Civil Accomplishments

Below are some of the Consumer Protection Division's civil achievements in 2018:

Debt Collection Practices:

Williamson & McKevie, LLC and Greg Williamson, Individually – The Georgia Department of Law, Consumer Protection Division alleged that this Georgia debt collector repeatedly harassed and deceived consumers by:

  • Threatening consumers with arrest or imprisonment if they did not pay an alleged debt;
  • Falsely representing that consumers had committed criminal acts and that a lawsuit was about to be filed unless the debt was paid, when such was not the case;
  • Falsely implying that representatives were attorneys rather than disclosing that they were, in fact, debt collectors;
  • Contacting third-parties and divulging information about the debtors’ accounts; and
  • Failing to disclose that they were attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained would be used for that purpose,

in violation of both the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  The company settled the case by entering into a comprehensive settlement.  Not only is the company required to comply with all provisions of the FBPA and FDCPA in the future, but it ceased collections on 10,922 debt accounts and turned those accounts over to the Attorney General so that they could not be sold or collected upon in the future.  This portfolio represented a total of $8.79 million dollars in purported consumer debt.  The company also agreed to restrictions on its ability to knowingly collect, or attempt to collect, time-barred dates.  The company was obligated to pay a $20,000 civil penalty, and could be required to pay an additional $230,000 penalty should it violate any provision of the settlement within the 5-year monitoring period. 

Encore Capital Group Inc., Midland Credit Management, Inc. and Midland Funding, LLC – Georgia joined 41 other states and the District of Columbia in a multi-state settlement with Encore Capital Group Inc., one of the nation’s largest debt buyers, and its subsidiaries Midland Credit Management, Inc. and Midland Funding, LLC.  The settlement resolves the states’ investigation into Midland’s collection and litigation practices, including claims that Midland signed and filed affidavits in state courts in large volumes without verifying the information printed in them, a practice commonly called robo-signing.  Midland was required to reform its affidavit signing and litigation practices.  In addition, Midland must completely eliminate or reduce the judgment balances of approximately 5,136 Georgia consumers for a value of $8,729,180 in cases where Midland used an affidavit against them in court between 2003 and 2009.  In addition, Midland set aside $25,000 per state to compensate consumers who may have paid Midland money that the consumer did not owe.  Midland must maintain proper supervision and direction over the training of its employees and the law firms that it uses, and is prohibited from reselling debt for two years.  In addition, Midland agreed to pay $6 million dollars to the states, of which Georgia’s share is $177,781. 

National Check Resolution, Inc. entered into an $8.5 million dollar settlement with our agency in response to allegations that the debt collection company, owner Samuel Tulumello and manager Rhonda Tulumello committed multiple violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act by:

  • Representing to consumers that the consumers had committed a crime and threatening them with arrest or imprisonment if they did not pay the debt;
  • Falsely representing themselves as attorneys, legal couriers or government representatives;
  • Failing to disclose that they were debt collectors attempting to collect a debt;
  • Contacting third-parties and then divulging to them information about the debtor’s account; and
  • Collecting, or attempting to collect, debts from Georgia consumers which had resulted from payday loans, which are illegal under Georgia law. 

 Under the settlement, National Check Resolution ceased collections on 11,980 accounts it owned (representing $8,500,338.72 in purported consumer debt) and turned those accounts over to the Attorney General.  In addition, the company paid a $20,000 civil penalty and must comply fully with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act in the future.  If, during a three-year monitoring period, the company violates any provisions of the settlement, an additional $240,000 civil penalty will immediately become due. 

Debt Adjustment:

Georgia’s Debt Adjustment Act requires companies offering debt adjustment services to file annual insurance information and audit records with the Attorney General, and to cap all fees for its services at no more than 7.5% of the amounts paid monthly by consumers for distribution to their respective creditors.  Collected monies must be maintained in a separate escrow account and disbursed to creditors within 30 days.

