstar recently acquired numerous Bank of America home loans.  Bank of America N.A. transferred the servicing of thousands of loans to Nationstar Mortgage LLC effective January 31st, 2013.

Complaints about Nationstar Mortgage

590 Complaints at Consumeraffairs.com

90 Complaints at RipoffReport.com

5 Complaints at Complaints.com

25 Complaints at Complaintsboard.com

223 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Discussion: 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings

Update:  One dead, one captured. 

Boston will never forget those lost, and will never forget how our city came together.   Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston News

Legal Discussion: Debt Collection –15 U.S.C. § 1692e — False or misleading representations

Federal law prohibits debt collectors from making false or misleading representations when they attempt to collect debts.

15 U.S.C. § 1692e. False or misleading representations

A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading
representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.
Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following
conduct is a violation of this section: Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal Discussions

Dun & Bradstreet – A company to be wary of?

 

Dun & Bradstreet

Dun & Bradstreet

 

Complaints about Dun & Bradstreet

There are many complaints about Dun & Bradstreet on the Internet from business owners.

Examples:

Does Dun and Bradstreet call your business “High Risk?”

Some business owners have complained that Dun & Bradstreet is running a scheme that has extortionate qualities. It goes something like this: D&B rates a business as “high risk.” The business owner, concerned about the possible negative impact this will have, considers doing anything, including paying D&B to change this negative rating.  At least one business owner has complained that D&B’s reasons for the so-called “high risk” rating were unfair, arbitrary, and intentionally vague and indecipherable.  In other words, the owner didn’t understand what the cause of the supposed problem was, so he was left with the choice of doing nothing, or paying the business that was causing the problem — Dun and Bradstreet. He complained of losing a large number of accounts because of an unfair “high risk” rating that had no verifiable basis in fact. He, complained that his once thriving business was now suffering because Dun and Bradstreet had labelled it “high risk,” for no good reason.  He was irate about this unfair situation over which did not cause, and had no way of fixing, short of rewarding Dun and Bradstreet financially for harming him financially, a step he was unwilling to take.

An operator of a small nonprofit reported last week that Dun and Bradstreet was reporting negative information about the organization she started, with multiple DUNS numbers, and would not give any explanation for the reputation-damaging rating or the multiple DUNS numbers. She was frustrated and angry.

These situations seem similar to one reported in the Wall Street Journal article entitled Small Businesses Seethe at Credit Service Using Dun & Bradstreet Name – Some Entrepreneurs Say They Were Misled by Sales Pitches

Excerpt:

“…The credit rating for her firm, The Good Search LLC, had changed to “high risk” because she wasn’t tapping many sources of credit, the salesman told her. That poor score could scare off her prospective lenders, suppliers and clients, he warned. But she might be able to improve her rating—if she paid for a yearlong program that promises to let small-business owners monitor and build their business credit. Anxious to rectify the problem, she said she spent $948 on the credit-management service, CreditBuilder, from the company, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. Today, Ms. Bradford, who works from her Westport, Conn., home, believes she was misled by the pitch….”

Information about Dun and Bradstreet

  • Official name: The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation
  • Stock symbol: DNB  (New York Stock Exchange)
  • Website: http://www.dnb.com/
  • Telephone: (866) 273-4625
  • CEO: Ms. Sara Mathew, Total Annual Compensation: $825.0K
  • Founded: 1841
  • Offices: D&B is a company doing business in the State of Illinois with two of its primary locations at 55 Shuman Blvd. Ste 1000, Naperville, IL 60563, and 20 S Clark St. #2100, Chicago, IL 60603.

Recent Litigation against Dun & Bradstreet

The TCPA Class Action

Nicholas Martin v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. and Convergys Customer Management Group, Inc., No. 12 CV 215 (USDC N.D. IL.)

“On January 11, 2012, Nicholas Martin filed suit against Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. and Convergys Customer Management Group, Inc. (“Convergys”) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint alleges that Defendants violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) (47 U.S.C. §227) because Convergys placed a telephone call to Plaintiff’s cell phone using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) and because Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. authorized the telephone call. The TCPA generally prohibits the use of an ATDS to place a call to a cell phone for nonemergency purposes and without the prior express consent of the called party. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of $500 per violation, which may be trebled to $1,500 per violation at the discretion of the court if the plaintiff proves the defendant willfully violated the Act. Plaintiff sought to bring this action as a class action on behalf of all persons who Defendants called on their cell phone using an ATDS, where the Defendants obtained the cell phone number from some source other than directly from the called party, during the period January 11, 2010, to the present. Both Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. and Convergys answered the complaint on March 2, 2012. The matter has settled in principle. The proposed settlement agreement will be subject to approval by the Court.” Source: Dun & Bradstreet Corporation Quarterly Report

The “Bait and Switch” Class Action

On December, 12, 2012, the Class Action Complaint Complaint [PDF] was filed to commence O&R Construction, LLC v. Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation et al.

