Accomplishments of the Division
Listed below are some of the recent achievements for the Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division (CPD).
Lemon Law Administration Accomplishments
In 2020 and 2021,
- Despite functioning primarily remotely during the global pandemic, the Lemon Law Administration still managed to receive and review over 300 arbitration applications and hosted over 92 Lemon Law web-based and live arbitrations. Another 155 eligible cases resulted in settlements prior to the scheduled hearing dates, yielding either vehicle repurchases, replacements, or cash reimbursements for the consumers.
- 184 motor vehicles were repurchased or replaced by manufacturers, saving Georgia consumers in excess of $20 million. This savings figure does not include monetary settlements and the cash value of hundreds of consumer vehicles that have been successfully repaired by the manufacturers to the satisfaction of the consumer, or for which an extended warranty has been provided.
- Two of Georgia’s Lemon Law Administration team members were re-elected as Officers of the International Association of Lemon Law Administrators (IALLA), including the roles of President and Vice President of Public Policy.
Civil Accomplishments - 2021
Credit, Debt and Loan Issues
Burlington Financial Group, LLC - Burlington Financial Group, LLC, Katherine Burnham, Sang Yi, and Richard Burnham (jointly referred to below as “Burlington”) entered into a Consent Judgment with the State of Georgia and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to resolve allegations that they violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”), and the Georgia Debt Adjustment Act in connection with the marketing, sale, and provision of debt relief and credit repair services.
Attorney General Carr and the CFPB alleged that Burlington targeted financially vulnerable consumers—many of whom were elderly—through telemarketing solicitations in which they falsely promised that its services would eliminate credit card debts and improve credit scores. Burlington collected thousands of dollars in advance fees from consumers for its “debt validation” program, while misleading those consumers about the results its program would achieve, and often leaving customers with increased debts, impaired credit scores, and, in some instances, exposed consumers to lawsuits and bankruptcy.
Burlington sent out mail solicitations to Georgia consumers on a monthly basis since at least 2015 encouraging and inducing them into purchasing “Credit Card Relief Program” services, which it advertised would result in savings on credit card balances. The lawsuit alleged that those letters contain multiple deceptive statements misrepresenting the company’s name and location, and fabricating a debt “savings” for the consumers with no basis in fact.
Georgia’s Debt Adjustment Act places operating requirements on debt adjustment companies which assist consumers with personal debt. These companies, which can provide credit counseling services and the renegotiation of debts, must comply with strict provisions that were enacted to protect consumers and to limit fees charged. It was alleged that Burlington violated several of the major provisions of Georgia’s Debt Adjustment Act.
Debt adjustment companies cannot legally charge Georgia consumers more than 7.5% of the amount the consumer deposits with the debt adjustment company each month for distribution to his or her creditors. In contrast, Burlington based its fees on the total amount of the debt owed by the consumer and charged fees of approximately 40%.
Funds paid to a debt adjustment company (minus the authorized fees described above) must be disseminated to the consumer’s creditors within 30 days of the date of receipt. Not only did Burlington fail to disperse funds to creditors within 30 days, it did not distribute any of the monies it collected to the consumers’ creditors.
Debt adjustment companies must maintain separate trust accounts for each customers’ funds which are to be audited annually, and must maintain specific insurance coverage to protect consumers. Copies of these audits and insurance policies must be filed annually with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Burlington failed to comply with these provisions as well.
Finally, Burlington represented that it offered and provided “credit restoration” services to consumers. Credit repair services are prohibited by law in Georgia.
The Consent Judgment required Burlington to permanently cease doing business in the State of Georgia and to pay $135,000 in civil penalties to the CFPB and an additional $15,000 to the State of Georgia. The affected consumers will receive restitution through the CFPB’s Consumer Restitution Fund. Furthermore, if the Court determined that Burlington failed to disclose any material asset, or that any of the financial statements contained any material misrepresentation or omission, Burlington is required to pay $30 million in consumer restitution, and $8.1 million in civil penalties to the State of Georgia.
Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau d/b/a American Medical Collection Agency - Georgia, as part of a coalition of 41 Attorneys General, settled with Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau d/b/a American Medical Collection Agency (“AMCA”) resolving a multistate investigation into the 2019 data breach that exposed the personal information of over 7 million individuals, including 306,826 Georgia residents, and potentially exposed the personal information of up to 21 million individuals throughout the United States.
Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau is a debt collection agency. Under the name American Medical Collection Agency, or AMCA, the company specialized in small balance medical debt collection primarily for laboratories and medical testing facilities. An unauthorized user gained access to AMCA’s internal system from August 1, 2018 through March 30, 2019. AMCA failed to detect the intrusion, despite warnings from banks that processed its payments. The unauthorized user was able to collect a wide variety of personal information, including social security numbers, payment card information, and, in some instances, names of medical tests and diagnostic codes.
On June 3, 2019, AMCA provided notice to many states and began providing notice to over 7 million affected individuals that included an offer of two years of free credit monitoring. Two weeks later, as a result of the costs associated with providing notification and remediating the breach, AMCA filed for bankruptcy. In order to continue the investigation and take steps to ensure that the personal information of their residents was protected, the multistate coalition participated in all bankruptcy proceedings through the Attorneys General of Indiana and Texas. The company ultimately received permission from the bankruptcy court to settle with the multistate group, and on December 9, 2020, filed for dismissal of the bankruptcy.
As part of the settlement, AMCA may be liable for a $21 million payment to the participating states. Because of AMCA’s financial condition, that payment is suspended unless the company violates certain terms of the settlement agreement.
Under the terms of the settlement, AMCA and its principals have agreed to implement and maintain a series of data security practices designed to strengthen its information security program and safeguard the personal information of consumers.
RNCR Consulting, LLC d/b/a RNCR Firm and Jessica Craft, Individually (jointly referred to as “RNCR”) - RNCR Consulting LLC, which had formerly been known as Right Now Credit Repairs & Services LLC, was marketed by its owner, Jessica Craft, as a boutique management consulting firm operating in Georgia. Its services included consulting, credit restoration, credit score boosting, motivational speaking and real estate wholesale practices.
RNCR violated the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”) by allegedly offering illegal credit repair services and misrepresenting affiliations. The company represented on its website that it had affiliations with Fortune and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (“WBENC”), which it did not have, and it falsely represented an affiliation with the State of Georgia through the use of the state seal.
RNCR entered into a settlement agreement that prohibits it from advertising, selling, consulting on, facilitating, acting as a referral service for, or otherwise engaging in credit repair/boosting service. RNCR agreed to remove the Georgia State seal from its website and any other business representations. In addition, the company paid a $20,000 civil penalty. An additional $10,000 penalty is due should any term of the settlement be violated.
Turtle Creek Assets, Ltd. (“Turtle Creek”) - Attorney General Carr alleged that Turtle Creek harassed and deceived consumers by:
Failing to disclose that it was a debt collector attempting to collect a debt;
Failing to provide to consumers, within five days after the initial communication, a written notice containing certain information required by law; and
Threatening consumers with arrest or imprisonment if they did not pay a debt.
Turtle Creek entered into a settlement with our office which required it to cease collections on all Georgia consumer accounts it owned and turn those accounts over to the Attorney General so that the accounts could not be sold or collected on in the future. Turtle Creek’s debt portfolio represented a total contract value of over $19.8 million in purported consumer debt. In addition, the company paid penalties and fees of $41,500, and must fully comply with the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act in the future. If, during a three-year monitoring period, the company violates any provisions of the settlement, an additional $41,500 payment will immediately become due.
Medical – Marketing, Advertising and Sales Practices
McKinsey & Company - Attorney General Carr joined a coalition of Attorneys General from 47 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories in a $573 million settlement with one of the world’s largest consulting firms, McKinsey & Company. This settlement resolved investigations into the company’s role of working for opioid companies and helping those companies promote their drugs and profiting from the opioid epidemic.
The settlement, after payment of costs, will be used to abate problems caused by opioids in the participating states. Georgia will receive $16,790,458.14 through this multistate settlement. This is the first multi-state opioid settlement to result in substantial payment to the states to address the epidemic.
In addition to providing funds to address the crisis, the settlement requires McKinsey to prepare tens of thousands of its internal documents detailing its work for Purdue Pharma and other opioid companies for public disclosure online. McKinsey agreed to adopt a strict document retention plan, continue its investigation into allegations that two of its partners tried to destroy documents in response to investigations of Purdue Pharma, implement a strict ethics code that all partners must agree to each year, and stop advising companies on potentially dangerous Schedule II and III narcotics.
