Welcome

Welcome to the L E O N A R D  L A W  O F F I C E’s consumer protection law blog. The mistreatment of consumers is one of the most interesting subjects in the law, and in the news.  Deception and misconduct in the marketplace has a long and colorful history. From the rattlesnake oil rheumatism cures peddled by immoral salesmen in the 1800’s, to modern day issues like robocalls, hidden fees, data breaches, questionable products aimed at weight loss, and anti-agingunfair business practices affect every aspect of American life. We are all consumers.

Snake Oil

Snake oil

If you want to talk about a consumer protection issue, (such as false advertising, unfair fees, an abusive landlord, bad products, etc.) you are welcome to contact us.

THE LEONARD LAW OFFICE IS CURRENTLY REPRESENTING CLIENTS

IN THESE CLASS ACTIONS:

Data Breach

Target

Fees & Billing Practices

Verizon

Equity Residential

Balise

False Advertising

L'Oreal Class Action

Privacy/”Zip Code Cases

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Kiehl's logo

MAC

Fresh

Patagonia

Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

Green Tree Servicing

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TicToc Planet

Employment LawThe BIP LOGO

 

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Are Annoying Telemarketing Calls, Spam Text Messages and Junk Faxes Illegal — and Can You Make Them Pay?

Obnoxious Robocalls, Unsolicited Text Messages, and Junk Faxes Are Often Unlawful

Examples of TCPA violations:

  • Bill receives a call on his cell phone from an unfamiliar number, and when he picks up, hears a pre-recorded voice offering to sell him something.  He is annoyed and hangs up. After Googling the phone number that called him, and reading all the complaints, it is clear the call was placed by a robocalling telemarketing operation.
  • Sarah sits on the subway on the way to work. She receives a text message from her new hairstylist: “Goddess hair salon offers text reminders. Reply with ‘Y’ to sign up. ” She never gave the salon permission to send her text messages in the first place.
  • Joan runs a small business. One day, she receives an unsolicited fax from a fast food company offering her coupons.

Text Messages and Federal Law

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “The TCPA and the FCC’s rules ban many text messages sent to a mobile phone using an autodialer. These texts are banned unless (1) you previously gave consent to receive the message or (2) the message is sent for emergency purposes. This ban applies even if you have not placed your mobile phone number on the national Do-Not-Call list of numbers telemarketers must not call.

Robocalls aka Telemarketing Calls And Federal Law

Federal law regarding telemarketing calls is embodied in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) and FCC Rules enacted to interpret and enforce the purpose of the TCPA:

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“Zip Code Cases”

“Zip Code Cases” and why they are important 

Numerous class actions have been filed against retailers concerning improper data collection during checkout. These so-called “zip code cases” raise important privacy issues, and we will continue to push ahead with them.  Throughout America and Massachusetts, businesses collect an unprecedented volume of data about consumers and sometimes they do so unlawfully. Over twenty years ago, the Massachusetts legislature wanted consumers to have privacy and security when they use credit cards, and therefore limited what information merchants can collect. The implications of excessive data collection are for more troubling in this new era of “big data.” Today, the average consumer has little to no understanding of how their personal information is collected, scrutinized, cross-referenced, and monetized.  According to a FTC report (pdf) issued in May, 2014 “data brokers collect consumer data from numerous sources, largely without consumers’ knowledge.” Information harvested by retailers during credit card transactions is digital gold to data brokers.

Collecting ZIP odes is usually illegal in Massachusetts

A large number of retailers  have violated and continue to violate Massachusetts law by collecting ZIP codes from consumers who pay by credit card. When retailers go to data brokers such as Acxiom, Datalogix, CoreLogic, Trillium, or Pitney Bowes,  they can learn their customers’ mailing addresses and inundate them with unwanted junk mail.

The “Massachusetts Consumer Privacy In Commercial Transactions Statute,” or “Section 105(a)”:

Section 105. (a) No person, firm, partnership, corporation or other business entity that accepts a credit card for a business transaction shall write, cause to be written or require that a credit card holder write personal identification information, not required by the credit card issuer, on the credit card transaction form.” Continue reading

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Junk Fax, Junk Text, and Junk Call Cases

TCPA Cases

The Leonard Law Office, PC is representing clients who have been subjected to unwanted calls on their cell phones placed by autodialling equipment in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).  Unwanted text messages and faxes from business also usually violate the TCPA.

Homer Simpson's Autodialer
Homer Simpson’s Autodialer

Stupid, but True – Big Companies Violate the TCPA

Like Homer Simpson, some companies are stupid. Like Homer, it is as though they don’t know enough to stay out of trouble.  However, it’s usually not funny when U.S. corporations break the law. Whenever a business uses autodialling equipment to contact consumers’ cell phones and they do not not have an exisiting business relationship, it is unlawful. The same goes for text messages, and faxes.  Companies such as Jiffy Lube, Walmart, Target, and Burger King have been hit with class actions for alleged violations of the TCPA. Continue reading

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Consumers’ 3 Day Right to Cancel Gym Memberships in Massachussetts

Q: If you join a Massachusetts gym and change your mind, how long do you have to cancel the contract and get your money back?

A: Three days, pursuant to MG.L. ch. 93  § 81.

MG.L. ch. 93  § 81 Every contract for health club services shall provide clearly and conspicuously in writing that such contract may be cancelled within three business days after the date of receipt by the buyer of a copy of the written contract or written receipt indicating the buyer’s payment for health club services. The contract for health club services shall contain the following written notice in at least ten point bold type:

“CONSUMER’S RIGHT TO CANCELLATION. YOU MAY CANCEL THIS CONTRACT WITHOUT ANY PENALTY OR FURTHER OBLIGATION BY CAUSING A WRITTEN NOTICE OF YOUR CANCELLATION TO BE DELIVERED IN PERSON OR POSTMARKED BY CERTIFIED OR REGISTERED UNITED STATES MAIL WITHIN THREE (3) BUSINESS DAYS OF THE DATE OF THIS CONTRACT OR THE DATE OF YOUR RECEIPT TO THE ADDRESS SPECIFIED IN THIS CONTRACT.”

Notice of the buyer’s right to cancel and the method of cancellation under this section shall also be posted clearly and conspicuously on the premises of the health club.

The notice of the buyer’s cancellation of his contract shall be in writing and delivered in person or by certified or registered United States mail at the address specified in the contract. Such notice shall be accompanied by the contract forms, membership cards and any other documents or evidence of membership previously delivered to the buyer. All monies paid pursuant to such contract shall be refunded within fifteen business days of receipt of such notice of cancellation. If the buyer has executed any credit or loan agreement to pay for all or part of the health club services, any such negotiable instrument shall be void upon cancellation under this section and shall also be returned to the buyer within said fifteen days.

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Class Action Investigation: Junk Mail from Restoration Hardware

Some consumers have complained about twelve pound parcels of junk mail they have received from Restoration Hardware. Have you received Restoration Hardware’s massive catalogue?

Restoration Hardware

You are invited to contact us about this investigation if (a) you made a credit/debit card purchase at a Massachusetts Restoration Hardware retail location within the past four years; (b) the teller asked you for your ZIP code; (c) you received junk mail from Restoration Hardware.

Restoration Hardware recently suffered a $36,000,000 judgment related to its California junk mail operations (Hernandez v. Restoration Hardware – pdf)

Information About Restoration Hardware

Restoration Hardware Holdings, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, operates as a luxury home furnishings retailer. The company offers various categories, including furniture, lighting, textiles, bathware, decor, outdoor and garden, tableware, and children’s furnishings. These products are sold through the company’s stores, catalogs, and Websites.” Restoration Hardware is a publicly traded company (RH Form 10-Q)).

Restoration Hardware Headquarters
15 Koch Road, Suite J
Corte Madera, CA 94925
Phone: 415-924-1005
www.restorationhardware.com

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Class Action Investigation: Student Loans through The Access Group –> ACS –> Xerox

Some consumers have complained that late fees were assessed and interest rate reductions offered in connection with their enrollment in auto-pay were not honored after Xerox’s subsidiary Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. or ACS-Education (“ACS”) took over The Access Group’s portfolio of undergraduate and graduate program student loans.  There are many people whose loans were transferred from The Access Group to ACS – how many borrowers had their automatic payments interrupted by the change and lost interest rate reductions due to the change?

Xerox - ACS

Xerox – ACS

 Were your automatic payments interrupted through no fault of your own? Did ACS take away interest rate deductions because auto-pay interruptions? You are welcome to contact the Leonard Law Office if this issue has affected you.

According to a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts by the Leonard Law Office P.C. on behalf of an idividual, the Plaintiff’s experience with ACS has been as follows:

1. He financed his law school education with student loans through The Access Group, Inc. Upon graduation in 2011, he enrolled in an automatic withdrawal program. Like any other automatic deduction program, Access Group’s program withdrew funds on a monthly basis from his checking account to cover student loan payments as they became due.  He never missed a payment.

2. There were four reasons for doing this: (1) to avoid the inconvenience of having to write a check and mail it in every month; (2) to be sure that as the payments became due, they would be made on time; (3) to receive the .25% interest rate reduction offered as incentive for enrolling in the automatic payment program; (4) to receive an additional .8% interest rate reduction offered for making his first 12 payments on time.

3. As a result of enrolling in the automatic payment program, his student loan interest rates fell from 6.8% to 5.75%. With a term of 30 years for the loan, this was supposed to save him about $15,000 in interest. However, every advantage he expected to receive disappeared. This is where the facts become interesting.

4. At some point in 2012, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) took over the loan from the Access Group. ACS is a subsidiary of Xerox Corp. He was never notified about this change in his loan servicer, nor did he have any say or control over who would ultimately come to service his student loans.  In January 2012, he put his loans into deferment. He was explicitly told that once his loans came out of deferment, the automatic payment program would automatically resume through Automatic Bill Payment (ABP). In February 2013, he ended deferment, but ACS did not re-start the payments as promised, causing the February payment to be unpaid. The missed payment triggered late fees and caused the interest rates to automatically return to 6.8%. Once notified of the problem, he immediately paid the February payment, went online and reestablish the automatic payments himself, even though ACS told him this would be done by them, without any action required on his part when he emerged from deferment. When he complained to ACS (this new student loan servicer owned by Xerox) about how they had failed to carry over the automating payments, ACS refused to restore the interest rate deduction of .8%. He sent a demand letter to ACS under M.G.L c. 93A, but they did not respond. To this day, he makes his payments automatically, having only been late once, not through his fault but through the fault of ACS. The interest rate problem has still not been corrected by ACS, despite his filing of a lawsuit.

Questions About ACS

  •  Did ACS intend to increase interest rates once it acquired student loans from The Access Group?
  • Is ACS’s customer service department designed to frustrate its customers’ attempts to fix errors?
  • Were automatic payments not resumed as a “trap” to take away interest rate reduction?
  • How many other consumers, saddled with educational debts, lost interest rate reductions as a result of this business practice?

Information About ACS

  • ACS is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal executive offices located in Long Beach, California.
  • ACS is an independent, third-party originator and servicer of student loans.
  • ACS has its headquarters at One World Trade Center, Suite 2200, Long Beach, California, 90831 and has regional processing centers in Long Beach and Bakersfield, California; Utica, New York; Lombard, Illinois; Canyon, Texas; and Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Complaints About ACS

 

 

Other Litigation Against Xerox about Student Loan Servicing

Read the Reynolds v. XEROX EDUCATION SERVICES, LLC,f/k/a ACS EDUCATION SERVICES, INC. and WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., class action complaint (here).