Excerpts from the complaint:

  • “This is a class action brought on behalf of thousands of small businesses who have been unfairlyand unlawfully deceived, misled and cheated by DBCC, as well as D&B. Defendants employ deceptive marketing to sell credit monitoring products under the name “CreditBuilder,” misrepresenting the nature, need and value of the products. Further, the CreditBuilder products do not perform as promised by Dun & Bradstreet.
  • Defendants’ aggressive marketing campaign features high-pressure sales tactics, including misleading form letters, e-mails and sales call scripts, which falsely claim that there are problems on a small business’s credit report with Dun & Bradstreet, which the CreditBuilder products can remedy.
  • The defendants sell small businesses expensive products that purport to improve their credit ratings and correct problems on their reports: CreditBuilder for $799/year, CreditBuilder Plus for $1099 /year and CreditBuilder Premium for $1599/year (collectively, the “CreditBuilder products”). The CreditBuilder products do not improve credit ratings as claimed. In fact, defendants conceal material information about the limitations of the products; and, in any event, the products do not provide the value Dun & Bradstreet claims, or the benefits for which small businesses purchase the products.”
  • Defendants have entered agreements, schemed and conspired, using the overwhelming market power of D&B, to manipulate the relevant credit reporting market in an anticompetitive manner. Defendants use exclusionary and predatory practices to monopolize the small business credit reporting and monitoring market in order to force sales of the CreditBuilder products…”
  • Defendants unfairly leverage Dun & Bradstreet’s unique position in the minds ofsmall businesses to sell the CreditBuilder products. DBCC claims it “provides the only real solution available to companies looking to monitor and impact their business credit profile.” According toDBCC, “perhaps most important, CreditBuilder gives companies the ability to add favorable credit references to their files to enhance credit scores and ratings.” In fact, DBCC trains its sales agents to present CreditBuilder products as those a small business “can’t live without.” Further, DBCC represents to small businesses the following: At D&B Credibility Corp., we make over . million updates to our database on a daily basis. It could be major transactions like paying vendors or making lease or mortgage payments, but it could also be seemingly smaller transactions like equipment leasing, advertising, shipping packages or underwriting insurance. With all this information flooding into D&B, it’s critical that you keep on top of your profile and credit score to help ensure you keep your reputation solid as you forge the relationships and partnerships that will enable your business to grow profitably.
  • As a result, small businesses are misled into believing that defendants will maintain daily updates on their credit profile and only accurate and up to date information when in reality defendants fail to maintain accurate and updated information on small businesses. At bottom, defendants lead businesses to believe that, unless they purchase the CreditBuilder products, they will not be able to properly monitor, verify or improve their D&Bratings, thereby running the risk that they will not be able to obtain credit, loans or contracts.
  • Since small businesses rely on their Dun & Bradstreet credit profiles to secure new business and to apply for loans or credit, defendants essentially hold the target customer’s credit rating hostage unless the small business buys a CreditBuilder product.
  • Defendants try to capitalize on the importance ofD&B-issued DUNS numbers when soliciting customers for CreditBuilder products. D&B provides DBCC a roster of DUNS numbers, which form a roster of target customers for sales agents (“sales queues”). By referencing a business’s DUNS number, defendants mislead the target customer to believe that the CreditBuilder products are necessary to monitor, verify and dispute items on their Dun & Bradstreet business credit profile.
  • Defendants routinely stress the importance of a DUNS number and mislead customers into believing that they can obtain a DUNS number by purchasing a CreditBuilder product. In truth, DUNS numbers are automatically generated by D&B prior to any solicitation of the customer. Defendants also mislead customers by referencing D&B’ s propriety ratings when marketing the CreditBuilder products DBCC will issue “credit alerts” to target customers, claiming that one of their D&B ratings should cause the customer a concern which only CreditBuilder products can remedy.
  • After bringing the weight of the Dun & Bradstreet name to bear upon target customers, the defendants employ other unlawful and deceptive sales tactics to instill fear in the minds of target customers. As set forth below, defendants issue uniform solicitations which falsely A DUNS number is “a unique nine-digit identification sequence used by the world’s most influential standards setting organizations and recognized, recommended, and often required by global corporations, governments, industry, and trade associations.” DUNS numbers are identifiers similar to a federal tax ID number, but DUNS numbers are only distributed by D&B. When applying for credit, loans or government bids, businesses are asked to provide their DUNS number. Vendors use a company’s DUNS number to pull information on the business, including its financial and credit risks.
  • D&B uses several ratings relevant to extensions of credit: (i) a PA YDEX® Score, which is a predictive indicator for paying bills on time; (ii) the Financial Stress Score, which is an indicator of financial stress to the business in the next months; (iii) the Credit Limit Recommendation, which provides guidelines for extending business credit; and (iv) an overall D&B Rating, which addresses the overall assessment of a business. claim that: (a) “inquiries” have been made about the target customer’s credit; (b) the target customer has an “incomplete” credit profile with D&B; and/or (c) the target customer has a Supplier Evaluation Risk (“SER”) rating of”High Risk of Financial Stress.” Each of these claims causes a small business owner reasonable and understandable concern, especially coming from Dun & Bradstreet. In the end, defendants strong-arm thousands of small businesses into purchasing CreditBuilder products each year by falsely claiming that the products will solve the “problem” or dramatically improve the customer’s credit profile.

