Consumer Protection

Attorney General Becerra Files Unlawful Business Practices Action against Neptune Society, Company Offering Prepaid Cremation Services

December 2, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, along with the District Attorneys for the City and County of San Francisco, Alameda County, and Marin County, filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court against Texas-based Service Corporation International and its subsidiaries doing business as Neptune Society (Neptune). The lawsuit alleges that Neptune — a company offering pre-need cremation service plans for purchase prior to a customer’s death — engaged in unlawful business practices and systematic misconduct in connection with the marketing and sale of those plans. The lawsuit includes allegations that the company broke California law by failing to hold in trust for the benefit of its customers a substantial portion of the money they paid for these plans and that it misled customers concerning this illegal practice.  

“We charge Neptune Society with swindling customers who were simply trying to look out for their families and prepare for one of life's most difficult moments,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Neptune misled these customers and failed to honor its legal obligation. We won’t fail to honor ours. We will hold Neptune accountable, because no one should have to worry about scams when preparing for one’s own death or that of a loved one.”

“When planning for something so personal and emotional as post-death arrangements, consumers should expect that their money is protected and will be there when it’s needed,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “My office remains steadfast in our commitment to protect the public from these types of unlawful business practices.”

“Consumers should expect the money paid toward future funeral needs will be fully protected and available to pay for the necessary services when the need ultimately arises so family and loved ones are not further burdened,” said Marin County District Attorney Lori Frugoli.

“No one making funeral arrangements for a loved one should have to worry about being cheated,” said Interim San Francisco District Attorney Suzy Loftus. “We have teamed up with the California Attorney General and neighboring DA’s offices to ensure that all consumers in our state are protected from being misled and manipulated when purchasing funeral services.”

California law requires companies selling pre-need funeral plans to hold their customers’ payments in a fully refundable pre-need trust until the service is provided. The complaint alleges that, instead of honoring this requirement, Neptune illegally kept more than $100 million that should have been placed into trust. Neptune did this by steering customers into a plan that bundled cremation services and merchandise, and it then illegally pocketed the money it allocated to merchandise. Neptune deceived consumers regarding whether amounts paid for the plan would be held in trust, as required by California law.

Because of the alleged practice of misallocating funds and the contract manipulation, many of Neptune’s customers failed to receive the full refund to which they were entitled when cancelling their contracts. Thousands of the company’s other California prepaid customers could face the same consequence.

In addition to allegations relating to its misleading bundling plan, the lawsuit alleges that Neptune falsely claimed to use its own crematoriums when in fact it contracted with others. The company also included illegal terms in installment contracts that accelerated payments when customers died and forced customers in California to file lawsuits against Neptune in Florida. Finally, the company failed to provide legally-required disclosures on mailers which advertised seminars that purported to provide information concerning veterans benefits. California law requires these disclosures to ensure that veterans are not misled about their rights.

 A copy of the complaint can be found here.

Attorney General Becerra Sues “Paul Blanco’s Good Car Company” for Illegal Marketing and Financing Practices

September 23, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court against Paul Blanco’s Good Car Company, a network of motor vehicle dealerships, and its chief executive Paul Blanco (Paul Blanco) alleging that the company engaged in a variety of unlawful business practices. These practices include false advertising regarding credit and discount programs, making false statements on credit applications, and deceiving customers regarding add-on products and additional charges. The company operates a network of seven dealership locations in California and mostly sells used vehicles. Paul Blanco targets vulnerable predominantly low-income consumers with subprime credit. For many of these consumers, a vehicle is a necessity and can be the most expensive one-time purchase they ever make. Paul Blanco’s deceitful and unlawful conduct put these families at risk.

“A car is one of the largest, and most important purchases for many families, allowing people to get to work, school, and connect to their communities,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Far from a good car company, Paul Blanco’s abhorrent conduct put vulnerable families at risk, through deceitful advertising and illegal sales and lending practices. It’s disgraceful and it’s unlawful. Working families make every dollar count. Today’s action is about protecting our families from deception and unlawful practices that swindle these dollars away, leading to unaffordable debt.”

The lawsuit charges Paul Blanco with making false statements on credit applications, including by deceiving lenders about the value of vehicles and the consumer’s ability to repay the loans. This allowed the company to boost their profits through improperly financed sales and increased the risk that the consumers would be saddled with loans that they could not afford. Paul Blanco also tricked customers into paying thousands of dollars for extra add-on products, such as service contracts and GAP insurance, by telling customers that these add-ons were required by law, or by simply concealing the extra charge. These practices increased the cost of an already substantial purchase, almost always made by taking out an expensive loan.