In two separate actions, Attorney General Carr alleged that First Premier Credit LLC, a debt relief company, and Herschel Bentley, Individually and US Student Loan Center, Inc., an entity offering loan consolidation of student loans, were unlawfully engaged in the practice of debt adjustment for a fee.

First Premier Credit failed to file the required documentation with the Georgia Department of Law, Consumer Protection Division, before the company renegotiated, settled, reduced or otherwise altered the terms of consumer debts, and collected fees from consumers in excess of the allowable 7.5% amount.  Consumers also alleged that the business took money from their account, but failed to apply the payments to their debts.

Bentley and US Student Loan Center offered the consolidation of student loans without first filing the statutorily required information pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 18-5-3.1, collected advance payments for services from consumers, and collected a fee which exceeded the allowable 7.5% monthly cap.

In settlement of these allegations, both companies agreed to cease and refrain from performing and/or offering debt adjustment or debt settlement services in the future to Georgia consumers.  Each company also agreed to:

  • Within 10 days from the date of settlement, remove all mention of Georgia from its marketing materials, including the website, except for a disclosure stating that the company does not provide services in Georgia;
  • Affirmatively place this notice “These services are not available to Georgia residents.” on the  company’s website, contracts and promotional materials;
  • Re-train staff to refrain from offering services to Georgia residents;
  • Develop and implement policies to ensure compliance with the agreement;
  • Provide documentation, including copies of revised scripts, to prove compliance procedures to this office; and
  • Respond in the future within 5 days to inquiries from this office.

Bentley and US Student Loan Center paid a $5,000 civil penalty and provided almost $33,000 in restitution to Georgia consumers. 

Credit Repair and Pawn Shops:

Instant Good Credit LLC also doing business as Peachtree Credit Solutions, LLC and Peachtree Credit Repair, LLC and Stanley Foster, Individually – This officealleged that Instant Good Credit advertised and sold for a fee credit repair-related services to consumers, but did not operate within any of the exceptions that would legally permit them to do so in Georgia.  The company also misrepresented to consumers that they could improve the consumers' credit history, record, or rating without adequately disclosing that accurate negative credit information may not be able to be removed.  Instant Good Credit required payment in advance, in violation of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act.  The company and Stanley Foster, individually, agreed to cease current activities and to refrain from engaging in any activity prohibited by O.C.G.A. § 16-9-59. 

Complete Cash Holdings LLC is a title pawn company.  The business and its owner, Kent Popham, entered into a court-filed Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with this office in response to allegations that it violated the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act and the Georgia Pawn Shop Act.  When some of Complete Cash’s customers defaulted on their loans, the company sued them for the outstanding principal, interest and fees, which is not permitted in pawn transactions.  The business’ only legal recourse, as defined by statute, is to require the consumer to turn over his/her vehicle.  If the consumer refuses to do so voluntarily, the business can repossess the vehicle.  The settlement requires Complete Cash Holdings and Popham to:

  • Dismiss all pending lawsuits against consumers in which the company attempted to hold them personally liable for principal, interest, fees and/or other costs associated with the title pawn transaction;
  • Have any judgments entered against such consumers set aside;
  • Dismiss any garnishments based on such judgments;
  • Have any writs of fieri facias based on such judgments canceled and the cancellation recorded;
  • Refund to such consumers all amounts that Complete Cash Holdings obtained as a result of its judgments;
  • Pay $35,000 in penalties and fees to the State of Georgia; and
  • Fully comply with the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act and the Georgia Pawn Shop Act from this point forward.

Should the company or Popham violate any terms of the settlement between now and December 1, 2020, an additional fine of $35,000 will be assessed.  

