This week, 22 State AGs led by Wisconsin, sent Hyundai and Kia a letter criticizing the companies’ lack of anti-theft immobilizers and use of a customer service campaign instead of a recall to address the problem. The letter blames the car makers for “lack of responsibility for the crisis” of car thefts with “alarmingly high
State Attorney General Civil Investigative Demands: Take Them Seriously
As we have discussed, most consumer protection laws give attorneys general broad authority to perform pre-litigation discovery through investigative subpoenas, often termed “civil investigative demands” (CIDs). Many attorneys general can also require sworn statements and answers to interrogatories pursuant to this statutory authority. Businesses should be aware (and beware) that failure to comply with…
State AGs and Consumer Protection: What We Learned from ….North Carolina
Our State AG webinar series continues, this time with Consumer Protection Division Director Kevin Anderson and Deputy General Counsel Daniel Mosteller of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office (NC AGO). During our webinar, we learned about the office’s structure, consumer protection work as it relates to public health issues, and the tools they have pursuant to the consumer protection laws of North Carolina. In case you missed it, here is a recording of the webinar. We have also recapped what we learned below.
General Office Information
North Carolina elects its attorney general (AG) during the same cycle as the US presidential election. The AG oversees the Consumer Protection Division which also handles antitrust and charities matters. The division has approximately 20 attorneys, plus other staff members. The NC AGO promotes a “two-way dialogue” which takes place between the attorneys in the division and the front office to determine the office’s consumer protection priorities. The AG will set an agenda based on constituent needs. In parallel, the division continually works to spot new consumer protection issues to bring to the AG’s attention.
The NC AGO receives consumer complaints about a range of unfair or deceptive acts conducted within the state. Consumers can file complaints with the office, which in turn, sends the complaints to the businesses at issue, asking for their voluntary response, with the ultimate goal of resolving disputes. Complaint specialists handle these complaints, assisting consumers and businesses with the process, and logging complaints into a database so that the office can keep an eye on trends and issues that need investigating. Last year, the office received over 20,000 written consumer complaints—a large increase compared to ten years ago.…
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NY Attorney General Proposes Price Gouging Rules
Last week, as severe weather hit the country, price gouging laws were triggered ranging as far as California to Kentucky. And as we’ve previously reported, complying with the varied state price gouging laws can be tricky, especially where they use undefined terms like “excessive” or “exorbitant” to define price gouging. Last week the New York Attorney General announced proposed rules designed to strengthen enforcement of New York’s price gouging law, which was last updated in 2020 to grant the Office of the Attorney General (or “OAG”) rulemaking authority. The rules would provide some needed clarity to the existing law, but would also impose new restrictions.
The OAG noted three important considerations that they factored in when crafting the rules:…
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FTC and State AGs Can Continue Joint Case Over Fake Reviews
Fake reviews continue to be a hot topic in consumer protection. In 2022, we reported that six states and the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Roomster – a platform through which people can find rooms and roommates – along with its owners, alleging that they had “inundated the internet with tens of thousands of fake positive reviews to bolster their false claims that properties listed on their Roomster platform are real, available, and verified.” At the same time, the regulators announced a settlement with an individual who allegedly sold Roomster many of the fake reviews.
Roomster then filed a motion to dismiss and in early February, the court denied the motion. While the denial is no surprise, there are some key takeaways from the order.…
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State AGs and Consumer Protection: What We Learned from….Tennessee
While seventeen new state attorneys general are now sworn in and getting settled into their offices across the country, consumer protection continues to be the top of their agenda. Enforcement continues to take shape in different forms including individual actions, multistate investigations, and partnering with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This year we expect states to target particularly salient issues such as dark patterns, autorenewal concerns, and/or data security and privacy, but those priorities will continue to evolve through discussions at the forums of their main national organizations.
For our first State AG webinar of the year, we dove into consumer protection in the Tennessee attorney general office with our guests, Chief Deputy Lacey Mase and Executive Counsel Jeff Hill. If you missed it, we’ve recapped what we learned.