The company also ran numerous false and deceptive advertising campaigns on television, radio and the internet promising falsely low interest rates even for consumers who wouldn’t normally qualify for such rates to lure unsuspecting consumers to their dealership.

Attorney General Becerra stands strong to protect California consumers. In October 2017, he announced a lawsuit against the retailer Curacao for unlawfully preying on consumers across California. In November 2017, Attorney General Becerra sued for-profit Ashford University for allegations that the school engaged in unlawful business practices. Attorney General Becerra sued Navient Corporation in June 2018, charging the student loan servicer with misconduct in the servicing and collection of federal student loans. In April 2019, Attorney General Becerra secured $4.6 million in a settlement with Advantage Rent A Car and its affiliate E-Z Rent-A-Car to resolve allegations the company overbilled consumers for rental car damages. In June 2019, Attorney General Becerra sued telecommunications giants Sprint and T-Mobile to block an unlawful merger, which would reduce competition and increase costs for consumers. Attorney General Becerra has also challenged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), including denouncing the agency’s rollback of the Payday Lending Rule on February 6, 2019, and submitting a comment letter opposing the CFPB's proposed Debt Collection Practices Rule on September 19, 2019.

Click here for a copy of the Paul Blanco complaint.

Consumers who wish to file a complaint about Paul Blanco may do so at http://www.oag.ca.gov/report.

Attorney General Becerra Secures Commitment from Telecommunications Industry to Take Actions to Stop Robocalls

August 22, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, as part of a nationwide coalition of 51 attorneys general, announced an agreement with 12 telecommunications (telecom) providers on a set of principles intended to limit and prevent robocalls. The providers have agreed to incorporate these principles into their business practices. This agreement comes from the work of the coalition of attorneys general who in 2018 formed the Robocall Technologies Working Group. The group collaborated with telecom providers to make it more difficult for scammers to use robocall technologies to intrude upon and defraud consumers.

All 50 states, and the District of Columbia have joined this agreement with the following telecom companies: AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon, and Windstream.

“We applaud the efforts of these telecommunications companies to stop unwanted robocalls,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Robocalls initiated from fake numbers are more than just a nuisance – they’re illegal. Today’s announcement is a useful step toward eliminating these types of calls, which far too often lead to identify theft and financial loss. Consumers must continue to be vigilant. However, today’s commitment by our industry partners is a step in the right direction to provide every landline and wireless customer with access to free and effective call-blocking tools.”

Illegal and unwanted robocalls harm consumers and interrupt our daily lives. Consumer fraud often originates with a robocall. Robocalls and telemarketing calls are currently the number one source of consumer complaints to both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Comission (FTC). During 2018, according to the FTC, consumers reported a total loss of $429 million as a result of these phone-based frauds.

The efforts of the Robocall Technologies Working Group represent a positive step towards combatting scams perpetrated through robocalls. The adopted principles commit the providers to:

  • Offer free call blocking and labeling to stop robocalls before they reach consumers;
  • Implement STIR/SHAKEN to ensure that numbers are not illegally spoofed and to prevent scammers from providing a number they are not authorized to use;
  • Analyze and monitor network traffic to identify and monitor patterns consistent with robocalls;
  • Investigate suspicious calls and calling patterns and seek to identify the party and take appropriate action;
  • Confirm the identity of commercial customers by collecting information such as location, contact persons, state or country of incorporation, federal tax ID, and nature of the customer’s business;
  • Require traceback cooperation in call interconnection contracts by seeking language requiring voice service providers to identify the upstream carrier from which a suspected illegal robocall entered its network or to where the call originated in its network;
  • Cooperate in traceback investigations by dedicating resources to respond to requests from law enforcement and the US Telecom’s Industry Traceback Group, so that scammers can be identified and prosecuted; and
  • Communicate with state attorneys general about scams and trends in illegal robocalling.

The Attorney General has also repeatedly called on the FCC to take action to stop robocalls, and he continues to urge the FCC to take actions consistent with today's agreement between state attorneys general and telecommunications carriers. That includes support for the FCC's orders authorizing carriers to implement call blocking systems, as well as support for the FCC's stated intention to mandate the implementation of STIR/SHAKEN by the end of 2019 if it is not voluntarily implemented. 