Related articles

12 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Companies in the Spotlight: CVS to Pay $11 Million to Settle DEA Accusations

The seal of the United States Drug En...

The seal of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Source: DEA Press Release

APRIL 3 (WASHINGTON) — CVS Pharmacy, Inc., and Oklahoma CVS Pharmacy, L.L.C., (collectively “CVS”), have agreed to pay $11,000,000 to the United States to settle civil penalty claims for record-keeping violations under the Controlled Substances Act and related regulations, announced Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Sanford C. Coats, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Companies in the Spotlight

Victims of Green Tree Servicing and Bank of America

PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT THIS OFFICE ABOUT GREEN TREE SERVICING FOR ANY REASON. EMAILS AND VOICEMAILS ABOUT GREEN TREE WILL NOT BE RETURNED.

PLEASE TRY THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU, BECAUSE THEY ARE ASSISTING CONSUMERS WITH ISSUES WITH GREEN TREE SERVICING. SEE http://www.consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/cfpb-and-federal-trade-commission-take-action-against-green-tree-servicing-for-mistreating-borrowers-trying-to-save-their-homes/

4/21/15 UPDATE: THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS HELD GREEN TREE SERVICING ACCOUNTABLE. 

Green Tree Servicing Allegedly Deceived Homeowners, Many of Whom Were Already in Financial Distress

A national mortgage servicing company will pay $63 million to resolve Federal Trade Commissionand Consumer Financial Protection Bureau charges that it harmed homeowners with illegal loan servicing and debt collection practices.

The FTC and CFPB allege that Green Tree Servicing LLC made illegal and abusive debt collection calls to consumers, misrepresented the amounts people owed, and failed to honor loan modification agreements between consumers and their prior servicers, among other charges.

Under the proposed settlement, Green Tree will pay $48 million to affected consumers and a $15 million civil penalty. The company also will stop its alleged illegal practices, create a home preservation plan for some distressed homeowners, and take rigorous steps to ensure that it collects the correct amounts from consumers.

“It’s against the law for a loan servicer to lie about the debts people owe, or threaten and harass people about their debts,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Working together, the FTC and CFPB are holding Green Tree responsible for mistreating homeowners, including people in financial distress.”

Green Tree has become the servicer for a substantial number of consumers who were behind on their mortgage payments at the time their loans were transferred to Green Tree. Because homeowners cannot choose their servicer, they are locked into a relationship with the company for as long as it services their loans.

Illegal Debt Collection Practices

According to the FTC and the CFPB, Green Tree’s collectors called consumers who were late on mortgage payments many times per day, including at 5 a.m. or 11 p.m., or at their workplace, every day, week after week, and left many voicemails on the same day. They also unlawfully threatened consumers with arrest or imprisonment, seizure of property, garnishment of wages, and foreclosure, and used loud and abusive language, including calling consumers “deadbeats,” mocking their illnesses and other struggles, and yelling and cursing at them. The company also allegedly revealed debts to consumers’ employers, co-workers, neighbors, and family members, and encouraged them to tell the consumers to pay the debt or help them pay it. The complaint also alleges that Green Tree took payments from some consumers’ bank accounts without their consent.

The agencies also allege that Green Tree pressured consumers to make payments via Speedpay, a third-party service that charges a $12 “convenience” fee per transaction, claiming it was the only way to pay, or that consumers had to use the service to avoid a late fee.

Mishandled Loan Modifications and Delayed Short Sale Requests

According to the complaint, in many instances, Green Tree failed to honor loan modifications that were in the process of being finalized when consumers’ loans were transferred from other servicers to Green Tree. This resulted in consumers making higher monthly payments, receiving collection calls, and even losing their homes to foreclosure.  Green Tree also allegedly misled consumers about their loss mitigation options. The company told some consumers who were behind on their mortgages that they needed to make a payment to be considered for a loan modification, even for programs that prohibited the company from requiring up-front payments. In addition, Green Tree took up to six months to respond to consumers’ short sale requests despite telling them it would respond much more quickly. These delays caused consumers to lose potential buyers, miss other loss mitigation options, and face foreclosures they could have avoided.

Misrepresented Account Status to Consumers and Credit Reporting Agencies

According to the complaint, Green Tree misrepresented the amounts consumers owed or the terms of their loans. This included telling consumers they owed fees they did not owe, or that they had to make higher monthly payments than their mortgage contracts required. The company often knew or had reason to believe that specific portfolios of loans it acquired from other servicers contained unreliable or missing information. In many instances, it should have known that consumers had loan modifications from prior servicers and therefore owed lower amounts. And when consumers disputed the amounts owed or terms of their loans, Green Tree failed to investigate the disputes before continuing collections.

