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Attorney General Reyes Warns Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Craigslist, Walmart: Online Marketplaces Are Not Exempt From Price Gouging Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2020


ATTORNEY GENERAL REYES WARNS AMAZON, FACEBOOK, EBAY, CRAIGSLIST, WALMART: ONLINE MARKETPLACES ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM PRICE GOUGING LAWS


SALT LAKE CITY — Today, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes urged Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart, and Craigslist to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers using their services. Attorney General Reyes is one of 33 Attorneys General, led by attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Vermont, who sent the letter to urge the companies to focus on sellers who are potentially taking advantage of consumers in this time of crisis.

Our friends at The Utah Division of Consumer Protection are on the front lines in this situation. The Utah Attorney General’s Office thanks them for their hard work on both price gouging and scams. They are working hard to investigate complaints. If you notice incidents of price gouging, please call their office at 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233, or visit them online at consumerprotection.utah.gov.

From the letter:

“We want the business community and American consumers to know that we endeavor to balance the twin imperatives of commerce and consumer protection in the marketplace,” said the Attorneys General said. “And, while we appreciate reports of the efforts made by platforms and online retailers to crack down on price gouging as the American community faces an unprecedented public health crisis, we are calling on you to do more at a time that requires national unity.”
 
“The reality is that we’re all in this Coronavirus crisis together,” said Attorney General Reyes. “To hoard and then attempt to profit from the sale of products that people need like food, baby formula, toiletries, medicine, paper products, etc. is offensive and, in Utah, also illegal.” 
 
Reyes continued: “Sadly, some people will exploit the struggle of their neighbors. We are urging online marketplace companies to help us correct the unfairness of price gouging wherever possible.”

The letter lists several examples of price-gouging on these marketplace platforms, all of which took place only in March: on Craigslist, a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer was being sold for $250; on Facebook Marketplace, an eight-ounce bottle was being sold for $40; and on eBay, packs of face masks were being sold for $40 and $50.

The attorneys general recommend several changes to protect consumers from price gouging:

  • Set policies and enforce restrictions on unconscionable price gouging during emergencies: Online retail platforms should prevent unconscionable price increases from occurring by creating and enforcing strong policies that prevent sellers from deviating in any significant way from the product’s price before an emergency. Such policies should examine historical seller prices, and the price offered by other sellers of the same or similar products, to identify and eliminate price gouging.
  • Trigger price gouging protections prior to an emergency declaration, such as when your systems detect conditions like pending weather events or future possible health risks.
  • Implement a complaint portal for consumers to report potential price gouging.


This letter was co-led with the Offices of Attorneys General from Connecticut, New Mexico, and Vermont, in addition to signatures from the Offices of Attorneys General in California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico. 

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NOTES

  1. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to Amazon here.
  2. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to Craigslist here.
  3. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to eBay here.
  4. Read the letter sent by the 33 attorneys general to Walmart here

Attorney General Reyes Shares Update on Coronavirus from U.S. Surgeon General

March 19, 2020

Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes received updates from United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams about ways to combat and contain the Coronavirus, including mitigation. The information came on a bi-partisan teleconference arranged by the White House.

“I want you to have the very latest up-to-date information,” Attorney General Reyes said.  “Addressing this pandemic is not a partisan issue and the following information is the best we can provide.”

Since information is changing rapidly, Attorney General Reyes encourages the public to utilize the links provided below.

Agencies like the CDC and HHS provide information on those links in real-time. Please utilize them for yourselves, your family and loved ones.

It is important to note that currently, the risk to the average Utahn remains low, however, prevention is essential.  All agencies are working aggressively to monitor this continuously evolving situation and to keep our partners and the public informed.   

Up-To-Date Information

What You Need To Know


Attorney General Reyes Warns Utahns on Fraud and Price Gouging During Virus Emergency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 16, 2020


FRAUD AND PRICE GOUGING DURING VIRUS EMERGENCY
Attorney General Reyes: “I Want Citizens and Consumers to be Protected.”
 

SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes continues to alert both consumers and merchants of scams and price gouging which are a serious, potential threat to the health and well-being of citizens in the State of Utah.
 
Scams
Right now, health threats from the coronavirus are affecting people’s physical, mental and behavioral well-being and are the most pressing concerns. While we are focused on those emergencies, predators will try to take advantage of people’s uncertainties and fears.
 
“Our office is receiving questions and concerns about phone calls, emails and websites that are potentially frauds or scams,” Attorney General Reyes said. “As Utahns, we are known for generosity when it comes to donating and supporting others in emergencies. We also tend to be very trusting. Both are great qualities that can be potentially exploited during emergencies.” 
 
“Scams and fraud proliferate during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina,” Reyes continued. “The Utah Attorney General’s Office and Utah Division of Consumer Protection continually work together to investigate and prosecute these types of cases.”
 
Scams may come in the form of requests for charities that don’t exist or donations to causes that sound real but are not.

  • Simply because someone calls you and uses the name of a recognized charity doesn’t mean they are legitimate. If someone contacts you asking for money or your personal information, you can always hang up and call the business or entity back at a number that you can confirm.
  • No government agency will call you for payment over the phone or by wire. Before you send any money to help others, particularly via wire, cash or on a debit card, please check with a trusted advisor or contact the Division of Consumer Protection or Attorney General’s Office. 

Price Gouging
The Utah Attorney General’s Office and Division of Consumer Protection are becoming aware of several allegations of price gouging due to the temporary shortage of certain consumer items in stores. Unlike some states, our legislature passed laws to outlaw this conduct during emergencies. The Governor has now declared a state of emergency so our anti-gouging laws are in effect and penalties can be enforced.
 
