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New state financial regulation law creates questions

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Assembly Bill 1864 didn’t get much media or public attention as it zipped through both houses of the Legislature on the last day of the 2020 session.

Superficially, it appeared merely to reconfigure the state’s financial regulatory agencies into a new entity called the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.

However, those in California’s vast financial industry were paying lots of attention because the bill creates an entirely new regulatory regime with broad powers, including fines of up to $1 million a day, to police financial players that hitherto have had little oversight.

The official rationale for the legislation is that President Donald Trump’s administration neutered the federal Dodd-Frank Wall Street Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, so the state must step in with an equivalent to guard against predatory financial practices that harm consumers.

The new California Consumer Financial Protection Law gives the reconstituted agency authority to go after “abusive practices” whose definition in the law is fairly vague. Thus, the agency itself will define the term as it also decides which businesses will face its scrutiny.

It appears that the new law will affect firms involved in debt settlement, credit repair, check cashing, rent-to-own contracts, payday lending, student loan servicing and financing for retail sales. However, its primary target seems to be financial services offered by non-banks, particularly what are called “fintech companies” that offer bank-like services via the Internet without maintaining physical offices.

Fintechs, many of them based in the San Francisco Bay Area, have blossomed in recent years as part of the digital economy, competing with traditional brick-and-mortar banks. Their disruptive nature is not unlike the challenge that technology-based ride services such as Uber and Lyft pose to taxicabs and buses.

Late-blooming changes in AB 1864 exempted traditional financial firms that are already regulated, such as banks and credit unions, from the new consumer protection law, leading some analysts to conclude that its unstated aim is to help them stave off competition from new kids on the financial block.

The vagueness of the new law was encapsulated in what Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a signing ceremony. The new law and the new department, he said, will “create conditions for innovation to flourish in a way where we can steward that and we can just work against its excesses. So we support risk-taking, not recklessness.”

Newsom also signed two other financial protection measures, one that requires debt collectors to be licensed beginning in 2022 and the other creating a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights.

Although the new state law is said to mirror the Dodd-Frank law, it contains at least one significant difference. When federal regulators levy fines for what they consider to be bad conduct, the money goes into the federal treasury. When state regulators impose their fines of up to $1 million a day, the money will be retained by the new agency to finance more activity.

Will that give the new agency a financial incentive to skip over minor consumer issues and go after big companies? It’s a question that only time will answer.

Significantly too, the new investigative and regulatory mechanism contained in AB 1964 specifically does not usurp the authority of the attorney general to also target companies under the state’s equally vague “unfair competition” law.

From its inception a decade ago, Dodd-Frank has attracted criticism from business executives for regulatory overkill. Will California’s new version be less controversial? We won’t know until the new agency puts some definitional meat on its bones.

Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.

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These Are Top Consumer Complaints, NY AG Says

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Attorney General Letitia James highlighted some of the top scams New Yorkers are facing to kick off National Consumer Protection Week.

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, James said that Internet-related and price gouging scams were the greatest threat to consumers, with thousands of complaints levied to her office during 2020.

The top 10 consumer complaints in 2020, according to James’ office:

  • Internet-Related (internet services and service providers, data privacy and security, digital media, data breaches, frauds through internet manipulation): 9,832 complaints;
  • COVID-19 Price Gouging (online and brick and mortar gouging of prices for items such as hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, bathroom tissue, food): 7,701 complaints;
  • Landlord/Tenant Disputes (security deposit releases, tenant-harassment): 2,752 complaints;
  • Health Clubs (continuous charging of fees while clubs were closed, inability to cancel memberships, refunds not provided, no response from clubs): 2,621 complaints;
  • Automobile (sales, service, financing, repairs): 2,561 complaints;
  • Consumer Services (security systems, tech repairs, immigration services, employment training): 2,512 complaints;
  • Retail Sales (any sale of goods: food, clothing, rent-to-own, online orders): 1,609 complaints;
  • Credit (debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and debt relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies, identity theft): 1,436 complaints;
  • Utilities (wireless and residential phones, energy servicers and suppliers, cable and satellite): 1,378 complaints;
  • Travel (inability to cancel or lack of refunds for cancellations required by COVID-19 travel restrictions): 1,251 complaints.