 

 

 

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FTC sues T-Mobile for “Wireless Cramming”

If you have been affected by mobile cramming, you are welcome to contact us.

An excerpt from the complaint (pdf):

Until at least December 2013, in addition to charging for phone services offered by Defendant (T-Mobile) Defendant has charged many consumers for other services offered by third-party merchants. These purported services have included monthly subscriptions for content such as ringtones, wallpaper, and text messages providing horoscopes, flirting tips, celebrity gossip, and other similar information (“Third-Party Subscriptions”). Defendant typically has charged consumers $9.99 per month for such Third-Party Subscriptions.

In numerous instances, Defendant has charged consumers for Third-Party Subscriptions that the consumers did not order or authorize, a practice known as cramming. Defendant has continued to charge consumers for Third-Party Subscriptions even after large numbers of consumers complained about unauthorized charges. Refund rates for the subscriptions were high – in some cases as high as 40%. Further, Defendant has continued to charge consumers for Third-Party Subscriptions even after industry auditor alerts, law enforcement and other legal actions, and news articles indicated that the third-party merchants were not obtaining valid authorization from consumers for the charges.

Defendant has retained a portion of each charge for Third-Party Subscriptions paid by consumers, typically at least 35% of the charge and in some cases as high as 40%. Defendant has retained a larger cut from subscriptions that generate a large percentage of refunds. Defendant has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from Third-Party Subscriptions. T-Mobile’s practices have caused consumers millions of dollars of injury.

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Class Action Investigation: GM Ignition Recall

General Motors is the subject of investigation for taking more than ten years to recall 2.6 million cars with an ignition switch defect that allegedly caused between 13 and 74 fatalites. We are currently accepting clients who own GM vehicles of the models/years listed below:

Buick Lacrosse 2005-2009
Chevrolet Impala 2006-2014
Cadillac Deville 2000–2005
Cadillac DTS 2007–2011
Buick Lucerne 2006–2011
Buick Regal LS & GS 2004-2005
Chevrolet Monte Carlo 2006–2008
Chevrolet Camaro 2010—2014

If you have one of these vehicles, you may be entitled to financial compensation.

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Questions and Answers about Class Actions

What is a class action?

A class action is a type of lawsuit in which one or several persons sue on behalf of a larger group of similarly-situated persons.

What is a class representative?

Class representatives are plaintiffs named in the lawsuit who assert the claims of the entire class so that everyone with the same claim or injury does not have to file his or her own separate lawsuit.

What are the duties of class representative?

A plaintiff must meet certain basic requirements in order to be certified by the court as a class representative. The representative’s situation must be typical of the situation in which other class members find themselves and the representative must be generally familiar with the litigation. A class representative must cooperate in the preparation of the case, and be present on reasonable notice for any necessary appearances. In addition, a class representative may be asked to produce documents and/or give deposition testimony throughout the litigation process.

Are class representatives entitled to additional compensation?

If a class action is successful in winning relief for the class, some courts will provide class representatives with “service awards.” Judges are typically given broad discretion in deciding whether these awards are appropriate and in setting the amounts of the awards. In deciding how much, if anything, to award to the class representatives, courts look at factors such as the amount of involvement of the class representative and the size of the recovery for the class. The duties of class representatives may require an effort deserving of a service premium in addition to any recovery the representative may obtain by virtue of his or her membership in the class. Therefore, the attorneys may attempt to recover an appropriate amount for the class representative’s service, but make no promise or guaranty that the attorneys will seek a service award or that the Court will award any service premium.

What are the costs to me?

Most class action law firms work on a contingency-fee basis. This means that, to the extent provided by law, you do not pay any costs or expenses of litigation upfront, and lawyers do not collect any fees from you unless the firms working on the case obtain a recovery on your behalf.

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Connecticut Passes its own mini-TCPA, with sharp teeth: “…shall be fined not more than [eleven] twenty thousand dollars for each violation.”

The Connecticut Legislature passed its own version of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. This new law goes into effect in October, 2014. The full text (pdf) is pasted below.

 

Substitute Senate Bill No. 209

Public Act No. 14-53

AN ACT PROHIBITING UNSOLICITED COMMERCIAL TEXT
MESSAGES AND INCREASING PENALTIES FOR VIOLATIONS OF
THE DO NOT CALL REGISTRY. Continue reading

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Balise Toyota settles service department mispricing class action — 87K settlement provides $15.00 coupons to class members redeemable at Balise service stations

Updates
July 30, 2014 – This case has settled.
 Documents
Class Notice (pdf)
Order for Notice and Hearing (pdf)
Complaint (pdf)
SETTLEMENT NOTICE
AS A CUSTOMER OF BTLS, INC. d/b/a BALISE TOYOTA YOU MAY BE ENTITLED TO BENEFITS UNDER A CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT. READ THIS NOTICE CAREFULLY. The Massachusetts Superior Court for Suffolk County authorized this notice. This is not a solicitation from a lawyer. You are not being sued. YOU MAY RECEIVE A DISCOUNT COUPON FROM THIS SETTLEMENT.
 A class action lawsuit by a service customer against BTLS, Inc. d/b/a Balise Toyota (“Balise Toyota”) has been settled for $87,500.  Plaintiff alleges that Balise Toyota charged 4,269 customers more than the advertised price (an “Overcharge”) for a variety of services including oil changes, tire rotations, and brake work at its dealership and service center located at 1399 Riverdale Street, West Springfield, Massachusetts (the “West Springfield Location”). Plaintiff sought as damages the amount of the Overcharge and statutory damages under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 93A on her own behalf and on behalf of the purported class of similarly situated customers (the “Class”). Balise Toyota contends that any Overcharge was inadvertent and the result of a coding error in its billing software. Despite their differences, Plaintiff and Balise Toyota have entered into a Settlement Agreement to compromise the claims that plaintiffs have asserted against Balise Toyota.  Under the proposed Settlement Agreement, approximately 4,269 customers will share net settlement proceeds of approximately $55,000 worth of $15.00 coupons (the “Coupon”), redeemable for a discount on any product or service sold by Balise Toyota at the West Springfield Location.  The $15.00 Coupon(s) you receive will average more than 15 times the size of each of your calculated Overcharge, as the vast majority of all Overcharges were under $1.00.  You do not need to do anything to get your Coupon(s). If the Settlement Agreement is approved by the Court, you will automatically receive one Coupon for each Overcharge transaction with Balise Toyota. The Coupon(s) will be sent to the same address as this notice…. (the rest of this notice: pdf) —————————————————–
 May 29, 2014 – the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel filed a class action complaint (pdf) against BTLS, Inc. d/b/a Balise Toyota.
  • This case seeks compensation for Balise Toyota’s alleged systematic mispricing of goods and services received by its service customers at the Balise Toyota at 1399 Riverdale Street, West Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • The complaint alleges that rates listed on signage and pricing literature at the Balise Toyota service department were lower than amounts consumers were actually charged.
Balise
* If have been affected by pricing issues at any Balise location in Massachusetts, you are welcome to contact us. 
-

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Not Spam: Ticketmaster Settlement email

The notice pasted below was emailed to class members. Some people have wondered if it is spam. It is not. This is not our case, so please do not contact us for additional information.

SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA – COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES

If you purchased tickets from http://www.Ticketmaster.com you may be entitled to benefits from a class action settlement.

This is a court ordered notice. This is not a solicitation from a lawyer.

• For each ticket order (up to 17 orders) you made from http://www.Ticketmaster.com between October 21, 1999 and February 27, 2013, a settlement will provide a credit of $2.25 for use on future ticket orders. You will receive an additional $5 credit towards UPS delivery of future orders, for each order where you purchased the UPS delivery option (up to 17 purchases). Continue reading

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The 9 Leading Data Brokers, and What They Know About You

  1.  Acxiom: Acxiom provides consumer data and analytics for marketing campaigns and fraud  detection. Its databases contain information about 700 million consumers worldwide with over 3000 data segments for nearly every U.S. consumer.
  2. Corelogic: Corelogic provides data and analytic services to businesses and government based primarily on property information, as well as consumer and financial information. Its databases include over 795 million historical property transactions, over ninety-three million mortgage applications, and property-specific data covering over ninety-nine percent of U.S. residential properties, in total exceeding 147 million records.
  3. Datalogix: Datalogix provides businesses with marketing data on almost every U.S. household and more than one trillion dollars in consumer transactions.23 In September 2012, Facebook announced a partnership with Datalogix to measure how often Facebook’s one billion users see a product advertised on the social site and then complete the purchase in a brick and mortar retail store.
  4. eBureau: eBureau provides predictive scoring and analytics services for marketers, financial services companies, online retailers, and others. eBureau primarily offers products that predict whether someone is likely to become a profitable customer or whether a transaction is likely to conclude in fraud. It provides clients with information drawn from billions of consumer records adding over three billion new records each month.
  5. ID Analytics: ID Analytics provides analytics services designed principally to verify people’s identities or to determine whether a transaction is likely fraudulent. The ID Analytics networkincludes hundreds of billions of aggregated data points, 1.1 billion unique identity elements, and it covers 1.4 billion consumer transactions.
  6. Intelius: Intelius provides businesses and consumers with background check and public record information. Its databases contain more than twenty billion records.
  7. PeekYou: PeekYou has patented technology that analyzes content from over sixty social media sites, news sources, homepages, and blog platforms to provide clients with detailed consumer profiles.
  8. Rapleaf: Rapleaf is a data aggregator that has at least one data point associated with over eighty percent of all U.S. consumer email addresses.31 Rapleaf supplements email lists with the email address owner’s age, gender, marital status, and thirty other data points.
  9.  Recorded Future: Recorded Future captures historical data on consumers and companies across the Internet and uses that information to predict the future behavior of those consumers and companies. As of May 2014, Recorded Future had access to information from over 502,591 different open Internet sites.

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Massachusetts Minimum Wage and Tipped Employees

In Massachusetts, the minimum wage for tipped employees (i.e. waitresses, bartenders) is $2.63 per hour. No matter how much a tipped employee makes in tips, they must also be paid their minimum wage. Also, if on a given shift, minimum wage pay and tips do not add up to an hourly pay rate of $8.00 per hour, the employer must make up the difference. The Massachusetts “Reporting Pay” regulation requires employers to pay an employee for a minimum of three hours of work if they are called in for any shift of four hours or more, and then sent home.  Employers must pay their employees on a weekly or biweekly schedule.

Hypothetical examples:

A. Shirley is a “bottle service” waitress  at the Coconut Grove. She is putting herself through college with the money she makes from tips. Her job is to pour alcohol at tables reserved by patrons willing to spend hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars a night on vastly overpriced champagne and hard liquor. She’s on her feet for five hours in heels, lugging bottles, and pushing through crowds of drunk people. Sometimes the customers are all over her, but she puts up with it to make her tuition and rent payments. On a good night, she can take home $1,500.00.  On a bad night, her table cancels, or for whatever reason, no one reserves a table, and she’s sent home.  After paying for parking, she’s minus $40.00. Over a three year period, she is sent home with zero pay 20 times.

By law, on a night when Shirley is cut, she’s entitled to the following in reporting pay, assuming a 5 hour shift:

3 * $8.00 * 24 = $576.00

If she sues the Coconut Grove, she’s entitled to:

$576.00 * 3 = $1,728.00  and her employer must pay her attorney’s fees and costs of filing suit.

