Attorney General

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING HELPS PROTECT STUDENT BORROWERS

~ Following Herring’s supportive comments, the SCC has adopted student loan servicer regulations implementing newly passed student borrower protections; In the order, the SCC said that they found Herring’s comments “persuasive” ~

RICHMOND (September 9, 2021) – Following Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s supportive comments, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) has adopted regulations implementing the newly passed “bill of rights” for Virginia student borrowers – laws that protect borrowers by regulating student loan servicers in Virginia. In its order, the SCC specifically noted the influence Attorney General Herring’s comments had on its decision saying, “[w]e have considered all the comments filed in this matter, including those from the Attorney General, which we find persuasive.” The Office of Attorney General has authority under these new laws to investigate claims of misconduct by student loan servicers and to take action when appropriate. Virginia is home to more than one million student borrowers who collectively owe nearly $42 billion in student loans.
 
“The SCC’s decision to adopt regulations implementing these new student borrower protections is great news for Virginia’s student loan borrowers, and I’m proud that I was able to play a role in their decision,” said Attorney General Herring. “Too many Virginians continue to suffer under the crippling weight of student loan debt, and we must do all we can to help them. My team and I have worked hard to protect student loan borrowers in the Commonwealth, and these new regulations and protections will give us even more tools to go after bad actors who try to take advantage of them.”
 
In February 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation with strong bipartisan support that created Chapter 26 in Title 6.2 of the Virginia Code and that tasked the SCC with issuing regulations implementing Chapter 26. Chapter 26 protects student borrowers from servicers who would, among other things, engage in unfair or deceptive conduct, misapply loan payments, or misreport information to credit bureaus. It also gives the Office of Attorney General the authority to investigate and to bring enforcement actions against servicers suspected of violating these student borrower protections. 
 
Attorney General Herring filed comments back in August in response to challenges raised by both the Student Loan Servicing Alliance (SLSA) and the National Association of Student Loan Administrators (NASLA) claiming that Chapter 26 and its related regulations were unconstitutional. In the filed comments, Attorney General Herring explained why SLSA and NASLA were wrong and why Virginia’s student borrower bill of rights is constitutional. Attorney General Herring argued that federal law does not preempt these new laws and that these new laws do not violate the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity. Attorney General Herring concluded his comments by saying that Chapter 26 and the proposed regulations “are entitled to both a presumption of constitutionality and a presumption against preemption. And by simply raising general constitutional questions…, NASLA and SLSA fail to show they are unconstitutional.”
 
Herring’s Previous Work Fighting to Protect Student Borrowers
Last month, Attorney General Herring filed an amicus brief that challenged action taken by the Trump Administration’s Department of Education that unlawfully repealed and replaced federal “borrower defense” regulations. In October 2018, Attorney General Herring announced that a federal judge had rejected the Trump administration’s challenge to the Borrower Defense Rule, ordering its immediate implementation for students nationwide. This ruling followed a victory Attorney General Herring won in federal court after he and a coalition of state attorneys general challenged the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to abruptly rescind its Borrower Defense Rule which was designed to hold abusive higher education institutions accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans. The immediate implementation of the Borrower Defense Rule meant that the U.S. Department of Education had to automatically discharge $381 million in loans for students whose schools closed.

 
Attorney General Herring has taken major actions against for-profit colleges for misleading students. In November 2015, for-profit education company Education Management Corporation announced it would significantly reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgive more than $2.29 million in loans for approximately 2,000 former students in Virginia through an agreement with the Attorney General and a group of state attorneys general. Nationwide, the agreement required the for-profit college company to forgive $102.8 million in outstanding loan debt held by more than 80,000 former students.
 
In December 2016, the Attorney General announced that more than 5,000 Virginia students formerly enrolled in schools operated by Corinthian Colleges, Inc. may be eligible for loan forgiveness. This came after the U.S Department of Education found that Corinthian College and its subsidiaries published misleading job placement rates for many programs between 2010 and 2014. Following this announcement, Attorney General Herring urged Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education to follow through on their commitment to cancel student debt for students in Virginia and around the country who were victimized by Corinthian Colleges' practices.
 
Attorney General Herring announced in January of 2019 that he and 48 other attorneys general reached a settlement with for-profit education company Career Education Corporation (CEC). The terms of the settlement required CEC to reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgo collecting about $493.7 million in debts owed by 179,529 students nationally. In Virginia, 3,094 students will receive relief totaling $8,022,178.

 

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OUTLINES UPDATED TENANT PROTECTIONS

~ Herring is outlining current state and federal tenant protections to help Virginians stay in their home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the Commonwealth ~

RICHMOND(August 19, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring is outlining the various state and federal tenant protections that are currently in place to help Virginians stay in their homes as the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the Commonwealth.
 
“The sad reality is that too many Virginians across the Commonwealth continue to find themselves in tough financial situations because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and they may have a hard time making ends meet or paying their rent,” said Attorney General Herring. “I want to help all Virginians and their families stay in their homes during this ongoing global health crisis, which is why it’s so important to make sure that tenants stay up to date on eviction protections, as they have changed over the past year.”
 
Virginia Eviction Protections Effective Through June 30, 2022
  • If someone in a tenant’s household has experienced a financial hardship related to COVID-19, their landlord may not take any action to get possession or evict for nonpayment of rent unless the landlord:
  • Gives tenant a 14-day nonpayment notice informing the tenant about the Rent Relief Program (RRP), and
  • Unless the tenant pays in full, enters into a payment plan, or has already has applied for RRP, the landlord must apply for RRP on the tenant’s behalf within the 14-day period.
  • Landlords must cooperate with RRP applications by providing all information and documents needed.
  • After application for rent relief funds, landlords may not take any action to evict unless:
  • The tenant is not eligible for RRP, or
  • The tenant refuses to cooperate with RRP application, or
  • RRP funds are not approved in writing within 45 days of the first completed application, or
  • For any subsequent application, RRP funds are not approved in writing within 14 days of a complete application, or
  • RRP funds are depleted.
  • If a tenant is complying with a written payment plan, their landlord may not evict for nonpayment of rent.
Virginia Rent Relief Program
  • Tenants may apply for the statewide Rent Relief Program at http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/rmrp.
  • Chesterfield County tenants should apply for rent relief with Chesterfield Emergency Rent Assistance (CERA) at http://actsrva.org/chesterfield-emergency-rent-and-utility-assistance-cera.
  • Tenants in Fairfax County can apply for rent relief through Coordinated Services Planning at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/health-humanservices/eviction-prevention
  • Basic eligibility requirements:
  • Household income at or below 80% Area Median Income
  • Rent amount at or below 150% Fair Market Rent
  • Loss of income related directly or indirectly to COVID-19, or increase in expenses related directly or indirectly to COVID-19
  • Required documentation:
  • Rental agreement (valid lease or alternative lease documentation)
  • Tenant/landlord ledger
  • Tenant income documentation
  • Landlord’s Virginia W-9
  • RRP landlord/tenant agreement
  • Rent arrears can be covered back to April 1, 2020, plus current rent and up to 3 months’ future rent for a maximum of 18 months. Payments are made directly to landlords.
  • A landlord that refuses to accept rent relief may be illegally discriminating on the basis of a tenant’s source of funds. You can report suspected housing discrimination to the Virginia Fair Housing Office: https://www.dpor.virginia.gov/FairHousing.

Other State Protections
  • A landlord may not evict a tenant without following court eviction process. That landlord first sends a written notice and next the landlord files an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit. The landlord must get a court order of possession, followed by a Writ of Eviction.
  • Through September 28, 2021, tenants in eviction lawsuits for non-payment of rent can get a case postponed for 60 days by coming to court with written proof of reduced income due to COVID-19.
  • After an eviction lawsuit for nonpayment of rent, tenants have the right to pay to a zero balance on or before the court date and have the lawsuit dismissed. After that, tenants have the right to pay to a zero balance up to 48 hours before a Sheriff’s eviction and have the eviction cancelled. If the landlord has 5 or more rentals, tenants may use these rights at any time. Otherwise, tenants may use these rights only once in a 12-month period.
Federal CDC Eviction Protections Effective Through October 3, 2021
  • On August 3, 2021, the CDC issued a new temporary halt in residential evictions in communities with substantial or high levels of transmission of COVID-19.
  • To qualify for the CDC eviction protections, a tenant must prove:
  • They have used their best efforts to obtain all available government rent assistance.
  • They are below income requirements:
  • Earned no more than $99,000 ($198,000 if joint return) in 2020, or
  • Expects to earn no more than $99,000 ($198,000 if joint return) in 2021, or
  • Not required to report any income to the IRS in 2020, or
  • Received stimulus check.
  • They are unable to pay rent due to income loss or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • They will use best efforts to make timely partial rent payments considering other expenses to be paid.
  • They would become homeless or need to move into close quarters (double up) if evicted.
  • Must provide CDC Declaration to landlord. Note that a previously given CDC Declaration remains in effect as long as information remains truthful and the tenant lives in locality where COVID-19 transmission rate is high or substantial.
  • Current CDC eviction protections only apply to:
  • Counties and Independent Cities where COVID-19 transmission rate is high or substantial.
  • These CDC protections do not apply where COVID-19 transmission rate is moderate or low.
  • A locality which moves into a transmission rate of high or substantial, from a rate of moderate or low, it will immediately trigger CDC eviction protections.
  • A locality which moves into a transmission rate of moderate or low for 14 consecutive days, from a rate of high or substantial, will lose CDC eviction protections after the 14 days.
  • Transmission rates by locality: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.

 Additional Resources

 

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING DISTRIBUTES CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS STEMMING FROM SHUTDOWN OF DECEPTIVE TELEFUNDING OPERATION

~ Herring shut down massive telefunding operation that placed more than 1.3 billion deceptive fundraising calls including over 40 million into Virginia claiming to support veterans, children, firefighters ~

RICHMOND(August 17, 2021) – After shuttering a massive telefunding operation, Attorney General Herring and a coalition of 38 attorneys general along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are distributing almost $500,000 from the settlement to nonprofits across the country. In March, Attorney General Herring announced that he had shut down a massive telefunding operation that bombarded 67 million consumers with over 1.3 billion deceptive charitable fundraising calls – mostly illegal robocalls – over 40.3 million of which were made to Virginians. The defendants collected more than $110 million using their deceptive solicitations.
 
“Organizations that not only take advantage of kind-hearted Virginians but also use technology and robocalls to repeatedly harass consumers must be held accountable,” said Attorney General Herring. “I’m pleased we were able to distribute these funds to charitable organizations that deserve it and will make sure the money goes towards the people who need it the most. I want to thank my Consumer Protection Section as well as our state and federal partners for their dedication and hard work on this case.”
 
Associated Community Services (ACS) and a number of related defendants that made deceptive fundraising calls agreed to settle allegations that they duped generous Americans into donating to charities that failed to provide the services they promised. Through the court action, the defendants paid almost $500,000 to the states to be distributed to court-approved nonprofits for the charitable purposes donors originally intended to support.
 
The funds surrendered by the defendants were paid to an escrow fund administered by the Florida Attorney General. The court approved those funds be directed to the American Cancer Society, Semper Fi & America’s Fund, and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Each recipient organization will use these funds to support the causes defendants purported to support when soliciting donations from consumers. The funds recovered will now be used to assist Americans with cancer screenings and treatment, military service members and their families, and first responders and their families.
 
Tips to remember when donating to charities and other organizations:
  • On crowdfunding sites:
  • Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness
  • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures
  • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services
  • Beware of “copy-cat” names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a “charity” has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card
  • If contributing over the Internet, be sure the web site you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate. See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site. Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number
  • If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (“OCRP”) at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP’s Charitable Organization Database online
  • While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective
 
Joining Attorney General Herring and the FTC in this case are the attorneys general of Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming; the secretaries of state of Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee; and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CALLS FOR FASTER IMPLEMENTATION OF ANTI-ROBOCALL TECHNOLOGY

~ Herring is urging the FCC to accelerate deadline for STIR/SHAKEN adoption ~

RICHMOND(August 9, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fight back against the scourge of illegal robocalls by moving up the deadline for smaller telephone companies to implement caller ID technology. Attorney General Herring joined a bipartisan coalition of 51 attorneys general have in submitting comments to the FCC.

“Virginians continue to be plagued by illegal robocalls that are not only annoying but can also potentially scam consumers out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars,” said Attorney General Herring. “This technology has proven to be effective in reducing the number of robocalls that consumers receive, which is why I am calling on the FCC to move up the implementation date for smaller phone companies. My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to put a stop to these annoying and illegal robocalls and protect consumers, but it’s imperative that tech companies doe their part as well.”

Under the TRACED Act, which became law in 2019, phone companies are required to implement STIR/SHAKEN technology on their networks. This caller ID authentication technology helps ensure that telephone calls are originating from verified numbers, not spoofed sources. Large companies were required to implement the technology by June 2021, and smaller phone companies were given an extension until June 2023.

