Consumer Protection

Attorney General Bonta Announces $50 Million Settlement with Vitol and SK as Part of Ongoing Enforcement Against Big Oil

July 10, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a $50 million settlement with gas trading firms, resolving allegations that Vitol, Inc. (Vitol) and SK Energy Americas, Inc., along with its parent company SK Trading International (SK), secretly worked together to tamper with and manipulate spot market prices for California gasoline. The settlement reflects Attorney General Bonta’s larger effort to hold Big Oil accountable for unlawful price increases and anticompetitive behavior. SBX1-2 (Skinner), which passed last spring and was co-sponsored by Attorney General Bonta and Governor Newsom, established new oversight over petroleum markets.

 “Petroleum companies should not get to reap mass profits out of the pockets of hardworking Californians through illegal market manipulation,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Market manipulation and price gouging are illegal and unacceptable, particularly during times of crisis when people are most vulnerable. That's why California passed the nation-leading legislation SBX1-2, which improves transparency in the oil industry so we can root out the causes of price irregularities and take action if we find companies violating the law. Today's settlement is an important reminder that no one is above the law.”

“When oil companies manipulate markets to line their own pockets, California will hold them accountable, and I commend my former colleagues in the Department of Justice on seeing this landmark case through to a successful conclusion,” said Tai Milder, Director of the Division of Petroleum Market Oversight. “Today, with Senate Bill X1-2 — the Gas Price Gouging and Transparency Law — California has even stronger tools to monitor the oil industry, expose bad actors, and protect consumers. These tools make it harder for industry actors like these firms to engage in this kind of misconduct in the first place."

This settlement resolves allegations brought in the California Department of Justice's lawsuit filed in May 2020. The lawsuit alleged that Vitol and SK took advantage of the market disruption following a February 2015 explosion at a gasoline refinery in Torrance, California to engage in a scheme to drive up gas prices for their own profit. These alleged actions illegally suppressed competition within the gasoline market and forced California consumers to pay more for gasoline.

To qualify for a settlement payment, you must submit a claim. Once the court authorizes the issuance of notice to California residents, you can submit a claim online at www.CalGasLitigation.com

Under the settlement and SBX1-2, if the firms resumed operations in California, Vitol and SK would be required to submit:

  • A daily report to the Energy Commission containing certain information for each transaction occurring in the preceding day.
  • Weekly reports to the Energy Commission that include the weekly inventory volume, by type, such as gasoline, gasoline blending components, diesel fuel, or renewable fuels, for each position holder by name of company, and copies of all contracts or agreements entered into with any refiners, oil producers, petroleum product transporters, petroleum product marketers, petroleum product pipeline operators, terminal operators, or any other entity that trades in petroleum products whether or not those entities take possession of those products, as designated by the Energy Commission.

SBX1-2, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), co-sponsored by Attorney General Bonta and Governor Newsom, and approved by a supermajority in both the Senate and Assembly, created a dedicated independent watchdog to root out market manipulation and price gouging by oil companies. The law went into effect on June 26, 2023.  

Attorney General Bonta is committed to holding Big Oil accountable. Last September, Attorney General Bonta and Governor Newsom filed a lawsuit against five of the largest oil and gas companies in the world — Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP — and the American Petroleum Institute for allegedly engaging in a decades-long campaign of deception and creating climate change-related harms in California. Last month, Attorney General Bonta filed an amended complaint in this case, adding a remedy that would require the defendants to give up the profits gained through their illegal conduct. The amended complaint also includes additional examples of recent false advertising and greenwashing by the oil companies.

This settlement is in addition to a settlement of a private class action lawsuit filed in federal court. 

A copy of the Attorney General’s complaint is available here. For settlement information, please see here and here

Attorney General Bonta Issues Consumer Alert to Protect California’s Military Community from Common Scams and Fraud

July 8, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — In recognition of Military Consumer Month, Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert to help protect California service members, veterans, and their family members from targeted common scams and fraud. Scammers often target the military community: According to the Federal Trade Commission, military consumers nationwide reported over 93,700 fraud complaints last year, including 42,766 imposter scams that reportedly cost them and their families over $178 million.

“Far too often, California service members and their families are targets for predatory scammers. Scams are varied and sophisticated, promising everything from home loans to jobs, and continuing education. I urge California’s military community to learn the scam warning signs, bring a buddy when engaging in major transactions, and take a tactical pause when an offer seems too good to be true,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As part of our commitment to protect those who protect us, my office will continue to bring the full force of the law against those who seek to exploit California’s military community. If you have fallen victim to a scam or suspect fraudulent activity, get help and share your story so that we can help your fellow service members. You can report fraud to your local military or civilian law enforcement agency, or to the California Department of Justice at oag.ca.gov/report.”

Why is the Military Community Targeted? 

Military service members, veterans, and their families are frequently targeted by scammers who want access to their pay and benefits, and who know that military members will often pay even fraudulent or over-stated debts to avoid security clearance issues or other disruptions to their military careers. In addition, the camaraderie that unites the military community is often exploited by impostors who claim to be veterans in attempts to perpetrate scams or access personal information for fraudulent purposes.   

