Consumer Bill of Rights

A Plan to Protect Consumers

I am a strong believer in fairness. Everyone should be treated the same under the same rules. That is why I have spent my career fighting for fairness and justice for all Missourians, as a former prosecutor, lawmaker and now as St. Louis County Assessor. As Attorney General, I will stand up for consumers, seniors and children.

I have a long track record in local and state government as a champion for the rights of consumers and the middle class. I fought on behalf of Missourians who have been victimized by illegal and unfair business practices when I served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Missouri. I backed efforts to protect seniors from being taxed out of their homes. I have prosecuted scammers who stole money from unsuspecting customers, shut down fake “training schools” that existed only to con students out of their hard-earned tuition and even took on large cell phone companies that misled customers by disguising fees as taxes. I successfully challenged casinos that sought windfall tax cuts that would have slashed local school budgets. I went after a luxury senior center, claiming to be a “charity,” and cracked down on corporations that both were trying to avoid paying their fair share.

I am tired of powerful corporate interests standing in the way of what is right. As Attorney General, I will ensure Missourians are treated fairly under the law. I will advocate for all Missourians to ensure their rights are protected. I will serve the State of Missouri with the highest integrity, and will make certain that wrongdoers are held accountable.

My Consumer Bill of Rights proposes a number of ways to protect consumers from ending abusive telemarking scams and online fraud to getting tough on identity theft that impacts everyday Missourians. It includes national best practices and programs and services that hold promise for implementing in Missouri. It describes ways to ensure integrity and to enforce accountability so that Missourians are treated fairly under the law. When you think of me, I want you to think of FAIR: fairness, accountability, integrity and reform. That is who I am, that is what I stand for and that is what this document seeks to achieve.

The fight to protect Missouri consumers starts here. 

ENSURING CONSUMER PROTECTION

Nationally about 15 million consumers are victims of identify theft each year, with financial losses totaling as much as $50 billion.[1] The Consumer Protection Division in the State Attorney General’s Office reported more than 100,000 consumers filed complaints last year in Missouri.[2] While anyone could be a victim of identity theft, seniors have increasingly become targets, especially of abusive telemarketing scams and online fraud.[3] Despite stepped up security to safeguard personal information, criminals are using more sophisticated tactics to gain access. It’s a crime to misuse a consumer’s personal information. As Attorney General, I will take steps to combat identity theft and punish identity thieves to the fullest extent of the law. I will stand up for the victims of fraud. When corporations cheat consumers, I will hold them accountable.

Preventing identify theft. The best way to protect your personal information is to prevent it from being lost or stolen in the first place.

  • Conduct a “Senior Identity Safeguard Tour” visiting senior centers, retirement communities and nursing homes throughout Missouri to educate seniors on ways to safeguard their personal information and what tips to follow. As Attorney General, I will prioritize protecting seniors.
  • Create a “Don’t Scam-a-Grandma Kit” containing information to help seniors identify potential scams and what to do about it. For example, the kit would include information on how to tell a legitimate charity from a fraud or whether a sweepstakes win is authentic, among other information to help seniors protect their identity.[4]
  • Inform and educate consumers through a statewide public outreach campaign using social media about information and services available through the Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission to reduce the risk of identity theft and by teaching consumers how to spot “red flags.”
  • Partner with community organizations to sponsor annual document shredding events to prevent confidential and personal information from being stolen out of the trash. For example, the Rhode Island Attorney General partnered with area businesses and nonprofit organizations for a “Shred-A-Thon” – a week-long event that allowed people to safely destroy documents containing personal information.[5] I believe this could be successfully done in Missouri as well.

Protecting consumer information. Usernames and passwords are not always enough to keep your personal information safe.

  • Demand major phone companies offer their customers call-blocking options to stop irritating and unwanted robocalls and robotexts from ever again getting through on consumers’ wireless or landline home phones.[6]
  • Enforce the No-Call List (1-866-buzzoff) and investigate all complaints against telemarketers who violate the law to prevent consumers from becoming victims of scams. As Attorney General, I will look for ways to tighten the law and will seek to eliminate unnecessary exemptions.
  • Push for a credit card opt-out law that would allow consumers to keep their marketing information private and prevent credit card companies from sharing it with marketers.[7] This would eliminate unsolicited credit card offers and other junk mail from clogging your mailbox.
  • Advocate for resources to ensure the Attorney General’s Office is able to properly investigate consumer complaints and to prosecute criminals and scammers.
  • Propose tighter consumer data breach laws by:
  • Defining the maximum time period that a company has to notify consumers of a breach when their personal information has been compromised. Currently the law specifies only that disclosure notification be made without unreasonable delay. For example, a number of states require companies to notify consumers within 45 calendar days.[8]
  • Increasing the penalties for companies that violate consumer breach laws. Right now penalties are capped at $150,000 or less per breach or a series of breaches found in a single investigation in Missouri. Perhaps it’s time we consider raising the cap.[9]
  • Look for opportunities to provide consumers and law enforcement better scam tracking data. For example, the Better Business Bureau created an interactive Scam Tracker tool to raise consumer awareness about deceitful practices. It provides information about popular scams and tracks them by location so that consumers can find out what scams are occurring in their local area in real-time.[10] As Attorney General, I will review options for developing better scam detection tools and seek to partner with organizations, such as the BBB on ways to fight against scams in Missouri.