Background of the Office
Unlike other states, Tennessee is the only state where the AG is appointed by the state Supreme Court, with the AG serving for an eight year term. Qualified attorneys submit applications to the Supreme Court and are interviewed publicly before being selected to serve as AG.
Within the AG’s office, the Consumer Protection Division handles both consumer protection and antitrust work. The AG’s consumer protection priorities are constantly shifting in order to respond to consumer needs. The office evaluates whether resources should be allocated to large scale litigation needs such as multistate actions or whether there are smaller consumer concerns that need to be addressed within the state.
The Consumer Protection Division now houses the Division of Consumer Affairs which serves as the point of contact for consumer complaints about unfair or deceptive acts conducted within the state (until a few years ago, the Division was a separate agency). Tennessee does provide complaint mediation for consumers, where the office will routinely ask businesses for a response.…
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It May Be Time for TikTok to Change its Ways if State AGs Have Any Say
While State Attorneys General have been clear that social media companies are generally on their radar for a variety of consumer protection concerns, TikTok has been the latest to make headlines in recent weeks. For example, multiple states have banned TikTok from government phones, and a federal government ban may soon follow, because of concerns about the Chinese government’s control over the platform. Higher education institutions are also joining in the app’s ban with Georgia public colleges and the University of Oklahoma being two of the most recent to do so.
Earlier this month, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed two complaints focused on the TikTok app, which were based on two very different theories, including a foreign component in one. The cases both allege violations of the state’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.
Representations About Audience-Appropriateness
In its first complaint, the state alleges that TikTok makes a variety of misleading representations and omissions to claim a “12+” rating on the Apple App Store and a “T” for “Teen” rating in the Google Play and Microsoft Stores. Instead, the state asserts, TikTok should self-report ratings of “17+” (in the App Store) and “M” for “Mature” (in the Google Play and Microsoft Stores). To support these allegations, the state details the frequency and severity of alcohol, tobacco, and drug content, sexual content, nudity, mature/suggestive themes, and profanity on the TikTok platform, which it claims are much more frequent and severe than what TikTok self-reports. In its filings, the state also includes an affidavit by outside counsel detailing the mature content she recorded posing as a teen user and the number of views related to specific videos.
In addition, the complaint takes aim at TikTok’s “Restricted Mode,” a feature which can be used by parents to limit inappropriate content. The state alleges that much of the mature content described in its complaint was also accessible in Restricted Mode. Moreover, the complaint alleges that TikTok actually suggests mature content through the functionality of its “Autocomplete” search feature and by including content on a user’s personalized “For You” page.…
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Tipping Point for State Attorneys General?
Earlier this month, we reported that the AGs (including the DC Attorney General’s Office) are paying close attention to delivery and service fees. Sure enough, the DC AG’s office filed yet another lawsuit related to delivery fees on December 7.
The District alleges that Amazon’s Flex tipping practices deceived customers from 2016-2019, stopping only…
State AGs Highlight Changes to NAAG and Multistate Enforcement for 2023
At last week’s National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Capital Forum, consumer protection multistate investigations and enforcement actions were once again a subject of discussion. In a session specifically on the topic, NAAG Consumer Protection Committee Co-Chairs Generals Kwame Raoul of Illinois and Jonathan Skrmetti of Tennessee, as well as Susan Ellis and Jeff Hill, long time top consumer protection staff in their respective offices, spoke at length about the multistate process, responding to alleged misinformation about consumer protection multistates that has been reported through media and elsewhere.
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Statements to the State AGs: CFPB and FTC Priorities for 2023
At this week’s National Association of Attorneys General Capital Forum, FTC Chair Lina Khan and CFPB Director Rohit Chopra addressed state AGs and their staff on a number of pressing issues, including antitrust, enforcement authority, privacy and other priorities. And most importantly to the state AG observers, both agency heads expressed the value of state…