Common Scams Targeting the Military Community:

Scammers use a variety of tactics to gain trust. Protect yourself by staying up to date on common military- and veteran-targeted scams. Beware of the following: 

  • Charity Scams: Just because a charity includes the word “veteran” in its name doesn’t mean that veterans are members of the group, or that veterans or their families will benefit from a donation. Scammers will use names that sound legitimate or those that mimic the names of well-known charities to create confusion. Take the time to make an informed decision and be wary of aggressive solicitations. Go to oag.ca.gov/charities, under the Resources & Tools section, and click on Registry Verification Search. If a charity is not listed, it should not be soliciting funds in California. If it is listed, you can view its financial reports, including the IRS Form 990 that the charity is required to file with DOJ's Registry of Charitable Trusts.
  • Predatory Schools: The GI Bill and other military education programs offer you the chance to attend school and plan for your future, but for-profit schools sometimes target service members and veterans with false promises. Slow down and take the time you need to make the right decision. Predatory schools often use high-pressure sales tactics to try to get you to sign up. It’s important to ask for information about the programs, such as graduation rates, job placement, and graduate salary information. Offers that seem too good to be true generally are. Further, don't forget that educational opportunities at the California Community Colleges, California State University, and University of California may be available to you. 
  • Home Loan Scams: Be aware of scammers that — through phone calls or fraudulent mailers — claim to be affiliated with the government, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or your home loan servicer. These fraudsters may attempt to convince you to agree to loan modifications, refinance your home, or make payments on your loans. Be cautious of any individual or lender that contacts you and asks you to pay fees upfront before receiving any services; tells you to cancel your mortgage payment and resend the funds elsewhere; tells you to make payments to someone other than your current loan servicer; or pressures you to sign papers you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand — including asking you to sign over the title to your property. 
  • Identity Theft and Fraud: Some scammers will pretend to be from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, or other official organizations in order to get your personal information so that they can commit identity theft or fraud. Before you provide any information, always make sure a request is coming from an official organization by doing a quick search on the internet or consulting a trusted source to get the organization’s real contact information. Never trust the contact information given by the person that is asking for your personal information, as scammers often give out fake contact information. Be wary of letters and emails that have misspellings, look unprofessional, or send you to a non-government website for information or action, as these are almost always fake. Lastly, never give out your Social Security number to receive military or veteran discounts. Scammers often promise military or veteran discounts in order to obtain personal information. 
  • Job Scams: Service members looking for new career opportunities after leaving service are a target for scammers posting fictitious job listings with the goal of stealing their personal information and finances. Avoid becoming a victim of job scams by conducting thorough research on the company. Additionally, stick to well-known job search platforms and government career websites when looking for job opportunities. Remember, legitimate employers will never require you to pay fees for applications, interviews, or background checks. You should also look out for fake check scams, which occur when a scammer posing as an employer sends you a counterfeit check to deposit into your account. The scammer will then ask you to send a portion of the funds back to them or a third party, while letting you keep some as payment. Eventually, the bank reverses the fake check, leaving you stuck paying the money back to the bank. If something feels off or suspicious during the job search, trust your instincts and end communication immediately.
  • Pension Scams: Veterans ages 65 and over are targeted by scam financial advisers who try to persuade senior veterans to buy costly annuities or transfer their assets into trusts, or pay unnecessary and illegal fees for help with a veterans pension application. These "advisers" claim to help veterans qualify for Aid and Attendance or other veterans benefits, but may cause you to lose eligibility or access to pension, disability, or healthcare benefits. If you are interested in Aid and Attendance or other veterans benefits, you can get free help from your County Veterans Service Office here.
  • Affinity Fraud: Affinity scams target members of identifiable groups, including the military. The perpetrators are — or pretend to be — members of the targeted group, and use sales pitches that rely on group trust and loyalty. In the military community, this includes exploiting the trust that service members have for their fellow service members, and for veterans who previously served. Don't make a significant purchase, or an investment decision, based on the salesperson's supposed military service, or the claim that a business is military-friendly or endorsed by the Armed Forces. Take a tactical pause, and shop around for the best deal.
  • Debt Collection and Illegal Threats: Debt collectors may try to trick or scare service members into making payments on debts. It is illegal for debt collectors to do any of the following: revoke your security clearance; contact your command in order to collect a debt (unless they have your consent, given after the debt came due, to do so); discipline or demote you; or garnish your pay. If a debt collector is trying to collect a debt that you do not owe or have already paid, dispute the debt in writing. Tell the debt collector why you do not owe the debt, include copies of any evidence you have, and mail this dispute to the debt collector using registered mail so that you have proof that the collector received it — and make sure to keep copies of everything for yourself. If you dispute the debt within 30 days after the collector first contacted you, the collector must stop collection until it shows you written proof of the debt.
  • Rental Housing Scams: These scams target military personnel looking for housing near a base, especially prevalent during the Permanent Change of Station season. Scammers pretend to be real estate agents and post fake ads for rental properties on websites, sometimes promising military discounts and other incentives in order to get service members to send them money for fees and deposits upfront. If someone insists on receiving money or other payments before a property has been seen, it is likely a rental scam. Avoid wiring money to reserve apartments, and use your installation housing office or established property management companies to locate potential housing. 
  • Predatory Auto Sales and Financing: Car dealers located near military bases may try to lure service members with promises of special deals for military personnel. Often, these so-called deals conceal the terms of purchase for the vehicle and result in the service member drastically overpaying for both the vehicle and the cost of financing. For example, dealers may insist that military personnel will not qualify for financing unless they purchase overpriced and unnecessary add-ons. Other times, the dealer may tell a service member who just purchased a car that the initial financing fell through and insist on renegotiating for worse terms. You should not rely on oral promises, nor feel pressured to enter into any purchase, without first reading and understanding the contract. If you are looking to purchase a car, you should explore all of your options for financing — including by contacting your bank or credit union — before making a purchase. 