Green Tree also allegedly furnished consumers’ credit information to consumer reporting agencies when it knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, that the information was inaccurate, and failed to correct the information after determining that it was incomplete or inaccurate – often when consumers told Green Tree about it.

Proposed Settlement Order

In addition to the $63 million in monetary payments, the proposed settlement order includes provisions that require Green Tree to:

  • establish and maintain a comprehensive data integrity program to ensure the accuracy and completeness of data and other information about consumers’ accounts, before servicing them;
  • cease collection of amounts disputed by consumers until Green Tree investigates the dispute and provides consumers with verification of the amounts owed;
  • meet certain loan servicing requirements to ensure that whenever Green Tree is involved in the sale or transfer of servicing rights, the buyer or transferee will honor loss mitigation agreements and properly review outstanding loss mitigation requests;
  • ensure that it has enough personnel and the technical capacity to handle loss mitigation requests and respond to consumer inquiries in a timely fashion, and make its loss mitigation application available to consumers at no cost and on its website;
  • implement a “Home Preservation Requirement” to provide loss mitigation options to consumers whose loans were transferred to Green Tree during the time period covered by the complaint; and
  • obtain substantiation for any amounts collected when consumers have in-process loan modifications, and for purported amounts due when there is reason to believe a newly transferred loan portfolio is seriously flawed.

The proposed order also prohibits Green Tree from making material misrepresentations about loans, processing procedures, payment methods, and fees, from taking unauthorized withdrawals from consumer accounts, and from violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and proposed stipulated order was 5-0. The FTC filed the complaint and proposed stipulated order in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

To learn more, read Making Payments to Your Mortgage Servicer and Debt Collection.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

PLEASE READ: DUE TO AN OVERWHELMING NUMBER OF CALLS, WE RESPECTFULLY REQUEST THAT YOU REFER YOUR GENERAL COMPLAINTS ABOUT GREEN TREE SERVICING’S BUSINESS PRACTICES TO THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU (www.consumerfinance.gov)

**************************************************************

Bank of America Logo

+

Green Tree Logo

=

VICTIMS OF GREEN TREE SERVICING

AND BANK OF AMERICA


Continue reading

220 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations, Current Cases

Legal Discussion: Reporting Pay or the “Three Hour Rule”

Reporting Pay, or the “Three Hour Rule”

In Massachusetts, the law is clear about “reporting pay.” Reporting pay means the minimum pay that an employer must give for requiring an employee to show up for a shift of three or more hours, and then sending them home early.

Here is the law:

455 CMR 2.03

2.03: Hours Worked (1) Reporting Pay. When an employee who is scheduled to work three or more hours reports for duty at the time set by the employer, and that employee is not provided with the expected hours of work, the employee shall be paid for at least three hours on such day at no less than the basic minimum wage. 455 CMR 2.03(1) shall not apply to organizations granted status as charitable organizations under the Internal Revenue Code.

Example:

Joe is a delivery man at a flower shop.  Joe is scheduled to work a full shift (5 hours) on Valentines Day.  Due to a nationwide shortage of roses, the business is unable to fill any orders. Joe’s boss “cuts” him and sends him home after 2.5 hours on the clock.  Joe’s hourly rate is $15.00.  The flower shop must pay him this way:

  • 2.5 hours at Joe’s regular rate of 15.00/hr, which equals  $37.5, then at least the minimum wage for a half hour, which would be $4.00, resulting in a  a total of $41.50 minimum owed to Joe.

Reporting Pay image

Source: Attorney General’s publication about Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws, .pdf (here).

There are no reported cases that I was able to find about this law. However, there is an opinion letter here and below:

07/09/2007 - Reporting Pay Provision "Three Hour Rule"
Opinion Letter
MW-2007-002
July 9, 2007
I am writing in response to your request, on behalf of your client ***, for this Office's written opinion regarding the applicability of the Massachusetts Minimum Fair Wage Law. Specifically, you have asked how 455 C.M.R. §2.03(1), the Reporting Pay requirement, applies to employees scheduled to work less than three hours. [1]
The Reporting Pay provision, also known as the "three hour rule," provides:
When an employee who is scheduled to work three or more hours reports for duty at the time set by the employer, and that employee is not provided with the expected hours of work, the employee shall be paid for at least three hours on such day at no less than the basic minimum wage. [This provision] shall not apply to organizations granted status as charitable organizations under the Internal Revenue Code.
455 C.M.R. §2.03(1). Therefore, if a for-profit employer schedules an employee for three or more hours, the employee arrives at the worksite on time, and the employer does not provide the expected hours, the employee must be paid for at least three hours at no less than the minimum wage ($7.50 per hour). Of course, for any actual time worked, the employee must be paid his/her actual wage. For example, if an employee is told that a meeting will take four hours, and the employee is sent home after two hours, the employee must be paid for two hours at his/her regular rate of pay, and at least minimum wage for the third hour. [2]
Alternatively, if an employee is, in good faith, scheduled for less than three hours, the employer may pay the employee for only the hours worked. For example, if an employee is scheduled for a two-hour meeting and she/he works these two hours, the "three hour rule" is inapplicable, and the employer may pay the employee for only the hours worked.
I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.
Sincerely,
Lisa C. Price
Deputy General Counsel
[1] As you know, most employers are also subject to the federal minimum wage and hour law, found in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and regulations promulgated thereunder. For information about applicable federal wage and hour laws, you should contact the U.S. Department of Labor.
[2] Of course, if the meeting causes a non-exempt employee's hours to exceed 40 hours in the workweek, the employee must be paid time and one-half pay for all hours actually worked in excess of 40 hours.
***=Names have been Omitted