Automotive - Sales and Advertising:

WB McDonough, LLC d/b/a Toyota of McDonough is a Georgia franchise dealership.  This office alleged that this dealership engaged in numerous misrepresentations to consumers, including regularly misrepresenting the amount of discounts that consumers received on their vehicle purchases.  For example, the dealership allegedly claimed that the advertised price was discounted from some larger, usually arbitrary, figure in order to suggest that the consumers were receiving a better sale than they actually were, or at other times, offering a discount of several thousand dollars, but then requiring the purchase of additional products which effectively eliminated the discount.  We further alleged that the dealership routinely inflated the amount of taxes and tag fees charged to consumers.  Although these misrepresentations were usually corrected by the time the consumer finally purchased his or her vehicle, misrepresentations appeared to be part of a general scheme to suggest to consumers that they were receiving a better deal than they actually were.  Finally, the company allegedly failed to consistently honor its advertised prices by excluding its dealership document fee from advertised prices despite the dealer's requirement that all purchasers pay this fee as a condition to purchase a vehicle.  It was only later, at the time of sale, that the dealership informed purchasers of this additional charge.  

These practices were particularly concerning given that Toyota of McDonough had executed two previous civil settlements in 2010 and 2014 with this consumer protection agency.  In particular, the 2010 agreement involved the dealership overcharging consumers for title fees.  The 2014 settlement involved, among other things, the dealership's failure to honor its advertised prices by adding mandatory dealership fees to the advertisement price once consumers attempted to purchase vehicles.  In resolution of this matter, Toyota of McDonough executed a court-filed document requiring it to amend its practices, refunded approximately $44,000 to consumers, and paid $40,000 to the State of Georgia in fees and penalties.

Carey Paul, Inc. d/b/a Carey Paul Honda – Attorney General Carr alleged that this automotive dealership regularly charged all used car purchasers an emission inspection fee.  By law, if a car dealer is selling a vehicle to a consumer living in one of 13 metro-Atlanta counties (Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale) the dealer must ensure that the vehicle has passed an emissions test and has a valid, unexpired certificate of emissions. Carey Paul, however, charged purchasers the $25 cost for the emission test.  This office views this practice as unfair cost shifting since the legislature explicitly tasked car dealers, not car buyers, with the responsibility of ensuring certain vehicles have a passing emission test.  Thus, it is the dealer, not the consumer, who should shoulder the costs associated with those tests.  Additionally, Carey Paul charged some consumers for this fee even when their vehicle did not require an emissions certificate.  Finally, Carey Paul omitted its documentation fee and destination charges for new vehicles from some of its advertised vehicle prices, resulting in the practice of not selling the advertised vehicle for the price advertised.  In resolution of these allegations, the dealership entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance and was required to change its practices, refund all emission fees charged during a 15-month period, pay restitution to over 1,000 consumers totaling $24,417, and pay $10,000 to the State of Georgia in civil penalties and fees. 

TK Holdings, Inc. – This office, along with 43 states and the District of Columbia, entered into a multi-state settlement with TK Holdings, Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Takata, over allegations that the company concealed safety issues related to its airbag systems, which had been installed in a wide variety of vehicles.  The recalls involved the use of phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (“PSAN”) to inflate the airbags upon deployment.  As the compound became exposed to heat and humidity over time, particularly in the warmer and wetter parts of the U.S., the propellant degraded.  Consequently, upon deployment the inflator could rupture explosively, destroying the metal casing surrounding the propellant and spraying shrapnel into the vehicle’s passenger cabin.  At least 20 people have died worldwide and hundreds more have been injured as a result of this defect.  Beginning in 2008, auto manufacturers issued a number of recalls of vehicles containing these airbag inflators in response to ruptures upon deployment of the airbag.   More than 50 million airbags in more than 37 million vehicles have been recalled to date, with future recalls anticipated through the end of 2019, bringing the anticipated total number of affected airbags to around 65 or 70 million. 