Recovering consumer information. There are several important steps a person should take to recover from identity theft.

  • Assign a staff member within the Office of Attorney General to serve as an Identity Recovery Ombudsman to assist in providing recovery information to victims.
  • Automatically send identity theft victims an electronic copy of important recovery instructions after an electronic complaint is filed with the Attorney General’s Office. The sooner you notify credit reporting companies when someone steals your identity, the less time a thief has to steal from you.

PREVENTING SENIOR ABUSE AND MEDICAID FRAUD

Elder abuse is a serious issue impacting seniors. While many do not know their perpetrators, sometimes it’s friends, relatives and trusted caregivers perpetrating crimes by abusing their fiduciary powers. As Attorney General, I will fight for seniors when they are taken advantage of.

  • Partner with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to update their MO$AFE[11] resource manual for banks and credit unions to identify possible financial exploitation and conduct training seminars with bank and credit union personnel on the warning signs of financial abuse and how to report it.[12]
  • Create an incentive program for banks and credit unions to report financial exploitation that leads to a conviction. For example, I anticipate that this program will be modeled on the state’s whistleblower program for reporting Medicaid fraud that now entitles a whistleblower to a portion of any recovery.[13] As Attorney General, I will look into creating a similar reward program for a whistleblower reporting financial abuse when funds are recovered.
  • Propose establishing harsher criminal penalties for perpetrators of elder financial abuse, such as allowing financial exploitation offenses against a vulnerable adult to be aggregated over a six-month period so that tougher punishment could be imposed, like Minnesota did.[14]
  • Crack down on Medicaid fraud, waste and abuse by stepping up enforcement and vigorously investigating claims. Medicaid fraud costs Missourians millions of dollars each year in health care dollars. As Attorney General, I will strive to make Missouri’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit the best in the nation.
  • Propose doubling whistleblower recovery rewards from 10 percent to 20 percent of recovered Medicaid funds to encourage more whistleblowers to report Medicaid fraud.[15] We could stop more fraud if more people would come forward to report these crimes.[16]

While the majority of Missouri’s Medicaid funded nursing homes are providing excellent care, some are not. The fact is that abuse and neglect occurs far too often. Everyone is entitled to receive proper care in our nursing homes.

  • Improve the quality of care in Medicaid funded nursing home facilities by partnering with the Department of Health and Senior Services to target facilities with the highest number of abuse and neglect complaints for surprise inspections. If more cases of abuse and neglect are found, the Attorney General’s Office will work with DHSS to investigate.[17] Just knowing that surprise inspections could take place will encourage nursing homes to improve their standard of care. As Attorney General, I will protect vulnerable Missourians by aggressively prosecuting nursing home abuse.
  • Increase awareness about a nursing home resident’s legal rights by posting them on the Attorney General’s Office website and automatically providing an electronic copy to a consumer filing an elder abuse and neglect complaint.

PROTECTING FAMILIES AND CHILDREN

 Too many college students graduate with the burden of credit card debt. Although the federal Credit CARD Act of 2009 offers protections to college-age consumers under 21, credit card companies are still permitted to solicit on college campuses provided that they disclose their partnership agreements to regulators and make them available to the public. Unfortunately, some colleges are not abiding by the law.[18] As Attorney General, I will fight for accountability for our families and children.

  • Propose legislation to impose a fine for colleges failing to provide college-sponsored credit card agreements to borrowers who request them within a reasonable period of time. I want the state to be given the tools to increase enforcement to ensure that our colleges and university follow the law.
  • Advocate for greater transparency of partnership agreements of college-sponsored debit and prepaid cards. Currently the federal government has not established specific disclosure requirements for these cards. This despite that the number of college-sponsored debit and prepaid cards is increasing. As Attorney General, I will seek to close this loophole.
  • Use the Attorney General’s Office website to educate the public about the risks associated with college-sponsored debit and prepaid cards, and provide college students and their families information on how to properly assess account features and fees.

We need to put in place certain protections that make paying for college in Missouri easier and fairer.