James also cautioned about new COVID-19 vaccine scams, fake vaccine cards, and purported cures to the vaccine, which are phony. Puppy scams have also been on the rise in the past 12 months, according to the Attorney General. 

“The havoc unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the numerous other ways consumers were defrauded in 2020, sadly resulted in my office receiving a record number of consumer fraud complaints in 2020,” James said. “Consumers who have helped identify and report issues to our office have been invaluable partners in our efforts to stop deceptive scams and will continue to be vital partners going forward. 

“I urge all New Yorkers to follow these tips to minimize the risk of falling victim to fraud, but, when fraud does occur, my office will continue to fight to protect New York consumers.”

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Michigan’s Top Ten List of Consumer Complaints for 2020

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From the Office of Michigan’s Attorney General

To celebrate the importance of National Consumer Protection Week and to help people make informed decisions about how to safely spend their money, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today announced Michigan‘s Top 10 Consumer Complaints for 2020. Last year, the Michigan Department of Attorney General received and processed nearly 24,000 consumer complaints.

“Each year, my office tracks consumer complaints to ensure that we’re keeping Michiganders informed on crucial details to protect their wallets,” said Nessel. “A common thread every year is the framework bad actors continue to use, which always includes: a sense of urgency, untraceable payment methods, and an offer too good to be true. The Department of Attorney General is committed to being your connection to consumer protection and I encourage everyone to take advantage of the wealth of resources we have to offer during National Consumer Protection Week and beyond.”

The object of any scam is to steal money or obtain personal information by convincing a victim of the need to part with it. Scammers prey on anyone and use clever tactics to convince their victims to hand over money or personal information through deceit, coercion, intimidation, fear and empty promises. These tactics coupled with a sense of urgency put pressure on the victim to make an immediate decision.

More information on scams can be found online at the Attorney General Consumer Alert page. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has a listing of individual scams with great tips on prevention.

Michigan’s Top 10 Consumer Complaint Categories of 2020:

Nessel’s Top 10 list is compiled by analyzing all complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team. Thanks to the hard work of the Consumer Protection Team, the Attorney General’s office was able to recover $517,864.10 in consumer refunds, forgiven debt and other recoveries.

Robocalls (5,516 complaints). As a new category in the top 10, it includes illegal robocalls, telephone solicitations and telemarketing. With the launch of Michigan’s Robocall Crackdown Team in late 2019, Michigan is now recognized as a leader in combatting illegal robocalls. In 2020, Attorney General Nessel joined six other states in filing a major lawsuit against a pair of Texas businesses accused of blasting out billions of illegal robocalls. Rising Eagle Capital Group LLC and JSquared Telecom LLC are both believed to be responsible for more than 42 million illegal robocalls to Michigan residents over a five-month period in 2019 alone.

Price-gouging (4,522 complaints). This is the first time that price-gouging has made the top 10 list. Most consumers reported significant price increases on items such as face masks, gloves, toiletries, food and other items during the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2020, the Attorney General’s office took action against many businesses and individuals seeking to profit from consumer panic during the pandemic.

Retail (2,433 complaints). Retail complaints include purchases that involved late deliveries or products that were never delivered. Other complaints include the purchases of appliances, furniture and other items that were defective or did not work as advertised.

Telecommunications, Cable, and Satellite TV (1,880 complaints). This category includes complaints against wireless communications, cable and satellite TV services with most of the reports being billing and service issues. (NOTE: This category does not include robocalls, which has its own category.)

Internet (1,275 complaints). A significant number of these complaints involve online purchases, as well as computer communications and technology, and internet service providers.

Personal Service Providers (953 complaints). This category covers dating services, beauty companies, fitness facilities, spas, home security and tax preparation services.

Credit and Financial Concerns (880 complaints). This category covers a variety of areas including debt collection and reporting, credit repair, payday lending and mortgage brokering. In 2020, the department settled a lawsuit against tribal officials associated with an online tribal lender that resulted in the lender discontinuing its services to Michigan residents and collecting only outstanding principal amount on remaining active accounts.

Landlord/Tenant (786 complaints). This category involves disputes between renters and apartment owners or property management companies, mobile home parks and site operators, as well as condominium associations. Most complaints report on living conditions and contract disputes.