However, some of the same smaller phone companies that are benefitting from this extension are also responsible for originating or facilitating high volumes of illegal robocalls that spam Americans and lead to financial or personal data loss. And without the STIR/SHAKEN technology in place, these smaller companies are failing to take a necessary step to minimize the continued onslaught of illegally spoofed robocalls that harm residents.

Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are asking the FCC to require these companies to implement the STIR/SHAKEN technology as soon as possible and no later than June 30, 2022.

Joining Attorney General Herring in submitting today’s comments are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

AHEAD OF SPECIAL SESSION, ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING REQUESTS FUNDING FOR COMBATING HUMAN TRAFFICKING

~ Herring has asked for funds to be included in the introduced budget to expand the OAG’s human trafficking initiatives into other jurisdictions ~

RICHMOND(July 30, 2021) – Ahead of Monday’s special session, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is asking that funds be included in the introduced budget that will expand the Office of Attorney General’s (OAG) human trafficking initiatives into other jurisdictions and provide support for victims in all corners of the Commonwealth. Currently, the OAG manages two major, successful human trafficking initiatives: the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force and the Richmond Minor Victims of Human Trafficking Project. Attorney General Herring is proposing $2 million from the American Rescue Plan to create additional human trafficking teams that will allow the OAG to hire support staff and expand its human trafficking initiatives across Virginia.
 
“I am incredibly proud of the work my team has done to combat human trafficking and support victims in the Hampton Roads and Richmond regions. It is clear that our comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach works, which is why it’s so important that we get the funding to expand our efforts statewide,” said Attorney General Herring. “Human trafficking robs its victims of their humanity and oftentimes preys on vulnerable individuals who are only looking for financial support, stability, or acceptance. By raising awareness about human trafficking and providing crucial resources, we can give victims a path towards justice and healing and help end this heinous crime in Virginia once and for all.”
 
With this funding, the OAG will be able to expand it successful human trafficking initiatives into every corner of the Commonwealth. The OAG will hire human trafficking support staff in each regional office – Central Virginia, Northern Virginia, and Southwest Virginia – in addition to the coordinators already working in Hampton Roads and Richmond to lead efforts in those regions using the same models that have already proven effective in Hampton Roads and Richmond to support victims. Additionally, the funding will allow the OAG to:
  • Create or support existing local and regional human trafficking task forces and coordinate multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) comprised of local law enforcement, local social services offices, Commonwealth’s Attorneys, local hospitals, and domestic violence service providers to address juvenile trafficking cases;
  • Provide response protocols for accessing case management services and provide training to partner agencies on the human trafficking of minors, effective forms of response and intervention, and screening methods used to identify potential victims; and
  • Heighten community awareness of human trafficking issues and engage community partners in prevention activities.
This funding will allow the OAG to expand its human trafficking services to support juveniles who are minors, expand training efforts in schools, special victims units, the hotel/motel industry, the transportation industry, construction and labor, and expand partnerships with probation and parole and university and college communities, as well as continue efforts to support the LGBTQ+, non-English speaking and Native American populations.
 
Successes of the Hampton Roads and Richmond human trafficking initiatives to date:
  • Since 2016, the multi-disciplinary task force in Hampton Roads, staffed by a coordinator from the OAG, has identified victims, promoted awareness of the realities of human trafficking, and investigated and prosecuted trafficking crimes
  • In 2020, the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force conducted 60 new investigations, made 27 arrests, and identified 52 confirmed victims of human trafficking
  • The Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force also expanded its outreach efforts by creating an LGBTQ and a Native American outreach subcommittee and coordinated an outreach initiative targeting airports and bus stations throughout the region
  • In 2020, eight juveniles who were victims of human trafficking received services through the new Richmond-area project, which has quickly become a robust program that includes case management, assistance with treatment referrals, community support, and court assistance
Attorney General Herring has made combating human trafficking in the Commonwealth a top priority. In December 2014, Attorney General Herring launched a statewide human trafficking awareness campaign to raise awareness in Virginia of human trafficking and the resources available to victims and a year later he added an online component to that campaign. In November 2016, Attorney General Herring secured a $1.45 million grant that funded the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, which then launched in January 2017. The OAG partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Samaritan House, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Virginia State Police, and law enforcement agencies from Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake for the task force. Attorney General Herring and the task force launched a regional awareness campaign in May 2018 and place billboards on major highways across Hampton Roads encouraging victims or those with information about possible human trafficking to contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline. In November 2019, Attorney General Herring and members of the Richmond Regional Human Trafficking Collaborative announced new initiatives to improve the way the Richmond region responds to human trafficking, including a new case manager position, housed in the OAG, that is focused on juvenile victims; stakeholder trainings; and expanded victims services.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CALLS FOR ACCESS TO PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

~ On anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act, Herring urges Congress to pass All Stations Accessibility Program Act of 2021 ~

RICHMOND(July 26, 2021) – To mark the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Attorney General Herring has joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in urging Congress to pass legislation that will allow people with disabilities to have equal access to public transportation. The All Stations Accessibility Program Act of 2021 (ASAP) will support state and local government efforts to provide accessible public transportation to people with disabilities.
 
The ASAP Act would establish a federal grant program to support local transit and commuter rail authorities to upgrade existing stations to meet or exceed the ADA’s accessibility standards. In a letter to congressional leadership, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that the legislation is essential to addressing barriers to transportation, which also serve as barriers preventing people with disabilities from fully participating in society.
 
“Public transportation doesn’t just mean getting from one place to another, but it also represents independence or increased employment or housing opportunities, and Virginians with disabilities deserve the same access as other individuals,” said Attorney General Herring. “On this anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am calling on Congress to pass the ASAP Act, because too many Americans with disabilities still face barriers that keep them from fully and actively participating in their communities – and that must change.”
 
The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law July 26, 1990 and was designed to guarantee people with disabilities equal opportunities to be active participants in society. Considered by many to be the most sweeping civil rights legislation since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA resulted from tireless advocacy by disabled activists who demanded civil rights for people with disabilities. In passing the ADA, Congress acknowledged the historic isolation and segregation of people with disabilities, as well as the discrimination they experience in critical areas such as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, recreation, voting and more. 
 
In their letter to congressional leadership, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues point out that notwithstanding the progress enshrined in the ADA, more work is needed to ensure people with disabilities can actively participate in their communities. Despite the ADA becoming law more than 30 years ago, studies show that people with disabilities continue to face challenges in obtaining employment and housing. A 2020 report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 61.8% of people without disabilities. In their letter to Congress, the coalition argues that access to transportation is critical to addressing disparities in housing and employment and allowing people with disabilities to participate equally in society.
 
The Federal Transit Administration has reported that nearly 20% of all public transit stations were not ADA accessible in 2019. The ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design set minimum standards for what makes a facility accessible to people with disabilities. However, the ADA allows public entities to defer making architectural changes to facilities constructed prior to the ADA’s enactment when changes would pose an undue financial burden. As a result, the coalition point outs, state and local governments’ fiscal constraints have frequently prevented them from making all legacy transportation systems fully accessible.
 
The ASAP Act will establish a grant program dedicated to assisting state and local governments in upgrading legacy rail stations, or those that were in operation before the ADA’s effective date. The program would appropriate $10 billion over 10 years, and each grant will fund 90% of a project’s net cost. Recipients can use grant funding to develop plans for projects aimed at accommodating individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, and developmental disabilities. Each project plan must also ensure equitable service to all riders regardless of income, age, race or ability.
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in calling upon congress to pass the ASAP Act are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CALLS ON CONGRESS TO PROTECT CONSUMERS BY PROVIDING FTC WITH MUCH-NEEDED TOOLS

RICHMOND  – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 29 attorneys general in taking action to support the ability of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to successfully combat fraudulent and anticompetitive conduct. In a letter to congressional leaders, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues have expressed their strong support for the Consumer Protection and Recovery Act (H.R. 2668), which would ensure the ability of the FTC to obtain equitable monetary relief, including restitution for consumers and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision changed established practice earlier this year.

 “States and state attorneys general play a critical role in antitrust enforcement and putting a stop to fraudulent conduct, but federal help and partnership are also crucial to these efforts,” said Attorney General Herring. “A comprehensive approach that includes both state and federal efforts is so important in protecting consumers, which is why I’m calling on Congress to pass the Consumer Protection and Recovery Act, giving the FTC more tools to go after wrongdoers.”

For 40 years, the FTC was able to obtain equitable monetary relief by suing wrongdoers in district court. In fact, in the last five years alone, the FTC successfully recovered over $11.2 billion in refunds for consumers though court actions. But this all changed with the Supreme Court’s April 2021 decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC, et al. v. Federal Trade Commission, which limited the ability of the FTC to recover money for injured consumers.

The FTC is an important partner to states as they police anticompetitive, unfair, and deceptive trade practices. The lack of authority to seek equitable monetary relief, directly in court proceedings, undermines the FTC’s efforts to combat unfair and deceptive practices. Attorney General Herring and his colleagues make clear in their letter today that this, in turn, forces states to divert resources away from other consumer protection efforts and perform duties that were previously fulfilled by the FTC.

Unfair and deceptive trade practices are a serious problem in the United states and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an uptick in consumer complaints. Likewise, unfair competitive practices have dire and adverse impacts on consumers and businesses. Monopolization, collusion, and other unlawful conduct threaten the proper functioning of the American marketplace and cost consumers and responsible businesses billions of dollars each year. Curtailing the remedies available to the FTC enables bad actors to keep their ill-gotten gains, thereby emboldening wrongdoers and incentivizing unlawful conduct.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as the executive director of the Hawaii Office for Consumer Protection.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING REACHES RESOLUTION WITH PURDUE PHARMA AND THE SACKLER FAMILY FOR THEIR ROLE IN CREATING AND PROLONGING THE OPIOID CRISIS

~ Resolution secures unprecedented public disclosure and $4.3 billion from the Sacklers for prevention, treatment, and recovery; Virginia is expected to receive at least $80 million as its share of the settlement, what is believed to be the largest single investment in opioid treatment and recovery in the Commonwealth’s history ~

RICHMOND (July 8, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced a resolution of his lawsuit against the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, that will make public tens of millions of documents related to their role in the opioid crisis, and require a payment of more than $4.3 billion for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts in communities across the country. Virginia is expected to receive at least $80 million as its share of the agreement, what is believed to be the largest single investment in opioid treatment and recovery in the Commonwealth’s history.
 
The resolution of the lawsuit by Attorney General Herring, which was filed in bankruptcy court on Wednesday night and is subject to approval, requires unprecedented disclosure about the role Purdue and the Sacklers played in the opioid crisis. It requires Purdue and the Sacklers to make public more than 30 million documents, including attorney-client privileged communications about the original FDA approval of OxyContin and tactics to promote opioids. It also requires the Sacklers to make one of the largest payments that individuals have paid to resolve a law enforcement action in U.S. history.
 
“No dollar amount will ever bring back the Virginians we have lost to the opioid crisis or repair the families that have to live with the devastating effects of losing a loved one, but this settlement is an important step in our ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family amassed a fortune from a pharmaceutical empire that profited off the pain and suffering of Americans and the lies about the addictive nature of their drugs.
 
“It was incredibly important to me that this settlement include a disclosure agreement, so that Virginians could see for themselves the millions of documents that show the lies and deceit that Purdue and the Sacklers used for decades to sell billions of pills.
 
“Families and communities across the Commonwealth and around the country continue to be impacted by the opioid crisis, and I will not stop fighting for them. I will not let up in going after the pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors who created and prolonged the opioid epidemic and chose again and again to put profits over human lives.”
 
Under the terms of the resolution, Purdue will turn over for public disclosure the evidence from lawsuits and investigations of Purdue over the past 20 years, including deposition transcripts, deposition videos, and 13 million documents. Purdue will also be required to turn over more than 20 million additional documents, including every non-privileged email at Purdue that was sent or received by every member of the Sackler family who sat on the Board or worked at the company. Lastly, Purdue will waive its attorney-client privilege to reveal confidential communications with its lawyers about tactics for pushing opioids, FDA approval of OxyContin, “pill mill” doctors and pharmacies diverting drugs, and about the billions of dollars Purdue paid out to the Sacklers.
 
The Sacklers will pay $4.325 billion over the next nine years, with Virginia expected to receive at least $80 million, a majority of which will go towards Virginia’s opioid abatement authority. Thousands of individual victims of Purdue’s misconduct will also receive compensation as part of the bankruptcy process.
 
Under the terms of the plan, the Sacklers will be permanently banned from the opioid business and Purdue will be sold or wound down by the end of 2024.
 