B. Katrina is also a bottle service waitress at the Coconut Grove. She is only scheduled for the busiest nights, because she’s a top earner for the nightclub. She has close relationships with the high rollers patrons, so they never cancel on her. Over a three year time span (one hundred shifts a year) she makes $300,000 in tips. She is never paid her hourly tipped employee minimum wage.

By law, Katrina is entitled to:

5 * $2.63 * 300  = $3,945.00 (trebled to $11,835.00).

 Have you been affected by wage and hour law violations in your workplace? The Leonard Law Office is accepting Massachusetts wage theft cases.

  • It is illegal to retaliate against employees for bringing wage claims. 
  • Employers must pay the wronged employee’s attorneys fees in wage theft cases.
  • Triple damages are automatic; employers must pay the amount owed in wages times three. 

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Under Investigation – Wage Practices of McDonald’s, Subway, Dominos, and Dunkin Donuts

Do Massachusetts fast food franchises violate labor laws?

Examples of labor law violations:

Minimum wage violations – Not paying employees the minimum wage. This can happen in a variety of ways, such as when employees are required to pay for uniforms, causing net pay to sink below minimum wage. The Massachusetts minimum wage is $8.00/hr., and the Federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr.

Break violations – Not granting breaks, or deducting a 30 minute lunch break from pay, without actually allowing the break.

Overtime violations – Not paying employees for time and a half for work over 40 hours in a week.

“Off-the-clock” violations – Requiring employees to do unpaid work before or after punching in.

Paycheck docking violations – Deducting money from paychecks for cash register shortages when this causes the paycheck to fall below minimum wage.

Misclassification violations – Illegally designating employees as “Independent Contractors,” Providing 1099 instead of W2 forms to employees to save the business money.

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Privacy Class Action Filed Against East Coast Alpine

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against East Coast Alpine. The case alleges that East Coast Alpine violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

East Coast Alpine, Comm. Ave. Boston

East Coast Alpine, Comm. Ave. Boston

 

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of East Coast Alpine of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

 

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Unpaid Interns – Should You Be Paid For Your Work?

Unpaid internships can seem like a great opportunity.  Sometimes, however, unpaid internships benefit the employer far more than the intern.  In some cases, unpaid internship programs violate state and federal labor laws.

Have you been negatively affected by an unpaid internship? We are accepting stories about unpaid internships in Massachusetts. We are also accepting clients who wish to seek financial compensation after working as unpaid interns. 

The use of unpaid interns obviously allows employers to reduce labor costs. Starving for opportunity, energetic and naive young people are routinely exploited through unpaid internships.

Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours that they work.  Unlike apprenticeship programs of the past, many interns are not taught a trade, or given paid employment after their internship. Instead, most interns are required to do general menial tasks and gopher work with no educational value, for no pay.

Minimum wage laws require that employers pay all employes (even college students and recent grads who are desperate for work) the minimum wage, as well as overtime for hours over forty in a workweek.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has no exemption for interns unless they are apprentices or in a vocational training program. The Department of Labor (DOL) uses a six-factor test to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee.  It is only permissible to pay interns and less than minimum wage (and even then at no less than 75% of minimum wage) after applying for and being granted an authorizing certificate from the DOL, pursuant to Section 14(a) of the FLSA.

Another aspect of the use of unpaid interns is the unfair business advantage that this business practice creates.  The competitive disadvantage suffered by businesses not supplemented by unpaid intern labor in unfair.

The Department of Labor published a fact sheet about how federal law applies to unpaid internships — see below:

Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

This fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the services that they provide to “for-profit” private sector employers.

Background

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines the term “employ” very broadly as including to “suffer or permit to work.”  Covered and non-exempt individuals who are “suffered or permitted” to work must be compensated under the law for the services they perform for an employer.  Internships in the “for-profit” private sector will most often be viewed as employment, unless the test described below relating to trainees is met.  Interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.*

The Test For Unpaid Interns

There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation.  The Supreme Court has held that the term “suffer or permit to work” cannot be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his or her own interest an employee of another who provides aid or instruction.  This may apply to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit if the training meets certain criteria.  The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.  This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad.  Some of the most commonly discussed factors for “for-profit” private sector internship programs are considered below.

Similar To An Education Environment And The Primary Beneficiary Of The Activity

In general, the more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience (this often occurs where a college or university exercises oversight over the internship program and provides educational credit).  The more the internship provides the individual with skills that can be used in multiple employment settings, as opposed to skills particular to one employer’s operation, the more likely the intern would be viewed as receiving training.  Under these circumstances the intern does not perform the routine work of the business on a regular and recurring basis, and the business is not dependent upon the work of the intern.  On the other hand, if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.

Displacement And Supervision Issues

If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing workforce during specific time periods, these interns should be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.  If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled compensation under the FLSA.  Conversely, if the employer is providing job shadowing opportunities that allow an intern to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees, but the intern performs no or minimal work, the activity is more likely to be viewed as a bona fide education experience.  On the other hand, if the intern receives the same level of supervision as the employer’s regular workforce, this would suggest an employment relationship, rather than training.

Job Entitlement

The internship should be of a fixed duration, established prior to the outset of the internship.  Further, unpaid internships generally should not be used by the employer as a trial period for individuals seeking employment at the conclusion of the internship period.  If an intern is placed with the employer for a trial period with the expectation that he or she will then be hired on a permanent basis, that individual generally would be considered an employee under the FLSA.

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Judge Posner affirms TCPA class certification and upholds 7th Circuit’s TCPA standing precedent

In a good decision [PDF] for TCPA class actions, Judge Posner today ruled for plaintiffs in ARNOLD CHAPMAN and PALDO SIGN & DISPLAY COMPANY, v. WAGENER EQUITIES, INC. and DANIEL WAGENER.

“…our decision in Holtzman v. Turza, 728 F.3d 682, 684 (7th Cir. 2013), holds that no monetary loss need be shown to entitle the junk‐fax recipient to statutory damages. Whether or not the user of the fax machine is an owner, he may be annoyed, distracted, or otherwise inconvenienced if his use of the machine is interrupted by unsolicited faxes to it, or if the machine wears out prematurely because of overuse attributable to junk faxes.”

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Starbucks, “Greek Yogurt,” and Consumer Law

In early 2013, the Leonard Law Office wrote to Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz challenging the “Greek Yogurt,” claim made on various yogurt products sold at Starbucks in Massachusetts.

Authentic Greek yogurt has two main ingredients: milk and active yogurt cultures. It differs from ordinary yogurt in that most of the whey is strained out of it, producing an end result that is higher in protein, lower in fat, and has a thicker consistency than ordinary yogurt. Greek yogurt costs more than ordinary yogurt because it requires more milk and more work to make it, and has health benefits that make Greek yogurt more desirable than ordinary yogurt.

Before: 

  • Contains Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Contains Pectin
  • Calories: 300
  • Protein: 8g
Starbucks greek yogurt label 600dpi black and white cropped

Starbucks’ previous “Greek Yogurt” version

After:

  • Whey Protein Concentrate 
  • Pectin
  • Calories: 260
  • Protein: 15g
2

Current Ingredients Label

*     *     *

Current Lid Label — “15g of Protein”

*     *     *

Starbucks has obviously changed the packaging and the product contained inside, despite Mr. Shultz’s lawyers dismissing the substance of the letter:

ScreenHunter_39 Mar. 30 20.28

“no legal basis”

*     *      *

The new version tastes better, has more protein, fewer calories, and costs the same.

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Wage Suit Filed Against Boston Institute for Psychotherapy (“The BIP”)

The Leonard Law Office and co-counsel have filed a wage suit against the Boston Institute for Psychotherapy (“The BIP“).  The class action complaint (PDF) alleges worker misclassification and other claims:

“…By treating certain employees as “independent contractors,” The BIP avoids
expenses commonly associated with having employees. These costs, to name a few, include employment tax, health insurance, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and other employee benefits…” 
 

The BIP is located at 1415 Beacon Street, Brookline, Massachusetts 02446. If you have information about the BIP concerning independent contractors/employees, and wages, or are a member of the proposed class, you are welcome to contact us.

The case was filed in federal court and has been assigned to Judge William G. Young.

U.S. District Court - District of Massachusetts

U.S. District Court – District of Massachusetts

Case Updates 

July 10, 2014

Notice of Electronic Filing

The following transaction was entered on 7/10/2014 at 9:50 AM EDT and filed on 7/9/2014
Case Name: Doulamis v. The Boston Institute for Psychotherapy, Inc. et al
Case Number: 1:14-cv-11434-WGY
ELECTRONIC Clerk’s Notes for proceedings held before Judge William G. Young: Scheduling Conference held on 7/9/2014. The Court explains the requirements of the session. The parties do not want to proceed before a magistrate judge. The case is to go to ADR as of January 2015. The case is placed on the running trial list as of September 2015. A final pretrial conference will be set for the month of July 2015. The parties shall file a revised joint proposed case management schedule within four (4) weeks. Any motions for summary judgment shall be filed atleast three (3) months prior to trial month. A joint final pretrial memo is due the first Monday of the month of July 2015. (Ready for Trial on 9/1/2015 09:00 AM in Courtroom 18 before Judge William G. Young.) (Court Reporter: No Court Reporter Used.) (Gaudet, Jennifer)

 

 

Related Articles

Boston Business Journal, Therapist files suit against Boston Institue of Psychotherapy alleging violations of Wage Act, Independent Contractor law, March 28, 2014.

 

 

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Privacy Class Action Filed Against Fresh

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against Fresh. The case alleges that Fresh violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

Fresh

Fresh — Newbury Street, Boston

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Fresh of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts store from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Information About Fresh:

Fresh is a for-profit corporation, organized under the laws of Delaware with a principal place of business at 560 Harrison Avenue, Suite 407, Boston, Massachusetts 02118. It sells cosmetics, skin cream, and hair care products.

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Free People Privacy Class Action Filed

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against Free People. The case alleges that Free People violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

Free People -- Prudential Center, Boston

Free People — Prudential Center, Boston

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Free People of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts store from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Information About Free People

Free People LLC is a limited liability company, organized under the laws of Delaware, with a principal place of business at 5000 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19112. Defendant Free People of PA LLC is a limited liability company, organized under the laws of Delaware, which merged with Free People LLC in 2005.  Free People is a subdivision of Urban Outfitters. The President of Free People is Margaret Hayne.

Free people one

 

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Patagonia Privacy Class Action Filed

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel against Patagonia.  The case alleges that Patagonia violated a Massachusetts credit card privacy law.

Patagonia

Patagonia — Newbury Street, Boston

Excerpts from the complaint:

Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Patagonia of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts store from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards , recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

A recent article from CNNMoney discussed the significant privacy violations that result from the practice of collecting ZIP codes. According to CNNMoney:

[T]he five-digit zip code is one of the key items data brokers use to link a wealth of public records to what you buy. They can figure out whether you’re getting married (or divorced), selling your home, smoke cigarettes, sending a kid off to college or about to have one. Such information is the cornerstone of a multi-billion dollar industry that enables retailers to target consumers with advertising and coupons. Yet, data privacy experts are concerned about the level at which consumers are being tracked without their knowledge — and what would happen if that data got into the wrong hands. Acxiom, one of the biggest data brokers in the business, claims to have a database that holds information — including one’s age, marital status, education level, political leanings, hobbies and income level — on 190 million individuals. Major competitors, like Datalogix and CoreLogic, tout similarly vast databases. In most cases, all that is needed to match the information these data brokers compile with what you buy is your full name — obtained when you swipe a credit card — and a zip code, according to data privacy experts. This allows them to figure out that you are the Sally Smith who lives in Butte, Mont., not the one who lives in Denver, for example. “For the majority of the country, the zip code is going to be the piece of the puzzle that is going to enable a merchant to identify you,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Source “What Your ZIP Code Reveals About You,” April 18, 2013 (available at http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/18/pf/data-privacy/).