Protect Yourself from Scams:  

  • Bring a battle buddy when making big decisions, and take a tactical pause: Take your time with big decisions and get advice.  A business that pressures you to make a quick decision or to not talk with your family, friends, a military financial counselor, or an officer or NCO that you trust may be out to scam you.
  • Take advantage of free annual credit reports: You are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: EquifaxExperian and TransUnion. Your credit history contains information from financial institutions, utilities, landlords, insurers, and others. By checking your credit reports at least once a year, you can identify signs of identity theft, as well errors in your report that could be raising the cost of your credit. Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • Place a Fraud Alert: If your identity is stolen, put a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the three main credit reporting agencies: EquifaxExperian, and TransUnion. Also, consider requesting a credit freeze, which will restrict access to your credit file, making it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Report identity theft right away and get a recovery plan at identitytheft.gov. Additionally, file a police report with your local sheriff or police department and keep a copy for your records.
  • Report Suspicious Activity: Never give out personal information to a lender or servicer that contacts you out of the blue. If you are feeling unsure, hang up and call your loan servicer directly at the number that is listed on your mortgage statement. Report suspicious activity to the Office of the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report and file a complaint with the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
  • Protect your online information and accounts with strong passwords: Protect yourself by using different, unique passwords for each of your online accounts. Make sure that the passwords you use are at least eight characters, including a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Check your credit card bills and bank statements often: Look for unauthorized charges, withdrawals, or unexpected bills, and report irregular activity to your bank as soon as you see it. If you notice that a bill didn’t arrive on time, it may mean that someone has changed the contact information on your account in order to hide fraudulent charges. Don't share personal information: Be careful about what personal information you share, such as your address or financial information.
  • Sign up for the Enhanced Homeowner Notification Program: If you reside in Los Angeles County, you may sign up to receive mailed copies of documents recorded against your home, allowing you to review recorded real estate documents so you are aware of actions taken against your property.

If you believe you have been the victim or target of a scam, immediately contact your local police department or reach out to your base legal office. For the legal office’s contact information, ask your command or visit to legalassistance.law.af.mil/. California National Guard personnel can also obtain legal help at calguard.ca.gov. You may also file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report. For additional information on military-targeted scams, visit our website at oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/military.

 

Attorney General Bonta Issues Consumer Alert Warning Against Illegal Price Gouging Following Governor’s Emergency Declaration in Butte County

July 3, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following Governor Newsom’s declaration of a state of emergency for Butte County due to the Thompson Fire, which has burned 3,002 acres and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396. Californians who believe they have been the victim of price gouging should report it to their local authorities or to the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report. To view a list of all price gouging restrictions currently in effect as a result of proclamations by the Governor, please see here

“As the Thompson Fire forces evacuations across Butte County, I ask Californians to listen to communication from officials, care for your neighbors, and keep safe,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As Californians flee their homes, I want to be very clear: Price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal. This means that businesses and landlords cannot unlawfully raise the price of essential supplies, hotels, rental housing, and more. I urge all Californians to heed evacuation orders, lend a helping hand where they can, and report price gouging when they see it.”

California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. For any item a seller only began selling after an emergency declaration, the law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds the seller's cost of the item by more than 50%. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, and gasoline. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, certain transportation services, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations, and rental housing. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business. 

Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute. 

For additional information, please see DOJ's FAQs on price gouging here.

 

Attorney General Bonta to Consumers: This Summer, Enjoy California — Without the Hidden Fees

July 1, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Good for consumers, honest businesses, and the marketplace as a whole  

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued the following statement and information for consumers following Senate Bill 478 (SB 478) going into effect on July 1, 2024. SB 478 makes it illegal for businesses to advertise or list a price for a good or service that does not include all required fees or charges other than certain government taxes and shipping costs. Also known as the “Honest Pricing Law” or “Hidden Fees Statute,” SB 478 does not change what price a business can charge or what may be included in that cost, it simply requires that the price listed include all mandatory charges consumers will pay. 