The resolution also requires the Sacklers to relinquish control of family foundations holding $175 million in assets to the trustees of a foundation dedicated to abating the opioid crisis. Further, the Sackler family will be prohibited from requesting or permitting any new naming rights in connection with charitable or similar donations or organizations for the next nine years.
 
The opioid crisis has been one of Attorney General Herring’s top priorities, and as part of this work he has focused on accountability for pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors who helped create, prolong, and profit from the opioid crisis in Virginia and around the country. In addition to filing suit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family, Attorney General Herring has also filed suit against and Teva/Cephalon for the role that they played in creating the opioid epidemic. In February, he secured a settlement with McKinsey & Company for its role working for opioid companies, helping companies promote their drugs, and profiting from the opioid epidemic. Additional multistate investigations and legal actions remain ongoing.
 
During the most recent General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring was successful in passing legislation that directs funds secured through his ongoing lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors toward opioid abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery, ensuring that the most money possible goes to actually address the opioid crisis.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CELEBRATES BILL MAKING VETERANS AND ACTIVE SERVICEMEMBERS A PROTECTED CLASS BEING SIGNED INTO LAW

~ Herring’s Office of Civil Rights will now be able to enforce anti-discrimination protections for veterans, active duty servicemembers, and the dependents of both groups; Herring joined the Governor and patrons this morning for the bill signing ~

RICHMOND (June 30, 2021) – A bill that adds “military status” to the list of protected classes and amends several of Virginia’s anti-discrimination statutes has been signed into law, and Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s Office of Civil Rights will now be able to enforce these anti-discrimination protections. “Military status” covers active duty servicemembers, veterans, and the dependents of both. Attorney General Herring’s team worked with Delegate Kathy Tran (HB2161) and Senator John Bell (SB 1410) to help get this legislation passed during the most recent legislative session. Attorney General Herring joined Governor Northam and the patrons of the bill this morning in Richmond for the bill signing.

“Virginia veterans and servicemembers have dedicated their lives to keeping their country safe and the last thing they should ever have to worry about is being discriminated against because of their sacrifice,” said Attorney General Herring. “The Commonwealth is home to one of the largest military and veteran populations in the country and must do all we can to support them, including protecting them from discrimination. I am incredibly proud of the work my team and I have done to protect Virginians’ rights, and, with these new tools, we now have the ability to hold those who discriminate against veterans and servicemembers accountable. I want to thank both Delegate Tran and Senator Bell for their partnership in helping to get these important anti-discrimination protections passed.”

This legislation adds “military status” to the list of protected classes in Virginia Code and amends several anti-discrimination statutes including the Virginia Human Rights Act, the Virginia Fair Housing Law, Virginia Personnel Act, local human rights commissions, Manufactured Home Lot Rental Act, and the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act. 

“Today, we are taking important steps to ensure veterans, service members, military spouses, and their dependents are protected from discrimination when looking for employment, housing, or in public accommodations,” said Delegate Kathy Tran. “I’m proud to have worked with Attorney General Herring and his team, Senator Bell, and many supporters to fight the injustice of discrimination against those who have sacrificed so much for our country. This is an historic progress in our work to make the 42nd District and Virginia the most welcoming state for military families.”

“It’s was concerning and disheartening to hear stories of discrimination from veterans, active duty servicemembers, and their families, especially because they have dedicated their lives to protecting this country,” said Senator John Bell. “Discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in Virginia and I’m proud to have worked alongside both Attorney General Herring and Delegate Tran to enact these anti-discrimination protections and include ‘military status’ as a protected class in the Commonwealth.”

Attorney General Herring’s Office of Civil Rights will now play a larger role in protecting Virginia’s servicemembers, veterans, and their dependents from discrimination in areas like housing and employment. The Office of Civil Rights was created to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to protect Virginians from discrimination and secure and expand the rights of all Virginians.

Some examples of military discrimination are:

  • Charging servicemembers a higher security deposit
  • Requiring service members to waive federal housing protections covered by Servicemember Civil Relief Act as a condition of getting a lease
  • Denying a job applicant employment because they are military spouse
  • Not allowing servicemembers to have certain military-related equipment at their residence
  • Refusing to rent to someone in the reserves because the landlord is worried the tenant will be deployed
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for veterans with PTSD
  • Steering a “military wife” to a certain part of town where other military families live

During the 2020 legislative session, the General Assembly passed the Virginia Values Act, historic legislation that enacted comprehensive anti-discrimination protections in the Commonwealth. In March of this year, Attorney General Herring successfully defeated a challenge to the Virginia Values Act against an attack that sought to block the legislation.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING MARKS MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION GOING INTO EFFECT IN VIRGINIA

RICHMOND (July 1, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following marijuana legalization going into effect in Virginia today. In April, the General Assembly passed an amendment that moved the effective date of the legalization of small amounts of marijuana up to July 1, 2021.
 
“Today is an important day in the Commonwealth’s ongoing criminal justice reform journey. Last year, Virginia decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana – an important first step – but we could not let up until we had full legalization,” said Attorney General Herring. “For too long, Virginia’s marijuana policies were not working, and they were disproportionately affecting Black and brown Virginians, saddling them with criminal records that could negatively affect almost every aspect of their lives. Now, with the legalization of small amounts of marijuana, Black communities and communities of color will no longer feel the disparate impacts of our old, outdated policies.
 
“I am so proud I played a role in reforming Virginia’s marijuana policies and getting us on a path towards legalization and I want to thank all the advocates and partners who were integral in getting this important endeavor passed.”
  
According to 2020 data, more than half of all marijuana-related charges in Virginia, at least 2,397, were against Black Virginians, while Black Virginians only make up about 20 percent of the Commonwealth’s population.
 
During the 2021 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully move Virginia towards legal, regulated adult use of cannabis, after he become the leader on cannabis reform in Virginia following his call for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use. In his call for cannabis reform, he cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color. Attorney General Herring reiterated his call for reform when data from 2018 showed a record number of arrests for marijuana possession. In December 2019, Attorney General Herring held a cannabis summit for policymaking stakeholders in Virginia that focused on policy and included experts from attorneys generals’ offices, state agencies and legislative operations in states that have legalized cannabis, as well as cannabis policy experts.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES OFFERUP TO STOP SALES OF FAKE VACCINATION CARDS

~ Herring has also called on Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to act immediately to stop the sale of fraudulent vaccination cards on their platforms ~

RICHMOND (April 19, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general in calling on OfferUp, an online mobile marketplace, to act immediately to prevent fraudulent or blank COVID-19 vaccine cards from being sold on its platform. In their letter to the company, the coalition raises concerns about the public health risks of these fake vaccination cards. Attorney General Herring has also called on Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to act immediately to stop the sale of fraudulent vaccination cards on their platforms.
 
“Vaccinating as many Virginians as possible is one of the most important ways we will be able to get back to normal and get this pandemic under control,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unvaccinated people, who use fraudulent vaccine cards to pretend they are vaccinated, could potentially spread COVID throughout our communities, putting the health and safety of Virginians and their families at risk. I will continue to push companies to prevent the sale of these fake vaccination cards to help Virginia stay on the right track in combating COVID.”
 
In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are urging OfferUp to:
  • Monitor its platform for ads or links selling blank or fraudulently complete vaccination cards
  • Promptly take down ads or links that are selling cards
  • Preserve records and information about the ads and the people who were selling them
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

HERRING PRAISES ENACTMENT OF VIRGINIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT INCLUDING TOOLS FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL TO PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS

RICHMOND (March 31, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following the signing of the Virginia Voting Rights Act, historic legislation that enhances and strengthens voter protections in the Commonwealth and empowers the attorney general of Virginia to enforce the protections included in the Act:
 
“Strengthened, enhanced voter protections are crucial to ensuring that every eligible Virginian who wants to vote can,” said Attorney General Herring. “For too long, Virginia has been on the wrong side of history – implementing restrictive and oftentimes discriminatory voting measures with the goal of disenfranchising whole sections of the population. With the Virginia Voting Rights Act, voters in the Commonwealth can be assured that if they want to vote they can, and that their vote will count.
 
“I’m especially proud that my office will play a role in helping local and state elections officials enforce these new voting protections, as well as investigate any instances of discriminatory conduct.
 
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate as well as the many voting rights advocates for their hard work on getting this historic legislation passed. Voting is a fundamental right that we should always strive to make as easy as possible.”
 
Attorney General Herring and his team worked closely with the two sponsors of the legislation Delegate Marcia Price (HB1890) and Senator Jennifer McClellan (SB1395), as well as voting rights advocates, to include a provision in the legislation making the Office of the Attorney General a main enforcer of the Virginia Voting Rights Act.
 
Protecting Virginians voting rights has been a top priority for Attorney General Herring during his time in office. During the COVID pandemic, Attorney General Herring has worked hard to ensure that all Virginians could vote safely and easily, regardless of how they chose to vote, and protect voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls.
 
Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day 2020, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.
 
Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring's work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.
 
Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.
 
Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person including:
  • An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
  • An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home
 
Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration's drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
 
Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES OLDER VIRGINIANS TO BE WARY OF FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION

~ Herring highlights resources for older Virginians to help prevent them from becoming victims of scams and other financial exploitation ~

RICHMOND (March 5, 2021) – As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is highlighting resources for older Virginians to help prevent them from becoming victims of scams and other kinds of financial exploitation. Attorney General Herring and his team have worked hard to educate Virginia’s older population through Triad chapters around the Commonwealth. Additionally, Attorney General Herring has taken on businesses that have defrauded elderly and disabled consumers, including securing a permanent injunction against Jim Clore and his companies Access Mobility, LLC and 2911 Mobility, LLC for their fraudulent actions.

“Unfortunately, too often scammers and fraudsters try to take advantage of Virginia’s older population, because they believe they’re easily scammed,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I have worked hard to make sure that Virginia’s seniors are the most informed group in the Commonwealth so that we can help prevent as many from falling victim to scams and other fraud as possible. It’s despicable that individuals prey upon older Virginians to make money and my office will remain dedicated to putting a stop to these scammers and bringing those that are successful to justice.”

“Financial exploitation of older Virginians is a growing problem with losses in the millions of dollars each year. A lot of these crimes go unreported because people are embarrassed about being victimized. We can't let these perpetrators control the financial future of older Virginians. Contacting Adult Protective Services is another way to stop financial abuse and prevent it from happening again,” said Paige McCleary, Director of Adult Protective Services at the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Access Mobility and Jim Clore

In November 2020, Attorney General Herring secured a Permanent Injunction and Final Order against James R. Clore, Jr., Access Mobility Equipment, LLC, and 2911 Mobility, LLC for defrauding elderly and disabled consumers out of thousands of dollars they paid for the delivery and installation of mobility aids and equipment, and for undertaking contracting work without a license. In addition to prohibiting future violations of the law, the Permanent Injunction and Final Order awarded the Commonwealth judgments totaling $84,290.68 in restitution for affected consumers, $220,000.00 in civil penalties, and $64,238.25 in attorneys’ fees and costs. 

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is the mishandling, obtaining by fraud or deception, or theft of someone’s income, money, accounts, assets, or property by another person, either a friend, a family member, a caregiver, a neighbor, a bogus charity, a business, or even a stranger. Below are some ways that older Virginians can protect themselves from becoming the victim of financial exploitation:

  • Stay socially active. Being alone increases your risk of becoming a victim of financial exploitation. Become familiar with programs in your community that bring people together and support older adults and individuals with a disability.

  • Plan Ahead. Document your financial arrangements. Planning for your future gives you control over your assets and resources. Put your wishes concerning financial arrangements in writing. It reduces the chance of a misunderstanding.

  • Don’t give away property to anyone in exchange for lifelong care. Before you enter into an agreement with a person to provide you lifelong care, discuss the arrangement with an attorney, a financial advisor, or other professional you trust. Spell out what compensation, if any, will be paid to the caregiver.

  • Never sign anything you do not understand. If you are asked to sign a document, have someone you trust review it with you. Know what the document is about and get clear answers to questions before you sign anything.

  • Be careful when you give someone power of attorney. Before you assign a power of attorney, be sure you understand the agreement and the authority you are giving to your power of attorney.

  • Keep track of your financial documents and personal items. Monitor your savings, checking or retirement account balances. Contact your financial institution if you see accounting irregularities. Keep an inventory of your jewelry and other personal items. A person may try to take these items without your permission.

  • Be aware of scams. Many door-to-door, telephone, and internet solicitations are scams. Be concerned if you are told that you “have just won a prize!” If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you believe you or someone you know is being financially exploited, please call your local department of social services or you can call the 24-hour Adult Protective Services hotline at (888) 832-3858. Learn more about financial exploitation at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services website.