A copy of today’s agreement can be found here.

Attorney General Becerra: States Remain Opposed to T-Mobile/Sprint Megamerger

July 26, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Leads coalition opposing the merger, which would lead to reduced competition and higher prices

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leading a coalition of 14 attorneys general from across the nation, today expressed concern about a newly announced deal — approved, in principle, by the United States Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) — supporting the proposed megamerger between telecommunications giants T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corporation.

“Here in California and across our coalition of states, our concerns with this merger have been, are, and continue to be about the harms posed by over-consolidation and diminished market competition,” said Attorney General Becerra. “A marketplace with fewer active competitors drives up costs, reduces consumer choice, and thwarts innovation. We intend to be prepared to go to trial to fight for a fair, competitive, and equitable marketplace for consumers nationwide.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Letitia James led the filing of the complaint blocking the merger on June 11 in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York — alleging that the merger of two of the four national mobile network operators would harm mobile subscribers nationwide by reducing access to affordable, reliable wireless service, and that it would hit lower-income and minority communities particularly hard. The coalition today reaffirmed its commitment to opposing this merger, which would reduce competition and increase prices for consumers.

T-Mobile currently has more than 79 million subscribers, and is a majority-owned subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG. Sprint Corp. currently has more than 54 million subscriber, and is a majority-owned subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp.

The U.S. DOJ indicated earlier today it would approve the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint based on promises made by the two companies, including an agreement to divest Sprint’s prepaid subscription service and potentially a slice of its wireless spectrum to satellite TV operator DISH. Though DISH has never owned any kind of mobile wireless business and has no experience building or operating a nationwide mobile wireless network, both T-Mobile and Sprint claim that this deal will create a fourth national network operator that will preserve a competitive market for consumers.

The states continue to have serious concerns with the merger and whether the deal with DISH would meaningfully address the loss of competition otherwise caused by this megamerger. Among those concerns:

  • DISH has never shown any inclination or ability to build a nationwide mobile network on its own and has repeatedly broken assurances to the Federal Communications Commission about deployment of its spectrum;
  • DISH does not have the network to operate as an independent competitor, like Sprint does today, and will, instead, remain reliant on the T-Mobile network for the foreseeable future; and
  • T-Mobile and Sprint are asking Americans to trust that this new mega-corporation will act directly against its own economic interests by helping transform DISH into an independent competitor that rivals this new company.

The states remain committed to protecting competition in the marketplace and lower prices for consumers. In addition to Attorney General Becerra, the plaintiffs currently include New York, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Attorney General Becerra Issues Advisory Encouraging Consumers to Apply for Relief in Equifax Settlement

July 24, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Consumers may begin filing claims at www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today encouraged consumers to begin the process of applying for restitution and submitting documentation for claims from the Equifax Settlement. The settlement resolved allegations that the credit reporting agency improperly exposed the personal information of 147 million consumers, including 15 million Californians, after a massive data breach in 2017. Data exposed by the breach included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Equifax did not disclose the breach, which lasted from mid-May through July 2017, until September 2017. The settlement requires Equifax to pay up to $425 million into a restitution fund and  $175 million in state penalties, and offer benefits like credit monitoring and consumer assistance for eligible customers.

“On top of holding Equifax accountable for one of the most devastating data breaches to face our nation, we have now recovered hundreds of millions of dollars to help our families who fell victim,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our credit status impacts nearly every aspect of our lives – from purchasing a home or a car to finding a job. The same Americans who had to immediately protect themselves from fraudsters or identify thieves will have to be vigilant for the rest of their lives. We encourage every eligible person to apply for the relief they are entitled to as part of our settlement.”

Depending on eligibility, consumers may receive one or more of the following:

  • Cash reimbursement for time or money spent trying to avoid or recover from fraud or identity theft because of the breach, and out of pocket losses resulting from the data breach;
  • Free credit monitoring services for up to 10 years, or, alternatively, a payment of up to $125 for buying a different credit monitoring service;
  • Reimbursement for up to 25 percent of the cost of Equifax credit monitoring paid for in the year leading up the data breach announcement; and
  • At least seven years of free identity restoration services to help remedy the effects of identity theft and fraud.