The settlement alleges that the company knew that the airbag inflator posed a safety defect because of testing failures and, indeed, TK Holdings, Inc.’s parent company pled guilty to manipulating testing data and submitting false and misleading reports to auto manufacturers.  The company knew about several ruptures which had occurred as early as 2004, but appropriate action in recalling these unsafe inflators did not occur until November 2014.  Under the consent decree and settlement, TK Holdings, Inc. and its successor, Reorganized TK Holdings, shall:

  • Not advertise, or otherwise represent, the safety of its airbag systems or phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate in any way that is false, deceptive, or misleading;
  • Not represent that its airbags are safe unless supported by competent and reliable scientific or engineering evidence;
  • Not falsify or manipulate testing data, or provide any testing data that the companies know is inaccurate;
  • Except as needed to fulfill its obligations under the various recalls, sell any airbag systems using PSAN as a propellant;
  • Comply with state and federal law as well as the NHTSA Consent Order and Coordinated Remedy Order; and
  • Continue to cooperate with auto manufacturers to ensure that replacement airbag inflators are made available as expeditiously as possible from all possible sources. 

TK Holdings, Inc. has also agreed to reimburse the multistate group for its investigative costs, and for the entry of stipulated civil penalty in the amount of $650 million dollars.  The multistate group agreed that, given the company’s pending bankruptcy and its inability to pay its debts, this penalty would be subordinated in order to maximize the recovery available to victims. 

Prime Motors LLC d/b/a Atlanta Luxury Motors Mall of Georgia– Atlanta Luxury Motors Mall of Georgia, which is a non-franchise motor vehicle dealer, sells luxury pre-owned vehicles.  Consumers reported that the business was:

  • Representing that motor vehicles were certified, when they were not,
  • Adding additional non-government fees onto the contract, and
  • Advertising prices which excluded mandatory non-government fees, such as the company’s document fee and the “customer service pack”.

Atlanta Luxury Motors settled these charges brought against them through the payment of a $5,000 penalty and an agreement to:

  • Refrain from representing that a vehicle is certified unless the business discloses the certifying party, provides a description of the parts and/or components that are certified, and identifies any and all warranties or guarantees contained within the certification;
  • Refrain from selling any vehicle which is being represented as certified as an “as-is” vehicle;
  • Refrain from suggesting, representing or implying that the certification for a vehicle is being offered by or through a manufacturer’s authorized program, as can only be offered by a franchise dealer;
  • Refrain from misrepresenting the manner in which the company acquired vehicles for resale (such as suggesting that the vehicle was obtained from a manufacturer’s leasing department, when such was not the case);
  • Ensure that all non-government fees or charges which are mandatory and must be paid as a condition of purchasing the vehicle from the business are included within all advertised vehicle prices; and
  • Act in compliance with Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act and other consumer protection laws.

Maxie Price Chevrolet Inc. – This office alleged that Maxie Price Chevrolet, a Georgia dealership, failed to honor its advertised vehicle prices.  The dealership advertised vehicle prices that included discounts or incentives that were not available to all purchasers.  It also required that in conjunction with a car purchase, consumers had to pay an "administrative and processing fee" of nearly $600.  Though payment of this fee is a required condition of purchase, the dealership excluded this fee from its advertisements and only later, at the time of sale, informed consumers of this additional fee.  These practices, which are in violation of the statutory prohibition against unfair and deceptive acts or practices, not only misrepresent the true cost of the vehicle to consumers, but also places those dealers who are pricing correctly at a considerable competitive disadvantage. 

Maxie Price Chevrolet settled the allegations by paying a $3,000 fine and ensuring that:

  • Charges for
    • required processing or dealer fees,
    • dealer options that are required to be purchased or have already been installed on advertised vehicles, and
    • non-government fees assessed for electronic titling services

are included within any advertised vehicle price; and

  • Advertised vehicle prices do not include incentives or discounts unless the incentive or discount is available to all purchasers.