  • Push for the passage of a “Student Financial Aid Bill of Rights” to protect student borrowers from predatory and abusive lending practices.[19] Students are graduating from public and private colleges in Missouri with an average debt of $25,844 per borrower.[20] Student loan debt is rising. We need tighter controls in place to protect students from financial hardship. As Attorney General, I will advocate for more legal protection to ensure students have access to reliable information about loan products and to ensure lenders treat borrowers fairly.
  • Create better transparency in student loans and textbook pricing, so our next generation is not punished for seeking higher education. No for-profit college in Missouri should get away with using deceptive and misleading financial practices to force students to pay more for their education. As Attorney General, I will go after for-profit colleges that engage in abusive financial practices and punish them.
  • Prosecute individuals who try to defraud our college financial aid system. It’s against the law to use someone else’s name to secure student financial aid. Financial aid fraud rings rob deserving students of financial aid. As Attorney General, I will advocate for Missouri to have the same enforcement power as the federal government to prosecute financial aid fraud rings and work with federal prosecutors to bring these criminals to justice.
  • Establish a young adult’s guide to consumer protection to engage and empower youth to take control of their personal finances.[21] The guide would include things like: information on how to become consumer savvy, tips on managing credit, how to avoid becoming a victim of scams, navigating the pitfalls of the new and used car market, identifying rental scams and important information on repaying student loans. 

When a woman is paid less than a man for the same job, not only is she impacted but also is her family.

  • Enforce equal pay laws and call for strengthening them. Missouri women earn 71 cents for every dollar men earn for the same work.[22] That is not fair. As Attorney General, I will fight for fair pay for women and seek to close the wage gap.

PROTECTING SMALL BUSINESSES

Small businesses need as much protection as consumers from online scammers, hackers and unscrupulous lenders and corporations. Yet consumers are given considerably more protections than small businesses. We need to protect small businesses from deceptive and abusive practices for the same reason we protect consumers. Our small businesses deserve to receive a fair deal.

  • Propose to expand state lending protections to create a fairer lending environment for small businesses. It’s critical that Missouri has protections in place to help safeguard the finances of small business owners, since they commonly use their life savings to back their business loans.
  • Advocate for stronger legal protections for small businesses engaging in corporate-to-corporate transactions, including mandating that disclosure requirements be provided for all lending agreements that clearly describe pricing and terms. As Attorney General, I will crack down on small business lenders promising quick cash in exchange for exceedingly high interest rates.
  • Raise public awareness about unscrupulous lenders and provide tips to small businesses on how to avoid bad business deals. As Attorney General, I will hold predatory small business lenders accountable that make it their business to prey on cash-strapped small businesses.

 

 

[1] Identity Theft Victims Statistics, Identify Theft and Scam Prevention Services

[2] Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division

[3]4 Tips to Protect Seniors Against Fraud and Identity Theft,” Huff/Post 50, July 22, 2015

[4] The concept is modeled on the “Scambuster Kit” for California seniors.

[5]RI attorney general to host “Shred-A-Thon week,” NBC News 10, May 2, 2016

[6] FCC Rules: “Phone companies face no legal barriers to offering consumers the use of technologies that block robocalls to any phone. The FCC encourages phone companies to offer customers this resource. Calls and text messages have the same protection.”

[7] See: California Credit Card Disclosure Act as an example.

[8] Missouri Revised Statute, Chapter 407, Merchandising Practices, Section 407.1500.1 and Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin limit notification to be within 45 calendar days after confirmation of a security breach.

[9] Comparison of US State and Federal Security Breach Notification Laws, Current through January 21, 2016 (e.g. Florida’s cap is $500,000 for failure to provide notice and Michigan’s civil fine is $250,000 for failure to provide notice and civil fines cap for multiple violations from a single breach is $750,000.)

[10]BBB Scam Tracker is Important New Tool in Fight Against Scams and Fraud,” Better Business Bureau, November 10, 2015 and BBB Scam Tracker

[11] Missourians Stopping Adult Financial Exploitation (MO$AFE), 2005

[12] The proposal is modeled on The Massachusetts Bank Reporting Project. Missouri requires mandatory reporting of elder financial abuse, but training would help educate bank personnel on how to identify it.

[13] Section 191.907, RSMo

[14] Financial Crimes Against the Elderly, 2013 Legislation, National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL)

[15]AG Koster Announces Guilty Pleas in Dent County Medicaid Fraud Cases,” Missouri Attorney General, January 28, 2016 Press Release

[16] Whistleblowers in Indiana may be entitled to collect 10 to 30 percent of the monetary damages a company pays.

[17] The program is modeled on the Operation Guardians program that is administered by the Office of Attorney General for the State of California.

[18]CFPB Warns Colleges About Secret Campus Credit Card Contracts,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, December 16, 2015 Press Release

[19] The concept is like the Borrowers’ Bill of Rights being proposed in Virginia and the national Student Aid Bill of Rights that President Obama signed last year by Executive Order. See: “VA student loan refinancing authority proposed,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, January, 19, 2016 and “FACT SHEET: A Student Aid Bill of Rights: Taking Action to Ensure Strong Consumer Protections for Student Loan Borrowers,” March 10, 2015

[20] Missouri State Average College Debt Statistics 2015, The Institute for College Access and Success (statistics from 2014)

[21] The Guide would be similar to “On Your Own But Not Alone,” A Young Adult’s Guide to Consumer Protection published by the Ohio Attorney General

[22]What You Need to Know About the Missouri Equal Pay E.O.,” Women’s Foundation, December 20, 2015