Recent Settlements By DOJ Fraud Division Highlight Protection of Delaware Consumers

Some Delaware consumers eligible for restitution from Chase for debt collection, Classmates.com for unauthorized membership

Two recent settlements pursued by the deputy attorneys general of the Consumer Protection Unit in the Department of Justice Fraud Division will benefit consumers in Delaware and protect investors.

“DOJ’s Fraud Division works every day to investigate and resolve complaints by consumers and investors, often working in concert with other states and with federal agencies to change the practices of, and obtain restitution from, companies,” Attorney General Matt Denn said. “This results in restitution amounts large and small for Delaware consumers, and these settlements are examples of that.”

Classmates/FTD: Some Delaware Members of Classmates.com Eligible for Restitution, Should Contact Consumer Protection Unit

Classmates, Inc. (“Classmates”), along with Florists’ Transworld Delivery, Inc. and FTD.com Inc. (collectively “FTD”), have agreed to make payments to consumers and to states to settle allegations that the companies engaged in misleading advertising and billing practices.

Delaware consumers who were enrolled into Classmates’ subscription service without authorization or who experienced difficulty when trying to cancel their Classmates subscription and who have not previously filed a complaint with their attorney general, may file a complaint with their Attorney General at www.attorneygeneral.delaware.gov or by calling (302) 577-8600 before August 24, 2015.

The multi-state investigation specifically focused on the companies’ relationships with third-parties who used negative option marketing practices to sell membership programs to consumers doing business online with Classmates and FTD. Negative option marketing is a sales practice in which a seller treats a consumer’s failure to take an affirmative action, either to reject an offer or cancel an agreement, as assent to be charged for goods or services.

These third-party marketers offered programs such as discount buying clubs and travel rewards programs, often immediately after the consumer’s online transaction with Classmates or FTD. Unbeknownst to the consumer, Classmates and FTD would share consumers’ personal information, including credit card account numbers (a practice known as “data pass”) so that the consumer could be billed for these offers if they did not cancel. Congress banned data pass in Internet transactions in 2010

The agreement includes a number of terms to ensure that consumers knowingly consent to the purchase of any membership program offered by a marketing partner of Classmates or FTD, including the following injunctive terms, including: a prohibition against misrepresenting the reason for requesting a consumer’s account information; Classmates/FTD’s marketing partners cannot use FTD and Classmates’ names or logos in the title of a membership program, and any offer must be made after the consumers have concluded their transactions with Classmates or FTD, in order to ensure that consumers understand they are receiving a separate and distinct offer from a company other than FTD and Classmates; clear and conspicuous disclosures in “trial offers” informing consumers that they will be transferred to another site to receive a membership offer and the consumers must consent to the transfer; Classmates/FTD and its marketing partners cannot state an offer is “free” or “risk free” if the offered program will convert to a paid subscription

The states also investigated Classmates’ renewal and cancellation practices in connection with its own social network subscription services offered to consumers through its website, Classmates.com, alleging that consumers were not adequately informed that their subscriptions would automatically renew and that it was difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions. The companies agreed to change their practices regarding renewals and cancellations, and consumers who filed complaints regarding Classmates’ renewal and cancellation practices may also receive restitution under the settlement.

Classmates and FTD denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to the $3 million restitution fund for consumers and agreed to make an $8 million payment to the 22 attorneys general who took part in the settlement. Delaware’s $180,000 share will go to the Consumer Protection Fund, which funds the operation of the Consumer Protection Unit that pursues fraud cases against businesses large and small.

Chase: Credit Card Debt Collection Practices To Change; Collection Efforts On 329 Delawareans To Cease; Some Delawareans Eligible For Restitution

Chase Bank USA N.A. and Chase Bankcard Services Inc. will reform credit card debt collection practices and provide restitution to consumers in Delaware and nationwide as a result of a settlement with the Delaware Attorney General, attorneys general in 46 other states plus the District of Columbia and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As part of the agreement, Chase has agreed to cease collection efforts on over 329 Delaware-based accounts. Delawareans who were forced to pay charges to Chase or third-party collection agencies above the actual balance they owed are eligible for a refund of that amount plus an additional 25%. Chase customers who are eligible for the restitution will be contacted, but Delawareans who think they may be eligible can contact the Consumer Protection Unit of the Delaware Department of Justice at (302) 577-8600.

According to the joint state-federal probe, Chase subjected consumers to collections activity for accounts that were not theirs, in amounts that were incorrect or uncollectable; subjected consumers to inaccurate credit reporting and unlawful judgments that may affect consumers’ ability to obtain credit, employment, housing and insurance in the future; sold certain accounts to debt buyers that were inaccurate, settled, discharged in bankruptcy, not owed by the consumer, or otherwise uncollectable; filed lawsuits and obtained judgments against consumers using false and deceptive affidavits and other documents that were prepared without following required procedures, a practice commonly referred to as “robo-signing”; and made calculation errors when filing debt collection lawsuits that sometimes resulted in judgments against consumers for incorrect amounts.