RZ of Cedartown, LLC  d/b/a Rick Zoerb Ford – This office alleged thatRick Zoerb Ford violated Georgia law by adding mandatory non-government fees, in this case the company’s document fees, to advertised vehicle prices, and failing to pay to the State of Georgia the Lemon Law dealer fees collected for several quarters.  Rick Zoerb Ford resolved the matter through the payment of the delinquent Lemon Law fees and an agreement to include document fees in future advertised prices of its vehicles.  The company also paid a $2,000 fine.

Several other franchise motor vehicle dealers advertised vehicles for sale via the internet and the advertised prices excluded mandatory dealer and/or document fees charged on the sale of new or used vehicles.  The following dealers each signed a settlement document, made appropriate advertising changes and agreed to abide by the Fair Business Practices Act in the future.  

  • Chatham Motor Sales, Inc. d/b/a Chatham Parkway Toyota, which paid a $2,000 fine.
  • GGSM Automotive LLC d/b/a Riverside Buick, which paid a $2,000 penalty and paid consumer restitution of $597.
  • Roswell Infiniti, Inc. d/b/a Roswell Infiniti of North Atlanta, which paid a $2,000 penalty and restitution in the amount of $600.
  • Terry Cullen Southlake Chevrolet, Inc., which paid a $5,000 penalty and restitution of $624.

Collection of Lemon Law Fees:

The following new motor vehicle dealerships entered into settlements regarding their failure to forward Lemon Law fees collected from consumers to the State of Georgia in a timely manner:

  • Jim Hardman Buick GMC, Inc.
  • King's Colonial Ford, Inc.
  • Paul Thigpen Automotive Group, LLC d/b/a Paul Thigpen Chevrolet Buick GMC.
  • Prince of Albany, Inc. d/b/a Prince Chevrolet of Albany, which paid a fine.
  • Open Roads Complete RV Services LLC, which paid a fine.
  • Mitchell County Ford LLC.

Data Breach:

Uber Technologies, Inc. – The State of Georgia, along with 49 other states and the District of Columbia, settled with California-based ride-sharing company Uber Technologies, Inc. to address the company’s one-year delay in reporting a data breach to its affected drivers.  Uber learned in November 2016 that hackers had gained access to some personal information that Uber maintained about its drivers, including drivers’ license information for approximately 600,000 drivers nationwide.  Uber tracked down the hackers and obtained assurances that the hackers deleted the personal identifying information.  However, Uber failed to report the breach in a timely manner, waiting until a year later to do so.

As part of the nationwide settlement, Uber agreed to strengthen its corporate governance and data security practices to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.  The settlement required the company to:

  • Take precautions to protect any user data Uber stores on third-party platforms outside of Uber;
  • Adopt strong password policies for its employees who gain access to the Uber network;
  • Develop and implement a strong overall data security policy for all data that Uber collects about its users, including assessing potential risks to the security of the data, and implementing any additional security measures beyond what Uber was doing to protect the data;
  • Hire an outside qualified party to periodically assess Uber’s data security efforts and draft a report with any recommended security improvements, which will be implemented by Uber; and
  • Develop and implement a corporate integrity program to ensure that Uber employees can bring any ethics concerns they have about any other Uber employees to the company, and that the concerns will be heard.

Uber also agreed to pay $148 million to the states, with Georgia receiving $4,137,509.67. 

Other Deceptive Practices:

Wells Fargo Bank N.A. – Georgia took part, along 49 other states and the District of Columbia, in a multi-state settlement with Wells Fargo to address claims that the bank violated state consumer protection laws.  The states alleged that Wells Fargo:

  • Opened millions of unauthorized accounts and enrolled customers into online banking services without their knowledge or consent;
  • Improperly referred customers for enrollment in third-party renters and life insurance policies;
  • Improperly charged auto loan customers for force-placed and unnecessary collateral protection insurance;
  • Failed to ensure that customers received refunds for unearned premiums on certain optional auto finance products; and
  • Incorrectly charged customers for mortgage rate lock extension fees.