The filings in this action described how McKinsey contributed to the opioid crisis by promoting marketing schemes and consulting services to opioid manufacturers, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, for over a decade. Details are provided about McKinsey’s strategies and recommendations to Purdue on how to maximize profits from its opioid products, including targeting high-volume opioid prescribers, using specific messaging to get physicians to prescribe more OxyContin to more patients, and circumventing pharmacy restrictions in order to deliver high-dose prescriptions.
When states began to sue Purdue’s directors for their implementation of McKinsey’s marketing schemes, McKinsey partners began emailing about deleting documents and emails related to their work for Purdue.
The opioid epidemic has led to considerable harm to individuals and communities in Georgia over the last 20 years. During this time, over 9,500 Georgians have died from an opioid overdose. On an economic level, these deaths—and the impacts on Georgians who have struggled with opioid addiction—have created considerable costs to Georgia in the form of health care, child welfare, criminal justice, and many other programs needed to lessen the epidemic. It has also resulted in lost economic opportunity and productivity. On the social level, opioid addiction, abuse, and overdose deaths have torn families apart, damaged relationships, and eroded the social fabric of communities.
The filing is the latest action Attorney General Carr and his office have taken to combat the opioid epidemic and to hold accountable those who are responsible for creating and fueling the crisis.
Boston Scientific Corporation – Our office was part of a multistate settlement with Boston Scientific Corporation (“Boston”), resolving allegations of deceptive marketing of its surgical mesh products for women. The settlement requires Boston to pay $188.6 million to 47 states and the District of Columbia to resolve allegations that it deceptively marketed transvaginal surgical mesh devices to patients. Georgia’s share of the settlement is $5,004,093.
The lawsuit alleged that Boston misrepresented the safety of its surgical mesh products by failing to disclose the full range of potential serious and irreversible complications caused by its products, including chronic pain, voiding dysfunction, and new onset of incontinence. The settlement provides comprehensive injunctive relief. Under the terms of the settlement, Boston must institute:
Describe complications in understandable terms for marketing materials intended for consumers;
Disclose significant complications, including the inherent risks of mesh, for certain marketing materials;
Refrain from representing that any inherent risks of mesh are risks common to any pelvic floor or other surgery not involving mesh;
Refrain from representing that inherent mesh complications can be eliminated with surgical experience or technique;
Refrain from representing that surgical mesh does not cause a foreign body reaction;
Refrain from representing that surgical mesh remains soft, supple, or pliable after mesh is implanted inside the body;
Refrain from representing that surgical mesh does not potentiate infection or does not increase the likelihood of infection;
Refrain from representing that surgical mesh repair is superior to native tissue repair unless such representations are supported by valid scientific evidence;
Inform healthcare providers of significant complications when providing training regarding procedures for insertion and implantation;
Maintain policies requiring that its independent contractors, agents, and employees who sell, market, or promote mesh are adequately trained to report patient complaints and adverse events to the company;
Clinical Trial Reforms:
Disclose the company’s role as a sponsor and any author’s potential conflict of interest when submitting a clinical study or clinical data regarding mesh for publication;
Refrain from citing any clinical study, clinical data, preclinical data, research, or article regarding mesh for which the company has not complied with the disclosure requirements in the injunction;
Include a sponsorship disclosure provision requiring consultants to contractually agree to disclose in any public presentation or submission for publication any sponsorships by Boston related to the contracted-for activity; and
Register all Boston-sponsored clinical studies regarding mesh with ClinicalTrials.gov.
Pending Matter against Superior Healthcare, LLC, Regenerative Medicine Institute of America, LLC d/b/a Stem Cell Institute of America, LLC, Physicians Business Solutions, LLC - Attorney General Carr and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a joint enforcement action against Superior Healthcare, LLC, Regenerative Medicine Institute of America, LLC d/b/a Stem Cell Institute of America, LLC, Physicians Business Solutions, LLC, Steven Peyroux, and Brent Detelich (referred to as “Defendants”) for allegedly violating the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA) and the FTC Act by making false and misleading claims about the regenerative medicine products they offered to consumers in Georgia.