Mandatory fees charged by restaurants, bars, and other select food vendors are exempted from SB 478’s requirements so long as the fee is clearly and conspicuously displayed on the menu (see SB 1524, effective June 29, 2024).

“From the beautiful cliffs and seaside towns of Mendocino, to the bustling beaches of San Diego, I, like many Californians, will explore and enjoy all our great state has to offer this summer. Only this year, Californians won't have to worry about hidden fees at check out," said Attorney General Bonta. “SB 478 ensures clear and honest communication with consumers, so we can make the financial choices that are best for us and our families. As the hidden fee law goes into effect, I want consumers to be aware of their rights and feel confident to advocate for the transparency SB 478 provides. We all win when laws are followed. This summer, enjoy California — without the hidden fees.”

Why Hidden Fees Are a Problem

According to 2018 data from Consumer Reports, at least 85% of Americans have experienced a hidden or unexpected fee for a service, and more than two-thirds of those surveyed in 2023 said they were paying more now in surprise charges than they did five years earlier. Consumer Reports noted that hidden fees can increase the price of live event tickets by as much as 30% to 40%. SB 478 has no effect on prices; the law does not ask businesses to charge less, the law does not require businesses to charge more. The Honest Pricing Law works to empower consumers by arming them with accurate information upfront, so that they can compare prices between merchants, and creates an equitable marketplace for businesses to compete. 

Enforcement of SB 478

The requirements of SB 478 can be enforced by our office, District Attorneys, certain City Attorneys, certain County Counsels, and, subject to the Consumer Legal Remedies Act’s existing notice process, through private litigation. Our office and our local counterparts exercise discretion when considering whether to pursue an investigation or enforcement action. This includes scenarios where a business has acted in good faith and made its best efforts to comply with the law, or has taken responsibility and provided restitution to any consumers who may have been harmed by an unintentional violation of the law.

What to Do if You Notice Hidden Fees

First and foremost, we encourage consumers who observe apparent violations to have a conversation with the business and encourage them to come into compliance. We expect most businesses to act in good faith and make their best efforts to comply with the law. Consumers, employees, and competitor businesses who observe apparent violations can bring potential violations to our attention by visiting oag.ca.gov/report

To learn more about SB 478, please visit our web page.  

 

Attorney General Bonta Issues Consumer Alert, Warns Californians about Text-Based Toll Charge Scams

July 1, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

FasTrak does not request payment by text with a link to a website

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following an uptick in text-based scams claiming consumers owe express lane or toll charges and asking for online payment. Attorney General Bonta urges Californians to not click on links in texts appearing to alert consumers to overdue toll charges. FasTrak, the electronic toll collection system used statewide in California, does not request payment by text with a link to a website. Today’s consumer alert includes tips on how to identify and avoid toll charge scams, and what to do if you become a victim of this fraudulent activity.

“Scammers are often quite literally in our pockets, just a text away. Text-based toll charge scams are on the rise and knowing what to look for is an important way to keep consumers safe against these tactics,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I urge Californians to take practical steps to guard against being victimized by scammers, including talking to friends and family who may be unaware of these dangers.”

Often these types of scams involve a text that tells you to click a link to pay “overdue toll charges” to avoid late fees. This is most likely not the tolling agency, but a scammer. Clicking the link can lead to a phishing attack, where the scammer tries to take your personal information — and even steal your identity. And if you pay, not only are you out the money, but the scammer now has your credit card number, too. 

 How to Spot and Avoid Toll Scams:

  • Slow down. Don’t rush to click on links or respond to the text. Scammers want you to react quickly when they send you an unexpected text message, but it’s best to stop and check it out.
  • Check with the tolling agency. If you’re worried the text is not legit, check with the state’s tolling agency. But use a phone number or website you know is real to do so — not the info from the text.
  • Report unwanted text messages. Use your phone’s “report junk” option to report these unwanted texts to your messaging app or forward them to 7726 (SPAM).
  • Don’t engage. Delete the message. Unwanted messages often lead to scams. Once you’ve checked it out and reported it, delete the text message. And don’t engage.
  • Share this information with people you know. Everyone can be prepared to spot and avoid the scam.

If You Receive a Toll Scam Text:

  • Delete any scam texts received. 
  • File a complaint. File a complaint with the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, and our office. Be sure to include the phone number from where the text originated and the website listed within the text.
  • Check your account using the toll service’s legitimate website. You can find Bay Area FasTrak’s official website here. If you are in Southern California, please see here. For a comprehensive list of all tolling agencies in California, please see here
  • Contact the toll service’s customer service phone number. You can reach FasTrak customer service at 877-229-8655. Alert the toll service to your experience. 
  • Secure your personal information and financial accounts. If you clicked any link or provided your information, take efforts to secure your personal information and financial accounts. Dispute any unfamiliar charges.

For more information on scams, visit here. To report a text-based scam to the Attorney General, visit oag.ca.gov/contact/general-contact-form.