The states alleged that Wells Fargo imposed aggressive and unrealistic sales goals on bank employees and implemented an incentive compensation program under which employees could qualify for credit by selling certain products to customers.  The states alleged that the bank's sales goals and the incentive compensation program created an impetus for employees to engage in improper sales practices in order to satisfy such sales goals and earn financial rewards.  Those sales goals became increasingly harder to achieve over time, the states alleged, and employees who failed to meet them faced potential termination and career-hindering criticism from their supervisors and the company.  

The numbers are staggering.  More than 3.5 million Wells Fargo accounts have been identified in which customer accounts were opened, funds were transferred, credit card applications were filed, and debit cards were issued without the customers’ knowledge or consent.  528,000 online bill pay enrollments nationwide were created as the result of improper sales practices at the bank.  Wells Fargo improperly submitted more than 6,500 renters insurance or simplified term life insurance policy applications and charged payments from customer accounts without the customers’ knowledge or consent.  Wells Fargo improperly charged premiums, interest, and fees for force-placed collateral protection insurance to more than 2 million auto financing customers, despite evidence that the customers’ regular auto insurance policy was in effect, and despite numerous customer complaints about such unnecessary and duplicative insurance placements.   Wells Fargo failed to ensure that customers received proper refunds of unearned portions of optional Guaranteed Asset/Auto Protection (GAP) products sold as part of motor vehicle financing agreements.  Wells Fargo also improperly charged residential mortgage loan consumers over $100 million dollars for mortgage rate lock extension fees even when the delay was caused by Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo previously entered into consent orders with federal authorities – including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – related to its alleged conduct.  Wells Fargo has committed to provide, or already provided, restitution to consumers in excess of $600 million through its agreements with the OCC and CFPB, as well as through settlement of a related consumer class-action lawsuit, and is obligated to pay over $1 billion dollars in civil penalties to the federal government.  Additionally, under an order from the Federal Reserve, the bank is required to strengthen its corporate governance and controls, and is currently restricted from exceeding its total asset size.

Wells Fargo has agreed to provide remediation of more than $385 million to approximately 850,000 auto finance customers.  The remediation will include payments to over 51,000 customers whose cars were repossessed.   The bank has also agreed to provide refunds totaling more than $37 million to certain auto finance customers.  Wells Fargo has identified and contacted affected residential mortgage loan consumers and has refunded or agreed to refund over $100 million of mortgage rate lock extension fees.

Under the current settlement, Wells Fargo must create a Consumer Redress Review Program, which was rolled out in the 1st quarter of 2019, through which consumers who have not been made whole through other restitution programs already in place could seek review of their inquiry or complaint by a bank escalation team for possible relief.  The states will be monitoring the actions of this Consumer Redress Review Program.

Finally, Wells Fargo paid $575 million to the states in order to resolve state consumer protection claims for alleged unfair and deceptive trade practices. Georgia’s share of the settlement was $16,346,293.31. 

AmeriServ, Inc. and Joel Matthew Cobb, Individually – AmeriServ is a Georgia company that performs garage door installations and repairs.  Numerous Georgia consumers complained that the company and its owner, Joel Cobb, accepted payment for services and products, then failed to deliver them and refused to refund consumers’ money.  Additionally, when consumers subsequently attempted to cancel services, AmeriServ allegedly threatened to charge a 50% "restocking fee".  An investigation ensued and Attorney General Carr subsequently alleged that the company had engaged in unfair and deceptive practices for those practices.  We also alleged that AmeriServ engaged in false advertising regarding its accreditation by the BBB (including posting an accredited business logo and an "A+" BBB rating to its website), its licensing of technicians, and an "on-time" guarantee.  This office confirmed that during the entirety of the investigation AmeriServ was never awarded a BBB accreditation, and never had an "A+" rating, and at one time, even had an "F" rating from the BBB.  Another allegation addressed Ameriserve’s system of using various company names, various websites, and interchangeable telephone numbers, a practice which created consumer confusion as to the company with which business was being conducted.