Information about Patagonia

Patagonia is a California company founded by Yvon Chouinard. It is best known for its high quality outdoor clothing, and esteemable corporate ethics.

 

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Massachusetts State, County, and City Consumer Protection Offices

Massachusetts State Offices
 
Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108-1518
617-727-8400 (Consumer Hotline)
TTY: 617-727-4765
email: ago@state.ma.us
http://www.mass.gov/ago

Continue reading

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Hangtime Text Message / Privacy Class Action Filed in Massachusetts Federal Court

The Leonard Law Office  is representing plaintiffs in a class action against California app company Hangtime. The case is about unsolicited text messages that allegedly violate federal telemarketing and Massachusetts consumer protection law.

A text from hangtime is below:

Invite to MA Resident (7.6.14)

The Hangtime TCPA Class action complaint (PDF) asserts:

- In a misguided effort to promote its mobile application or “app,” Hangtime engages in an invasive and unlawful form of marketing: the unauthorized transmission of advertising in the form of “text message” calls to the cellular telephones of consumers throughout the nation.

- By effectuating these unauthorized text message calls (“wireless spam”), Hangtime has violated consumers’ statutory rights and has caused consumers actual harm, not only because consumers were subjected to the aggravation that necessarily accompanies wireless spam, but also because consumers frequently have to pay their cell phone service providers for the receipt of such wireless spam.

Hangtime - California App Company

- In order to redress these injuries, Plaintiff, on behalf of himself and a nationwide class of similarly situated individuals, and a Massachusetts subclass, brings action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq. (“47 U.S.C. § 227”) (the “TCPA”), which prohibits unsolicited voice and text calls to cell phones, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, M.G.L. c. 93A, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

- Unlike more conventional advertisements, wireless spam invades privacy and can actually cost its recipients money, because cell phone users like Plaintiff must frequently either pay their respective wireless service providers for each text message call they receive or incur a usage allocation deduction to their text plan, regardless of whether or not the message is authorized.

- Over the course of an extended period beginning in at least 2013, Hangtime and its agents directed the mass transmission of wireless spam to the cell phones nationwide of what they hoped were potential customers of Hangtime’s social networking services.

- For instance, on or about December 29, 2013, Plaintiff’s cell phone rang, indicating that a text call was being received.

- The “from” field of the transmission was identified cryptically as “14158153107,” which is a special purpose telephone number known as a long code operated by Hangtime and its agents.  The body of such text message read:

Mikey Leftside shared events with you on Hangtime. http://hangti.me/XiEpF6mLKc

- Hangtime’s and its agents’ use of a long code enabled Hangtime’s mass transmission of wireless spam to a list of cellular telephone numbers.

- Hangtime sent these messages using equipment with the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator and to dial such numbers

- By use of these methods, Hangtime sent text messages that were the same or practically the same as the message sent to Plaintiff, referenced in Paragraph 15 above, to numerous cell phones throughout the country.

- These text messages, including the text message sent to Plaintiff did not originate from, nor were they created by, the individuals referenced in the messages (though the messages were intended and made to appear that way).  Rather, the messages sent to Plaintiff and other class members originated from and were created by Hangtime as a promotional device for its service.

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Securities Fraud Class Action Investigation: Merge Healthcare Inc. (Nasdaq: MRGE)

What is Securities Fraud?

Securities fraud takes a variety of forms.  All dishonest actions on the part of publicly traded corporations can cause their investors serious financial harm. When the market reacts negatively to news of wrongdoing, share prices decrease, and investors lose money.

Merge Healthcare’s Falsified Contracts and Overstated Figures

On January 8, 2014, MRGE issued a corrective disclosure (PDF) confessing that the company had “falsified the existence or amount of certain customer contracts.” This is the second time Merge Healthcare has had problems with ethics. In 2009, the SEC charged two former senior executives with accounting fraud, in a scandal that caused the stock price to plummet. Continue reading

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Harvard University’s “Collossal” Payroll Blunder – Potential Class Action Investigation

According to two Harvard Law School professors (see below) Harvard’s initial handling of massive payroll error was misleading and inadequate.

  • Did Havard’s tax error and resulting payroll mistakes violate Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws?
  • Does Harvard owe far more than it claims?

If you were affected by this issue, you are welcome to contact us. You may be entitled to significant financial compensation. The Leonard Law Office is now accepting Massachusetts Wage & Hour Law Violation / Wage Theft cases.

================================================

To: HLS Faculty and Staff
From: Professors Alvin Warren and Daniel Halperin
Date: February 4, 2014
Re: Major Harvard Tax Error

We write in response to requests for our views regarding a letter from the Harvard Benefits Office dated January 21, 2014 concerning Harvard supplemental life insurance. If you received this letter, it is because the University reported too much taxable income for you to the federal and state governments for one or more taxable years beginning in 2009. If you did not receive the letter, you need not read any further.

In our view, the letter misstates the law and is misleading as to both the scope of the problem and the University’s responsibility to make some 11,000 employees whole for a monumental mistake by the central administration. After reviewing the letter, we met with a group of responsible personnel in Harvard’s central administration. The good news is that we think that they understand just how misleading the letter is. Although nothing has been decided, they are also aware of our position that the University must make its faculty and staff whole for excess taxes we paid on more than $20,000,000 of income that we did not receive, but which was erroneously reported by Harvard to the federal and state governments on our W-2 forms.

These are the facts as provided to us by the central administration: Prior to 2009, the University’s pricing of supplemental life insurance resulted in some employees receiving what the IRS regarded as taxable subsidies that had to be reported as income. In 2009, the University changed the pricing of the insurance so that there were no more taxable subsidies. The Harvard administration nonetheless continued to report taxable income to the federal and state governments, as though no change had been made. This taxable income was included on employees’ W-2 forms, so we paid taxes on income that we did not receive. The central administration first became aware of possible overreporting in October 2013. The first communication to the faculty and staff regarding the issue was the January 21, 2014 letter.

The letter misstates the law. It says that “IRS regulations do not allow the University to assist you in filing for a state or federal income tax refund.” There is no such regulation.

The letter does not accurately present the scope of the problem. It says that “For many people, the amount of the over-reported income was less that $200 per year.” That is true, but for some employees, the amount exceeds $10,000. Nowhere is the total scope of the problem frankly presented. We were told in our meeting that more than 11,000 current and former employees are affected, with the total amount of overreported income exceeding $20,000,000. In our judgment, to mention in the letter only those employees for whom the amount involved is less than $200 per year is misleading as to the true extent of the problem.

The letter fails to reveal all of the years for which there is a problem. The letter only discusses 2011-13, but the overreporting also occurred in 2009 and 2010. This fact is obscured by the vague expression in the first paragraph, which states that the problem involves “several years prior to 2014.” The full scope of the years involved is never disclosed. The federal statute of limitations has run for 2009, so no refund can be claimed for that year unless an employee’s tax return is still open due to, for example, an audit. The federal statute of limitations for 2010 runs on April 15, 2014, but the administration does not believe it can provide corrected W-2 forms by then.

Most grievously, the letter fails to accept Harvard’s responsibility to make its employees whole for its monumental error. Although 11,000 Harvard employees were victims of the administration’s error, the only remedy presented in the letter is for each of the victims to file amended tax returns with the state and federal governments. The only “resources” offered in the “Frequently Asked Questions” that accompanied the letter are a couple of links to federal (not state) government tax sites.

In our view, Harvard has a responsibility to make its employees whole for its colossal error. For taxable year 2013 (for which returns are due on April 15, 2014) , the central administration hopes to send us corrected W-2 forms somewhat earlier than the March 21 date mentioned in the letter. As to earlier years, it seems to us that the only viable choices are as follows: (1) For years in which amended returns are precluded by the statue of limitations (2009 and 2010, depending on the circumstances), Harvard should offer to reimburse employees for the excess taxes they paid due to the University’s error. These amounts should be compounded to present value. (2) For years in which amended returns are possible, the University should offer employees either (a) reimbursement of excess taxes paid (again compounded to present value) or (b) free professional preparation of amended tax returns. The latter might be done in easily accessible locations on campus or by reimbursement of professional fees for faculty and staff who preferred to use a different return preparer. Some employees might, of course, prefer not to accept either offer and to prepare their own amended returns.

To do anything less than the steps described in the preceding paragraph would indicate that the central administration does not believe that it has an obligation to take responsibility for its errors. Nothing could be further from the core values of truth and honesty that infuse teaching and research at this University. At our meeting with the central administration, we expressed this view with considerable force.

Finally, if you want to see the amount that was overreported for you, it does not appear on your W-2 form. As indicated at the top of the second page of the “Frequently Asked Questions” that accompanied the January 21 letter, that information can be found in a year-to-date total on your December paycheck for each year.

==================================================================================

February 7, 2014

Dear Colleague:
You received a letter from the Harvard Benefits Office dated January 21 regarding an error in IRS Forms W-2 in which Harvard incorrectly reported imputed income on supplemental life insurance for you and others. I offer my sincere apologies for the error itself and for the failure of the initial letter to communicate effectively, including about the nature and scope of the problem, and Harvard’s proposed response.

I write now to correct inaccuracies in the letter, to inform you of steps Harvard will take to assist affected individuals, and to provide additional information in the interest of greater clarity and transparency that you have every right to expect.

The University began to investigate a possible error in reporting of imputed income in October 2013. The problem resulted from a change in the structure of the supplemental life insurance plan in 2009 which meant that income should no longer have been imputed for the benefit.

Overall, the income incorrectly reported for years 2009 through 2013 was significant, estimated to be in excess of $20M for approximately 11,000 affected former and current University employees, while the effect on individual employee’s taxes varied widely. For example, in 2013, the error resulted in less than $200 of imputed income for approximately 60% of affected employees. However, the annual impact was significantly greater for some over $1,000 of imputed income in 2013 for about 13% of those employees affected last year and over $10,000 of imputed income in 2013 for a small number of individuals.

The initial letter misstated the type of assistance the University is able to provide in rectifying the erroneously imputed income. We had intended the letter to note that the University itself could not apply for a state or federal income tax refund on an employee’s behalf. The letter instead said that the University could not assist employees in filing for a refund. This was not accurate. Indeed, the University can provide assistance and, as described below, is actively considering how best to do so.

The original communication did not include steps Harvard would take to support affected members of the community. That was a mistake and we recognize our obligation to ensure that those affected do not incur any financial losses related to this situation. Specifically:

* For 2009 and 2010 we will make payments to current and former employees for excess taxes paid, plus interest. If taxes are due on the foregoing payments, we will reimburse individuals for taxes owed.

* For 2011 and 2012, affected employees can recover the excess tax payments by filing amended tax returns. We recognize that this represents an inconvenience and are committed to doing all that we can to help. We will reimburse individuals for out-of-pocket tax preparation costs, after taxes, if any, that they incur as a result of filing amended returns. We will offer educational programming on filing an amended return. We are also exploring the feasibility of making available tax preparation services that will provide confidential assistance and that will be independent of the University. For individuals with small refund claims, for whom the cost of filing a claim would exceed the amount to be refunded, we will offer the alternative of a cash payment by Harvard in lieu of the individual’s filing a refund claim. If taxes are due on these payments, we will reimburse individuals for taxes owed. We currently anticipate that corrected Forms W-2 for 2011 and 2012 will be available in the early summer.