 

 

Attorney General Bonta, L.A. City Attorney Feldstein Soto, Announce $500,000 Settlement with Tilting Point Media for Illegally Collecting and Sharing Children’s Data

June 18, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Another important action to protect kids’ online data

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta, along with Los Angeles City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto, announced a $500,000 settlement with Tilting Point Media LLC (Tilting Point) resolving allegations that the company violated the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting and sharing children’s data without parental consent in their popular mobile app game “SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off.” In addition to $500,000 in civil penalties, Tilting Point must comply with injunctive terms ensuring legal data collection and disclosure, including obtaining parental consent and diligence in configuring third-party software in their mobile games.

“Businesses have a legal obligation to protect kids’ data and to comply with important state and federal privacy laws designed to protect children online. Failing to do this puts our kids at risk, leaving them vulnerable to having their personal data collected, tracked, and sold,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As children spend an increasing amount of time online, both on websites and using mobile apps, we will use every enforcement tool to ensure compliance with the law and that companies exercise diligence with privacy law requirements. I thank the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office for their work on this issue and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with local, state, and federal partners to protect children’s privacy.”

“The “SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off” game is based on some of the most beloved and recognizable characters in children’s entertainment. Tilting Point Media is alleged to have collected and shared its young players' personal data, violating consumer privacy laws and industry guidelines,” said Hydee Feldstein Soto, Los Angeles City Attorney. “Protecting our children has been a top priority for my administration. I am proud to partner with Attorney General Bonta to protect children throughout our State and am grateful to the lawyers in the Public Rights Branch in my office for initiating this action to stop data harvesting of minors.” 

“SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off” (SpongeBob) is a popular cooking simulation game that includes both targeted advertising and in-app purchases and is directed to children under the age of 13 as well as targeted to older teens and adults. The app was first investigated by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), a division of the Better Business Bureau National Programs that investigates potential deceptive or inappropriate data collection from children online. CARU found that the privacy and advertising practices of the SpongeBob app failed to comply with COPPA and CARU’s industry guidelines. Although Tilting Point took some corrective action, a joint investigation by the California Department of Justice and Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office found that Tilting Point was in violation of the CCPA and COPPA in connection with how the mobile app handled children’s data. Tilting Point’s age screen did not ask age in a neutral manner, meaning children were not encouraged to enter their age correctly to be directed to a child-version of the game. Additionally, Tilting Point inadvertently misconfigured third-party software development kits (SDKs), resulting in the collection and sale of kids’ data without parental consent.

In addition to paying $500,000 in civil penalties, Tilting Point media must comply with strong injunctive terms. Tilting Point must:

  • Comply with the CCPA and COPPA related to children’s data in the SpongeBob game and all of its games directed to children.
  • Not sell or share the personal information of consumers less than 13 years old without parental consent, and not sell or share the personal information of consumers at least 13 and less than 16 years old without the consumer’s affirmative “opt-in” consent.
  • In instances where Tilting Point sells or shares the personal information of children, provide a just-in-time notice explaining what information is collected, the purpose, if the information will be sold or shared, and link to the privacy policy explaining the parental or opt-in consent required.
  • Use only neutral age screens that encourage children to enter their age accurately.
  • Appropriately configure third-party SDKs to comply with legal requirements related to children’s data.
  • Implement and maintain a SDK governance framework to review the use and configuration of SDKs within its apps.
  • Comply with laws and best practices related to advertising to minors, and minimize data collection and use from children.
  • Implement and maintain a program to assess and monitor its compliance with the judgment, including annual reports to the California Department of Justice and Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.

COPPA AND CCPA

COPPA is a federal law that requires operators of websites and online services that are either directed to children under 13, or that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information from children under 13, to provide notice to parents and obtain parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children. The CCPA is a landmark state law that secures increased privacy rights for California consumers, including the right to know how businesses collect, share, and disclose their personal information and the right to opt-out of the sale or sharing of their personal information. The CCPA imposes on businesses specific responsibilities related to children’s data, including requiring parental consent before selling or sharing personal information from children under 13 years old, and obtaining the consumer’s affirmative opt-in consent for users at least 13 and under 16 years old.  

Attorney General Bonta is committed to enforcing both COPPA and the CCPA to improve children's online safety. Today's settlement represents Attorney General Bonta's third enforcement action under the CCPA, and his continued priority to protect children online:

  • In March, Attorney General Bonta joined a bipartisan multistate letter to the Federal Trade Commission proposing updates to regulations implementing COPPA and advocating for further clarity and specification for proposed rules. 
  • In February, Attorney General Bonta announced a settlement with DoorDash, resolving allegations that the company violated the CCPA and COPPA, by selling California customers’ personal information without providing notice or an opportunity to opt out of that sale. 
  • In January, Attorney General Bonta, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, and Senator Nancy Skinner introduced the California Children’s Data Privacy Act (AB 1949), and the Protecting Our Kids from Social Media Addiction Act (SB 976), landmark legislation seeking to protect youth online. These two bills would, respectively, limit the harms associated with social media addiction and provide more robust protections for kids’ data privacy.
  • In October 2023, Attorney General Bonta co-led a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general in filing a federal lawsuit against Meta Platforms, alleging among other things, that Meta designed and deployed harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children and teens to their mental and physical detriment. The lawsuit alleges that Meta violated federal and state laws, including COPPA, California's False Advertising Law, and California’s Unfair Competition Law.
  • In 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced a settlement with Sephora, resolving allegations that the company violated the CCPA by failing to disclose to consumers that it was selling their personal information, and failing to process user requests to opt out of these sales. 