Scams Targeted at Older Virginians

Some warning signs to look out for so you don’t become the victim of a scam are:

  • "Free" gifts that require you to pay shipping and handling fees, redemption fees or gift taxes before delivery

  • "High profit, no-risk" investments

  • "Act now" and other high pressure sales tactics

  • A request for a credit card number for identification purposes or to verify that you have won a prize

  • Refusal to provide written information or even the most basic details about an organization

  • Organizations that are unfamiliar or have only a post office box for an address

Below are some common scams targeted at older Virginians:

  • Telemarketing fraud – Every day, older adults receive phone calls from solicitors who tell them, "This is your lucky day." Telemarketing is a huge business in the United States. However, there is no way to tell how much telemarketing is fraudulent, because victims are often too embarrassed to report their losses to the police. Fraudulent telemarketers are often difficult to catch because they have a fly-by-night style of operation. They often work in "boiler-rooms," which involve leased space with banks of telephones, staffed by scam artists. 

  • Romance scams – Romance scams start when the scammer creates a fake online dating profile and then strikes up a relationship with their target in order to build trust. Once that relationship has been created, they’ll make up some kind of story and ask for money. Any love interest who asks you to give them money through gift cards, cryptocurrency, or through a money transfer is a scammer.

  • Grandparent scams – In grandparent scams, bad actors pose as someone’s panicked grandchild in trouble and they call or send messages or emails asking for money to be wired to them immediately. Oftentimes, they’ll say that they need cash to help with an emergency, like needing to leave a foreign country, posting bail, or paying some kind of bill. They take advantage of a grandparent being worried about their grandchild in order to try and take their money.

Virginia Triad

During his time in office, Attorney General Herring has made protecting Virginia’s seniors a top priority and the Office of Attorney General even houses the Virginia Triad Office, making Virginia the only state in the country with a statewide coordinated office at the executive level of government. Triad is a cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies (police/fire/sheriffs), senior citizens, and senior organizations, across the Commonwealth.

The goal of Triad is to reduce the fear of crime and victimization among seniors by increasing awareness of scams and frauds, strengthening communication between the law enforcement and senior communities, and promoting awareness of local and state resources that may benefit them. Local Triad chapters meet regularly and host a variety of educational programs and social opportunities that emphasize crime prevention and promote connection and senior safety. The Office of the Attorney General provides technical assistance and support to local Triad chapters by assisting in the development of new chapters, hosting the annual Triad conference, and funding grant opportunities. Today, Virginia has over 200 cities, counties, and towns with signed Triad agreements and has been recognized by the National Association of Triads, Inc. as having the highest number of active local groups nationwide.

If someone believes they have been a victim of financial fraud or a scam they should contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section to file a complaint or to get additional information about any consumer protection related matter:

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CREATES CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNIT, EXPANDS EFFORTS TO IDENTIFY AND OVERTURN WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

~ Conviction Integrity Unit will add resources to better identify and overturn wrongful convictions and to implement new changes to Virginia’s “actual innocence” process ~

RICHMOND (January 14, 2021)—Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he is creating the OAG’s first Conviction Integrity Unit to expand his efforts to identify and overturn wrongful convictions. The Unit will now be a distinct entity with a singular focus on evaluating and investigating claims of wrongful conviction, taking proactive steps to overturn wrongful convictions, and implementing important changes in the law that will finally allow for more wrongly convicted people to pursue their claims in the courts. The Unit will grow to include three full time attorneys and one investigator dedicated to identifying and correcting wrongful convictions.

“Our goal as a Commonwealth must always be justice and truth, not simply convictions, or preservation and defense of convictions in defiance of logic, facts, or new evidence,” said Attorney General Herring. “To wrongly convict a person is to deny them untold opportunities and the chance to live their life in freedom and to choose their own path. It is a wrong that can never truly be righted.

“In the 2020 legislative session the General Assembly finally took long overdue steps to improve Virginia’s process for identifying and overturning wrongful convictions. With these important changes comes a new opportunity and obligation to ensure the Commonwealth, through its attorney general, is an active partner in the pursuit of justice and truth. For far too long Virginia’s process for securing justice for the wrongfully convicted was hopelessly convoluted, requiring individuals to jump through countless hoops just to get the chance to make their case, and even then they faced a burden of proof so high that it often felt like the system was set up to give the illusion of hope, rather than pursue truth and justice. But now, Virginia has a process that will focus on the heart of the matter: whether someone is actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

“When I joined Keith Harward’s petition to have his wrongful conviction overturned in 2015, I said that when the system gets it wrong, when the system fails to deliver justice, we have to say so and we have to fix it. That is why I have created this unit, which reflects an unprecedented commitment to ensuring justice and to righting wrongs whenever they are found. It will be an important tool of accountability and justice, and a safeguard against prosecutorial misconduct, institutional racism and bias, or mistakes that could cost an innocent person their freedom.”

The work of the Conviction Integrity Unit is expected to grow in light of important changes to Virginia’s laws around wrongful convictions and the issuance of “writs of actual innocence,” which are orders issued by either the Court of Appeals of Virginia or the Virginia Supreme Court after the court finds that an individual did not actually commit the crime for which they were convicted and that they are actually innocent.

The addition of an in-house investigator is a major development that will expand the Conviction Integrity Unit’s ability to follow the facts and independently determine whether a person has been wrongly convicted. Instead of relying on law enforcement agencies who may have been involved in the original investigation, the Unit will now be able to conduct more independent investigations that help get to the truth of someone’s guilt or innocence.

Under legislation that the Office of Attorney General worked on in the last legislative session with chief patron House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring, the General Assembly has expanded the opportunities for wrongfully convicted individuals to pursue their claims, and eliminated many of the unnecessary procedural requirements that too often kept individuals from having their case heard on the merits.

“The creation of Virginia’s first statewide Conviction Integrity Unit is a momentous leap forward in the pursuit of justice, and one that was frankly unimaginable in Virginia just a few years ago,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “It shows a true commitment by the Commonwealth and Attorney General Herring to doing justice in all cases, to writing wrongs, and to ensuring that no one is denied their freedom and liberty for a crime they didn’t commit.”

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING DEFENDING RURAL BROADBAND ACCESS IN COURT

~ Attorney General Herring has intervened to defend Virginia’s new broadband policies in court; Internet access has become even more critical as much of Virginians’ daily lives have moved online ~

 

RICHMOND (December 10, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has intervened in the lawsuit Grano v. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to defend Virginia’s new policies that make it easier to expand broadband in rural areas of the Commonwealth. Internet access has become even more critical for basic needs over the past months while millions of Virginians have been working, learning, socializing and seeking healthcare from home, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many Virginians to move school, work, healthcare, and almost every other part of daily life online,” said Attorney General Herring. “Transitioning to an almost exclusively online lifestyle has really highlighted just how critical rural broadband access is. This is why I’m fighting to defend this important policy in court, because we need to make rural broadband access a top priority throughout the Commonwealth.”

This year, the General Assembly passed legislation that authorized utility companies in Virginia to expand broadband networks, especially in rural areas of the Commonwealth, by using existing “easements for the location and use of electric and communications facilities.” Allowing these utility companies to expand their broadband networks makes it that much easier for them to bring critical broadband access to portions of Virginia that have previously not had that access.

Ensuring that individuals who live in more rural areas have access to quality, affordable broadband has been important to Attorney General Herring, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how desperately it’s needed. In May, Attorney General Herring joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 state attorneys general in urging Congress to help make sure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any legislation that provides relief and recovery resources related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES $113 MILLION SETTLEMENT WITH APPLE OVER IPHONE THROTTLING

~ Herring alleges Apple concealed a product defect in its iPhones by installing a software update that reduced performance; Virginia to receive more than $2.6 million as its share of the settlement ~

RICHMOND (November 18, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has secured a $113 million settlement with Apple, Inc. regarding Apple’s alleged 2016 decision to throttle consumers’ iPhone speeds to address unexpected shutdowns in some iPhones. Attorney General Herring joins a bipartisan coalition of over 30 state attorneys general in reaching this settlement with Apple. Under the terms of the agreement, Apple will pay Virginia $2,648,658.22.

“For years, Apple willingly and knowingly concealed defects in its iPhone models, going as far as to install a software update to intentionally hide those defects,” said Attorney General Herring. “Apple did not tell consumers that the software update reduced the performance of their phones, and, in fact, profited off the intentional slowdown when consumers upgraded their phones because of the reduced performance. I will not allow businesses like Apple to take advantage of Virginia consumers and I’m glad that we were able to reach a settlement that holds them accountable for their deceptive conduct.”

Based on the multistate investigation, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues allege that Apple discovered that battery issues were leading to unexpected shutdowns in iPhones. Rather than disclosing these issues or replacing batteries, however, Apple concealed the issues from consumers. Apple’s concealment ultimately led to a software update in December 2016 that reduced iPhone performance in an effort to keep the phones from unexpectedly shutting down. 

Additionally, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues allege that Apple’s concealment of the battery issues and its decision to throttle the performance of consumers’ iPhones led to Apple profiting from selling additional iPhones to consumers whose phone performance had, in fact, been slowed by Apple. In his Complaint, Attorney General Herring alleges that this conduct violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

Under the settlement, Apple will pay Virginia $2,648,658.22. In addition to the monetary payment, Apple also must provide truthful information to consumers about iPhone battery health, performance, and power management. Apple must provide this important information in various forms on its website, in update installation notes, and in the iPhone user interface itself. Apple also recently entered into a proposed settlement of class action litigation related to the same conduct, and under that proposed settlement Apple will pay out up to $500 million in consumer restitution.

The settlement, in the form of a Consent Judgment, will be filed for approval with the Richmond City Circuit Court.

Joining Attorney General Herring in this settlement are the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District Of Columbia.

Virginia sees smooth election day thanks to efforts by AG Herring

Virginia saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election Day yesterday, after there was an anticipation that we could have seen some disruptions. I think an important reason why we saw such a quiet day was because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges.

Virginia saw historic turnout during this election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring's work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.

Attorney General Herring and his team expertly handled the influx of votes and every other curve ball or challenge that this election cycle threw at them. Attorney General Herring remains committed to ensuring that every single vote is counted as required by law and he recognizes that this election is not over just yet.

In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, he has assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who will be on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need arise. Additionally, the OAG has lawyers in every corner of the state who are prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.

This election cycle has brought numerous challenges that have prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian has a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day tomorrow.

Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person including:

  • An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
  • An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home

Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration's drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”

Additionally, Attorney General Herring has put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians feel comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:

Attorney General Herring remained committed to ensuring that every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience during this year’s election, whether they choose to vote early absentee, early in person, or in person on Election Day.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OUTLINES PROTECTIONS AGAINST VOTER INTIMIDATION

~ Herring issues advisory opinion outlining protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation in response to recent events ~

RICHMOND (September 24, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has issued an advisory opinion outlining protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation in response to “reports of activity near polling places that led some voters to fear for their safety while waiting to cast their vote, or led them to believe that they would be harmed for supporting a particular candidate.”
 
“Voting is a fundamental right and the bedrock of our democracy. No Virginian should ever feel intimidated or afraid while exercising their duty as an American and casting their vote,” said Attorney General Herring. “My hope is that the behavior we saw last week will not happen again, and I remain committed to ensuring that every Virginian is able to safely and comfortably cast their ballot without fearing for their safety or wellbeing.”
 
Attorney General Herring concludes his opinion saying, “[t]he legitimacy of our government—and its success in fulfilling the promises of our Constitution—rely on the notion of uncoerced choice. Virginia and federal law protect the fundamental right to vote freely. Accordingly, it is my opinion that the conduct you describe could violate state and/or federal law if it threatens or intimidates voters casting their ballots at polling places.”
 
The opinion outlines applicable provisions in the Code of Virginia “[that] expressly prohibit[] voter intimidation” including:
  • Section 24.2-607(A) makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor “’for any person to hinder, intimidate, or interfere with any qualified voter so as to prevent the voter from casting a secret ballot.’”
  • Section 24.2-1005 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to use “’threats, bribery, or other means in violation of the election laws’ to ‘attempt[] to influence any person in giving his vote or ballot or . . . deter him from voting.’”
  • Section 24.2-1015, makes it a Class 5 felony to “’conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, intimidate, prevent, or hinder any citizen of this Commonwealth in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the provisions of [the election laws].’”
 
The opinion also highlights provisions in the Virginia state code that “prohibit[] certain conduct at polling places that might interfere with the right to vote free from influence,” including:
  • Section 24.2-607(B) that says “’[n]o person shall conduct himself in a noisy or riotous manner at or about the polls so as to disturb the election.’”
  • “While polls are open, it is unlawful to ‘loiter or congregate,’ ‘give, tender, or exhibit any . . . campaign material,’ or ‘solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any person in casting his vote’ within 40 feet of ‘any entrance of any polling place.’”
  • “It is also unlawful to ‘use[]’ a ‘loudspeaker…within 300 feet of a polling place on an election day.’”
 