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal Discussions

Product Investigation: Sudden Sleep for Women

Recently overheard:

“Sudden sleep?  What is this stuff? Specifically formulated for women? What does that mean?”

Sudden Sleep

Sudden Sleep

Sudden Sleep is a new product from Biotab Nutraceuticals, the company behind Extenze.  Biotab was on the receiving end of several actions from California authorities, and at least one class action lawsuit alleging false advertising.    Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under False Advertising Investigations

False Advertising Investigation: The Belly Burner Weight Loss Belt

Does the Belly Burner Weight Loss Belt work?

Belly Fat Belt

Belly Fat Belt

Belly Fat Loss

The Belly Burner makes some bold product claims:

(a) “Proven to burn more calories faster”

(b) “Just wrap up and slim down.”

Issues with the Belly Burner Weight Loss Belt

Issues:

(a) Is there such thing as “spot reduction” of fat on the human body? In other words, is it possible to target one specific area of the body, such as the belly, by wearing a device around the midsection?

(b) Does a person burn more calories if their core body temperature is higher during exercise?

(c) Was the study that was done to support the claim that this product “burns more calories faster” valid?

How you can help

This matter is under investigation.  If you can identify other issues, or speak about your experience with the product, or provide information about the veracity of this product’s claims, please comment below or contact the following attorney: Preston W. Leonard, Esq. Pleonard@theleonardlawoffice.com, (617) 329-1295.

.

Leave a comment

Filed under False Advertising Investigations

Companies in the Spotlight: UPS

UPS and Illegal Presciption Drugs

Today the DEA announced that UPS agreed to forfeit forty million dollars in a non-prosecution agreement offered by federal prosecutors. According to the press release (below) DEA obtained UPS’s full cooperation with the investigation.  However, UPS was allegedly on notice of the fact that it was being used to facilitate illegal prescription drug trafficking for at least five years.  In the past, Google has been penalized for its role in the marketing of illicit overseas drugs to American consumers via “Google adwords.” Some of those words are what many poor souls spend most of their waking energy in pursuit of: Percocet and Oxycontin. If you are unaware of what has been going on, thousands of American prescription pill addicts have been buying drugs online and having them shipped via UPS to the States. With Google and now UPS having been hit with steep financial disincentives for playing a role in this illegal marketplace, will it dry up?  Was Fedex investigated? American businesses have long profited from addiction.  Apparently, so has UPS.

 Press Release

DEA NEWS: UPS AGREES TO FORFEIT $40 MILLION Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Companies in the Spotlight

Companies in the Spotlight: Zipcar

About Zipcar

“Zipcar was recently purchased by another company,” I recently overheard someone tell her friend.

“I wonder how long it will take them to ruin it?” he asked.

Zipcar

Zipcar

In the past, Zipcar has cultivated the image of being a hip, progressive company that cares about its customers.  An abundance of carless urbanites,  parking spaces all over major American cities, and brutal $50 late fees, (about which a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts failed) kept Zipcar’s operation running smoothly and profitably.

At some point, Zipcar became of the apple of Avis’s eye.  Earlier this year, the rental car giant swallowed up Zipcar for about half a billion dollars. See: Bloomberg, “Avis Budget Embraces Car Sharing With Zipcar Acquisition”(2013) (here); CNN, “ZipCar CEO Scott Griffith resigns, hours after Avis acquisition” (2013) (here).  It should be interesting to see how Zipcar changes. The first thing that I expect will happen is that Zipcar’s persona will undergo a subtle transformation. The cutesy, friendly emails will remain, but Avis will find ways to squeeze more money out of “Zipststers” and in so doing, will tick off a lot of the customers who used to love Zipcar.