Consumers may visit www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com to file a claim, learn more about eligible benefits, determine whether their information was impacted by the breach, or contact the settlement administrator. The webpage, documentation, and the claims process are managed by the settlement administrator, not by Equifax. Affected consumers may also call the settlement administrator at 1-833-759-2982 and request to receive information by mail.  

Attorney General Becerra Announces Settlement with ITT Tech Lender for Illegal Student Loan Scheme

July 23, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

California consumers to receive $21 million in relief

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a settlement with Student CU Connect CUSO, LLC (CUSO) resolving allegations related to its involvement in an illegal private loan scheme to benefit itself at the expense of its students. CUSO provided private loans for students to attend the now-defunct, predatory ITT Technical Institute (ITT Tech). With substantial assistance from CUSO, ITT Tech conducted a coordinated scheme to misdirect student borrowers towards expensive student loans that borrowers struggled to repay. The settlement will provide $168 million in relief to 22,000 borrowers - 4,000 of whom are in California. Many of these students were low-income and the targets of aggressive and misleading sales tactics by the school.

“ITT Tech, aided by CUSO, ripped off thousands of students in this illegal and coordinated scam,” said Attorney General Becerra. “In addition to grossly overcharging vulnerable students for a sham education, the companies guided students toward expensive and unwieldy loans that were nearly impossible to pay back. Students should be worrying about homework, not predators looking to exploit them for a quick buck.”

ITT Tech – one of the most expensive for-profit post-secondary institutions – received revenues from student tuition and fees. As required by federal law known as the 90/10 Rule, private for-profit schools may receive no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal public loans, with the remainder originating from other sources. ITT Tech enlisted CUSO to provide ITT Tech students with private loans for this purpose. It then steered borrowers toward the lender. This scheme was designed for ITT Tech to enhance its financial statements, its appearance with investors, and to facilitate compliance with the 90/10 Rule.

The loan program issued $189 million in loans to ITT Tech students between 2009 and 2011. ITT Tech staff targeted students through aggressive tactics, including pulling students from class, withholding course material or transcripts, and rushing students through financial aid appointments. The company projected that more than 60 percent of students would default on the loans, which carried interest rates as high as 16.25 percent. These loans covered tuition gaps for which ITT Tech had previously offered short-term loans called “Temporary Credits.” Temporary Credits were zero-interest loans payable in nine months, but were presented to students as loans payable upon graduation. The credits had a high default rate, as students were unable to repay the full amount in such a short time. By extending loans through CUSO, ITT Tech could remove these unpaid credit balances from its financial reports.

Besides requirements that CUSO provide $168 million to student borrowers, the settlement includes restitution and borrower relief. CUSO will cease conducting business, including acquiring or issuing student loans, and cease all collection activities. CUSO will also cancel all outstanding balances of consumer loan accounts and will direct credit reporting agencies to delete these balances from consumers’ credit reports. CUSO will implement a consumer redress plan to notify consumers of the settlement.

A copy of the final judgment can be found here.

Attorney General Becerra Announces Settlement Against Equifax Providing $600 Million in Consumer Restitution and State Penalties

July 22, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Settlement Requires Increased Consumer Assistance and Ten Years of Free Credit Monitoring

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a nationwide settlement against Equifax resolving allegations that the credit reporting agency improperly exposed the personal information of 147 million consumers, including 15 million Californians, after a massive data breach in 2017. The breach occurred after Equifax failed to apply a critical software fix and implement security measures that would have protected and encrypted consumers’ data. Data exposed by the breach included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Equifax did not disclose the breach, which lasted from mid-May through July 2017, until September 2017. The settlement requires Equifax to pay up to $425 million into a restitution fund for affected consumers, pay another $175 million to states in penalties, and offer additional benefits like credit monitoring and consumer assistance for eligible consumers. In addition to other robust injunctive terms, Equifax must implement and maintain critical data security enhancements.

“On top of holding Equifax accountable for one of the most devastating data breaches to face our nation, we have now recovered hundreds of millions of dollars to help our families who fell victim. Equifax, one of only three major credit reporting agencies, had a responsibility to secure and protect Americans' data. Instead, it breached public trust,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our credit status impacts nearly every aspect of our lives – from purchasing a home or a car to finding a job. The same Americans who had to immediately protect themselves from fraudsters or identify thieves will have to be vigilant for the rest of their lives. We encourage every eligible person to apply for the relief they are entitled to as part of our settlement.”