The lawsuit alleges that the Defendants, operating as a common enterprise, aggressively marketed, offered, and sold expensive regenerative medicine products to consumers, most of whom were older adults. Through various channels, including seminars, social media platforms, an infomercial, websites, YouTube channels, email blasts, and print media, Defendants advertised to the public and to healthcare practitioners that these products cure, treat, or mitigate a variety of orthopedic diseases and health conditions, and that they are comparable or superior to conventional treatments for these diseases and health conditions. The lawsuit alleges that these claims are false and/or misleading because they are not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence. In fact, not only did the Defendants allegedly fail to conduct any randomized clinical testing of the treatments they advertise demonstrating that they are effective in curing, treating, or mitigating any orthopedic condition, disease, or health condition, there are no studies in the scientific literature that support their advertised claims.
Defendants Physicians Business Solutions, LLC (PBS) and Stem Cell Institute of America, LLC (SCIA) generated millions of dollars in revenue by training and advising chiropractors and other healthcare practitioners on how to add stem cell therapy to their practices. Superior Healthcare, LLC (SHC) generated revenues by selling the products directly to consumers and by contracting with third-party clinics throughout Georgia to administer injections in exchange for a fee. From 2017 until 2019, SHC sold regenerative medicine products to no less than 444 consumers, 70 percent of whom were over the age of 59. According to the complaint, the regenerative medicine products cost approximately $5,000 per joint injection, with patients often receiving more than one injection.
The Defendants allegedly engaged in their unlawful acts and practices repeatedly over a period of at least five years and continued to do so despite knowledge that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued a public warning about stem cell therapy in 2012, as well as a series of guidance documents and warning letters in 2017 stating that stem cell therapy is a drug subject to the agency’s full drug approval requirements.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office is seeking injunctive relief, consumer restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation of the FBPA and up to $10,000 per FBPA violation committed against elderly and/or disabled consumers.
Automotive – Sales and Advertising
NRRM, LLC d/b/a CarShield (“CarShield”) entered into an agreement to change its practices regarding the marketing of vehicle service contracts to Georgia consumers. It was alleged that CarShield made false and misleading statements in its advertisements, including but not limited to the benefits provided by this coverage, in order to solicit customers, and that the company caused consumers to believe that CarShield was the administrator or provider of the extended service contract coverage, when in fact, CarShield marketed on behalf of third-party administrators.
CarShield agreed to review and modify representations the company makes and to clearly and conspicuously disclose material terms, conditions and limitations to its services prior to the purchase of a vehicle service contract. CarShield also paid the State an assessment of $100,000.
Georgia Auto Gallery, LLC - Our office alleged that this auto dealership misrepresented its vehicle prices by listing vehicles for sale for a specific amount designated as a vehicle purchase “price,” when in reality, that price was only the vehicle’s down payment. In addition, the dealer violated the federal Truth-in-Lending Act (“TILA”) by advertising “down payments,” but failing to clearly and conspicuously advertise the required related financing terms including the annual percentage rate (“APR”) and the terms of the loan.
To resolve these allegations, Georgia Auto Gallery has corrected its website and paid a $4,000 civil penalty. The dealer agreed to future compliance provisions which require it to advertise its prices in an accurate and non-misleading manner and abide by TILA’s advertising requirements.
Gwinnett Automotive Holdings, LLC d/b/a Gwinnett Chrysler Dodge Jeep – Attorney General Carr alleged that the company engaged in the repeated practice of excluding its $800 dealer fee from its advertised prices, which is a violation of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”). Not only does this practice mislead consumers by artificially lowering a vehicle’s advertised price, it places dealers who are advertising properly at a competitive disadvantage. In addition, the dealership had represented that a $129 fee was an ‘official fee’ required by the government for titling, when in reality, only a small portion of the $129 was required by the Department of Revenue. Nearly $100 of the fee was retained by the dealer as additional profit.
The dealership entered into a settlement in which it agreed to pay penalties and fees to the State in the amount of $30,000 and to bring its advertising practices into compliance with the FBPA.