Motor Vehicle and Automobile (670 complaints). Complaints against used car dealers continue to top this category, followed by auto repair shops, new car dealers and passenger car rentals. This category involves issues from shoddy repair work to service issues.

Travel (547 complaints). This category includes complaints against travel agents, travel clubs, time-shares and time-share exit companies.

“In a year that was unprecedented in many ways, I want to thank our Consumer Protection Team for their resilience and dedication to ensuring that every complaint was addressed,” said Nessel.

Throughout National Consumer Protection Week and the entire month of March, consumers can follow along on the Department’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for daily consumer protection information.

Your connection to consumer protection is just a click or phone call away. Consumer complaints can be filed online at the Attorney General’s website, or by calling 877-765-8388.



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Division of Consumer Affairs Releases Top Ten 2020 Consumer Complaint Categories

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Tuesday, March 02, 2021 | 11:27am

Nashville- The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced the top ten complaint categories for 2020.

DCA received a total of 4,053 complaints in 2020 and recovered both services and funds for Tennessee by working with consumers and businesses. Overall, the number of consumer complaints decreased slightly in 2020 compared to 2019 when 4,250 complaints were reviewed by Consumer Affairs. The Division’s staff works to quickly route complaints so that appropriate action can be taken in cases where deceptive business practices, frauds or scams are identified.

2020 Top Ten Complaint Categories:

  1. Home Improvements, Home Repair, Home Warranties: 497 complaints
    Home warranties, as well as hiring a contractor for services to repair or improve the quality of your home. The most common complaints involve quality of work, incomplete work after receiving payment, and structural damage caused by employed individuals or businesses. Many of these complaints are referred to the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors.
  2. Price Gouging: 343 complaints
    Complaints alleging unreasonable price increases on essential items such as groceries and medical supplies. Price increases are generally considered by evaluating several factors including the pre-existing price agreements and increases in cost by suppliers.
  3. Personal/Professional Services: 329 complaints
    Services offered by professionals working in the State of Tennessee, including hair stylists, massage therapists, locksmiths, exterminators, photographers, surveyors, and others. Common complaints include the quality of service, charges for service not received, and problems redeeming gift certificates for services offered. Complaints in this category are sometimes referred to the TN Department of Commerce & Insurance’s Division of Regulatory Boards and the TN Board of Professional Responsibility.
  4. Landlord/Tenant: 289 complaints
    The most common complaints relate to security deposits and the conditions of the rental property. These complaints are commonly referred to city and county building codes enforcement and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
  5. Internet Sales: 281 complaints
    Consumer dissatisfaction with items or services purchased online. Common complaints include issues with refunds and returns, or the product or service not being provided after payment. Often, the product or service was solicited via email or social media advertisements. The Division of Consumer Affairs works to mediate these complaints.
  6. Motor Vehicle- Used Sales & Advertising: 266 complaints
    Consumer dissatisfaction with the purchase of used vehicles. Disputes over the vehicle’s condition and deception regarding the sale, advertising, and titling are the most common complaints. Consumer Affairs works closely with the TN Motor Vehicle Commission in this category. In addition, these complaints may be referred to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the TN Department of Revenue.
  7. Heath Services & Products: 228 complaints
    Complaints include inaccurate billing and misquoting services. The Division may mediate complaints or refer appropriate complaints to the TN Department of Health.
  8. Debtor/Creditor: 225 complaints
    This category includes matters related to debt collection companies, payday loans, credit repair companies, and check-cashing services. Consumers report harassing phone calls or billing issues. These complaints are often referred to the TN Department of Financial Institutions and the TN Department of Commerce & Insurance’s Regulatory Boards Division.
  9. Timeshare/Vacation Clubs: 223 complaints
    Complaints related to the purchase of property under a timesharing agreement and the sale of these agreements. The most common complaints report high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentation of the contract, and resale scams. The Division will often refer these complaints to the TN Real Estate Commission and the TN Board of Professional Responsibility.
  10.  Travel: 183 complaints
    This category includes consumer disputes involving travel-related issues such as hotel or rental cabin stays. Many complaints involved requests for refunds because of COVID-19.

For more consumer resources, or to file a complaint, visit the DCA website at tn.gov/consumer or contact us at 800-342-8385 or [email protected]

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#21-08:  Division of Consumer Affairs Releases Top Ten 2020 Consumer Complaint Categories

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