The agreement requires Chase to take a number of steps to address the unlawful conduct uncovered during the investigation, including:

• Implementing new safeguards to help ensure debt information is accurate and inaccurate data is corrected;
• Providing additional, more detailed, information to consumers who owe debts;
• Barring Chase’s debt buyers from reselling consumer debts to other purchasers;
• Ceasing collection efforts on more than 528,000 consumer accounts, including an estimated 329 in Delaware, for which Chase previously sued and obtained a judgment;
• Notifying the borrowers affected by the above change and requesting that all three major credit reporting agencies stop reporting those judgments;
• Ensuring payment of $50 million in consumer restitution nationally by July 1, 2016, refunding amounts paid by those consumers to Chase or third party collection agencies above the actual balance owed, plus an additional 25% of that overage. 11 Delawareans have already received approximately $7,000 so far.

In addition to the consumer relief provisions, Delaware will receive $593,793.28 out of a $95-million monetary payment Chase has agreed to with the 47 participating states and the District of Columbia. Delaware’s share will go into the Consumer Protection Fund.


ADA Author Tony Coelho to Speak at Delaware’s July 18 Celebration

ADA Author Tony Coelho to Speak at Delaware’s July 18 Celebration in Dover of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

DOVER – Delaware will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the inclusion of Delawareans with disabilities in all aspects of community life during an outdoor celebration Saturday, July 18, on Legislative Mall in Dover. Former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho, the author of the ADA who now lives in Rehoboth Beach, will provide the keynote address.

The free family-friendly event will kick off at 11 a.m. with a parade down Loockerman Street in Dover. The celebration, which will continue until 5 p.m. on both Loockerman Street and Legislative Mall, will include live music and entertainment, vendors, exhibitors, giveaways and an official program, including former U.S. Rep. Tony Coehlo, Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf, state Rep. Debra Heffernan, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, Jill Houghton, director of the US Business Leadership Network, and Delawareans with disabilities representing the past, present and future of the ADA. The event will be accessible to those who have access and functional mobility needs, and will take place rain or shine.

The Dover event also will be a stop on the national tour of the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s America’s Disability Rights Museum on Wheels, the country’s first disability rights mobile museum. The mobile museum helps visitors to understand that the ADA is a civil rights law, engages young people in interactive learning experiences, educates the public on the history of human rights violations and the community engagement that led to the ADA’s passage, and highlights the possibilities for the next 25 years through the use of innovative and connective technologies. The bus is fully accessible.

“The ADA is now the law of the land in 52 countries and it has paved the way for people to have their basic rights,” ADA author and former Rep. Tony Coelho said. “There is still a lot of work to do regarding the employment and transportation needs of people with disabilities, but it is important for us to commemorate and celebrate the amount of progress we have made during the past 25 years on behalf of millions of people.”

“I am thrilled that Tony Coelho will join us in Delaware to celebrate the inclusion that his historic legislation has helped to foster,” Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said. “We are a better and stronger community when we all share our gifts and talents with each other. While we have much work to do, especially in the areas of employment and health care for people with disabilities, the ADA means that individuals can no longer be discriminated against simply because of their disability status. Those basic civil rights for people with disabilities are the cornerstone of what it means to be a fully participating member of our society.”

“To quote the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act, 2000), ‘Disability is a natural part of the human experience that does not diminish the right of individuals with developmental disabilities to live independently, to exert control and choice over their own lives, and to fully participate in and contribute to their communities through full integration, and inclusion in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of United States society,’” said Pat Maichle, executive director of Delaware’s Developmental Disabilities Council. “The Americans with Disabilities Act gave Americans with disabilities the civil rights that they are due as American citizens to be able to be included in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream just like everyone else. Delaware is committed to the full implementation of the ADA!”

“The ADA transformed the entire fabric of American life for individuals with disabilities. Transportation, employment, building access, government programs – all were significantly improved by enactment of the ADA,” said Brian Hartman, Disabilities Law Project Director with Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. “Twenty-five years later it is important to renew our commitment to the ADA’s promise by actively promoting its implementation and enforcement.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly referred to as the ADA, was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. Bush. The groundbreaking civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and transportation. About one in five people has a disability, or about 57 million Americans, including 187,000 Delawareans.

A coalition of local and national organizations including the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council (DDC), the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC), the United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN), the State Council for Persons with Disabilities (SCPD), the Disabilities Law Program (DLP), the Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS), Endless Possibilities in the Community (EPIC), United Cerebral Palsy of Delaware (UCP DE), Independent Resources, Inc. (IRI), the City of Dover and Easter Seals of Delaware (ESDEL) is organizing the Dover celebration.

To learn more or to participate in the July 18 event, contact Stefanie Lancaster at 302-739-3333 or Stefanie.Lancaster@delaware.gov

For more information, contact Jill Fredel, Director of Communications, (302) 255-9047 (office) or (302) 357-7498 (cell).

Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware’s citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.


Checkpoint Strikeforce Week 1 Results

Dover – A total of one hundred people were arrested statewide last week for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs. Of those 100 individuals, six (6) were arrested by the New Castle County DUI Task Force at a checkpoint conducted in Newport over the holiday weekend. Police officers also arrested 16 individuals for drugs, apprehended 2 wanted persons, made 1 underage drinking arrest and also made 5 other criminal arrests. Statewide, there have been 1,999 DUI arrests made in Delaware this year.