Zipcar Complaints

One recent complaint came to me the other day. The story went like so: Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Companies in the Spotlight

Class Action Investigation: Shen Min Hair Regrowth

Shen Min Hair Regrowth Investigation

There is a new product that the Leonard Law Office PC is investigating.  According to the Shen Min website, “Shen Min is a natural line of dietary supplements designed to help reduce hair loss and enhance hair growth in men and women…Shen Min® formulas are specifically designed to help block the negative effects of DHT, the “bad” form of testosterone.  This action helps prevent additional hair loss and enhances hair growth naturally. help reduce hair loss and enhance hair growth in men and women…”

These claims are in question.

If you have questions about this investigation or would like to share your experiences with this product, you are welcome to call Preston W. Leonard, Esq. at (617)329-1295.

Issues with Shen Min

  • What are the active ingredients of Shen Min?
  • Have there been any consumer complaints?
  • Is this product effective?

Advertisements seen in Boston, Massachusetts

*

SHEN MIN 1

* Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Companies in the Spotlight: Misconduct by Citizens Bank

August 12, 2015

CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU ORDERS CITIZENS BANK TO PAY $18.5 MILLION FOR FAILING TO CREDIT FULL DEPOSIT AMOUNTS

CFPB, OCC, and FDIC Take Action Against Bank For Ignoring Deposit Discrepancies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) took action against Citizens Bank for failing to credit consumers the full amounts of their deposited funds. The bank kept money from deposit discrepancies when receipts did not match actual money transferred. Today’s CFPB consent order requires the bank to provide approximately $11 million in refunds to consumers and pay a $7.5 million penalty for the violations.

“Citizens Bank regularly denied customers the full credits of their deposits when there were discrepancies between deposit slips and the actual money transferred into the bank,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The bank chose to ignore these discrepancies and harmed many consumers by pocketing the difference.”

Today’s CFPB action is against Citizens Bank, N.A., formerly known as RBS Citizens Bank, N.A.; Citizens Financial Group, Inc., formerly known as RBS Citizens Financial Group, Inc.; and Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania. The bank operates retail branches in about a dozen states and among its various products and services are deposit accounts. For the period at issue, the bank generally required its customers making a deposit to fill out a slip listing the checks or cash being deposited, and their total. The customer then turned the deposit slip over to the bank and got a receipt reflecting the amount on the deposit slip for the transaction. The bank scanned the deposit slip and deposit items at a central location.

The CFPB investigation found that from January 1, 2008 to November 30, 2013, Citizens Bank violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition on unfair and deceptive practices by failing to properly credit consumers’ checking and savings accounts. In cases where the bank’s scanner misread either the deposit slip or the checks, or if the total on the deposit slip did not equal the total of the actual checks, Citizens Bank did not take action to fix the mistake if it fell below a certain dollar amount. Over the years, by ignoring the discrepancies the bank shorted consumers millions of dollars. Specifically, Citizens Bank:

  • Failed to credit consumers the full amount of their deposits: Citizens Bank frequently did not give consumers full credit for their deposits when the amount scanned on the deposit slip was less than the amount of the checks and cash deposited. The bank credited the consumer’s account with what was read on the deposit slip, not the actual sum of money the consumer transferred into the bank. Citizens only investigated and fixed errors when they were above a certain threshold. From January 2008 to September 2012, the bank only looked into discrepancies greater than $50. From September 2012 to November 2013, the bank only looked into discrepancies greater than $25.
  • Falsely claimed that it would verify deposits: Citizens Bank told consumers that deposits were subject to verification, implying that the bank would take steps to ensure consumers were credited with the correct deposit amount. But the bank’s practice was not to verify and correct deposit inaccuracies unless they were above the $25 or $50 threshold. Although some consumers benefited by this policy, others lost money that rightfully belonged to them. The CFPB concluded that many of those consumers were harmed by this unfair and deceptive practice.

Enforcement Action
Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has the authority to take action against institutions engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. Today’s order requires Citizens Bank to:

  • Pay approximately $11 million in redress to victims: Citizens Bank must pay $11 million to consumers who did not receive all the money that should have been deposited into their accounts. Citizens Bank must include any fees the consumer incurred related to the under-crediting, including but not limited to any overdraft fees, insufficient funds fees, and monthly maintenance fees. The bank must also include a reasonable estimate of interest on these amounts. Consumers are not required to take any action to receive their credit or check. If the consumers have an open account with the bank, they will receive a credit to their account. For closed accounts, Citizens Bank will send a check to the affected consumers.
  • End all violations of federal consumer financial law in connection with deposit discrepancies: Citizens Bank is prohibited from engaging in violations of unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices in connection with deposit transactions. Among other things, this means the bank must properly review its compliance management system to ensure no further violations relating to its processing of deposits, it must not misrepresent its processing practices, and it must incorporate corrective actions if the bank fails to process deposits consistent with federal consumer financial law. The bank has made a significant technology investment over the past year to address the issue.
  • Pay $7.5 million civil penalty: Citizens Bank will make a $7.5 million penalty payment to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

The CFPB is taking this action in coordination with the FDIC and the OCC. The FDIC separately ordered Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania to pay restitution and a $3 million civil penalty. The OCC separately ordered Citizens Bank, N.A., to pay restitution and a $10 million civil penalty. In total, Citizens Bank must pay about $11 million in consumer refunds and $20.5 million in federal penalties for these coordinated actions. As part of these actions, the FDIC and OCC are ordering additional relief relating to business accounts.