Affected consumers may get more information about the $425 million restitution fund by going to www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com or calling the settlement administrator at 1-833-759-2982. Eligible consumers may receive cash reimbursement for time or money spent trying to avoid or recover from fraud or identity theft because of the breach, as well as limited reimbursement for payments for Equifax credit monitoring or identity theft protection subscriptions. Eligible consumers may also receive free credit monitoring services for a period of up to ten years, or, alternatively, a cash payment for buying a different credit monitoring service. 

This settlement is a result of collaborative efforts by a multistate coalition led by Attorney General Becerra. This settlement is also related to the settlements announced today by the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and private litigants as part of a class action lawsuit. In addition to the restitution and credit monitoring provided by the settlement, Equifax will pay $175 million in penalties to the states, including more than $18.7 million to California, to support continued oversight and enforcement of consumer protection laws.

As part of the injunctive terms of the settlement, Equifax agrees to:

  • Create a consumer assistance process responsive to claims of identity theft that includes affirmative assistance to consumers:
  • Make reasonable efforts to reduce its use and storage of consumer Social Security numbers, including when using a Social Security number to authenticate consumers;
  • Adhere to ban on profiting from data collected in connection with the breach or the remedies provided under the settlement;
  • Comply with requirements related to its collection, maintenance, and safeguarding of consumer personal information;
  • Implement and maintain a comprehensive and rigorous Information Security Program to protect the security of personal information; and
  • Employ a Chief Information Security Officer and additional staff, who will report directly to the company's executive team, to oversee information security within each of the company's business units.

In addition to Attorney General Becerra, other Attorneys General participating in this settlement include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. Also joining are Texas, West Virginia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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

Attorney General Becerra Recovers Over $1 Million for California from Premera Blue Cross Health Records Data Breach

July 11, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the recovery of over $1 million for California as part of a multistate settlement against health insurer Premera Blue Cross (Premera). The settlement resolves allegations that the health insurer violated state and federal privacy laws arising from a 2014 data breach. The settlement was the result of a multistate investigation and includes $10 million in civil penalties, of which California will receive $1,002,814. It also includes significant injunctive terms requiring Premera to implement reasonable security to protect consumers’ personal and medical information and to maintain a compliance program.

“Consumers who entrust their health information to companies deserve security in return. Companies have a responsibility to protect consumers’ private information, especially sensitive health information,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Premera’s failure to protect the private information of millions of patients is unacceptable. This settlement should send a strong message to companies with loose data privacy practices: it doesn’t pay to cut security corners.”

The settlement stems from a data breach that was publicly announced in March 2015, where the personal information of 10.5 million consumers, including 400,000 Californians, was breached. The data included the consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, bank account information, medical information, and health claims-related data. Attackers gained access to patient data by sending fake, targeted emails to Premera employees. These emails contained malware that allowed the attackers to spend months compromising Premera’s inadequately-secured network.

The multistate investigation found that the company lacked basic data security, failed to monitor its network for malicious activity, and disregarded experts’ warnings of security flaws. In addition, it failed to limit access to sensitive information, allowing employees without business need to access the information.

The settlement resolves allegations that Premera violated each state’s consumer protection and medical information laws, as well as the federal Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), which established national standards and safeguards to protect personal health information.

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

Attorney General Becerra Obtains $1.5 Million in Judgments Against Telemarketers Who Scammed Vulnerable Investors

May 28, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today judgments totaling $1,498,574 in a lawsuit against telemarketers who scammed investors. The company, Consumer Rights Legal Services (CRLS), and four individuals, including CRLS’s president and owner, James Davitt, cheated more than 150 victims by offering bogus “investment recovery services” that they claimed would recover money victims had lost from previous investments. Many of the victims were elderly and had already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from previous schemes.

“The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting consumers from unscrupulous operators who prey on the most vulnerable,” said Attorney General Becerra. “In this case, these con artists not only targeted the elderly, they doubled down to cheat Californians who had already been the victims of financial fraud. Today’s announcement sends a strong message that California will not stand for those who choose to disregard our laws, and we stand ready to prosecute anyone who violates them.” 