Additionally, the opinion notes that “Virginia and federal law provide that voters shall not be harassed for exercising their rights”, highlighting that “[b]oth state and local law protect citizens from violent threats, and in particular from being threatened with firearms” and that “[i]t is a criminal offense for private individuals to usurp the role of actual law enforcement, and it is accordingly unlawful to appear at the polls attempting to exercise roles that rightfully belong to law enforcement.” Attorney General Herring says that “[t]hese types of protection have an important history in our law. They have helped vindicate racial equality in voting, ensure the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws, and invoke the basic respect that is due every voter at the polls.”
 
Other key passages from the opinion:
 
In our democratic system of governance, the right to vote is “a fundamental political right.” Voting both ensures “a representative form of government” and also “preserv[es] . . . other basic civil and political rights.” “[T]he right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner” is therefore a “bedrock” principle in any “free and democratic society.” Intimidation of citizens who are seeking to vote is both illegal and antithetical to one of the basic promises that binds us together: that of democratic self-governance. [Page 1]
 
Federal criminal law similarly provides that any person who “intimidates, threatens, [or] coerces” another person “for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose” in a federal election—or “attempts” to do the same—may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. [Page 2]
 
Should they so choose, officers of election—with the consent of the locality’s chief law-enforcement officer—are empowered to “designate a law-enforcement officer” to “preserve order inside and outside at the polling place.” [Page 2]
 
Voters similarly should not fear for their safety when voting, whether they are within the forty-foot zone of a polling place or in socially-distanced lines beyond that zone. [Page 2]
 
Virginia law also prohibits carrying or possessing firearms or weapons at specific locations that may be used as polling places, such as schools and courthouses. [Page 3]
 
Virginia law makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to “falsely assume[] or exercise[] the functions, powers, duties, and privileges incident to the office of sheriff, police officer, marshal, or other peace officer, or any local, city, county, state, or federal law-enforcement officer.” This criminal prohibition can apply to “a group of private militia members coming as a unit, heavily armed with assault-style weapons, dressed in fatigues and other military accessories, and acting in a coordinated fashion” where the “militia members patrol[] a line of citizens” and “project[] authority to manage the crowd.” [Page 3]

VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA REACH SETTLEMENT OVER DAN RIVER SPILL

~ 2014 Duke Energy spill resulted in approximately 27 million gallons of coal ash wastewater and between 30,000 and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River ~

RICHMOND (September 21, 2020) – Attorney General Herring, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have entered into a consent decree to finalize the restoration plan and environmental assessment related to the 2014 Dan River spill.
 
“This final restoration plan ensures that any damage caused by the Dan River spill is reversed and restored, as well as holds those who were responsible for the spill accountable,” said Attorney General Herring. “The community was directly impacted by this spill and I’m glad we were able to involve them in coming up with a suitable plan for everyone. I want to thank our state and federal partners for their help and collaboration on reaching this important settlement.”
 
Four projects have been selected as meeting these goals and three of those have already been completed as early restoration. Completion of the last project – improved recreational access to the Dan River – is expected after the court filing. Selected projects include:
 
  • Acquisition and conservation of the Mayo River floodplain and riverbank adding up to 619 acres to the Mayo River State Parks in North Carolina and Virginia for long-term stewardship (completed)
  • Aquatic habitat restoration in the Pigg River via removal of the Power Dam returning riverine conditions to 2.2 miles, benefitting game fish such as smallmouth bass, and the federally and state listed Roanoke logperch and other nongame fish (completed)
  • Establishment of public boat launch facilities on the Dan River (ongoing)
  • Improvements to the Abreu Grogan Park in Danville, Virginia, including new amenities and other improvements that address impacts related to park closure during spill response activities (completed)
 
“Transparent community involvement was a vital part of this multi-agency partnership between Virginia and North Carolina as we shaped the important projects in the restoration plan to rehabilitate our natural resources,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Filing the consent decree will ensure all work is completed to enhance cleaner water, beautiful landscapes and our many outdoor recreation venues.”
 
On February 2, 2014, a stormwater pipe underneath the primary coal ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station failed, resulting in the spill of approximately 27 million gallons of coal ash wastewater and between 30,000 and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, resulting in documented ash or ash-like material co-mingled with native sediment in North Carolina and Virginia as far as 70 river miles downstream.
 
The Dan River spill NRDAR process included collecting and reviewing monitoring data in the Dan River for several years after the completion of the cleanup, as well as identifying projects that would restore the habitat and gathering public input about those project ideas. In October 2014, the Trustees invited restoration project ideas from the public to help identify the types and scale of restoration needed to compensate for those injuries. Public feedback showed support for land protection and conservation projects, dam removals, and increasing public access to the river.
 
The final restoration plan and environmental assessment can be found here.

(Editor's Note: While this spill was out of the Emporia News reading area, the Dan River is a tributary of the Roanake River. Conditions upriver have the potential to effect conditions downriver; including the Kerr Reservoir, Lake Gaston, Roanoke Rapids Lake and the Roanoke River, all recreation and angling areas used by local readers.)

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES $15.3 MILLION IN DEBT RELIEF FOR FORMER ITT TECH STUDENTS IN VIRGINIA

~ Herring joins CFPB, 47 other state attorneys general in securing $330 million agreement over PEAKS loans at defunct for-profit school ~

RICHMOND (September 15, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has secured an agreement to obtain approximately $15.3 million in debt relief for at least 1,840 former ITT Tech students in Virginia as part of a settlement with 48 attorneys general and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Nationally, the settlement will result in debt relief of about $330 million for 35,000 borrowers who have outstanding principal balances.   
 
The settlement is with PEAKS Trust, a private loan program run by the for-profit college and affiliated with Deutsche Bank entities. ITT filed bankruptcy in 2016 amid investigations by state attorneys general and following action by the U.S. Department of Education to restrict ITT’s access to federal student aid. 
 
“Student loan debt continues to be a significant burden to Virginians and their families across the Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Herring. “As Attorney General, I am committed to protecting Virginians from unscrupulous for-profit schools and shady lenders who try to pressure, abuse, and exploit student loan borrowers. I am glad we were able to reach this agreement that I hope will alleviate some of the financial pressure on Virginians who were taken advantage of by this scheme.”
 
PEAKS was formed after the 2008 financial crisis when private sources of lending available to for-profit colleges dried up. ITT developed a plan with PEAKS to offer students temporary credit to cover the gap in tuition between federal student aid and the full cost of the education. 
 
According to the settlement agreement, ITT and PEAKS knew or should have known that the students would not be able to repay the temporary credit when it became due nine months later. Many students complained that they thought the temporary credit was like a federal loan and would not be due until six months after they graduated. 
 
When the temporary credit became due, ITT pressured and coerced students into accepting loans from PEAKS, which for many students carried high interest rates, far above rates for federal loans. Pressure tactics used by ITT included pulling students out of class and threatening to expel them if they did not accept the loan terms. Many of the ITT students were from low-income backgrounds and were left with the choice of enrolling in the PEAKS loans or dropping out and losing any benefit of the credits they had earned, because ITT’s credits would not transfer to most schools. 
 
The default rate on the PEAKS loans is projected to exceed 80%, due to both the high cost of the loans as well as the lack of success ITT graduates had getting jobs that earned enough to make repayment feasible. The defaulted loans continue to affect students’ credit ratings and are usually not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
 
Under the settlement, PEAKS has agreed that it will forgo collection of the outstanding loans and cease doing business. PEAKS will send notices to borrowers about the cancelled debt and ensure that automatic payments are cancelled. The settlement also requires PEAKS to supply credit reporting agencies with information to update credit information for affected borrowers. 
 
Students will not need to do anything to receive the debt relief and the notices they receive will explain their rights under the settlement. Students can direct any questions they may have to PEAKS at customerservice@peaksloans.com or 866-747-0273. They can also reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with questions at (855) 411-2372.
 
In June 2019, Attorney General Herring announced that he had secured $9.29 million in debt relief for nearly 1,000 former ITT Tech students in Virginia as part of a $186 million settlement that resulted in debt relief for 18,664 former ITT students nationally. That agreement was with Student CU Connect CUSO, LLC, which also offered loans to finance students’ tuition at ITT Tech.
 
Additionally last year, Attorney General Herring and 48 other attorneys general reached a settlement with for-profit education company Career Education Corporation (CEC). The terms of the settlement required CEC to reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgo collecting about $493.7 million in debts owed by 179,529 students nationally. In Virginia, 3,094 students will receive relief totaling $8,022,178.
 
In December 2016, the Attorney General announced that more than 5,000 Virginia students formerly enrolled in schools operated by Corinthian Colleges, Inc. may be eligible for loan forgiveness. This came after the U.S Department of Education found that Corinthian College and its subsidiaries published misleading job placement rates for many programs between 2010 and 2014. Following this announcement, Attorney General Herring urged Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education to follow through on their commitment to cancel student debt for students in Virginia and around the country who were victimized by Corinthian Colleges' practices.
 
Attorney General Herring has stood up against the Trump Administration’s numerous attempts to rollback student borrower protections. In January, he urged Congress to reject the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 Borrower Defense Rule that fails to protect students and taxpayers from the misconduct of unscrupulous schools. Previously, Attorney General Herring won a victory in federal court when a judge rejected the Trump Administration’s challenge to the Obama-era Borrower Defense Rule, ordering its immediate implementation for students nationwide. This ruling followed a victory Attorney General Herring won in federal court after he and a coalition of state attorneys general challenged the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to abruptly rescind its Borrower Defense Rule which was designed to hold abusive higher education institutions accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans. The immediate implementation of the 2016 Borrower Defense rule meant that the U.S. Department of Education had to automatically discharge $381 million in loans for students whose schools closed.
 
Students with questions about their rights under the settlement will receive information in the Notices that are sent. Students may also contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

 
Overall, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $334 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has transferred more than $61 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016 the Section has been even more effective in fighting for Virginia consumers.
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in announcing today’s settlement are the attorneys general of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OUTLINES PRIORITIES FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND POLICING REFORM AHEAD OF SPECIAL SESSION

~ Slate of priorities includes measures he has advocated for years and additional steps to reduce brutality and abuses of authority, and increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality ~

RICHMOND —Ahead of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today outlined his priorities for criminal justice and policing reforms that will reduce brutality and abuses of power by law enforcement, increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality, and address disparities throughout the criminal justice system from policing to re-entry.

“Virginia cannot have different systems and standards of justice depending on the color of a person's skin,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Ours must be a Commonwealth where justice, equality and opportunity are guaranteed for each and every person, no matter where they live, what they look like, how they worship, who they love, or how much money they have.

“We know that African-Americans and Virginians of color experience the criminal justice system differently at every level from policing through prosecution and into re-entry. It is documented and undeniable. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s even harder to experience. It means that we are failing in one of our most foundational responsibilities as a country and a Commonwealth: to ensure that all men and women are truly treated equal.

“This moment has given us an opportunity like none I can recall in my lifetime to truly focus on how we create a criminal justice system that meets our public safety goals in a way that ensures justice and equality for all. Those of us who have been frustrated by the pace of change in previous years now have the benefit of open minds and a broader recognition of the change that is needed in this country to ensure that Black lives matter, and that the criminal justice system is oriented around justice and safety, not simply control or oppression.”

In the upcoming special session, Attorney General Herring will be supporting the following measures:

Police Reform:

  • Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations
  • Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training
  • Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General
  • Current law enforcement officers must have 21st century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum
  • Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession
  • Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions.
  • Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification.
  • Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force.
  • Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers.
  • Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics
  • Empower localities to establish citizen review panels
  • Require the use of body worn cameras by all law enforcement officers
  • Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions

Criminal Justice Reform:

  • Cash bail reform
  • Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process
  • Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions

“For many months now, I have been waiting for a response from the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to my request for an independent investigation into one of my local police departments. But for the return receipt requested signature card, I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement to my letter. If the federal government isn’t going to provide this oversight when police departments may be violating citizen’s rights, then there needs to be a state backstop that can conduct these necessary investigations. It is for these reasons, I will introduce a bill in the Special Session of the General Assembly to enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “patterns and practices investigations of local police departments,” said Senator Louise Lucas.

“Since 2017 the Trump Administration’s DOJ has refused to address systemic failures and investigate possible unconstitutional practices in law enforcement agencies. With that in mind, the Attorney General needs to have the authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, such as use of excessive force, illegal searches, or biased policing,” stated Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “This legislation finally gives the Attorney General the authority to investigate, subpoena, and bring appropriate actions in court to ensure compliance with constitutional policing standards.” 

In the area of police reform, Attorney General Herring will be actively working to ensure passage of the following bills and policies:

Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.

Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training to include mandatory training on implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st century policing skills. Because of the immense power placed in the hands of law enforcement officers, the Commonwealth must treat the law enforcement profession as a highly-skilled and specialized field that requires both proper training and high standards.

