Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A State's Attorney General actually doing his or her job?

Click Here for the text of my complaint faxed to the Vermont Attorney General's Office

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The below came from the Vermont Attorney Generals Official Site:

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News & Announcements

Attorney General Settles “Government Grants” Lawsuit

Contact: Elliot Burg, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5507

December 28, 2006 - Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that his office has settled a consumer fraud lawsuit filed against two related companies that ran “government grants” seminars in Vermont. The companies are Proven Methods Seminars, LLC, of Boca Raton, Florida, and Proven Methods Customer Service, LLC, of Rochester, New York, doing business together as National Grants Conferences (“NGC”). The settlement offers consumers an opportunity to receive refunds totaling over $300,000 and requires payment to the State of $65,000.

In March 2006, the Attorney General sued in response to NGC’s marketing of a government grants program without prior factual substantiation that it works; NGC’s use of consumer testimonials to sell its program without disclosing the atypical nature of the consumers’ success in obtaining government assistance; its failure to provide proper notice of consumers’ right to cancel any purchase of program materials; and its refusal to comply with an investigative subpoena.

According to the court complaint filed with the Washington Superior Court in Montpelier, NGC claimed to offer a program that showed how to obtain “free” money from the government. Since 2001, the company conducted at least ten seminars at various hotels in Vermont, which were advertised through direct mail and infomercials on television. Attendance at NGC’s seminars was free, but NGC sold “training” materials to consumers at the seminars for a “discounted” price of up to $999.00.

According to the court complaint, the brochure handed out at NGC’s seminars bore a large-print headline that summarized what NGC claimed to offer: “How To Get Free Money From the U.S. Government!” The direct mail piece used to entice consumers to attend NGC’s seminars contained a similar headline, also in large print: “How To Qualify For FREE Grant Money And Guaranteed Loans Backed By The U.S. Government!” In addition, NGC made extensive use of consumer testimonials to market its program, supposedly from individuals who had purchased NGC’s training materials and who, as a result, had been successful in obtaining grants or loans.

Despite this emphasis on consumer success, NGC admitted in papers filed with the court that it did not know how common it was for purchasers of its training materials to apply for, or to receive, a government grant or loan. In addition, the small-print disclaimer accompanying the testimonials did not adequately warn prospective buyers of NGC’s materials that the consumer-endorsers’ experience was not typical of how consumers generally would fare if they bought NGC’s program. This lack of factual substantiation for NGC’s marketing claims, and the inadequate disclosures, violated the Vermont Consumer Fraud Act, according to the court complaint.

Under the settlement, NGC has agreed to comply with federal and state law and to refrain from using consumer testimonials unless either (1) the endorser’s experience is representative of what a significant proportion of consumers are likely to achieve in the way of obtaining government assistance, and NGC possesses adequate substantiation for this claim, or (2) the ad either clearly and conspicuously discloses what consumers’ generally expected performance would be in the depicted circumstances or clearly and conspicuously discloses the fact that the performance experienced by the endorser is not what consumers should expect to experience. The mere disclosure that “not all consumers will get this result” is insufficient, because it can imply that while all consumers cannot expect the advertised results, a substantial number can expect them.

In addition, the settlement bars NGC from stating or implying that consumers are likely to obtain government grants or loans through its program without first possessing factual substantiation that this result is reasonably likely.

Vermont consumers who bought NGC’s materials will receive a letter by certified mail offering them a full refund of what they paid NGC. The only conditions are that they mail, fax or email their request to NGC, as instructed in the letter, within fourteen calendar days of receiving the letter, and that they make their materials available to be picked up by NGC—but only if they still have the materials and NGC actually requests their return. Over 360 Vermonters will be offered refunds totaling more than $325,000. Finally, NGC will pay the State $65,000 to cover its costs in the lawsuit and any civil penalties that could be imposed by the court. Commenting on the settlement, Attorney General Sorrell noted that “government grants” offers have proliferated in recent years, and that the likelihood that someone would obtain government assistance through such programs is very small. “People who need help from the government would be best advised to contact state agencies or their Congressional delegation for assistance in identifying any grant or loan program that they might be eligible for,” he said. “On the other hand, for a private company to advertise “free grant money” and sell $1,000 worth of guidebooks, without being able to demonstrate that its program works, is unconscionable and illegal,” he added.

Consumers who have questions about the refund offer may contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424 for more information.

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Contact: Jefferson Krauss, Detective, (802) 241-4440

January 5, 2006: Attorney General William Sorrell today warned consumers that his office has learned that certain consumers in northern Vermont have been provided blood testing strips that are counterfeit or not intended for use in the United States and which could cause potential health problems.

Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office have found glucose test strips made for use outside of the United States on the shelves of a Burlington pharmacy. The test strips in question include Accu-Chek Sensor Comfort and Advantage II, produced by Roche Diagnostics and intended for sale “outside” of the United States. Such boxes are clearly marked with the words: “Made in USA for Export Only,” do not have an NDC number on the product, and have lot numbers beginning with #4 on the outer carton, on the container (vial), and on the computer chip that comes with the strips.

Glucose monitors that use Accu-Chek test strips sold in other parts of the world are programmed to test whole blood and not blood plasma, as required in the United States. As a result, U.S. consumers who mistakenly receive and use Accu-Chek test strips designed for export could see their glucose values deviate by as much as twelve percent from the results they would receive from using a product made for U.S. consumers.

The Attorney General’s Office has also learned that glucose test strips originally manufactured by LifeScan, a Johnson and Johnson Company, have been counterfeited by another manufacturer and distributed into the market of other states. These products, falsely represented to be produced by LifeScan, are labeled LifeScan One Touch Basic (lot numbers #272894A, #2619932, #2606340, #2615211, and #227078A) and LifeScan Ultra (lot numbers #2691191 and #2691261). These counterfeit test strips pose a potential harm to consumers and should not be used. To date, these specific lot numbers have not been discovered in Vermont.

“We are issuing this alert because of our concern for the health of Vermonters living with diabetes,” said Sorrell. “There have been no reports of injury from these products as of yet and we are continuing our investigation. We have advised Roche Diagnostics, LifeScan, and the federal Food and Drug Administration of our discovery and all parties are cooperating with us.”

Consumers who have received these products should discontinue their use, obtain a new refill or prescription, and contact their physicians for follow up care. Consumers are also asked to retain the packaging and call the Attorney General’s Office if they have received or used these products. Any pharmacies that have been purchasing these products for retail sale should cease dispensing these products and contact the Attorney General’s Office immediately.


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