* We are ahead of schedule for the issuance of corrected Forms W-2 for 2013 and expect they will be delivered earlier in March than originally anticipated and communicated. To avoid the need to file an amended tax return for 2013, we suggest that you delay your filing until you receive the corrected Form W-2.

Going beyond support for affected individuals, we plan to undertake a review, with the assistance of outside experts, of the tax treatment of our benefits programs to ensure there are no additional deficiencies in our processes and practices.

More details of the University’s mitigation efforts will be sent to you in the coming weeks. If you have any questions about this matter, please contact Harvard Benefits at Benefits@harvard.edu.

In closing, please accept my sincere apology. We are working to remedy this situation and to ensure an error like this does not occur again.

Sincerely,

Marilyn Hausammann
Vice President for Human Resources

===========================================

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Michael’s Stores Credit Card Privacy / Unsolicited Marketing Case Settles

Massachusetts federal judge William G. Young granted preliminary approval on Wednesday February, 12, 2013 to an $875,000 settlement resolving a class action that accused arts-and-crafts retailer Michael’s Stores Inc. of improperly demanding ZIP Codes from its customers during transactions and then sending them junk mail.  See the settlement docs: [PDF]

In this class action, Michael’s stores was sued for allegedly violating M.G.L. c. 93A sec 9 (Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act) and M.G.L. c. 93 sec. 105(a) (Massachusetts Credit Card Privacy Act). This is the seminal case in the area of credit card privacy under Massachusetts law. Class counsel took the case all the way to the SJC. In mid 2013, they won a decision from the Commonwealth’s highest state court declaring that (1) ZIP codes constitute “Personal Identification Information” in the context of M.G.L. c. 93 sec. 105(a); and (2) receipt of unsolicited marketing materials or  junk mail occasioned by an underlying violation of sec. 105(a) is an injury under 93A.

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Neiman Marcus Data Breach Class Action Investigation

Neiman Marcus has had a data breach comparable to Target’s. Personal identification information and card data from as many as 110 million customers has allegedly been exposed.

If you shopped at Neiman Marcus with a credit or debit card from July 16, 2013 – October 30, 2013, or January 2013 – January 2014, you are welcome to contact us. You may be entitled to financial compensation

According to a notice posted on the Neiman Marcus website (pdf) and (url):

“It appears that the malware actively attempted to collect or “scrape” payment card data from July 16, 2013 to October 30, 2013. During those months, approximately 1,100,000 customer payment cards could have been potentially visible to the malware. To date, Visa, MasterCard and Discover have notified us that approximately 2,400 unique customer payment cards used at Neiman Marcus and Last Call stores were subsequently used fraudulently.”

According to another disclosure (pdf) from Neiman Marcus, the company had another data breach from January 2013 – January 2014.

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Phishing Attacks, Paypal Accounts, and Fraudulent Charges

What does it mean if you have fraudulent charges on your Paypal Account?

It probably means two things:

#1: You opened a “phishing” email.
#2: A keylogger is recording everything you type and capturing your secret login/password information, as well as other private materials, and sending it to all to a wrongdoer.

Phishing

Phishing is a way to send a real-looking email to an unsuspecting victim to fraudulently obtain something of value.  In the words of an actual phisher:

“PayPal’s security is not the best but it’s well secured. The probable reason for the fraudulent charges are phishing mails, that probably installed a Keylogger on his computer and got the Login details from that way. It’s the easiest way, if he doesn’t have a hi-tech antivirus software.”

A keylogger is a program that records each keystroke and sends the information to someone else through the Internet.

Successful phishing attacks depend on a valid-looking email, and a link contained in the email. Below is an example of one such email claiming to provide a death notification:

From: Hubbell Funeral Home <info@assortjapan.com>
Subject: Death notification

Hubbel Funeral Home
Simply Compassionate

We would like to express our deepest sorrow for the untimely death of your beloved
friend and inform you about the life service celebration that will take place at
Hubbell Funeral Home on February 20, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.

Please follow this link [malware link removed] to get funeral invitation.
Please be there to honor the memory of your friend with her closest people.

Our best wishes and prayers,
David Parks,
Funeral home assistant

99 North Indian Rocks Road | Belleair Bluffs, Florida 33770
Phone 727-584-7671 | Fax 727-584-1073

Phishing Attack

Email Security

(1) Be suspicious. First of all, a sender’s email address is easy to fake. There are ways to digitally forge information in such a way that an email appears to be from a trusted source – ie. security@citibank.com. So, just because you trust the sender, the message may not really be from a trusted source.

(1) If an email asks you for personal information, NEVER provide it.  Banks and legitimate online businesses such as Ebay, Amazon, and Paypal do not send customers emails asking them for:

  • First and last name
  • Password
  • Driver’s license number
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security number
  • Credit and debit card numbers
  • PIN numbers
  • Bank account numbers

(2) Do not click on links within emails, unless you are 100% sure it is from a real person whom you trust,  i.e a friend emailing you an interesting article from the New York Times. Unfortuntely, you can unknowingly download keylogging software or other malicous programs just by one click on the wrong hyperlink.

(3) Do not open software or attachments sent you to from an untrusted email sender.

Computer & Financial Account Security

It is foolish not to have a high quality anti-virus program that is up to date. AVG Free 2014, which doesn’t cost anything, may be good enough to scan for keyloggers and keep your machine secure.

If you have had fraudulent charges on a credit card, debit card, or Paypal account, you should have your cards inactivated and reissued.

Password Security

The easiest way to compromise an account is by guessing the password. Never use an idiotic password such as “Password.” Frequently change all of your passwords, and do not use the same password for everything. A secure password has these characteristics:

  • Contains no words found in the dictionary
  • Consists of a blend of uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Has at least one number and one symbol
  • Is at least ten characters in length
  • Impossible to guess based on who you are
  • Known only to one person: you
  • Has not been used for your other accounts in the past

Varieties of Phishing Attacks

Phishing emails are infinitely creative.   Scammers will stop at nothing to trick people into clicking on a link contained within an email. The notice below from February 2014, warns of a creative tactic used by criminals:

PUBLIC NOTICE
SCAM EMAILS ABOUT PHONY COURT CASES CARRY COMPUTER VIRUS
The federal judiciary has learned of an email scam, in which emails purporting to come from
federal and state courts are infecting recipients with computer viruses.
According to the Security Operations Center of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the
emails are instructing recipients to report to a hearing on a specified day and time. The emails
also instruct recipients to review an attached document for detailed case information. When the
attachments or links in the email are opened, a malicious program is launched that infects the
recipient’s computer. Several state courts have reported similar schemes, and also are warning
the public about potential viruses.
Unless you are actively involved in a case in federal court and have consented to receive court
notifications electronically, you generally will not be served with court documents electronically.
If you receive an email regarding a federal court case or matter of which you are unaware that is
purported to be from this district court, you should contact the CM/ECF help desk at 866-239-
6233 before opening any attachments or links. You may use the court locator
(http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx) to find contact information for other federal courts.

 

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23 and Me — Investigation Closed

DNA tester 23andMe Inc. has been hit with a class action in which the company is accused of falsely advertising its saliva collection kit and personal genome service product as accurately providing health reports on more than 240 genetic medical conditions.

 

23 and me

According to the Complaint:

“This proposed class action alleges that 23andMe, Inc. (“Defendant”) falsely and misleadingly advertises their Saliva Collection Kit/Personal Genome Service (“PGS”) as providing “health reports on 240+ conditions and traits”, “drug response”, “carrier status”, among other things, when there is no analytical or clinical validation for the PGS. In addition, Defendant uses the information it collects from the DNA tests consumers pay to take to generate databases and statistical information that it then markets to other sources and the scientific community in general, even though the test results are meaningless.

3 Despite Defendant’s failure to receive marketing authorization or approval from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), Defendant has slowly increased its list of indications for the PGS, and initiated new marketing campaigns, including television advertisements in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDC Act”). Defendant 23andMe, Inc., a Delaware Corporation, was and is a corporation founded in 2006, headquartered in Mountain View, California, existing under the laws of the State of Delaware and doing business in the State of California and elsewhere throughout the United States of America.”

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS from the 23and Me Class Action:

  • ” PGS is a direct-to-consumer DNA genetic test. After a consumer purchases the PGS for $99.00 plus applicable taxes, Defendant mails to the customer a packet including a saliva depository. The customer spits into the depository, thereby providing his or her DNA sample, and mails the packet back to Defendant. Defendant allegedly runs a DNA test for 240+ conditions and traits, and mails a report to the customer regarding the risks or family history characteristics such as coronary heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, the customer can log-in to Defendant’s website for more features.
  • Defendant Advertises and Markets PGS as a Reliable Health Aid 10 To benefit Defendant’s sales of PGS, Defendant advertises and markets PGS in multiple media forms, including internet, print, and television.
  • A small sample of such advertising and marketing under the “Health” tab of Defendant’s website shows representations regarding the value of the PGS to a customer’s health:
    •  “Learn hundreds of things about your health. Using your DNA information, 23andMe helps you know more about your health so you can take an active role in managing it. With reports on over 240+ health conditions and traits, here are a few of the things you’ll learn about you.”
    • “Plan for the future. Find out if your children are at risk for inherited conditions, so you can plan for the health of your family.”
    • “Living well starts with knowing your DNA.”
    • “Health tools – Document your family health history, track inherited conditions, and share the knowledge.”
    • “Drug response – Arm your doctor with information on how you might respond to certain medications.”
    • “Below are a few examples [diabetes, arthritis, coronary heart disease, breast cancer, plavix, lactose intolerance] where we can help you learn more. And when you know more, you can make better lifestyle choices, look out for common conditions and take steps toward mitigating serious diseases.”(https://www.23andme.com/health/ Accessed 11/26/13)
  • Defendant markets and advertises specific examples of diseases and conditions for which the PGS can aid the consumer. Further, Defendant claims, “Get personalized recommendations. Based on your DNA, we’ll provide specific health recommendations for you.” Defendant offers information on a consumer’s risk regarding such serious diseases as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer. (https://www.23andme.com/health/ Accessed 11/26/13)
  • Defendant describes the PGS service further: “23andMe is a DNA analysis service providing information and tools for individuals to learn about and explore their DNA, We use the Illumina HumanOmniExpress-24 format chip…Our chip consists of a fully custom panel of probes for detective single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) selected by our researchers. The selection was made to maximize the number of actionable health and ancestry features available to customers as well as offer flexibility for future research.”
  • Defendant Has Provided No Support for Such Advertisements and Marketing to FDA.
  • Defendant has reaped the profit involved in marketing seemingly useful and reliable PGS health services while simultaneously failing to provide proof of the validity of such marketing claims to FDA in violation of the FDC Act
  • Beginning in July 2009, FDA worked diligently with Defendant to try to help Defendant comply with regulatory requirements regarding safety and effectiveness and to obtain marketing authorization for the PGS device.
  • FDA sent Defendant a “Warning Letter” on November 22, 2013, citing concerns over whether or not these tests work. The FDA cited concern about the public danger involved in false positives and false negatives for such serious health conditions purportedly tested by PGS.
  • The FDA Warning Letter further indicated, among other things, that, ‘To date, 23andMe has failed to provide adequate information to support a determination that the PGS is substantially equivalent to a legally marketed predicate for any of the uses for which you are marketing it; no other submission for the PGS device that you are marketing has been provided under section 510(k) of the [FDC] Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360(k).
  • After more than 14 face-to-face meetings, hundreds of email messages, and dozens of written communications between Defendant and FDA concerning the public health consequences of inaccurate results from the PGS device, FDA has concluded, “…even after these many interactions with 23andMe, we still do not have any assurance that the firm has analytically or clinically validated the PGS for its intended uses…”
  • After FDA cited specific examples of potential dangers to consumers, its letter states, “The risk of serious injury or death is known to be high when patients are either non-complaint or not properly dosed; combined with the risk that a direct-to-consumer test result may be used by a patient to self-manage, serious concerns are raised if test results are not adequately understood by patients or if incorrect test results are reported.”
  • Defendant has marketed and sold PGS to consumers for years without any analytical or clinical data to support the device’s efficacy. Despite lacking data to support their claims, Defendant made material representations to customers.
  • Without clinical data, Defendant continues to make health and efficacy claims about the PGS. Without such claims, consumers would lack incentive to purchase the product. Thus, Defendant has benefitted, and continues to benefit, from its misleading and unfair advertising and marketing.
  • If the data is unknown or cannot be produced by researchers, the marketing claims are hollow and misleading, created without backing and with the aim of drawing customers to purchase the product.
  • In a January 9, 2013 letter, Defendant stated to FDA that it was “completing the additional analytical and clinical validations for the tests that have been submitted” and “planning extensive labeling studies that will take several months to complete.” Thus, a full 5 years after the commencement of marketing the PGS to consumers, Defendant cannot support its marketing claims with scientific validation. In the absence of validation, 5 years of marketing claims were unfair, deceptive, and misleading to the consumers who trusted Defendant with potentially life-altering health matters.
  • Defendant also publishes “research” based on the test results it complies from individual consumers paying to have the PGS test administered, falsely claiming the results provide meaningful statistical data and useful scientific results.
  • Plaintiff alleges that, in committing the wrongful acts alleged herein, Defendant, in concert with its subsidiaries, affiliates, and/or other related entities and their respective employees, planned, participated in and furthered a common scheme to induce members of the public to purchase the PGS by means of misleading, deceptive and unfair representations, and that Defendant participated in the making of such representations in that it disseminated those misrepresentations and/or caused them to be disseminated.”