A copy of the complaint and the final judgment can be found here and here.

Attorney General Bonta Supports New Rule Creating Registry for Repeat Consumer Protection Law Offenders

June 13, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Helps promote financial marketplaces that are safe, transparent, and reliable 

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta this week, along with a coalition of attorneys general, sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) supporting a final rule to detect and deter corporate offenders that have broken consumer laws and are subject to federal, state, or local government or court orders. Under the rule nonbank entities that offer consumer financial products must inform the CFPB if they become subject to an order issued by a federal, state, or local regulator or a court related to violations of consumer protection laws. The CFPB will then make this information available to regulators, businesses, and the public through a searchable online registry.

“It’s an age-old adage, but it’s true. Knowledge is power. We cannot efficiently fight injustice — or stand up for those who are taken advantage of or harmed — when we do not have access to current information,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As technology and innovation grow, we must keep up with it. Creating a transparent and accessible registry where agencies and consumers alike can vet nonbank financial services companies is a step to holding those who break the law accountable. I thank the CFPB for this timely rule and look forward to having another tool in the toolbox to help protect the financial health of Californians.”

When a financial services company violates consumer protection laws, a government law enforcement or regulatory agency may take enforcement action against them. While this usually leads to the issuance of a public order by the court or the agency itself, there is not currently a common database that tracks all of these orders. The registry will help the CFPB and other law enforcement and regulatory agencies identify repeat offenders and recidivism trends. The registry will also assist investors, creditors, business partners, and members of the public conducting due diligence or research on financial firms bound by law enforcement orders. 

In the letter, the attorneys general applaud the rule and the access it gives consumers, government agencies, and market participants to identify companies that have engaged in deceptive or abusive conduct. The registry enhances the CFPB’s ability to deploy resources more efficiently and prioritize enforcement actions against repeat offenders or entities subject to orders. State attorneys general benefit from enhanced abilities to spot emerging problems and engage in early prevention efforts. By creating a registry, market participants will have a single place to identify instances of specific conduct that courts or agencies have previously determined to be unlawful, deceptive, unfair, or abusive, and to shape their own marketing and compliance efforts accordingly.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to ensuring Californian's financial marketplaces are safe and equitable. In February, Attorney General Bonta issued letters to banks and credit unions not subject to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s supervision warning that overdraft and returned deposited item fees may violate California and federal laws. Some financial institutions charge up to $36 or more for each overdraft. California consumers paid an estimated $200 million in overdraft fees in 2022, with the financial burden disproportionately falling on low-income consumers and consumers of color. In January, Attorney General Bonta submitted a comment letter supporting a proposed rule that would expand the CFPB’s supervisory authority to cover non-traditional payment digital applications which are not subject to the same federal regulatory oversight as their traditional bank counterparts. This lack of federal oversight exposes millions of digital payment platform users to risks that can be higher for vulnerable consumers, including young or low-income individuals, who may not have ready access to traditional FDIC-insured bank-provided digital payment platforms.

In submitting the letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

 

 

Attorney General Bonta Secures Settlement with Yuba County Landlords and Property Management Company for Unlawful Tenant Evictions

June 11, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Reiterates the need for all landlords and property managers to comply with the Tenant Protection Act

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a settlement against two individual landlords and their property management company, Bosanek Enterpises (doing business as Heritage Property Management Services), to resolve allegations that they violated California’s Tenant Protection Act (TPA) by unlawfully evicting tenants in Marysville. Co-authored by Attorney General Bonta during his time as a state assemblymember, the TPA was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019. It created significant statewide protections for most tenants, including by limiting rent increases and prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants without just cause. Effective as of April 1, 2024, Senate Bill 567 (SB 567) strengthened the TPA’s protections, created new remedies for violations, and gave city attorneys and county counsel express authority to enforce the TPA directly. As part of today’s settlement, the defendants will pay a total of $40,500, including $36,500 in restitution to the three affected tenants, and be required to take specific actions to ensure compliance with the TPA. 

“Millions of Californians are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Today’s settlement underscores my office’s ongoing commitment to protecting renters, and I want to thank California Rural Legal Assistance for providing assistance in this matter,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We will continue to investigate and pursue violations of the Tenant Protection Act when appropriate. I urge local enforcers, including city attorneys and county counsel throughout the state, to do the same.”  