In order to ensure proper, 21st century training for Virginia law enforcement officers:

  • The Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General that includes implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st century policing skills.
  • Current law enforcement officers must have 21st century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum. In 2015, Attorney General Herring sponsored a series of five regional “train-the-trainer” conferences to promote the wider adoption of implicit bias training, de-escalation, and other 21st century policing skills. The training officers from more than 50 law enforcement agencies participated, then went back to their departments and taught their colleagues, making this one of Virginia’s largest-ever investments in 21st century policing skills.

Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession. The Commonwealth should hold its law enforcement officers to the highest standards because they are empowered to make life-and-death decisions and other serious decisions that could dramatically affect the life of a Virginian. Virginia must therefore ensure that it removes from the profession any individuals who prove themselves unworthy or incapable of bearing such responsibility.

Virginia should:

  • Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions. Currently an officer may only lose their law enforcement officer certification for a criminal conviction. Misconduct that may not rise to the level of criminal conduct must be a basis for decertifying officers.
  • Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification. If an individual has proven they are not capable of exercising law enforcement authority in a safe, fair, impartial, and constitutional way, they should not be able to conceal that information from a department or simply switch departments and continue their career.
  • Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force. No law enforcement officer should be able to hide behind a resignation to avoid accountability and continue their career when they have shown they may not be capable of serving in law enforcement.
  • Create a legal obligation for “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers when they see another officer using excessive force, when it’s safe to intervene, and regardless of intervention they must immediately report the incident to their supervisors.
  • Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics like chokeholds, strangleholds, and no-knock warrants.
  • Empower localities to establish citizen review panels with necessary investigative authority and, where possible, provide state-level support.
  • Require the use of body worn cameras by all law enforcement officers to ensure a complete and accurate account of any citizen-officer interactions.
  • Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions on officer-involved incidents that may constitute criminal conduct, including use of force or killings by law enforcement officers.

Attorney General Herring will also be working for the passage of the following bills and policies to strengthen our communities and reduce racial and economic disparities through reform of Virginia’s criminal justice system:

  • Cash bail reform. Attorney General Herring has long supported significant reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system which, in its current form, can lead to unjust outcomes where dangerous people with money can go free while nonviolent people sit in jail for days, weeks, or months because they can’t afford to pay bail. This can cause a person to lose their job, housing, and support systems. Attorney General Herring will be pushing for Virginia to move away from the use of cash bail as its default for low level offenses and instead expand pretrial services that have proven to be effective and cheaper.
  • Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process. Attorney General Herring has also advocated for expanding record expungement opportunities and simplifying the process to build a more just and fair criminal justice system and to address the disproportionate burden that criminal convictions place on African Americans and people of color. Virginia is one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states for individuals who have earned the opportunity to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records. While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth appears to be one of just ten states that does not offer any sort of judicial “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible for expungement. This means that a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, can become a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities.
  • Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions. During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but believes Virginia needs to continue on to full legal, regulated adult use as quickly as possible, because the social and human costs of prohibition fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. In 2018, there were nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests, and the Virginia Crime Commission found that from 2007 to 2016 46% of all individuals arrested for first offense marijuana possession were African American, despite being just 20% of Virginia’s population.

In addition to these policing and criminal justice reform priorities, Attorney General Herring supports measures that require officers to deescalate situations, and to better utilize specialized resources instead of police officers to respond to non-public safety situations, such as addiction, a person experiencing homelessness, or a mental health crisis.

Del. Jay Jones Announces Historic Campaign for Attorney General

~ Grabs endorsements from over 30 General Assembly members on first day of campaign, Congresswoman Elaine Luria ~

Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Attorney General of Virginia in 2021.

Delegate Jones released a new video announcing his historic campaign to become Virginia’s first African American Attorney General entitled “Generations in the Making.”

“This decision is truly generations in the making,” said Delegate Jay Jones. “Five generations ago, my ancestors were freed from the shackles of slavery. Just two generations ago, my grandfather endured systematic racism and discrimination on his journey to becoming a pioneering black lawyer in Virginia.  And in 1960 my father and my uncle were two of the first black students to attend an all-white elementary school in Norfolk, Virginia.”

“Today, I am announcing that I’m running for Attorney General of our great Commonwealth, not just because it is time for a new generation of leadership, but because it is time for a Commonwealth that embraces everyone and lifts everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like,” Delegate Jones added.

"I am fortunate to have Jay Jones represent me in the House of Delegates, and I am proud to endorse him for Attorney General,” said Congresswoman Elaine Luria. “Jay is the type of leader that lifts everyone up and leaves no one behind. During my first term in Congress, we have worked together to fight for the people of Hampton Roads, and I know Jay has the conviction, integrity and experience to fight for every Virginia family as our next Attorney General."

"Jay represents a new generation of leadership in our Commonwealth that is committed to progressing our Commonwealth forward,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas. “As the first African American woman to serve as President Pro-tempore of the Virginia Senate, I could not be more honored to support Jay’s campaign to serve as Virginia's first African American Attorney General.”

“Having spent three years in leadership at the Office of the Attorney General, I have seen first hand the qualities, skills, and abilities that are necessary to be an effective AG,” said Delegate Jeff Bourne. “Jay Jones has all of the tools that will be required when he is Attorney General. Virginia is at a crossroads. We need a new voice with new solutions to old problems that have plagued our Commonwealth for too long.”

“I have seen Jay's leadership and effectiveness up close in the Virginia House of Delegates,” said Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg. “As a civics teacher, I know Jay’s statewide election would be not only historic but also vital to showing our young people that our Commonwealth is inclusive and open to everyone. Jay will make Virginia proud as our next Attorney General. We need new voices and a new generation of leaders to lift everyone up in our Commonwealth.”

Delegate Jones announced last week that he raised over $255,000 in the first financial reporting period of 2020.  Since announcing that he was exploring a bid for Attorney General in 2021, Delegate Jones has received strong financial support from all across the Commonwealth and has more than $330,000 in cash on hand as of June 30, 2020.

Delegate Jay Jones was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 representing the 89th District.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FILES WIDE-RANGING LAWSUIT AGAINST 26 DRUG MAKERS AND 10 EXECUTIVES FOR CONSPIRACY TO FIX PRICES ON MORE THAN 80 GENERIC DRUGS

~ This is the third lawsuit filed by Attorney General Herring in ongoing, expanding antitrust investigation of the generic drug industry ~

RICHMOND (June 10, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 51 states in filing the third lawsuit stemming from an ongoing antitrust investigation into a widespread conspiracy by generic drug manufacturers to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition, and unreasonably restrain trade for generic drugs sold across the United States. This new Complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, focuses on 80 topical generic drugs that account for billions of dollars of sales in the United States. The Complaint names 26 corporate Defendants and 10 individual Defendants. The lawsuit seeks disgorgement, civil penalties, and actions by the court to restore competition to the generic drug market.
 
The topical drugs at the center of the Complaint include creams, gels, lotions, ointments, shampoos, and solutions used to treat a variety of skin conditions, pain, and allergies.
 
“These drug companies chose profit over keeping people safe and healthy,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Too many Virginians know the struggle of paying incredibly high drug prices, and in many cases the generic alternative may not have offered a lower-cost alternative because of this alleged price fixing. Virginians should never have to choose between paying for critical medication or paying for food, rent or utilities because of artificially inflated prices. My colleagues and I will continue to combat illegal price fixing in the generic drug market and hold drug companies and decision makers accountable.”
 
The Complaint stems from an ongoing investigation built on evidence from several cooperating witnesses at the core of the conspiracy, a massive document database of over 20 million documents, and a phone records database containing millions of call detail records and contact information for over 600 sales and pricing individuals in the generics industry. Among the records obtained by the states is a two-volume notebook containing the contemporaneous notes of one of the States’ cooperators that memorialized his discussions during phone calls with competitors and internal company meetings over a period of several years.
 
Between 2007 and 2014, three generic drug manufacturers, Taro, Perrigo, and Fougera (now Sandoz) sold nearly two-thirds of all generic topical products dispensed in the United States. The multistate investigation has uncovered comprehensive, direct evidence of unlawful agreements to minimize competition and raise prices on dozens of topical products. The Complaint alleges longstanding agreements among manufacturers to ensure a “fair share” of the market for each competitor, and to prevent “price erosion” due to competition.
 
The Complaint is the third to be filed in an ongoing wide-ranging multistate antitrust investigation of the generic drug industry. The first Complaint, still pending in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was filed in 2016 and now includes 18 corporate Defendants, two individual Defendants, and 15 generic drugs. Two former executives from Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Jeffery Glazer and Jason Malek, have entered into settlement agreements and are cooperating with the attorneys general working group in that case. The second Complaint, also pending in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was filed in 2019 against Teva Pharmaceuticals and 19 of the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers. That Complaint names 16 individual senior executive Defendants. The States are currently preparing for trial on that Complaint.
 
Corporate Defendants in the current Complaint:
  1. Sandoz, Inc.
  2. Actavis Holdco U.S., Inc.
  3. Actavis Elizabeth LLC
  4. Actavis Pharma, Inc.
  5. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  6. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, LLC
  7. Aurobindo Pharma USA, Inc.
  8. Bausch Health Americas, Inc.
  9. Bausch Health, US LLC
  10. Fougera Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  11. G&W Laboratories, Inc.
  12. Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc., USA
  13. Greenstone LLC
  14. Lannett Company, Inc.
  15. Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  16. Mallinckrodt Inc.
  17. Mallinckrodt plc
  18. Mallinckrodt LLC
  19. Mylan Inc.
  20. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc.
  21. Perrigo New York, Inc.
  22. Pfizer, Inc.
  23. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Inc.
  24. Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
  25. Teligent, Inc.
  26. Wockhardt USA, LLC
 
Individual Defendants:
  1. Ara Aprahamian, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Defendant Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
  2. Mitchell Blashinsky, Vice President of Marketing for Generics at Defendant Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. from January 2007 – May 2012, and Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Defendant Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Inc., USA from June 2012 – March 2014
  3. Douglas Boothe, Chief Executive Officer of Defendant Actavis from August 2008 – December 2012 and Executive Vice President and General Manager of Defendant Perrigo New York, Inc. from January 2013 – July 2016
  4. James Grauso, former Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Defendant G&W Laboratories from January 2010 – December 2011; Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations for Defendant Aurobindo from December 2011 – January 2014; and Executive Vice President, N.A. Commercial Operations at Defendant Glenmark from February 2014 – present
  5. Walt Kaczmarek, Senior Director of National Accounts, Vice President of National Accounts, and Senior Vice President of commercial Operations for Fougera Pharmaceuticals, a division of Nycomed US, Inc. (currently part of Defendant Sandoz, Inc.) from November 2004 – November 2012 and Vice President – General Manager and President of Multi-Source Pharmaceuticals for Defendant Mallinckrodt from November 2013 – August 2016.
  6. Armando Kellum, former Vice President of Contracting and Business Analytics at Defendant Sandoz
  7. Kurt Orlofski, President and Chief Executive Officer for Defendant Wockhardt USA from April 2007 – August 2009 and President of Defendant G&W Labs, Inc. from September 2009 – December 2016.
  8. Mike Perfetto, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Defendant Actavis from August 2003 – January 2013 and Chief Commercial Officer for Defendant Taro from January 2013 through his recent retirement from the company.
  9. Erika Vogel-Baylor, former Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Defendant G&W Labs, Inc. since July 2011
  10. John Wesolowski, Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations for Defendant Perrigo since February 2004
 