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Target Data Breach Class Action Complaint Filed in Massachusetts

The Target Data Breach Class ActionTarget

 

Update: (4/4/14)

The Target cases have been transferred (PDF) to Minnesota, Target’s home state.

Update: (1/21/14)

How to Limit Your Losses 

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) offer protection if your credit, ATM, or debit cards are lost or stolen.

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The Incredible Nuisance of Junk Faxes

Unsolicited faxes damage their recipients. A junk fax recipient loses the use of its fax machine, paper, and ink toner. An unsolicited fax wastes the recipient’s valuable time that would have been spent on something else. A junk fax interrupts the recipient’s privacy. Unsolicited faxes prevent fax machines from receiving authorized faxes, prevent their use for authorized outgoing faxes, cause undue wear and tear on the recipients’ fax machines, and require additional labor to attempt to discern the source and purpose of the unsolicited message.

In 1991, Congress enacted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 et seq. (“TCPA”) to regulate the explosive growth of the telemarketing industry. In so doing, Congress recognized that “unrestricted telemarketing . . . can be an intrusive invasion of privacy . . .” See 47 U.S.C. § 227, Congressional Statement of Findings #5. Specifically, in enacting the TCPA, Congress outlawed telemarketing via unsolicited facsimile (“Junk Fax”). See 47 U.S.C. §227(b)(1)(C).

Section 227(b)(1)(C) of the Act makes it “unlawful for any person within the United States. . . to use any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement.” See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(C); see also 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(a)(3).

Under the TCPA, recipients of unsolicited fax advertisements can file suit in federal or state court to collect the greater of $500 or actual damages for each violation, and/or obtain an injunction. See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(3)(B). If a court determines that the violations were willful or knowing, damages can be tripled. This means that every distinct junk fax sent out could result in damages of $1,500.

Example of a “Junk Fax”:

junk fax from regents capital finance

IF RECEIVE UNWANTED TEXT MESSAGES, ROBOCALLS, OR FAXES FROM A BUSINESS, YOU ARE WELCOME TO CONTACT US. THE LEONARD LAW OFFICE, LLP IS ACCEPTING NEW TCPA CASES. 

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FTC Finally Stops (well, not really) The Most Annoying Robocallers Ever: “Rachel from Card Services”

According to the FTC, the agency has reached a settlement with the people behind the “Rachel from Card Services” robocalls. The individuals mentioned are Emory L. “Jack” Holley IV and Lisa Miller. Going after the source of these obnoxious robocalls was one the most useful activities of the FTC in 2013. Unfortunately, however, it didn’t work. I received a call from Rachel on December 16, 2013.

Rachel

FTC’s announcement:

Final Six Defendants in ‘Rachel Robocall’ Scheme Settle FTC Charges – They Will Be Permanently Banned from All Telemarketing and Debt Relief Services – The final six of 10 defendants named in an alleged “Rachel from Cardholder Services” scam have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers with bogus claims that they would lower their credit card interest rates.The FTC settlement bans Emory L. “Jack” Holley IV, Lisa Miller, and the remaining corporate defendants from telemarketing and marketing debt relief services or assisting others in such conduct, prohibits them from misrepresenting any products or services, and imposes a partially suspended $11.9 million judgment. The FTC filed its complaint in this matter in October 2012, alleging that the defendants violated Section 5 of the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by charging illegal up-front fees during telemarketing calls in which they made false promises to reduce the interest rate on consumers’ credit cards and save them thousands of dollars.”

Questions:

  1. How did they get away with it for so long?
  2. Will they really stop?

Case Documents:

Update:

Rachel from Card Services is back at it as of December 16, 2013!

Rachel

Call from Rachel from Card Services (December 16, 2013)

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MAC Faces Privacy Class Action in Massachusetts

On November 5, 2013, the Leonard Law Office filed a class action lawsuit against MAC Cosmetics, alleging violations of Massachusetts credit card privacy and consumer protection laws.

MAC Cosmetics - Newbury St.

MAC Cosmetics – Newbury Street

If you have information about MAC’s business practices related to credit card transactions, or believe you were affected by conduct that is the basis of this case (by MAC or any other Massachusetts retailer) you are welcome to contact us.

Excerpts of the class action complaint are pasted below:

“Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of MAC of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.”  This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

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Kiehl’s Faces Privacy Class Action in Massachusetts

On November 5, 2013, the Leonard Law Office and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit against Kiehl’s Since 1851, alleging violations of Massachusetts credit card privacy and consumer protection laws.

Keihl's Newbury St. Boston MA

Kiehl’s – Newbury Street

If you have information about Kiehl’s business practices related to credit card transactions, or believe you were affected by the conduct that is the basis of this case (by Kiehl’s or any other Massachusetts retailer) you are welcome to contact us. 

Excerpts of the class action complaint:

“Plaintiff brings this action for redress of the unlawful practice of Kiehl’s of collecting ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who make purchases with Credit Cards, recording that information as part of the Credit Card transaction, and then using that information for its own marketing and promotional purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.”  This practice, which has affected Plaintiff and members of the Class, as described and defined herein, is an invasion of privacy and violates G. L. c. 93 § 105(a) and G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and the Class, seeks damages for invasion of privacy and violation of c. 93, § 105(a) and accordingly, c. 93A, § 2, disgorgement of the profits or other benefits received by Kiehl’s as a result of the practices described herein in violation of c. 93, § 105(a) and/or statutory damages under c. 93A, § 9(3).  Plaintiff brings this action as a class action on behalf of herself and a class comprised of all persons whose ZIP codes were collected and recorded at any Kiehl’s retail location in Massachusetts while making Credit Card purchases during the period from November 5, 2009 through the present (the “Class Period”).

 

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Do weight loss products containing Hydrocitric Acid (HCA) work as advertised? Do they contain as much HCA as advertised?

Does Hydroxycitric acid (“HCA”) work as a weight loss agent? If you have purchased a weight loss product containing Hydrocitric acid (HCA) or Garcinia Cambogia, and found that the results did not live up to product claims, you are welcome to contact us.

Top Garcinia (HCA) supplement brands

  1. Absolute Garcinia Cambogia
  2. Healthy Clip Pure Garcinia Rapid
  3. Pure Health Garcinia Cambogia
  4. Bio Nutrition Garcinia Cambogia
  5. Labrada Nutrition Garcinia Cambogia
  6. Puritan’s Pride Super Citrimax
  7. Futurebiotics Garcinia Cambogia
  8. Molecular Research Labs Pure Garcinia Cambogia
  9. Vitamin Shoppe Garcinia Cambogia Extract
  10. Garcinia Cambogia Select
  11. Nature’s Plus Citrimax
  12. Vitamin World Super Citrimax
  13. Genesis Today Garcinia Cambogia
  14. Nutritional Sciences Garcinia Lean

Warning: Six HCA products on this list have been been found to contain 16% to 81% of the HCA claimed on the label. If you have purchased any of these products, and believe you were misled, you are welcome to contact us. 

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Legal Discussion: Stalking, Harrassment, and Massachusetts Law

Massachusetts has several laws dealing with unwanted, harassing contact. Criminal charges for Stalking, under M.G.L. ch. 265 s. 43 can result in a term in state prison of up to 5 years or a fine of up to $1,000. Criminal Harassment under M.G.L. ch. 43A carries a sentence of up to 2 ½ years in prison. Some forms of electronic communication, i.e. harassing email, text messaging, or Facebook messages can result in a fine of $500 or imprisonment for not more than 3 months, under the “Annoying telephone calls or electronic communication law,” codified at M.G.L. ch 269 s. 14A. It is possible to to obtain a Harassment Prevention Order against a perpetrator under M.G.L. ch 258E.

Stalking

“Stalking”

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Class Action Investigation: National Union Fire Insurance Company / AIG

Under Investigation: National Union Fire Insurance Company / AIG

American International Group, Inc. ("AIG")

American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”)

We are investigating the National Union Fire Insurance Company (“NUFIC”) and American International Group, Inc. (“AIG“) for a potential class action lawsuit concerning (1) allegations of billing issues / assessment of automatic bank charges not agreed to by consumers (2) calls that may have been placed to cell phones without prior authorization. If you have any information that could be helpful, you are welcome to contact us.

Complaints about National Union Fire Insurance Company

Some consumers have complained about fees imposed by this company in a way they perceived as unfair and deceptive. Others have complained about calls they have received from this company.

Complaintsboard.com

Rippoff Report (37 Complaints)

Information about National Union Fire Insurance Company and AIG

The National Union Fire Insurance Company sells and provides insurance products to consumers and businesses. It operates as a subsidiary of American International Group, Inc. (“AIG“) (formerly Chartis U.S., Inc.). The CEO of NUFIC is Mr. John Q. Doyle.  NUFIC’s primary place of business is located at 70 Pine St., New York, NY 10270. Their phone number is (212) 770-7000.  AIG is led by Mr. Robert H. Benmosche, whose yearly compensation is $10,573,900.  According to documents filed with the SEC, “In March 2012, the National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (NUFI), an AIG Property Casualty company, became a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Pittsburgh.”