After receiving a credible complaint from California Rural Legal Assistance about a potentially unlawful eviction, the California Department of Justice launched an investigation into the landlords and Heritage Property Management Services. The investigation revealed that one landlord issued a pretextual eviction notice, claiming just cause to evict because the landlord’s uncle intended to move into the unit. However, under the TPA, landlords cannot evict tenants to move in relatives other than those specified in the law (owner’s spouse, domestic partner, child, grandchild, parent, or grandparent), and an uncle is not a qualifying relative. Additionally, no relative ever moved in, and the unit was rented to a new tenant at a large increase from the original rental rate. 

The investigation also revealed that a second landlord, working with the same property management company, issued two eviction notices claiming just cause because the landlord was undertaking a “substantial remodel” of the units. To qualify as a substantial remodel that justifies eviction under the TPA, work must be the “replacement or substantial modification of any structural, electrical, plumbing, or mechanical system that requires a permit from a governmental agency,” or the abatement of hazardous materials, that requires the tenant to vacate the unit for at least 30 consecutive days to be performed safely. However, the remodeling work performed did not rise to the level required under the TPA to evict a tenant. The landlord subsequently substantially raised rents in the two affected units.  

Under today’s settlement, which remains subject to court approval, the defendants will:

  • Pay $36,500 in restitution to the three affected tenants.
  • Pay $4,000 in penalties.
  • Be subject to injunctive terms designed to ensure that no misconduct recurs, including by imposing reporting and documentation obligations on all defendants and additionally requiring the property management company to train its employees on state rental housing laws and to take steps to ensure the adequacy of future no-fault evictions.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to enforcing the TPA. On February 28, 2024, he secured a settlement with two Bakersfield landlords and their property management company to resolve allegations that they violated the TPA and the Fair Employment Housing Act by unlawfully evicting tenants, raising rents, and discriminating against tenants based on their receipt of housing assistance benefits. On January 8, 2024, he secured a settlement with Invitation Homes to resolve allegations that the company violated the TPA and California’s price-gouging law by unlawfully increasing rents on approximately 1,900 homes. On June 14, 2023, he secured a settlement with Green Valley Corporation to resolve allegations that the company violated the TPA by issuing unlawful rent increases to several of its employee tenants and serving unlawful eviction notices to a subset of those tenants. On May 22, 2024, he issued an information bulletin to city attorneys and county counsel, notifying them of SB 567’s strengthened protections to the TPA and of their direct enforcement authority under the recently amended TPA. Earlier this year, he issued alerts advising California tenants, landlords, and property managers of their rights and obligations under state law. 

The Housing Justice Team at the California Department of Justice reminds Californians that they can send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Tenants who need legal help can find legal aid resources in their area at www.LawHelpCA.org. A copy of the complaints and proposed judgments for all three defendants are available here: 1a1b2a2b3a3b.

Attorney General Bonta Secures $700 Million Settlement with Johnson & Johnson for Misrepresenting Safety of Talc-Based Products

June 10, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a bipartisan coalition of 42 state attorneys general, announced a $700 million multistate settlement with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) resolving claims that the company violated consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the safety of its talc-based products. Specifically, J&J failed to disclose if asbestos was present in its talc products and that any asbestos present in the products is harmful and may lead to cancer. The proposed settlement, subject to court approval, bars J&J from resuming the manufacture, marketing, promotion, sale, and distribution of talc-based products. J&J stopped selling these products in the United States and Canada in 2020.

“Johnson & Johnson knew that it could not ensure the safety of its products for women and children and chose to prioritize profit over honesty. It's unacceptable, and for the people who were harmed, it's devastating,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today and every day, I take pride in serving the people of California and holding those who compromise consumer safety accountable.”

Since 1992, J&J sold over 600 million talc products nationwide, marketed primarily as baby powder for infants and genital hygiene products for women. Talc products were marketed as safe and pure despite J&J knowing that it could not ensure the talc used in its powders was free of asbestos.

Long-standing studies have suggested a possible association between the use of powders containing talc in the genital area and the incidence of ovarian cancer. Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that may be found in close proximity in the earth. The contamination of talc with asbestos is possible and at times, difficult to determine. Asbestos — a carcinogen that kills more than 12,000 people in the U.S. per year — is linked to diseases that are life threatening, or cause substantial pain and suffering, including mesothelioma, fibrosis, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, as well as other lung disorders and diseases. There is no safe level of exposure to this highly toxic material.

In securing today’s settlement, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. 

Attorney General Bonta is committed to investigating and remedying harm to consumers affected by unlawful and deceptive business practices. In May, Attorney General Bonta announced a $10.25 million settlement with major U.S. wireless carriers resolving allegations that the carriers violated consumer protection laws by engaging in deceptive and misleading advertising. Also in May, Attorney General Bonta announced a settlement with Liberty Tax for running deceptive advertisements that misled consumers into thinking they were getting a free advance on their tax refund when they were actually taking out a high-cost loan.