A copy of the CFPB consent order is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201408_cfpb_consent-order-rbs-citizens.pdf

Information about the FDIC action can be found at: https://www.fdic.gov/news/news/press/2015/

Information about the OCC action can be found at: http://www.occ.gov/news-issuances/news-releases/2015/index-2015-news-releases.html

*************************************************************************************************

Source: US Attorney’s Office Press Release (.pdf here).

Former Citizens Bank Teller Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

Fraud

“A Good Bank Helps Guard Against Fraud.”

JANUARY 11, 2013
BOSTON – A Rhode Island woman was convicted today of embezzling more than $375,000 from the accounts of Citizens Bank customers.

Maria DaSilva, 44, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns to violating the federal bank fraud statute.

From February 2008 through January 2012, while she was working as a bank teller at the North Attleboro branch of Citizens Bank, DaSilva embezzled over $375,000 from the accounts of three elderly bank customers by forging withdrawal slips on various accounts held by these customers.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 8, 2013. DaSilva faces up to 30 years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release and a $1,00,000 fine.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Sternberg of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Unit.

Citizens candy jar

Citizens candy jar

.

Leave a comment

Filed under Companies in the Spotlight

Companies in the Spotlight: MyFeePlan.com & Backgroundfee.com

Fraud Warning:

Do not give your credit card information to:

There are many complaints online about these companies. They all follow a similar pattern:  the consumers say that they went on the site to seek a background check or some type of public records search, which the site says can be done for a fee of $1.00.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Companies in the Spotlight

$5,000 Reward Offered for Evidence of Facebook Biometric Privacy Violations

Reward

Wanted: Facebook

The Leonard Law Office, PC is offering a $5,000.00 reward to anyone who provides verifiable, credible information leading to the successful prosecution of a class action lawsuit against Facebook regarding its use, collection, or storage of biometric data. Specifically, we are looking for proof that Facebook has shared or sold biometric data with third parties. We are investigating all aspects of Facebook’s conduct surrounding the implementation, use, and possible misuse of facial recognition and biometrics. Biometrics refers to unique anatomical features used for identification purposes.  For Background Information about Facebook, “Tag Suggestion,” and Biometrics, See EPIC‘s FTC ComplaintIn re Facebook and Facial Recognition (here) (filed June 10, 2011). To inquire about this investigation and reward, you are welcome to contact Preston W. Leonard, Esq. at (617) 329-1295.

Related: Biometricupdate.com: “Boston law firm offers reward for proof that Facebook has shared or sold biometric data with third parties,” (here).

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston News, Class Action Investigations

“Zip Code Cases”

“Zip Code Cases” and why they are important 

Numerous class actions have been filed against retailers concerning improper data collection during checkout. These so-called “zip code cases” raise important privacy issues, and we will continue to push ahead with them.  Throughout America and Massachusetts, businesses collect an unprecedented volume of data about consumers and sometimes they do so unlawfully. Over twenty years ago, the Massachusetts legislature wanted consumers to have privacy and security when they use credit cards, and therefore limited what information merchants can collect. The implications of excessive data collection are for more troubling in this new era of “big data.” Today, the average consumer has little to no understanding of how their personal information is collected, scrutinized, cross-referenced, and monetized.  According to a FTC report (pdf) issued in May, 2014 “data brokers collect consumer data from numerous sources, largely without consumers’ knowledge.” Information harvested by retailers during credit card transactions is digital gold to data brokers.

Collecting ZIP codes at checkout is generally illegal in Massachusetts

A large number of retailers  have violated and continue to violate Massachusetts law by collecting ZIP codes from consumers who pay by credit card. When retailers go to data brokers such as Acxiom, Datalogix, CoreLogic, Trillium, or Pitney Bowes,  they can learn their customers’ mailing addresses and inundate them with unwanted junk mail.

The “Massachusetts Consumer Privacy In Commercial Transactions Statute,” or “Section 105(a)”:

Section 105. (a) No person, firm, partnership, corporation or other business entity that accepts a credit card for a business transaction shall write, cause to be written or require that a credit card holder write personal identification information, not required by the credit card issuer, on the credit card transaction form.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Do Electronic Pest Repellent Devices (Riddex, Victor, Pest-a-cator, Emerson, etc.) Actually Work?

Under Investigation: Electronic Pest Repellent Devices

They click, beep, or emit some kind of ultrasonic noise or pulse. The premise seems sensible enough – they supposedly do the job by sending out sounds that are annoying to critters but inaudible to humans.  These gadgets promise to repel household pests such as mice, rats, racoons, etc. but do they really work? The claims made by all of these devices are in question.  Bell & Howell, and other companies make them, and they are sold at hardware stores and online retailers.