Drugs listed in the complaint as subject to price-fixing and market allocation agreements:
  1. Acetazolamide Tablets
  2. Adapalene Cream
  3. Alclometasone Dipropionate Cream
  4. Alclometasone Dipropionate Ointment
  5. Ammonium Lactate Cream
  6. Ammonium Lactate Lotion
  7. Betamethasone Dipropionate Cream
  8. Betamethasone Dipropionate Lotion
  9. Betamethasone Valerate Cream
  10. Betamethasone Valerate Lotion
  11. Betamethasone Valerate Ointment
  12. Bromocriptine Mesylate Tablets
  13. Calcipotriene Solution
  14. Calcipotriene Betamethasone Dipropionate Ointment
  15. Carbamazepine ER Tablets
  16. Cefpodoxime Proxetil Oral Suspension
  17. Cefpodoxime Proxetil Tablets
  18. Ciclopirox Cream
  19. Ciclopirox Shampoo
  20. Ciclopirox Solution
  21. Clindamycin Phosphate Cream
  22. Clindamycin Phosphate Gel
  23. Clindamycin Phosphate Lotion
  24. Clindamycin Phosphate Solution
  25. Clobetasol Propionate Cream
  26. Clobetasol Propionate Emollient Cream
  27. Clobetasol Propionate Gel
  28. Clobetasol Propionate Ointment
  29. Clobetasol Propionate Solution
  30. Clotrimazole 1% Cream
  31. Clotrimazole Betamethasone Dipropionate Cream
  32. Clotrimazole Betamethasone Dipropionate Lotion
  33. Desonide Cream
  34. Desonide Lotion
  35. Desonide Ointment
  36. Desoximetasone Ointment
  37. Econazole Nitrate Cream
  38. Eplerenone Tablets
  39. Erythromycin Base/Ethyl Alcohol Solution
  40. Ethambutol HCL Tablets
  41. Fluocinolone Acetonide Cream
  42. Fluocinolone Acetonide Ointment
  43. Fluocinonide .1% Cream
  44. Fluocinonide Gel 
  45. Fluocinonide Ointment 
  46. Fluocinonide Solution
  47. Fluticasone Propionate Lotion
  48. Griseofulvin Microsize Tablets
  49. Halobetasol Propionate Cream
  50. Halobetasol Propionate Ointment
  51. Hydrocortisone Acetate Suppositories
  52. Hydrocortisone Valerate Cream
  53. Imiquimod Cream
  54. Ketoconazole Cream
  55. Latanoprost Drops
  56. Lidocaine Ointment
  57. Methazolamide Tablets
  58. Methylphenidate HCL Tablets
  59. Methylphenidate HCL ER Tablets
  60. Metronidazole Cream
  61. Metronidazole .75% Gel
  62. Metronidazole .1% Gel
  63. Metronidazole Lotion
  64. Mometasone Furoate Cream
  65. Mometasone Furoate Ointment
  66. Mometasone Furoate Solution
  67. Nafcillin Sodium Injectable Vials
  68. Nystatin Ointment
  69. Nystatin Triamcinolone Cream
  70. Nystatin Triamcinolone Ointment
  71. Oxacillin Sodium Injectable Vials
  72. Phenytoin Sodium ER Capsules
  73. Pioglitazone HCL Metformin HCL Tablets
  74. Prochlorperazine Maleate Suppositories
  75. Promethazine HCL Suppositories
  76. Tacrolimus Ointment
  77. Terconazole Cream
  78. Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream
  79. Triamcinolone Acetonide Ointment
  80. Triamcinolone Acetonide Paste
 
Attorney General Herring joined the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Territory of Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin in filing the complaint. 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES CONGRESS TO FUND EXPANDED ACCESS TO BROADBAND

~ Herring joins bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to ensure critical broadband access for those studying, working, and seeking healthcare from home during COVID-19 ~

RICHMOND (May 22, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any additional legislation that provides relief and recovery resources related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet access has become critical for basic needs over the past few weeks while millions of Virginians and Americans have been working, learning, socializing and seeking healthcare from home.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Virginians to move school, work, healthcare and just about everything else online and has highlighted how desperately we need a national broadband plan during this crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Many telecom companies have stepped up to provide internet access but that is not a sustainable answer. Congress should include a national broadband plan in any future relief packages to make sure that all communities, especially those in more rural or underserved areas, have access to the internet resources they need.”

In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues laud independent efforts of various companies to increase access by waiving late fees or even providing free or discounted access to students and medical providers, while acknowledging that such efforts are not sustainable. Ultimately, the attorneys general argue that there must be a national solution to get internet access to homes across the country, especially in more rural areas.

Unless Congress acts quickly, disparities in access to home internet connectivity will exacerbate existing gaps in educational and health outcomes along lines of geography, economic resources, and race.

In a letter sent to Congressional leaders, the attorneys general urge Congress to:

  • Provide state, territorial, and local governments with adequate funding expressly dedicated to ensuring that all students and patients, especially senior citizens who are at risk, have adequate internet-enabled technology to participate equally in online learning and telemedicine.
  • Increase funding to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission Universal Service Fund, which provides vital funding to rural and low-income populations, healthcare providers, and educators with the goal of bridging the digital divide.

With public health experts warning that a second wave of coronavirus infections may require teleschooling and telemedicine to continue for millions of Americans throughout 2020, it is critical that Congress act now to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity they need to access educational opportunities, healthcare, and to earn a livelihood.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Alaska, American Samoa, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

ROANOKE ROBOCALLERS TO PAY $300,000 BACK TO CONSUMERS

~ Attorney General Herring reaches settlement with Adventis Inc., Skyline Metrics LLC, which operated as OnceDriven among other names, and owner Bryant Cass for alleged illegal robocalling and deceptive sales tactics ~

RICHMOND (April 29, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has reached a settlement with two Roanoke-based telemarketing companies, and Roanoke resident Bryant Cass, for illegal robocalling and deceptive sales practices. Attorney General Herring filed suit against the two companies and Cass last summer, alleging that they made hundreds of thousands of unsolicited robocalls nationwide pitching car selling services to people who listed cars for sale on Craigslist, Autotrader.com, or similar sites. As part of the settlement agreement, Cass will pay $300,000 in restitution that will go back to consumers who were affected by his telemarketing, sales or refund practices. Additionally, Cass has been banned from engaging or participating in telephone solicitations for five years and has been permanently banned from illegal telemarketing and robocalling. The companies have ceased operations and are no longer in business.
 
“I’m really pleased my team and I were able to shut down this illegal robocall operation and help consumers get their money back from this scheme,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, robocalls continue to be an everyday occurrence for most Virginians, and many times they can not only be annoying but dangerous, potentially scamming people out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. I will continue to do everything I can to protect Virginia consumers and find ways to stop illegal robocallers, especially those operating in Virginia.”
 
Attorney General Herring filed suit against Adventis Inc., Skyline Metrics LLC, which operated as OnceDriven, Longwood Industries, The Big Lot!, Autohopper, and Auto Marketing Systems, and Cass in June 2019 alleging that the businesses used automated equipment to pull telephone numbers from websites, make hundreds of calls a day – even to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry – and leave prerecorded voicemails in which Cass used fake names like “Peyton” or “Brian” to pitch car selling services for a “small fee” with a “money back guarantee.” If people called back, they reached a telemarketing boiler room in downtown Roanoke, where trained salespeople worked off a scripted pitch to make sales.
 
Attorney General Herring also alleged that, from 2014 to 2017 alone, Cass and his companies made 586,870 unsolicited telemarketing calls just to Virginia area codes.
 
The Complaint also alleged that the companies enticed people to pay $289 for online car sales services through deceptive claims like these:
  • We have “buyers in your area” or buyers looking for “vehicles like yours,” regardless of whether the companies actually had such buyers
  • We also pre-screen buyers for financing to “make sure they are serious and they have a plan for paying you.” In fact, there was no such pre-screening
  • “We have a Money Back Guarantee!” If you sell your car on your own, “you’re eligible for a refund in the first 45 days.” In fact, refunds were hard to get, and Mr. Cass instructed employees to limit the number of refunds given, even to customers who took all the steps to qualify for a refund
 
Under the terms of the settlement, Adventis Inc., Skyline Metrics LLC, and Bryant Cass agreed to the following:
  • Restitution totaling $300,000 to be paid to consumers affected by the telemarketing, sales, or refund practices alleged in the Complaint
  • Civil penalties and attorneys’ fees totaling $8,708.02
  • A permanent ban from illegal telemarketing and robocalling, including bans on using automatic dialing systems or pre-recorded voice messages, calling numbers on the do-not-call registry, failing to honor do-not-call requests, failing to include a three-day right to cancel, and from violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act or any of the federal or state telemarketing laws the Attorney General enforces.  These prohibitions apply to all calls, not just calls to Virginians
  • Cass is barred from engaging in or participating in telephone solicitations or assisting others in engaging in telephone solicitations for a five-year period
 
Attorney General Herring’s lawsuit was part of “Operation Call it Quits”, a coordinated federal and state law enforcement crackdown on robocallers and illegal telemarketers. This major crackdown on illegal robocalls included 94 actions targeting operations around the country responsible for more than one billion calls pitching a variety of products and services, including credit card interest rate reduction services, money-making opportunities, and medical alert systems.
 
In 2019 alone, Virginians received at least 1.56 billion robocalls. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Virginia was the 8th highest state in the nation for Do Not Call Registry complaints with 178,717 complaints in 2019. Additionally, Virginians made more than 125,000 complaints to the FTC about robocalls alone, up from more than 118,000 complaints in 2018. Americans received at least 58.5 billion robocalls in 2019, an increase of 22% from 47.8 billion robocalls in 2018.
 
Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $323 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has transferred more than $55 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016 the Section has been even more effective in fighting for Virginia consumers.
 
Attorney General Herring has the following tips for Virginians to help manage robocalls:
  • Don’t answer calls from numbers you do not recognize
  • If it’s an unwanted robocall, hang up
  • Don’t press any numbers. This could lead to even more calls, even if the robocall claims you can press 1 to speak to a live operator or press a number to get your number off the calling list
  • Register your home and mobile phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register
  • Report robocalls to the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov. Federal and state law enforcement officials have access to the complaints filed through the National Do Not Call Registry
  • Contact your phone service provider and ask about available robocall-blocking technology
  • Consider using mobile apps or other features that may already be built into your phone to block robocalls
 
Consumer victims seeking additional information about the settlement can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

 

 

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FIGHTS DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTHCARE DURING COVID-19

~ Coalition of 24 attorneys general are urging the Trump Administration to not finalize a rule change that would eliminate protections against discrimination for women, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable populations ~

RICHMOND (May 1, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 24 states in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging it not to finalize its proposed rule during COVID-19 that would allow discrimination in providing healthcare. The “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities” (Section 1557 Rule) is an antidiscrimination provision that prohibits discrimination in healthcare based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, age or disability. If finalized, the proposed changes to this provision would seriously undermine the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) critical anti-discrimination protections at a time when they are most needed to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“No one should ever be afraid of being discriminated against by a healthcare provider, especially during a national health crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color in Virginia and around the country, exacerbating the racial and ethnic disparities in our healthcare system. We cannot allow the Trump Administration to make it easier for healthcare providers to discriminate against their patients.”

The proposed rule would roll back anti-discrimination protections for communities of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, those with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities by undermining critical legal protections that guarantee healthcare as a right. Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare that the ACA attempted to address, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, and recently more than 100 national and local organizations signed on to an open letter to the healthcare community about how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population. HHS itself has long noted that discrimination within the healthcare system contributes to poor coverage and health outcomes, and exacerbates existing health disparities in underserved communities. Individuals who have experienced discrimination in healthcare often postpone or forgo needed healthcare, resulting in adverse health outcomes.  
 
In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that moving forward with this rule change in the midst of this unprecedented healthcare crisis will create unnecessary confusion and administrative burdens for state agencies, healthcare providers, and patients at a time when the healthcare system is battling to save lives. Data suggests that increased access to healthcare could assist with prompt COVID-19 detection and increase early treatment, which helps diminish spread of the disease. For these reasons, the coalition warns the Trump Administration that making this major regulatory change in the midst of the current crisis is not only irresponsible, it is potentially deadly.

 

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending this letter are the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

*CONSUMER ALERT* ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES VIRGINIANS TO REMAIN WARY OF COVID-19 SCAMS

~ Scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to try and take money from hardworking Virginians ~
 
RICHMOND (April 1, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today issued a consumer alert urging Virginians to continue to be wary of COVID-19-related scams including federal stimulus related scams, cyber scams, telephone and text messaging scams, counterfeit product offers, bogus door-to-door tests and virus-related products, and phony charity donation requests.
 
“The sad truth is that we continue to see bad actors in Virginia and across the country taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and trying to scam money from people,” said Attorney General Herring. “I again want to urge all Virginians to remain vigilant during this time and use common sense when you encounter seemingly too good to be true offers either online, over the phone or in person. Before purchasing any coronavirus related products or donating to any charities please do your research and make sure that you are giving your money to a legitimate business or organization.”
 
Last week, Attorney General Herring warned of scammers trying to get personal information as part of a new federal stimulus payment scam. There have been reports of scammers using the news that, as part of the federal stimulus package, the government will be sending one-time payments to millions of Virginians and Americans as an opportunity to try and steal personal information. These phishing scams will likely ask for things like bank account information under the guise of direct depositing money from the stimulus package into your bank account. Also, remember that the government will not ask you to pay any money up front to get a stimulus check. So if someone asks you to pay something, it’s a scam.
 
Utility or Government Imposter Scams
Many people are understandably very concerned when they get an e-mail, letter or phone call from someone identifying themselves as a representative of a government agency or one of their utility companies. Scammers are constantly improving their techniques to fool their intended victims into thinking they work for the government or utility, including fake identification and spoofed phone numbers on Caller ID. This scam employs the fear factor to lead you to part with your money or provide financial information to them. They may even threaten to have you arrested or cut off your electricity or water if you do not comply.
 
If someone reaches out to you saying they are from a government agency or a utility company DO NOT give your information to them over the phone. Instead find a legitimate phone number on the utility company or the government agency’s website and call them back to check and see if they actually need you to send them something.
 