AIG

American International Group, Inc.

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Legal Discussion: Foreign Driver’s Licenses in Massachusetts & International College Students

Issue:

Do validly licensed foreign college students in the Commonwealth temporarily for school have an obligation to obtain Massachusetts Drivers Licenses? If so, what are the time frames that govern these requirements? If they remain in Massachusetts for over a year without leaving the U.S., does that change things?

Example A: Alfred, who is a citizen of Spain, has a valid driver’s license from Spain. He is admitted to Boston College and purchases a car upon arrival. Alfred registers the car in the Commonwealth. Must he obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license immediately? Can he drive here on his Spanish license temporarily? If so, how long does he have before the Spanish license becomes invalid here?

Example B: Assume same facts as above, except that Alfred returns home each summer for vacation and then returns in the fall. How does leaving and re-entering the country affect this situation?

Example C: Upon graduation, Alfred remains in Spain through the summer, then comes back to Massachusetts for a job. He does not obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license. Does the Commonwealth honor his Spanish driver’s license indefinitely? At what point must he obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license?

Answer:

It depends.

First, it is necessary to determine whether the foreign driver’s license in question is honored in the United States at all.  That depends on whether the license was issued by a country which is one of the Parties to the 1949 Road Traffic Convention and the 1943 Inter-American Automotive Traffic Convention.

Explanation of the 1949 Road Traffic Convention and its application:

  • According the 1949 Road Traffic Convention, a non-resident foreign student from one of the countries listed therein who is at least 18 years of age and is validly licensed in his/her home country can drive a passenger type of vehicle authorized by the license for up to one (1) year in the U.S. on the valid foreign license.
  • If he/she is still here at the end of the 12-month year, they lose the right to operate a motor vehicle on their foreign license in the U.S.
  • If the student goes home at the end of the academic year and returns the following academic year (leaves in May-June and returns in September) then, a new one (1) calendar year period is established on return in September.
Driver's license from Brazil, as issued in the...

Brazilian Driver’s License
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Job Seekers: Be Alert to FCRA Violations!

Companies often violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when screening applicants.

Generally, there are five very important requirements that employers must follow when seeking an investigative consumer background report  on employees or applicants.

Employers must:

  • Make a clear and accurate written disclosure to the employee/applicant of its intent to obtain the investigative consumer report;
  • Obtain express authorization from the employee/applicant to obtain the investigative consumer report;
  • Give the employee/applicant a pre-adverse action notice if the employer plans to take an adverse action against the employee/applicant based on the information contained in the investigative consumer report;
  • Provide the employee/applicant with an adverse action notice after taking the adverse action;
  • Provide an updated “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” to employees/applicants when an employer provides the pre-adverse action notice.

If you have applied for a job, and the prospective employer failed to meet any of the above requirements, you are invited to contact us.

Federal law provides for stiff monetary penalties against FCRA violators.

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Class Action Investigation: Are Micro Center’s Return Policies Unlawful?

Some consumers in Massachusetts have complained about making software purchases at Microcenter, and then finding they cannot return the software at all because the box has been opened.  If you have purchased software or games from Micro Center and were refused an opportunity to return the item, you are invited to contact us.

Micro Center - Cambridge MA

Micro Center – Cambridge MA

Refund, Return, and Cancellation Policies  & Massachusetts Law 

Below is a direct quote from the MA Attorney General’s website:

“Massachusetts law requires merchants to disclose their refund, return, and cancellation policies prior to the consummation of a transaction. A seller can have any type of return policy it wants – “all sales final,” “merchandise credit only,” “full cash refunds within 30 days,” and so on. A seller’s refund, return, or cancellation policy must be disclosed to the buyer clearly and conspicuously before the transaction is completed. Usually, this is done by means of a sign at the point of purchase. If a return policy is only listed on the sales receipt, that is not considered clear and conspicuous prior disclosure, as you only get a receipt after the sale is completed.

You may return goods within a reasonable period of time if no return policy was disclosed. Restrictions in return policies do not apply to defective goods – goods which cannot be used as intended, such as the toaster that will not toast or a television that does not get a picture. The store is required to give you a choice of a refund, repair or replacement.

A seller cannot misrepresent its refund, return, or cancellation policy, or fail to honor any promises about it. Specially-ordered merchandise may have additional restrictions.”

Are Micro Center’s Return Policies Deceptive, Unfair, and Unlawful?

Below is an actual Micro Center receipt that discloses a special policy regarding software purchases. Since it is on the bottom of the receipt, this disclosure is obviously made post-transaction.

Micro Center receipt

Micro Center receipt

Zooming in to the fine print on the sales receipt:

Microcenter - Receipt (return policy) (2)

Can Micro Center customers return software or not?  Why does Micro Center’s posted return policy even use the phrase “If you need to return software”?

"If you need to return software"

“If you need to return software”

Micro Center’s Return Policy

Mirco Center Return Policy

Micro Center Return Policy

Micro Center’s return policy is posted on the back wall near the service desk area at the Cambridge Store. It is also in the Micro Center website.  The policy is found at: http://www.microcenter.com/site/customer-support/return-policy.aspx and backed up as a .PDF on this site’s servers: Microcenter return policy.

Micro Center Return Policy

“New merchandise may be exchanged or returned for refund with your original packing slip subject to the conditions listed below. Micro Center® reserves the right to decline any return or exchange where the product is not in “like-new” condition. “Like-new” means the complete product in the original carton with all equipment, packaging, warranties, manuals and accessories. Returns / exchanges require an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) Number, which is valid for 10 days. To obtain an RMA Number, contact Customer Service. Shipping charges incurred in connection with the exchange or return of new merchandise are non-refundable.

We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund — and you won’t even need a receipt.* We want you to be satisfied with your Micro Center purchase. However, if you need help or need to return an item, we’re here for you!

If an item you have purchased from us is not working as expected, please visit one of our in-store Knowledge Experts for free help, where they can solve your problem or even exchange the item for a product that better suits your needs.
If you need to return an item, simply bring it back to any Micro Center store for a full refund or exchange. *If you are a Micro Center Insider or if you have provided us with validated contact information (name, address, email address), you won’t even need your receipt.

Desktop / notebook computers, tablets, processors, motherboards, digital cameras, camcorders and projectors, and CD/DVD duplicators may be returned within 15 days of purchase. All other products may be returned within 30 days of purchase. Merchandise must be in new condition, with original carton / UPC, and all packaging / accessories / materials. If you need to return software, a game or a movie, remember that you may not retain any copies — it’s not legal, and it’s not nice (emphasis added).

Wireless Phones & Devices
Wireless phones and devices may be returned within 14 days of purchase. When returning a wireless phone or device with a plan, you are responsible for ensuring that your service is cancelled with the carrier. If you don’t cancel your service, you may incur additional charges from your carrier. All carrier charges are your responsibility.

Refunds will take up to 14 business days to process from the date that Micro Center receives the merchandise, and will be credited to the credit card or debit card account used for the original purchase.

PLEASE SAVE YOUR PACKING SLIP

Please note that we are not responsible for expenses, fees or other costs incurred by our Customers as a result of defective or incompatible products.

For further information on how to return merchandise online, click on the following link: How to Return an item to Micro Center Online. Merchandise is deemed returned online on the date that an RMA is obtained provided that Micro Center receives the merchandise within 10 days of the issuance of the RMA. Merchandise received after the expiration of 10 days from the date of issuance of the RMA is deemed to be returned online on the date that Micro Center receives the merchandise, and Micro Center may exercise the rights and remedies set forth in the Terms of Sale including, but not limited to, the right to refuse to accept delivery of the merchandise and to charge the customer the retail price of the merchandise plus a handling charge. You may also return or exchange new merchandise at your local Micro Center store in accordance with the return policy of that store.”

About Microcenter

According to Bloomberg, Micro Center is a privately held company with a primary place of business at 4119 Leap Road, Hilliard, OH 43026. The compay was founded in 1979. The primary phone number is (614) 850-3000. Website: www.microcenter.com.

Micro Center Locations

California
 Orange County/Tustin
Colorado
 Denver/Denver Tech Center
Georgia
 Greater Atlanta/Duluth
 Greater Atlanta/Marietta
Illinois
 Chicagoland/Central
 Chicagoland/Westmont
Kansas
 Kansas City/Overland Park
Massachusetts
 Boston/Cambridge
Maryland
 Beltway/Rockville 
 Baltimore/Towson
Michigan
 Detroit/Madison Heights
Minnesota
 Twin Cities/St. Louis Park
Missouri
 St. Louis/Brentwood
New Jersey
 North Jersey/Paterson
New York
 Long Island/Westbury
 Westchester County/Yonkers
Ohio
 Central Ohio/Columbus
 Northeast Ohio/Mayfield Hts.
 Cincinnati/Sharonville
Pennsylvania
 Philadelphia/St. Davids
Texas
 Houston/West Loop
 Dallas Metroplex/Richardson
Virginia
 Northern Virginia/Fairfax

Pissed Consumer (67 Complaints)

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Brooks Brothers Faces Privacy Class Action

Brooks Brothers Logo

Massachusetts law prohibits businesses from requesting and recording a customer’s personal identification when accepting payment by credit card.  Leonard Law Office, LLP and Bailey & Glasser, LLP are representing Massachusetts consumers in a privacy class action against Brooks Brothers, filed in August, 2013.

If you have received junk mailing from Brooks Brothers after using a credit/debit card at a retail location and providing Brooks Brothers with your zip code or home address, you are invited to contact us.

Brooks Brothers Newbury St

Brooks Brothers – Newbury St.

The Class Action Complaint alleges:

  • Brooks Brothers requests customers’ zip codes when they make a purchase using a credit card.
  • Brooks Brothers has a policy of automatically requesting a customer’s zip code in all credit or debit card transactions, and, if provided, recording the zip code electronically in connection with the transaction.
  • Brooks Brothers has a policy of using its customers’ zip codes, and information obtained from third party databases to send marketing materials to customers.
  • Brooks Brothers has a policy of sharing this information with other Brooks Brothers brands.
  • Brooks Brothers’ policies harm Massachusetts consumers by subjecting them to unwanted junk mail, and other marketing without their consent, and using customers’ personal information without their consent for its own business purposes. Continue reading

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Urban Outfitters Faces Privacy Class Action in Massachusetts

The Leonard Law Office, LLP is representing clients regarding credit card privacy claims against Urban Outfitters. This class action, alleging violations of Massachusetts privacy and consumer protection laws, was filed on August 15, 2013. If you have received “junk mail” from Urban Outfitters, you are welcome to contact us.

Urban Outfitters - Massachusetts Ave.

Urban Outfitters – Massachusetts Ave.

Information about the class action lawsuit against Urban Outfitters

The complaint alleges that Urban Outfitters collected ZIP codes at checkout at its Massachusetts stores from customers who made purchases with credit cards, recorded that information as part of credit card transactions, and then used that information for marketing purposes, including to send unsolicited marketing and promotional materials, or “junk mail.” The complaint further alleges that: Continue reading

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Papa John’s – “Never Frozen” Dough?

There is a dramatic controversy unfolding about claims made by pizza chain retailer Papa John’s.

The box claims:

“Better pizza. Better ingredients.” The CEO’s statement on the box says: “When I founded Papa John’s in 1984, my mission was to build a better pizza,” says “Papa” John Schnatter. “I went the extra mile to ensure we used the highest quality ingredients available – like fresh, never frozen original dough, all-natural sauce, veggies sliced fresh daily and 100 percent real beef and pork. We think you’ll taste the difference.”