Prime Motors, LLC d/b/a ALM Mall of Georgia is a used car dealership in Buford, Georgia. Attorney General Carr alleged that the company failed to honor its advertised prices by omitting dealer fees and other non-government fees from its advertised prices. Documents provided by the business in the course of our investigation showed that consumers were regularly charged $700 or more over advertised prices. In addition, the dealer allegedly represented that the amount it charged for titling-related services (an amount over $100) was a charge mandated by and/or remitted to the government, when in fact, only a small portion of this amount was provided to the Department of Revenue, with the remainder being kept by the dealer as profit.
To resolve these allegations, the dealer entered into a settlement in which it paid a $20,000 civil penalty to the State and agreed to properly include its required non-government fees within advertised prices. It corrected its sales documents to ensure it properly designates and represents its fees to the public.
North Georgia Auto Brokers, Inc. is a Georgia corporation which sells used motor vehicles in Snellville, Georgia. Attorney General Carr alleged that this motor vehicle dealership repeatedly mischaracterized fees charged to consumers as “state fees”, “tag agency fees”, “tag & title fees”, and the like, when such representations were inaccurate. The dealership also represented to consumers in certain instances that the purchase included an extended vehicle service contract, when it did not, or charged the consumer for an extended vehicle service contract or product and then failed to remit the funds to the extended vehicle service contract company in order to activate the coverage.
To resolve these allegations, North Georgia Auto Brokers, Inc. entered into a settlement that required it to bring its business operating practices into compliance with Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act, including but not limited to:
Accurately representing the amount of money collected and remitted to the State for tag, titling and licensing purposes;
Cease any misrepresentations to the consumer about the purpose, use and/or reason for a fee or charge; and
Remit funds in a timely manner to third-party vendors for the purchase of extended service contracts and guaranteed asset insurance contracts, and to ensure the completion of all necessary steps in order for consumer coverage to commence.
The company paid the State a $20,000 civil penalty.
D&C Imports, LLC d/b/a Five Star Nissan - An investigation by our office revealed that this dealership had been providing the Lemon Law Rights Statement to consumers on plain white paper instead of on yellow paper as required by law. The colored paper is intended to ensure that consumers can clearly distinguish this particular form from the dozens of other documents signed as part of a purchase and can more readily reference it in the event of a potential Lemon Law claim. Additionally, our office alleged that the dealership had a repeated practice of excluding its $800 dealer fee from its advertised prices.
The company entered into a settlement requiring it to pay the State $30,000 in penalties and fees, and to modify its advertising practices so that they are in compliance with the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act and Georgia Lemon Law.
H2J Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Cherokee Auto Sales is a used motor vehicle dealer in Acworth, Georgia. This office alleged that the dealership committed unfair and deceptive acts in the sales of vehicles to consumers, including but not limited to:
Misrepresenting that it would register or title the purchased vehicle within a certain period of time, and then not doing so;
Misrepresenting the amount of fees charged for electronic titling and registration;
Misrepresenting that a dealer service fee had not been charged, when in fact it was included in another charge as opposed to being eliminated; and
Charging purchasers an additional sum for a valid, unexpired certificate of emissions inspection for the vehicle when said vehicle was required to be sold with such a certificate, or the vehicle did not require a certificate.
Cherokee Auto Sales subsequently agreed to act in compliance with the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act and to refrain from assessing or charging any additional fee for a valid unexpired certificate of emission. Furthermore, the company agreed to submit properly completed certificate of title applications within 30 days, as required by law, and to ensure that fees charged to consumers that are related to the titling or registration of the vehicle are accurate, and equal to the amount charged by the government agency, tag agent or the like. In settlement of this action, the company also paid a $20,000 penalty to the State.
Automotive - Dealer Fees
Although the practice has been prohibited in Georgia a number of years, a number of auto dealerships engaged in the deceptive practice of excluding its dealer fee from its advertised prices. This practice deceives consumers who believe a vehicle is available for purchase at a specific price, and are then surprised when the actual purchase price includes an additional, undisclosed charge. These undisclosed dealer fees often run $600, $800, or even more. The non-disclosure of a routinely added non-government fee by the dealership impedes the consumer’s efforts to compare prices prior to purchase, and places motor vehicle dealers who are advertising properly at a competitive disadvantage.
The companies below entered into settlements to cease excluding the dealer fees from the advertised purchase price. Civil penalties were assessed on behalf of the State.