AmeriServe settled the case and agreed to:

  • Restructure its business operations and to refrain from unfair and deceptive activities that are in violation of the Fair Business Practices Act;
  • Cease its policy of charging a "restocking fee'" when the company failed to perform; and
  • Eliminate a website which had been maintained under a different name and was contributing to consumer confusion.

AmeriServ paid $158,772.60 in consumer restitution and $41,227 to the State of Georgia in penalties. If the company failed to comply with any term of the settlement, an additional $100,000 immediately became due.

PHH Mortgage Corporation (“PHH”) is a mortgage-servicing and mortgage-originating business based in New Jersey, which was recently acquired by Ocwen Financial Corp.  The Attorney General alleged that the company marketed various third-party products and services, including insurance products and home warranty programs, to certain consumers whose mortgages it serviced, and then placed charges for these products and services on the consumers’ mortgage bills.  As a result of the manner in which the marketing was conducted, consumers may not have known, or did not know, that they had been enrolled for these items.  At the same time, because the reason for the added charges was not disclosed on the monthly consumer bills, the consumers were unaware that by paying their mortgages they were also paying for those unauthorized products and services.

PHH entered into a court-filed settlement document, an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, which required it to:

  • Comply with the Fair Business Practices Act;
  • Refrain from soliciting Georgia consumers for the purchase of and/or enrollment in third-party products and/or services;
  • Cease all billing for the products and services provided and fulfilled by third-parties;
  • Notify each consumer that it was currently billing for products and services provided and fulfilled by third-parties, that the consumer could cancel the remainder of the contract without penalty;
  • Pay $25,000 to fund a Consumer Restitution Trust Account, to be administered by the Attorney General, for consumers who paid fees for third-party products and services that, due to any of PHH’s solicitation or billing practices, the consumer alleges were not owed; and
  • Pay $50,000 in fines to the State.

In the event that PHH failed to comply with the settlement at any time during the 120-day monitoring period, an additional $50,000 penalty immediately became due.

Secure Data Rescue, LLC – Secure Data Rescue, which operates out of Duluth, provides data and hard drive recovery services.  Consumers alleged that they were dissatisfied with the services the company provided, and when that fact was brought to the company’s attention, Secure Data Rescue threatened to sell consumers’ private data in order to settle the disputes.  In order to resolve this case, Secure Data Rescue agreed to:

  • Ensure that all communications with consumers clearly stated that there was no guarantee that all data is recoverable;
  • Ensure that proper procedures as set forth and required by Georgia law are followed as related to "records" containing "personal information";
  • Change company policy which at that time transferred ownership of "personal information" to the company, thereby authorizing the company to sell consumer “records" containing "personal information" to third-parties, in a violation of O.C.G.A. § 10-15-2; and
  • Respond within no more than five days to future inquiries by this office.

Hilton Grand Vacations LLC -   Hilton Grand Vacations is a vacation ownership company.  Attorney General Carr alleged that:

  • Consumers who had purchased timeshares from Hilton Grand Vacations were unable to make desired reservations due to a lack of availability at the resorts, despite specific assurances to the contrary by the company’s sales and marketing personnel, as well as through the sales and marketing materials which had been shown or distributed to consumers at the time of purchase;
  • The company’s sales and marketing personnel made representations inconsistent with the terms of the timeshare contract.  Some of the misrepresentations included statements or promises that a consumer could book a property on a specific week when that consumer had purchased a “season,” that maintenance fees do not increase, that a consumer can easily resell his or her timeshare, that a consumer can make money on the timeshare, and that the purchase of a timeshare is an investment through which equity could be built;
  • Telemarketers utilized by Hilton Grand Vacations initiated contact with consumers under misleading pretexts, such as falsely claiming that they were offering exclusive deals to select customers, when those deals were in fact available to all consumers; and 
  • The telemarketers offered discounted vacation packages without disclosing that the discount was conditioned upon attendance at a timeshare presentation, the package could have extra fees, and the package had certain restrictions that made it difficult to use. 