Papa John's Pizza Box

Papa John’s Pizza Box

A recent article, entitled What Papa John’s Doesn’t Want You to Know About Its Continue reading

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Equity Residential Faces Class Action Lawsuit About Heat and Water (Habitability) Issues at the Walden Park Apartments

Update (3/31/14)

"If you notice water intrusion..."

“If you notice any water intrusion…”

 

Update (2/20/14)

Below is an email from Equity Residential to residents of Walden Park:

From: Walden Park <waldenpark@eqr.com>
Date: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Subject: Heat System Shut Down
To: waldenpark@eqr.com

Dear Residents, 

We want to inform you that we had to temporarily shut off the heat in the 225 building due to an emergency situation. We currently have plumbers onsite and are working on the issue. We hope to have it restored around 5PM this afternoon. We will keep you informed throughout the day. 

The office staff if offering pizza and drinks down in the Community Room around 1PM. Please come down and help yourself to lunch! We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. 

Please contact the leasing office with any other questions or concerns you may have. Thank you again for your understanding and patience. 

Walden Park 
(617) 868-1151 
my.equityapartments.com

*     *     *     *

Update (2/15/14)

On February 12, 2014, a Massachusetts Federal Judge issued an eighteen page opinion (PDF) remanding (sending back) this case to state court, summarizing: “[b]ecause Equity ‘has not demonstrated a reasonable probability that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million,’ the case must be remanded. ” We continue to receive complaints from tenants about heat and hot water problems at this apartment complex.

*     *     *     *

Original Post (4/15/13)

Equity Residential now faces its sixth class action lawsuit in Massachusetts since 2012. This is believed to set the record for the most class action lawsuits against one company in any one year period in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Leonard Law Office, and the Law Offices of Joshua N. Garick P.C. filed suit against Equity Residential on behalf of tenants of the Walden Park Apartments in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Leonard Law Office is representing Massachusetts consumers in two other class actions against Equity Residential.

If you reside at the Walden Park Apartments, you are welcome to contact us about heating issues such as lack of hot water or inadequate heat in your apartment.  

THE SUIT SEEKS $3M IN DAMAGES FOR TENANTS

Case Documents:

1. Class Action Complaint (PDF).

220-225 Walden St. (Walden Park Apartments)

220-225 Walden St. (Walden Park Apartments)

The complaint alleges: “On November 4, 2011, Equity acquired Walden Park, which includes two large apartment buildings located at 205 and 225 Walden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Walden Park has approximately 250 apartment units. When Equity acquired Walden Park, the heating and hot water systems were fully operable and in good working order. The plaintiffs entered into a written lease agreement with Walden Park’s previous owner, the Dolben Company, to rent the apartment located at 225 Walden Park, Cambridge, MA. When the Dolben Company owned Walden Park, the plaintiffs had no issues with the heat or hot water system. After Equity acquired Walden Park, issues with Equity-provided utilities, including heat and hot water, began. Starting in April of 2012, and continuing for well over a year thereafter until the present date, the plaintiffs and the Class experienced significant deficiencies and outages with the heat and hot water, including, without limitation, issues on the following dates:

May 8, 2012
May 12,2012
May 16,2012
June 27, 2012
August 23, 2012
October 20, 2012
October 21,2012
October 23, 2012
November 1, 2012
November 3, 2012
November 6, 2012
November 7, 2012
November 16, 2012
November 17, 2012
November 19,2012
March 28, 2013
April 3,2013
April 10, 2013
April 17, 2013
April 18, 2013
April23, 2013
June 6, 2013
June 25, 2013
August 15, 2013

These outages were systemic, and affected all Walden Park units. Over the course of this year, Equity exhibited no urgency in resolving these issues and provided misleading and contradictory reasons for shutting off the utilities. These reasons included, among other stated reasons, conversion from oil to natural gas, a water conservation project, a heating and cooling project, fuel supply/consumption issues, operator error, and automatic shutdowns. The problem was so egregious that the Cambridge Board of Health, which received numerous reports from Walden Park residents, cited Equity for violations of the State Sanitary Code, and deemed the violations to materially impair the health, safety or well-being of the Walden Park’s residents. On numerous occasions, the plaintiffs, (as well as other Walden Park residents) complained to Equity’s staff including complaints by telephone, e-mail and in person. These complaints were not resolved, forcing the plaintiffs to pursue formal litigation against Equity.” The Complaint further alleges that Equity Residential Equity backed out of a settlement deal reached earlier this month between Equity’s lawyers, and attorneys representing tenants.

Equity Residential & Cambridge Inspectional Services Division (ISD) Violations

Violation

Violation – “Deemed to Endgr. or Impair Health of Safety”

Equity Residential Walden St. Apartments, Cambridge, MA

Equity Residential Walden St. Apartments, Cambridge, MA

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LexisNexis Class Action Investigation

Under Investigation: LexisNexis

Has LexisNexis robocalled your cell phone? Are you a lawyer (or nonlawyer) and they won’t stop calling your cell?

Complaints about LexisNexis Sales Calls

Whocallsme.com:

Example:
Received two calls from this number (585-200-5316) on my cell phone at 7:35 this morning while I was still in bed and the phone was on my nightstand. No message left. If this is Nexis-Lexis calling, I can assure them my law firm will no longer be doing business with them as well. BTW, if you get telemarketing calls on your cell phone, just assign the calling number a silent ring tone – problem solved.”

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Class Action Investigation: Protein Powders — Prolab Advanced Essential Whey Protein Powder & Others

Protein Powders — Separating Fact from Fiction

ProLabs Advanced Essential Whey

ProLab Advanced Essential Whey

A recent study found that some popular protein powders had serious deficiencies.

  • less protein than claimed on packaging
  • more carbs than claimed on packaging
  • undisclosed Lead

Many athletes spend money on protein powders looking for increases in lean muscle mass and to improve their overall fitness and health.  Thinking they are getting a certain amount of protein, come athletes and body builders plan workouts and food intake around  what they think is in a particular protein supplement. If you have information or complaints about protein powders, please contact us.

According to a ConsumerLab.com study published June 11, 2013, “31% of Protein Powders and DrinksFlunk Tests of Quality.”

A few of the study’s conclusions:

If you have purchased ProLabs protein products, you may have been misled.

The following protein prouducts were tested (problems were found with 5)

  1. Atkins Day Break
  2. Body Fortress Whey Isolate
  3. Dymatize Nutrition Elite Casein
  4. EAS 100% Whey Protein
  5. Endurox R4
  6. Genisoy Soy Protein Shake
  7. GNC AMP Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60
  8. GNC Pro Performance 100% Whey Protein
  9. GNC Total Lean – Lean Shake 25
  10. GNC Total Lean – Lean Shake
  11. Jay Robb Whey Protein
  12. Marked 100% Whey Protein Complex Gourmet
  13. Marked Mass Gainer Gourmet
  14. Metagenics UltraMeal Rice
  15. MET-RX Engineered Nutrition Meal Replacement
  16. Muscletech Nitro Tech
  17. Nature’s Bounty Optimal Solutions Complete Protein Vitamin
  18. Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein
  19. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg
  20. Prolab Advanced Essential Whey
  21. Pure Protein Shake
  22. Shakeology Greenberry
  23. Six Star Pro Nutrition Whey Protein Plus
  24. Slim Fast 3-2-1 Plan Shake Mix
  25. Solgar Whey To Go The Biggest Loser Protein Powder
  26. Twinlab Whey Fuel Triple Thick

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Class Action Investigation: Efax “Free Trial” Billing Issues

Some consumers have complained that efax makes it difficult to cancel after signing up for the efax free trial, and have been billed for monthly efax service, despite cancelling, or attempting to cancel. If you have information or complaints to share about efax, please contact us.

ScreenHunter_12 Jul. 17 17.48

efax

Questions About Efax

Does efax intentionally make it difficult to cancel their service? Does efax continue to charge consumers and small businesses even though they have requested that the service and billing be discontinued?  Is the efax free trial essentially a scam that results in overbilling or bogus charges to credit cards?

efax free trial

efax free trial

Why is it so Hard to Cancel an efax Free 30 Day Trial?

Failed Efax Cancellation Attempt

Failed Efax Cancellation Attempt

Complaints About efax

The Internet is littered with complaints about efax billing practices:

Ripoffreport (92 complaints)

Continue reading

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Filed under Class Action Investigations

Ocwen – A Company To Be Wary Of?

INVESTIGATION CLOSED — PLEASE REFER COMPLAINTS TO:

Ocwen is a mortgage servicing company headquartered in Florida.  A “mortgage servicer” is a debt collector by another name. Ocwen’s phone number is (561) 682-8000. Ocwen (Ocwen Financial Corporation) is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol OCN.

Ocwen

Complaints about Ocwen

Complaints at Consumeraffairs.com (408 complaints)

Complaints at RipoffReport.com (2,026 complaints)

Complaints at Complaints.com (45 complaints)

Complaints at Complaintsboard.com (682)

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Under Investigation: Derma Silk

Questions about DermaSilk — False Advertising?

Many skin creams and serums make anti-aging and anti-wrinkle claims, but few are as aggressive as the claims made by the DermSilk line of products.

Question:

Does using DermaSilk products result in any of the results listed below?

-  “…Age Erasing” effects”

-  “Reverses the effects of aging while you sleep”

-  “Reduces the appearance of wrinkles, crow’s feet, smile lines, dull skin.”

- “Turn back the clock on aging”

-  “…age reversing effects”

-  “…age reversing complex”

-  “…delivers a regenerating complex designed to reverse the effects of aging while you sleep.”

-  “…diminishing the appearance of skin damage, and restoring a youthful appearance.”

-  “…reduces the appearance of existing facial wrinkles”

-  “…relaxes ‘crease memory’ and offers long-term relief from visible laugh lines and crow’s feet.”

-  “multi-action age-reversers”

(DermaSilk Night Repairing Face Lift “Age-Erasing Skin Repair”)

DermaSilk night face lift

DermaSilk Night Repairing Face Lift “Age-Erasing Skin Repair”

The DermaSilk Anti Aging Product Line:


1 Minute Collagen Lift
5 Minute Beauty Peel
1 Minute Wrinkle Erase Pen
Night Repairing Face Lift
Skin Perfect
Flawless
5 Minute Face Lift
90 Second Eye Lift
Miracle Cream

Information about DermaSilk

DermaSilk is a product of Biotech International Corporation in Glastonbury Connecticut.  According to records held by the Connecticut Secretary of State [PDF], Biotech International Corporation was incorporated under the laws of Connecticut in 1994. Biotech’s principal place of business is 65 Kreiger Lane, Glastonbury, CT, 06033, and is led by Gregory J. Kelly, President and C.E.O. The company’s customer service number is (800) 886-9052, website: http://www.dermasilk.org.

According to the website,

  • “Biotech Corporation understands very well how both women and men feel about this change in their skin. For over fifteen years, we have been dedicated to anti-aging research in the field of cosmetics. The Biotech Corporation is a cutting edge cosmetics company. With our development of DermaSilk® Anti-Wrinkle we believe we have finally unlocked the secret to overcoming the natural signs of aging by reducing the appearance of aging skin. With DermaSilk we can all face the future with confidence and grace.”
  • “DISCLAIMER: DermaSilk is intended solely for use as an anti-aging cosmetic; DermaSilk is not intended as a substitute for cosmetic or medical procedures.”

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