- Columbus Motor Company d/b/a Mercedes-Benz of Columbus
- Sons Chevrolet, LLC d/b/a Sons Chevrolet
- Patton & Patton, Inc. d/b/a Mike Patton Ford
- Thomson Motor Center, Inc. d/b/a Thomason Chrysler Dodge Jeep Fiat
- Phil Hughes Auto Sales, Inc. d/b/a Phil Hughes Honda
- Day’s Chevrolet, Inc. d/b/a Day’s Chevrolet
- Waynesboro Motor Centre Inc. d/b/a Waynesboro Chrysler Dodge Jeep
- Milton Ruben Motors, Inc. d/b/a Milton Ruben Superstore
- Curry Cars, LLC d/b/a Curry Honda
- Cherokee Hyundai of Kennesaw, LLC d/b/a Hyundai of Kennesaw
- Jackson Motors, LLC d/b/a Volkswagen of Macon
- TT of Gwinnett, Inc. d/b/a Stone Mountain Nissan
- TT of Newnan, Inc. d/b/a Newnan Peachtree CDJR
- GAWVT Motors, LLC d/b/a Mall of Georgia Ford
- Foote & Miller Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Milton Martin Honda
- Duluth CHY, LLC d/b/a Rick Hendrick Chrysler Dodge Jeep
- Hutchinson K Motors, LLC d/b/a Hutchinson Toyota
Other Unfair and Deceptive Practices
King David Business Services, LLC and Asher Asaf Uziel - This locksmith company and its owner, Asher Uziel, (collectively “King David”), entered into a settlement with Attorney General Carr, requiring the payment of $200,000 in civil penalties plus restitution to consumers who had complained to our office. This settlement resolves allegations that the company engaged in unfair and deceptive practices by, among other things, misrepresenting themselves as local businesses, misrepresenting their prices and misrepresenting the time within which the company would arrive to perform requested locksmith services.
King David, whose sole location is in Atlanta, Georgia, allegedly made numerous misrepresentations as to the number and locations of its offices via its web sites in order to give consumers the impression that they were contacting a local locksmith. Our investigation revealed that the company had over 160 different websites, the vast majority of which contained geographic designations in the website name such as athenslocksmithpro.com, gainesvillelocksmiths.net, martinezlocksmith.org, rinconlocksmith.com, and stockbridgespeedylocksmiths.com. Many of these websites have been shut down since the beginning of this investigation. The company also listed many different phone numbers on its various websites, which were all forwarded to the Atlanta area.
The company advertised and quoted very competitive prices, but then failed to honor those prices or the discounts it advertised on its websites. Not until after a technician arrived and the service had been performed were customers informed that they owed significantly more than the price they had been quoted, sometimes more than double the amount. What’s more, King David deceptively claimed on its website that its employees were licensed, insured, bonded and certified and that the company was a member of the Associated Locksmiths of America, when such claims were not true.
The settlement required King David to implement policies and procedures to ensure that it is in full compliance with the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, as well as the other terms stipulated in the settlement. If the parties fail to comply with the terms of the settlement, an additional $50,000 civil penalty will become due.
Fluent Home, LLC (“Fluent”) is an alarm service provider. The company entered into a settlement with our office to resolve allegations that it violated the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”) by engaging in unfair and deceptive acts in the course of its door-to-door alarm sales.
Consumers who had active contracts with Fluent’s competitors complained that Fluent sales representatives came to their homes and offered to cancel their existing contract and pay the remaining balance if the consumers would sign with Fluent. Some consumers stated that the representatives told them their current provider was “bankrupt” or could no longer provide service to them. In one case, a consumer was told, “Don’t even pick up the phone” when her former alarm company called because Fluent would handle the transition. These consumers entered into contracts with Fluent, and then reported that they were billed by two companies (Fluent and their original alarm company) and that Fluent had not addressed their problems in a timely manner as represented.
The settlement required Fluent to update its policies, contracts, sales practices, and training rules and regulations for clarity and compliance with the FBPA and to pay $15,000 in civil penalties. An additional $15,000 penalty will be assessed and become due to the State if the company violates the terms of the settlement.