DUI checkpoints continue and are scheduled for:

Friday July 10 – Newark – (NCCo DUI Task Force)
Saturday July 11 – Dover – (DSP Troop 3)

Checkpoint Strikeforce is a regional sobriety checkpoint campaign aimed at arresting DUI offenders by using high visibility enforcement to deter those who would otherwise choose to drink and drive. The campaign is a six month long effort coordinated locally by the Delaware Office of Highway Safety and involves setting up weekly DUI checkpoints & patrols statewide. Delaware had 4,086 DUI arrests statewide for 2014.

For a list of DUI checkpoints in your area text CHECKPOINT to 99000 or for a list of cabs text TAXI to 99000. More information and resources on Checkpoint Strikeforce can be found at www.ohs.delaware.gov, www.ArrriveAliveDE.com. Follow regular campaign updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DEHighwaySafe, Facebook www.facebook.com/ArriveAliveDE, and subscribe to YouTube channel DelawareOHS.


Department of Correction Notification – Inmate Death: Ronald Scott

Smyrna – Ronald Scott, age 66, an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, died in the prison infirmary yesterday afternoon, July 7, 2015, of natural causes following a lengthy illness. Scott, of Dover, DE, was serving a ten year sentence for failing to re-register as a sex offender. His sentence effective date was November 10, 2014.

Scott’s body has been turned over to the State Division of Forensic Science, as is standard procedure.

Foul play is not suspected.

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Congressman Carney Announces Legislation to Expand Affordable Housing Options

For Immediate Release:
July 7, 2015

Contact:
Albert Shields
(302) 691-7333 office
(302) 561-5043 cell
Albert.Shields@mail.house.gov

Congressman Carney announces legislation to expand affordable housing options

Housing Assistance Reform Act would increase housing options for low-income Americans, raise capital for affordable housing projects

DOVER, Del. — This morning, Congressman John Carney (D-DE) visited Liberty Court Apartments in Dover to announce new legislation to improve affordable housing options. The Housing Assistance Reform Act would increase housing options for low-income Americans and help housing authorities raise capital for affordable housing projects. The legislation would expand access to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Work program from 39 local housing authorities to 60, and eliminate the current unit cap for the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, allowing any eligible housing authority to participate.

“Everyone deserves a safe, affordable place to call home,” said Congressman Carney. “We don’t have as many affordable options for low-income Americans as we need, and much of what we have has fallen into disrepair. My proposed legislation builds on two successful HUD programs that increase access to quality, affordable housing, while helping low-income Americans get the tools they need to rent or buy a home on their own. The Housing Assistance Reform Act will help more Americans pursue better opportunities and improve their quality of life. I am working closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get it passed.”

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Congressman Carney announcing his Housing Assistance Reform Act to affordable housing residents and advocates at Liberty Court Apartments in Dover.

The Moving to Work (MTW) program was created by Congress in 1996 to give local housing authorities the flexibility to create successful programs that meet the needs of low-income families while promoting self-sufficiency and increasing available housing options. Currently, 39 housing authorities nationwide are eligible to participate in the program.

The Delaware State Housing Authority was one of the first agencies to participate in HUD’s Moving to Work pilot program in 1999. Since then, DSHA’s Moving to Work program has helped more than 800 Delaware families increase their financial stability and move from subsidized housing to market rate rentals or homeownership. The program has disbursed more than $2.4 million back to MTW residents in savings for successfully completing the program. For more information on DSHA’s Moving to Work program, click here.

“Moving to Work has given DSHA the flexibility to efficiently manage our resources while also allowing us to provide our clients a comprehensive set of services that is not limited to just housing assistance, but also includes financial literacy and case management to help them set and reach their goals,” said DSHA Director Anas Ben Addi.

Rhianna Turner, a single mother and MTW graduate, shared her experience with the program. After losing her job, Rhianna entered DSHA’s Moving to Work program in 2007. “The Delaware State Housing Authority’s assistance allowed me to save money, learn to budget, and improve my credit, all of which helped me move toward my dream of homeownership,” said Turner. “Today, I have been in my home for a year and four months, and I am incredibly thankful for the help I received that allowed me to work towards this goal. There are many stresses in my life as a single mother to three children, but where we live is no longer one of them.”

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(l to r): Rhianna Turner, an MTW graduate, and her DSHA caseworker, Lori Fretz, greet Congressman Carney at today’s press conference.

“I’m here to give my unbridled support to this national legislation,” added Fred Purnell, Executive Director of the Wilmington Housing Authority. “The critical piece for us is the flexibility that Moving to Work would bring to WHA. It would allow us to take resources that we have going in other directions and concentrate them on people.”

The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program gives local housing authorities a powerful tool to begin tackling the backlog of at least $25 billion in unmet capital needs and deferred maintenance for public housing. Specifically, RAD allows housing authorities to mortgage land and buildings, providing access to much needed private capital to make repairs to the existing housing stock. The mortgaged properties remain subject to the same use restrictions, ensuring that it will remain affordable for low-income families.

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