Cyber Scams
Look out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other healthcare organizations, offering to share information about the virus. Do not open attachments or click on links within unknown emails, as scammers are using phony COVID-19 tracking websites to infect electronic devices with malware, putting residents at risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
 
Take extra precaution to avoid spoofed or phony websites by only visiting websites with clearly distinguishable URL addresses. Scammers seek to exploit individuals by directing web traffic to similar, but falsely identified website names where they can provide misinformation or attempt to gain consumers’ personal information or finances in exchange for pandemic updates.
 
Be on the lookout for emails asking for the verification of personal data, including Medicare or Medicaid information, in exchange for receiving economic stimulus funds or other benefits from the government.  Government agencies are NOT sending out emails asking for residents’ personal information in order to receive funds or other pandemic relief opportunities.
 
Telephone and Text Messaging Scams
If you find that you’ve answered a robocall – Hang Up. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are calling with offers involving everything from COVID-19 treatments and cures, to work-from-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will direct you to a live operator or even remove you from their call list, but it also might lead to more robocalls.
 
Similar to email phishing scams, text messages from unknown sources may offer hyperlinks to what appears to be automated pandemic updates, or interactive infection maps.  These are just two examples of ways scammers can install malware on your mobile electronic device, putting you at increased risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
 
Counterfeit Product Offers & High Demand Goods
Ignore offers for COVID-19 vaccinations and home test kits. There are currently no vaccines, pills, medications, or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure the Coronavirus disease. This applies to offers made online, in stores, by electronic message, or over the phone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any home test kits for COVID-19.
 
As many have seen firsthand, some consumer products are in extreme demand. Household cleaning products, sanitizers, personal hygiene products, and health and medical supplies may be offered via online or in-person sellers aiming to capitalize on under supplied or unavailable products. When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction. 
 
If you are concerned about price gouging in your area, please reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
 
Bogus Door to Door Tests and Virus-related Products
To ensure your personal safety, DO NOT answer the door or allow into your home or residence any unknown individuals or business representatives moving door-to-door offering to sell consumer products, medical kits, vaccines, cures, whole-home sanitization, or in-person COVID-19 testing. There are no FDA approved at-home tests, medicines, cures, vaccines, prescriptions or other coronavirus-related products and anything like this that someone is trying to sell is a scam.
 
Phony Charities & Donation Requests
Coming together in a time of need and extreme hardship is testament to the kindness of Virginians; however, when disasters and life changing events such as the current pandemic occur, be cautious as to where donations are going. Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services. Be especially cautious if you do not initiate contact with the charity. Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
 
Crowdfunding sites are particularly popular. Here are a few things to remember:
  • Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness.
  • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures.
  • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people.
If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs ("OCRP") at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online.
 
Remember these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
  • Never wire money or send cash or a pre-paid card—These transactions are just like sending someone cash! Once your money is gone, you can’t trace it or get it back.
  • Don’t give the caller any of your financial or other personal information—Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know exactly who you're dealing with. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate — but you think the collector may not be — contact the company to which the caller claims you owe money to inquire about the call.
  • Don’t trust a name or number—Scammers use official-sounding names, titles, and organizations to make you trust them. To make the call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code or generate a fake name on caller ID. So even though it may look like they’re calling locally or somewhere in the United States, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Join the National Do Not Call Registry and don’t answer numbers you don’t know—This won’t stop scammers from calling but it should make you skeptical of calls you get from out of the blue. Most legitimate sales people generally honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get.
Attorney General Herring advises consumers to watch out for the following red flags and to keep these tips in mind to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud:
  • The Offer Seems Too Good to be True—If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Examples include money left to you from an unknown relative, being awarded a loan or grant for which you did not apply, winning a lottery you did not enter and being selected to receive a share in funds in return for using your bank account.
  • Requests for Fees or Payment in Advance—Scammers will want advance payments or fees to clear the funds or complete their offer. It might not be clear what the fees are for, but the scammer will tell you they have to be paid or the money can’t be released. They might suggest they are only trying to help you out and the fees are a small sum compared to what you will be receiving. Never pay fees or taxes in advance.
  • Pressure—Scammers will often put pressure on their victims and urge them to pay immediately or lose the opportunity, or may even threaten them with legal consequences or disconnected utilities unless a payment is sent right away. A genuine business or government entity will not pressure you to act immediately.
  • Know who you are dealing with—Technology has made it easy for scammers to disguise or spoof their telephone number or create a website that looks very legitimate. Do an online search for the company name and website and look for consumer reviews. If you cannot find a seller’s physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number it should be a red flag. It is best to do business with websites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card.
  • They Want Private Information—Many scams involve getting hold of your bank account details. Scams involving identity theft also seek personal information. A common scenario is an email supposedly from a bank asking you to click on a link to confirm your bank details and password. Banks generally don’t do this, but if you think the email has really come from your bank, pick up the phone and confirm with them. Never click on links or attachments in emails from people you don’t know or you risk your computer becoming infected by viruses, trojans, or other malware.
  • Untraceable Payment Method—Scammers prefer payment methods that are untraceable, such as wiring money through Western Union or other services. Be very suspicious of demands for wire transfers or cash payments. Never wire money to someone you do not know. 
  • Grammatical Errors or Poor Production Values—Scammers may be clever, but they are not always careful and English may not be their first language. Their grammatical errors can give them away. If the correspondence you receive is full of errors, low-resolution images, or unsophisticated formatting, be very suspicious.
  • Suspicious Email Domains and Web Addresses—Look carefully at email addresses and domain names. Businesses rarely use free email services like Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail. Even if the business seems legitimate, do some research to make sure they have readily available contact information and have not scammed others.
  • Suspicious or No Addresses—Scammers do not want their victims to know where they live. If there is no physical address and your contacts won’t give you one, it’s a sure bet you’re being scammed. If there is a physical address, check it out using the Internet or Google Earth and see if it’s a real address.
  • Request for Access to Your Computer—A common scam is a phone call from someone claiming to be a technician who has detected problems with your computer and would like to fix them for you free. Never give anyone remote access to your computer
If you think you have been a victim of a scam please reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES VIRGINIANS TO COMPLETE CENSUS QUESTIONNAIRE

~ On “Census Day” Herring highlights the importance of the census for things like federal funding for healthcare and transportation, and state and federal legislative districts ~

RICHMOND (April 1, 2020) – On “Census Day” Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging all Virginians to complete their 2020 decennial census questionnaires to make sure that there is an accurate count of Virginia’s population. Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds are directly tied to demographic information obtained through the census, including the Highway Trust Fund and other Department of Transportation grants, Child Care Development Grants, and Medicaid. Consequently, inaccurate counts can potentially deprive Virginia of much-needed funds designed to protect low-income and vulnerable communities.

“On this Census Day, most, if not all, households in Virginia should have received a census questionnaire – please make sure to fill it out and send it back to the Census Bureau. While I know most of us are focused on the coronavirus, it is so incredibly important that we all still participate in the census,” said Attorney General Herring. “The census isn’t just a project that the government does every ten years to figure out how many people live in the country. It ensures that Virginia has fair representation both at the state and the federal level and it determines funding for critical things like healthcare, transportation and childcare.

“I successfully fought in court to protect the integrity of the census and block the Trump Administration’s citizenship question from being included on this year’s census. Now all Virginians must do their part and fill out their questionnaire to make sure that everyone living in the Commonwealth is properly counted. An undercount could cost Virginia millions of dollars in federal funding.”

While the census counts Virginians at their permanent residence, people without a permanent residence are counted at the place where they are living on April 1st, which is why that day is known as “Census Day.” The 2020 census is already well underway but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, response rates have been slower and the U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted the original timeline in response to that. To make things as easy as possible, you can respond to the census online, over the phone or through the mail.

Attorney General Herring successfully protected the integrity of the 2020 census after he sued to block the Trump Administration’s addition of a “poison pill” citizenship question, that the Census Bureau said would likely depress response and compromise the accuracy of the census. Attorney General Herring’s lawsuit emphasized the irreparable harm that would result from inaccuracies in the 2020 Census.

Additionally, the coalition filed official comments in August 2018 urging the Census Bureau to reconsider its decision to include an unnecessary citizenship question that would impair the Bureau’s essential function of counting all people in the 2020 census. The comments explained that demanding citizenship information on the census would depress response rates in cities and states with large immigrant populations, directly threatening those states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds.

A total of $700 billion is distributed annually to nearly 300 different census-guided federal grant and funding programs. In FY2015, Virginia received over $953 million in Highway Trust Fund grants, over $131 million in Urbanized Area Formula Grants, and nearly $64 million in Child Care Development grants, all based on census data.

PRICE GOUGING PROTECTIONS IN EFFECT AS STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED OVER CORONAVIRUS

~ Anti-price gouging statute was activated upon Governor Northam’s declaration of state of emergency; covers items and services such as water, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear, and more ~

RICHMOND(March 12, 2020) – As public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus continue to grow, Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency has triggered Virginia's anti-price gouging statutes designed to protect consumers from paying exorbitant prices for necessary goods and services during an emergency.
 
“When you’re trying to make sure that you and your family have all the necessities in order to protect yourselves against illness, the last thing you want to deal with is a scam or exorbitant price for a needed service or product. The sad reality is that there are unscrupulous folks out there who will take advantage of public health crises in order to make more money,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia law offers protections for folks who find themselves in need of things like medicines, cleaning products, hand sanitizers and other necessities during a public health crisis. I would encourage all Virginians to pay attention to any prices that seem too high, and contact my office as soon as possible if you think someone may be illegally overcharging for necessary goods or running a scam.”
 
Enacted in 2004, Virginia's Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty-day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more. The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster.
 
Suspected violations of Virginia's Anti-Price Gouging Act should be reported to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
 
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or to file a complaint:
 
Additionally, Attorney General Herring has warned Virginians to be wary of scams related to the coronavirus. Below are some tips and ways to protect yourself from coronavirus scams:
  •  Look out for emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that they have information about the coronavirus. For the most updated information you can visit the CDC and the World Health Organization websites.
  • Do not click on any links from unknown sources. This could lead to downloading a virus on your computer or phone.
  • Ignore any offers, online or otherwise, for a coronavirus vaccine. If you see any advertisements for prevention, treatment or cures ask the question: if there had been a cure for the disease would you be hearing about that through an advertisement or sales pitch?
  • Thoroughly research any organizations or charities purporting to be raising funds for victims of the coronavirus.
  • Look out for “investment opportunities” surrounding the coronavirus. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission there are online promotions claiming the products or services of certain publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure the disease and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase because of that.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES PRO-CONSUMER PROTECTIONS IN SETTLEMENT OVER T-MOBILE, SPRINT MERGER

~ The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees ~

RICHMOND (March 11, 2020) – Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced a settlement with T-Mobile, resolving the Virginia’s challenge to the company’s merger with Sprint. The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees. T-Mobile also will reimburse Virginia for the costs and fees of its investigation and its litigation challenging the merger. This agreement resolves the legal challenge brought by Attorney General Herring and several other states, which alleged that the merger was unlawful and would lead to reduced competition and increased prices for consumers. 

“My colleagues and I vigorously challenged the T-Mobile/Sprint merger because we were concerned that it would leave consumers with higher prices and less choices and would lead to reduced innovation in the telecom industry,” said Attorney General Herring. “I take my responsibility to protect Virginia consumers very seriously and strongly believed in our case. While I disagree with the Court’s decision to approve the merger, it still emphasized the importance of local market competition in mergers and the importance of state enforcers. This agreement will protect existing jobs in Virginia, give price protections for low-cost plans, and extend broadband access to our lower-income households with children."

As required by the settlement, the merged company is required to:
  • Make low-cost plans available in Virginia for at least 5 years, including a plan offering 2 GB of high-speed data at $15 per month and 5 GB of high-speed data at $25 per month;
  • Extend for at least an additional two years the rate plans currently offered by T-Mobile pursuant to its earlier FCC commitment, ensuring Virginians can retain T-Mobile plans held in February 2019 for a total of five years;
  • Offer 100 GB of no-cost broadband internet service per year for five years and a free mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device to 10 million qualifying low-income households not currently connected to broadband nationwide, as well as the option to purchase select Wi-Fi enabled tablets at the company’s cost for each qualifying household;
  • Protect Virginia jobs by offering all Virginia T-Mobile and Sprint retail employees in good standing an offer of substantially similar employment. T-Mobile also commits that three years after the closing date, the total number of new T-Mobile employees will be equal to or greater than the current total number of employees of the unmerged Sprint and T-Mobile companies;
  • Increase diversity by increasing the participation rate in its employee Diversity and Inclusion program to 60 percent participation within three years; and
  • Reimburse Virginia and other plaintiff states up to $15 million for the costs of the investigation and litigation challenging the merger.
Joining Attorney General Herring in this agreement are the attorneys general of Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

 

 

 

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