A copy of the proposed stipulated judgment, subject to court approval, can be found here

 

 

Attorney General Bonta, District Attorney Jenkins Announce Final Judgments Barring Manufacturers and Retailers from Selling Ghost Guns in California

June 4, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Blackhawk Manufacturing, Glockstore, and MDX permanently prohibited from manufacturing or selling ghost guns in or into California

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta and San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who were assisted by volunteer counsel from Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Keker, Van Nest & Peters, LLP, today announced that final judgments were entered against Blackhawk Manufacturing (Blackhawk), GS Performance LLC (Glockstore), and MDX Corporation (MDX) as part of a settlement with the companies. Pursuant to the judgments, the companies will be permanently prohibited from manufacturing or selling unserialized ghost gun kits and firearm precursor parts in California. Firearm precursor parts are items that may be easily converted into a frame or receiver of a firearm, or that are marketed as such. The companies will also pay civil penalties in the following amounts: $500,000 from Blackhawk, $120,000 from Glockstore, and $55,000 from MDX. The judgments resolve allegations that the companies violated California and federal law in their manufacturing, advertising, and sale of ghost gun kits and firearm precursor parts.  

“The manufacture and sale of ghost gun kits has created a largely chaotic industry that is a massive threat to public safety,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “As firearm-related deaths and injuries rise, we must look for upstream interventions that get to the crux of the gun violence epidemic. Getting these manufacturers and retailers to keep untraceable ghost guns off the market is a big win for public health and safety in California.”

“The influx of unlawful and untraceable ghost guns poses a serious public safety issue to residents of San Francisco and the State at large,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “This lawsuit should serve as a reminder that firearms laws must be followed, particularly with respect to the importation and sale of firearm precursor parts into California. I am pleased to have worked with Attorney General Bonta and our pro bono partners to achieve this important result and will not hesitate to take action in the future to enforce state and federal gun laws.” 

“This is huge for California and the national fight against ghost guns.These reckless ghost gun sellers were selling ghost gun kits to California consumers who could not lawfully assemble them. Keeping these untraceable guns out of the state will save lives," said Esther Sanchez-Gomez, Litigation Director, GIFFORDS Law Center. "We were proud to work with Attorney General Bonta, San Francisco District Attorney Jenkins, and Keker, Van Nest & Peters, LLP to secure this critical win for the people of California.”

“We are proud to work alongside Attorney General Bonta, District Attorney Jenkins, and the Giffords Law Center to help end the manufacture, distribution, and sale of ghost gun kits in California,” said Brook Dooley, a partner with the law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters. “These manufacturers have circumvented California’s gun safety laws for far too long, helping to promote an alarming public safety crisis. The unchecked proliferation of ghost guns will no longer undermine the safety of our communities.”

Ghost gun kits, which commonly contain firearm precursor parts, pose a serious public safety threat. The kits can be used to self-assemble a fully functional weapon in less than 30 minutes and are typically sold without a serial number or background check. As a result, people legally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms could obtain ghost guns. The lack of serial numbers on these firearms also render them essentially untraceable, making them attractive to criminals and impeding law enforcement’s ability to prevent and solve crimes. According to data reported by the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms, the number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement in California increased by more than 49,000% from 2015 to 2021. 

The complaint, which was filed in 2021, alleges that the defendants violated California consumer protection laws, and state and federal laws governing firearms. According to the complaint, the defendants violated and undermined the federal Gun Control Act by selling ghost gun kits and firearm precursor parts that are not serialized and by failing to comply with point-of-sale requirements, including background checks and recordkeeping requirements. As alleged in the complaint, the defendants also violated California’s Unsafe Handgun Act by selling kits and firearm precursor parts that produce handguns that lack required safety features, and two of the defendants violated California’s Manufacture of Firearms Law by manufacturing unfinished frames and receivers without serializing them. The complaint further alleges that the defendants misled consumers about serialization, eligibility, and safety requirements for legally assembling a firearm under California law and falsely led them to believe that the firearms built from the defendants’ products were legal.

Under the terms of the judgments, Blackhawk, Glockstore, and MDX are each permanently prohibited from manufacturing or selling any unserialized firearm precursor parts in or into California. They are also prohibited from making any statements that falsely suggest it is legal to purchase, sell, assemble, or own ghost guns or firearm precursor parts in California. The companies must also prevent future violations of California’s firearms laws by training and educating employees and providing notices to customers.

Since the complaint was filed, California’s AB 1621 was passed in 2022, which made the sale of unserialized firearm precursor parts generally illegal in the state and has helped to stem the tide of ghost guns. These judgments hold the defendants accountable for their conduct prior to the enactment of AB 1621; they do so under longstanding federal and state laws governing firearms, unsafe handguns, and fair business practices, and reinforce the applicability of those laws to the ghost gun industry.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to keeping Californians safe and stands with partners throughout the state to continue tackling the issue of gun violence strategically and aggressively by:

A copy of the complaint is available here. A copy of the judgment as to Blackhawk is available here, and a copy of the judgment as to Glockstore and MDX can be found here.