Weedman Corporation (“Weedman”) is a Georgia-based franchise of a Canadian company that advertises and sells lawn care services through continuous service contracts. The company requires that all service cancellations be done by telephone. Based on consumer complaints that consumers could not reach the call center to cancel their service, our office opened an investigation. It revealed that Weedman did not clearly and conspicuously disclose its cancellation method before taking consumer payment, as required by law, and did not maintain sufficient staffing to allow consumers to reliably cancel by phone (e.g., no one picked up, voicemails were not returned, consumers were on hold for a long time).
In resolution of these allegations, Weedman entered into a settlement with Attorney General Carr agreeing to clearly and conspicuously disclose its required cancellation method before obtaining consumer payment, and to maintain adequate staffing levels to answer a minimum 90% of calls and ensure the return of all customer voicemails within 48 hours. The company must also pay $21,000 in civil penalties with an additional $21,000 penalty due should it violate any terms of the settlement.
Ty Ty Plant Nursery LLC is a Georgia company that sells plants to consumers via its website and on its premises in Ty Ty, Georgia. Consumers have filed numerous complaints stating that the business:
Did not ship orders in the timeframe represented on its website;
Refused to offer full refunds when shipments were not made on time;
Threatened to assess restocking or cancellation fees to consumers who wished to cancel their unfulfilled order; and
Fulfilled orders with plants that were substantially shorter than the height listed by the company in the item description on the website.
Ty Ty Nursery entered into a settlement, prohibiting it from future violations of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act and related laws, and requiring the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material limitations concerning shipment timeframes and plant characteristics. The business must pay a $13,000 civil penalty.
Waste Management of Georgia, Inc. and Georgia Waste Systems, Inc. (collectively “Waste”) – Waste provides trash removal and recycling pickup services. Consumers alleged the businesses charged undisclosed cart removal fees upon cancellation of service. Waste agreed to cease the assessment of cart removal fees to customers who entered into a contract for service prior to October 10, 2020, unless and until the business notified the customer of the fee and provided the customer an opportunity to cancel the existing contract to avoid paying the cart removal fee. Waste further agreed to amend its business practices and to clearly and conspicuously disclose the cart removal fee to potential customers. Waste paid a $100,000 civil penalty to the State and provided refunds to consumers who had been charged the undisclosed cart removal fee.
Republic Services of Georgia, LP (“Republic Services”) is a provider of non-hazardous solid waste collection, transfer, disposal, and recycling services headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. Georgia consumers alleged that this business failed to provide weekly waste removal pickup services after payments had been made and that it failed to provide refunds when services were not provided. Additionally consumers alleged that Republic Services continued to charge for services after contracts had been cancelled, and that it had failed to clearly additional fees such as “containment removal fees.”
Republic Services resolved these allegations with the payment of a $150,000 assessment to the State. It also developed and implemented policies and procedures to ensure clear communication to consumers about terms, conditions, fees and limitations regarding its services, and compliance with the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act. Specifically, the company will refrain from:
Assessing any fees that were not clearly and conspicuously disclosed;
Assessing any on-going or undisclosed fees subsequent to a consumer’s cancellation of services, or
Retaining service fees collected in advance from consumers should Republic Services fail to provide service for a week or more.
Gordon Spurlock III, Individually and d/b/a Gordon Spurlock's Masonic Rings – Gordon Spurlock III operated as an online retailer for handmade rings out of the Brunswick area. Consumers alleged that they ordered and paid for goods, but Spurlock failed to deliver the items ordered. Consumers also stated that Spurlock did not respond to status requests on orders, nor did he provide refunds for the non-delivered items.
During the office’s investigation into Spurlock’s practices, Spurlock failed to respond to discovery requests and failed to appear in Court as ordered. Spurlock was held in contempt of Court for his failure to appear and was ultimately incarcerated for a period of twenty (20) days and ordered to pay a $1000 fine. On January 11, 2021, Attorney General Carr issued an administrative Cease and Desist Order, Consumer Restitution Order, and Civil Penalty Order, which commanded that Spurlock cease and desist from using any unfair and deceptive acts, assessed a civil penalty of $50,000 on behalf of the State and assessed consumer restitution in the amount of $1,235. This administrative order became a Final Order on March 11, 2021. A Petition for Entry of a Judgment was filed with the Superior Court of Glynn County, Georgia and on March 22, 2021, said Court granted the Petition and entered Judgment against Gordon Spurlock III, Individually and d/b/a Gordon Spurlock's Masonic Rings in the amount of $51,235.