In settlement, the Hilton Grand Vacations agreed to:

  • Refrain from falsely asserting or implying to Georgia consumers that:
    • A reservation is available at any given time at any of the properties for any given type of unit, when making such a reservation is, or was likely to be, not possible;
    • The ability to make a reservation at any property at any given time is guaranteed, especially during popular vacation times like platinum season, ski season, or over the holidays;
    • A consumer can build equity in or make money on a timeshare, or that a timeshare is an investment;
    • The consumer will recoup all, or most, of the amount of the purchase price should the consumer choose to resell the timeshare; and
    • A package, discount, or prize is for a select group of people (e.g., military servicemembers, Hilton customers) when the package, discount, or prize is available to others not included the select group; and
    • Refrain from making representations or implications about property availability without having such knowledge of, or access to, property occupancy information;
    • Affirmatively disclose in a clear and conspicuous manner before a consumer is presented with any contract documents that reservations at Hilton Grand Vacations’ properties are subject to availability;
    • Act in compliance with the Fair Business Practices Act, including the prize promotion provisions found at O.C.G.A. § 10-1-393(b)(16);
    • Develop, implement, and maintain policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the settlement and re-train company staff in accordance with these requirements; and
    • Review consumer complaints regarding company practices since January 1, 2015, for appropriate remedial action. 

Hilton Grand Vacations has provided restitution of $38,000 to 4 consumers to date. 

TickBox TV LLC – This Georgia company sold a box to consumers, which allegedly operated as a receiver to allow consumers to access streams and play them on a television.  Consumers alleged that the box did not work properly and requested refunds.  The refund requests were ignored.  The Consumer Protection Division alleged that TickBox TV was failing to follow its refund policy, in violation of the Fair Business Practices Act.  An agreement was reached in which TickBox TV agreed to develop, maintain, and follow a refund policy which allows a consumer to return any of the company’s products within 90 days for a full refund.  The company agreed to make this policy conspicuous by placing it on the company’s website and on receipts. Furthermore, TickBox provided refund of almost $4,300 to 30 consumers.

Business Technologies, Inc. and High Performance Business Services, Inc. – Business Technologies, Inc. is an office supplier that sells printer cartridges.   This office alleged that Business Technologies was deceiving their clients not only about the identity of the business, but also about the products they sold, in violation of Georgia consumer protection laws.  In resolution, Business Technologies agreed to ensure that all communications with clients were clear and that the company disclosed their current geographical location. 

Factory Direct Wholesale LLC - Factory Direct Wholesale (FDW) is a Georgia-based online retailer of various products.  The Consumer Protection Division received consumer complaints, including allegations that FDW:

  • Did not ship items within advertised timeframes, or failed to ship the items at all and then failed to provide refunds;
  • Offered "industry best" warranties on products and then failed to honor the warranties;
  • Failed to provide refunds or replacements when purchased products were damaged or incomplete upon delivery, or stopped working or didn't work at all during warranty period;
  • Failed to honor its warranty on products unless consumers first shipped the items back to the business at their own expense, without disclosing that requirement to consumers until after a claim had been submitted; and
  • Misrepresented the nature of the business as “wholesale,” when in fact the business sold to the consuming public.

FDW agreed in settlement of the claims to:

  • Comply with Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act, the Federal Trade Commission Merchandise Rule, O.C.G.A. § 10-1-424 which prohibits misrepresenting the nature of a business, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and other related applicable laws;
  • Clearly and conspicously disclose all material conditions related to the sale and shipment of the company’s products, including delivery, returns, warranties, and refunds, prior to the sale;
  • Communicate and respond to consumer calls, requests, complaints and inquiries in accordance with applicable laws and regulations; and
  • Pay a $65,000 fine to the State of Georgia.