The telemarketers, operating out of Long Beach, cheated victims by making a false and deceptive sales pitch that CRLS could recover their investments for an up-front fee of several thousand dollars. In truth, the company offered only false hope and recovered nothing for the victims. In some instances, victims even paid CRLS to recover fees they had paid to a prior “investment recovery” scam called Consumer Advocate Services Enterprises, where Davitt and other CRLS personnel had previously worked. In addition to judgments totaling $930,800 in penalties and $567,774 in restitution, Attorney General Becerra recovered almost $25,000 in victim restitution pursuant to a bond issued to CRLS under California’s Telephonic Sellers Law.  

Since taking office, Attorney General Becerra has made protecting consumers a top priority. Among other actions, Attorney General Becerra recovered $148.7 million for California from Wells Fargo in settlements over the bank’s systematic misconduct to exploit its own customers; recovered $102 million from BP Energy in a settlement for overcharging Californians for natural gas; and reached a settlement to provide over $51 million in debt relief for students deceived by the now-defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

Consumers are encouraged to report scams to the Office’s Public Inquiry Unit by calling (800) 952-5225 or by submitting a complaint.

A copy of the judgments can be found attached to the electronic version of this press release here.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, 49 Other Attorneys General, Reach $95 Million Settlement with USA Discounters for Targeting Military Servicemembers with Deceptive Marketing and Illegal Debt Collection Practices

September 30, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN DIEGO -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, along with the attorneys general of 49 other states and the District of Columbia, today announced a $95.9 million settlement with USA Discounters over allegations that the company used deceptive marketing and unlawful debt collection practices targeting military servicemembers.  Under the settlement, Attorney General Harris secured nearly $7 million in restitution for over 4,100 Californians who were harmed by the company’s fraudulent actions.

USA Discounters, which also did business as USA Living and Fletcher’s Jewelers, operated retail stores near military installations, including near Navy and Marine Corps installations in the San Diego Area.  It sold consumer products, including furniture, appliances, televisions, computers, smartphones, and jewelry, primarily on credit and specifically targeted members of the military and veterans. The company marketed itself as a discount retailer but actually sold its merchandise at a substantial mark-up, including additional fees that effectively concealed exorbitantly high interest rates for financed purchases. 

“Our military servicemembers give their all to protect our country and our interests around the world, and yet USA Discounters gave its all to fleece them with deceptive marketing and unlawful debt collection practices,” said Attorney General Harris.  “This agreement holds USA Discounters accountable for its illegal conduct and compensates servicemembers and veterans for the harm it caused.”

USA Discounters advertised that military, veterans and government employees would never be denied credit for goods purchased from the retailer and then used abusive tactics to collect on debts owed, such as persistently contacting servicemembers’ chains-of-command and using the military allotment system to guarantee payment. The company’s abusive actions threatened the military careers and security clearances of its victims.

In addition to its deceptive marketing, USA Discounters also failed to provide terms and disclosures in its financing agreements, as required under the law, and misled consumers about the costs of financing.  USA Discounters also charged added fees to its customers who were on active duty and required them to sign contracts that included unfavorable terms not included in contracts signed by other customers, in violation of California’s Military and Veterans Code, which prohibits discrimination against military members in the terms and conditions of credit. For contracts entered into outside of California, USA Discounters filed default debt collection actions against servicemembers in Virginia state courts, regardless of the state where the contract was entered into or the servicemember’s location, which meant servicemembers were often unable to defend themselves in court. 

USA Discounters closed its stores in the summer of 2015 before declaring bankruptcy. Under the terms of this settlement, the company agreed to write off accounts, remove negative information from credit reports, and provide other consumer relief. The settlement also includes provisions for injunctive relief and civil penalties. 

The Attorney General’s Office received critical assistance in its investigation from the Navy and Marine Corps legal assistance offices at Navy Base San Diego, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and Camp Pendleton, and from the Navy’s Fleet and Family Support Center. 

Attorney General Harris has defended the rights of servicemembers, filed actions against companies who prey on members of the military, and issued multiple consumer alerts to warn servicemembers against scams and fraud.  In August 2016, Attorney General Harris reached a $252,000 settlement with two privatized military housing contractors, Lincoln Military Property Management LP and San Diego Family Housing LLC and their eviction law firm, Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP, over the companies’ unlawful evictions of 18 military servicemembers and their families in San Diego and Orange County.  In addition, Attorney General Harris previously took action against JP Morgan Chase for violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act in obtaining default judgments against servicemembers on credit card debt.

The Attorney General also obtained a $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian Colleges, which illegally used the official seals of the military services in advertisements to entice servicemembers and veterans to enroll in its programs.