Below are some pictures of a device for sale at CVS and on television. It is called Riddex plus. The product claims to be a “Pest Repelling Aid…Patented digital pulse technology…For Rodents, Roaches, Ants, and Spiders….Simply plug into any home outlet…Turn your home’s wiring into a pest repellent force field!”

Riddex Pest Repelling Aid

Below is a close up of an icon on a Riddex package depicting a rat, cockroach, and spider as “banned.”

Rats, spiders, roaches

Rats, spiders, roaches*

Continue reading

23 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations

Bed Bug “Bombs” & “Foggers” Class Action Investigation

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the ...

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the typical flattened oval shape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Under InvestigationBed Bug “Bombs” & “Foggers”

Questions? Have information? – call Preston W. Leonard, Esq. at (617)329-1295.

Do Bed Bug Bombs and Foggers Work?

There are three bed bug products whose efficacy are in question:

  1. Hot Shot
  2. Spectracide
  3. Eliminator
Hot Shot

Hot Shot

According a recent study [here], “The nature of these foggers is such that they don’t penetrate in cracks and crevices where most bedbugs are hiding, so most of them will survive.”

See the Ohio State University researcher’s video below:

Ohio State University Bed Bug Fogger Study

Ohio State University Bed Bug Fogger Study

NPR reported:

  • “[R] readily available bug bombs that fill the house with a pesticide fog are understandably tempting. But research shows they’re not likely to work.
  • Writing in the Journal of Economic Entomology, researchers from Ohio State University say they tested three popular bug bomb products on five different populations of bedbugs, collected “in the wild” from homes around Ohio. All three products failed miserably. (Emphasis added).
  • A bug bomb is basically an aerosol can that fills a room with insecticides called pyrethrins. They didn’t exactly have a stellar reputation before, either. There are anecdotal reports that the products stir up the bugs, causing them to leave their hiding places and potentially scatter to new locations. And as NPR’s Jon Hamilton reported last year, many bedbugs are becoming resistant to pyrethrins.
  • “If [bug bombs] don’t work in the first place, that’s what people need to know,” lead author and entymology professor Susan Jones tells Shots. So she tested three products, including two general-purpose bug bombs, Spectracide Bug Stop Indoor Fogger and Eliminator Indoor Fogger, and one marketed specifically for bedbugs, Hot Shot Bedbug and Flea Fogger. All three are manufactured by Spectrum Brands.
  • The Federal Trade Commission‘s website goes even further. “Steer clear of bug bombs or foggers,” it warns, citing the scattering effect.

Are Bed Bug Foggers Safe?

At least one consumer has complained of devastating physical side effects of using a bed bug fogger.  Some government studies suggest that the pesticides used in foggers (i.e permethrin, tetramethrin, cypermethrin, cyfluthrin, and piperonyl butoxide) can  harm humans. According to CDC report, at least one infant death is suspected to have resulted from bed bug fogger poisoning: “This death occurred in a female infant aged 10 months who was put to bed the evening of the day her apartment was treated with three TRFs. The infant was found dead the next morning.

The safety of these products, which are marketed as providing a quick fix, have been questioned by federal and state agencies aside from the CDC For example:

NewYorkvsBedbugs.org postedNew York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that it would classify total release foggers (“TRFs” or “bug bombs”) as restricted-use products available only to professionals. We applauded that move, which followed a CDC study on the illnesses and injuries caused by TRFs, in large part because TRFs are inappropriate products to use by consumers in the control of bed bug infestations. They make infestations more difficult to control, dispersing bed bugs to scattered harborage sites and walls and increasing the likelihood that an infestation will spread to adjacent locations.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has urged safety precautions for total release foggers and has warned: ” failure to vacate premises during fogging or reentering without airing out may result in illness.”

Time Magazine reported: “Bed bugs do not transmit disease or cause illness — but the insecticides used to kill them do. A total of 111 illnesses associated with bed bug-related insecticides were reported in seven states between 2003 and 2010 (mostly in the last three years), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday. Most cases of poisoning were not severe, but the data included one death.

Information about Spectrum Brands, Inc.

Spectrum makes, Hot Shot, Spectracide, and Eliminator.  Spectrum is a Delaware corporation with its corporate headquarters at 601 Rayovac Drive, Madison, Wisconsin. Spectrum labels and advertises that its Hot Shot Bed Bug Products “Kill(s) Bed Bugs.” This representation is central to Spectrum’s marketing of its Hot Shot Bed Bug Products, and is displayed on the product itself, Spectrum’s website, and other online advertisements. See Hot Shot, http://www.hotshot.com/ (click on “Bedbugs” tab; then “learn more” link for “Hot Shot Pest Bed Bug & Flea Killer Aerosol” and “Hot Shot Bed Bug & Flea Fogger” products.

Hot Shot

Hot Shot product claims

2 Comments

Filed under Class Action Investigations