Remember, excessive price inflation during emergencies is against the law. (Utah Code 13-41-101-202, Price Controls Under Emergencies Act). 
 
We hope this warning gives offenders a chance to do the right thing and stop the exploitation,” Attorney General Reyes said. “But if they don’t, they are in danger of state enforcement. Taking advantage of this tragedy for the sake of profit is NOT acceptable.”
 
Attorney General Reyes points out that some mark-ups will in fact reflect the scarcity of items and is acceptable under the statute.
 
Items like baby formula or medicine, toilet paper, bottled water, batteries, hand sanitizer filtering masks, etc. are among the items that can be typically marked up. Sellers should review the statute with their legal counsel if they have any questions.
 
We are working with our friends at the Division of Consumer Protection on both price gouging and scams, and they are working hard to investigate complaints.
 
If you notice incidents of price gouging, please call their office 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233, or visit them online at consumerprotection.utah.gov.
 
If you suspect criminal fraud has occurred, you may also reach out to the Attorney General’s Office at 801-366-0260.
 

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Attorney General Reyes Joins 15 Attorneys General to Defend Student Groups’ Freedom to Choose Leaders Who Share Their Beliefs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2020

Religious Beliefs and Freedom:  AG Reyes Joins 15 Attorneys General to Defend Student Groups’ Freedom to Choose Leaders Who Share Their Beliefs

SALT LAKE CITY – Today, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and Attorneys General from 15 states filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The brief supports a district court decision ruling that University of Iowa officials violated the First Amendment rights of student groups on campus.

Those university officials engaged in unlawful discrimination when they allowed some but not all student groups to require their leaders to share the group’s views. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of the organizations that school officials treated differently. They forbid InterVarsity from insisting on choosing leaders who affirm the group’s religious beliefs.

“Allowing a student group to require its leaders to agree with the group’s beliefs should not be controversial,” said Attorney General Reyes. “Without that right, student groups will be forced to accept leaders who reject their beliefs: For example, Democrat organi­zations must accept Republicans as leaders; and Buddhist groups must hand over control to Muslims.”

Iowa school officials did not apply their policies evenhandedly. Rather, they selectively targeted groups like InterVarsity for unfavorable treatment while allowing at least one other religious group—and countless nonreligious groups—to choose their leaders based on factors like religion, sex, creed, and political views.

The brief explains the university’s unfair application of its policies: “As to religion, the University defendants consider Love Works—[a] religious group whose views differ from InterVarsity—in compliance with its nondiscrimi­nation policies even though its leaders must ‘agree with the group’s core beliefs.’ . . . As to sex, registered sports clubs ‘restrict member­ship, participation, and leadership based on sex,’ and the University defendants allow all-female and all-male ‘Acapella group[s].’ . . . And as to creed, not only does ‘[t]he Iowa National Lawyers Guild exclude[ ] individuals be­cause of their political views,’ but also the University defendants con­firmed that ‘lots’ of other groups ‘exclude leaders who don’t share their creed.’”

The university’s actions threaten the rights of religious and secular student groups alike. If officials can target reli­gious groups like InterVarsity for disfavored treatment, nothing prevents other universities from similarly singling out an LGBT organization, environmental group, gun-rights association, or countless others. As the brief says, “[t]he rights of all groups on campus—no matter their views or beliefs—rise and fall together.”

Attorney General Reyes joins the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas.

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Attorney General’s Office Congratulates Assistant AG Annette Jan on Confirmation as a Third District Juvenile Court Judge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 11, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE CONGRATULATES ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL ANNETTE JAN ON CONFIRMATION AS A THIRD DISTRICT JUVENILE COURT JUDGE

SALT LAKE CITY (DATE) – The Office of the Utah Attorney General congratulates Assistant Attorney General Annette Jan as she is confirmed as a Third District Juvenile Court Judge and released the following statements:

“I have every confidence that Judge Jan will serve the Third District Court as an outstanding Juvenile Court Judge,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “Based on her record with the Attorney General’s office, I know she will serve with compassion as she balances the protection of children and the rehabilitation of families. Congratulations, Annette!”
 
Carol Verdoia, Utah Attorney General Child Protection Division Director, said, “Annette’s unwavering dedication to the protection of the most vulnerable children in our community will serve the Juvenile Court well. The Attorney General’s Office has been blessed to have her for 16 years, and she will be missed. But I am filled with respect and admiration as I wish her the best at Third District Court.”

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Two Separate Men Arrested in Child Pornography Investigations

March 7, 2020

Two separate men were arrested this week and charged with multiple counts of child exploitation of a minor after being found in possession of child pornography by the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

45-year-old Antony Martin Holtry of Salt Lake City was arrested after search warrants in January and February by ICAC agents revealed evidence of child pornography. According to law enforcement, Holtry uploaded child pornography to his Facebook and Gmail accounts in November.

Additionally, Holtry has an extensive criminal history including threats of violence made to law enforcement. Along with the child pornography, a stolen driver’s license and firearms were found in his house.

Holtry was charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and is being held on $250,000 bail.

35-year-old Jason McKay Beckstead of Orem was arrested after he allegedly uploaded child pornography on Instagram and Tumblr. The Orem Police Department arrested Beckstead after receiving a cyber-tip from the Utah Attorney General’s Office on a suspect allegedly possessing and distributing child pornography.

On December 4, 2019, Instagram filed a cyber-tip report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children after an image was uploaded to the social media platform that contained child pornogrpahy. On December 26, 2019, Tumblr filed a cyber-tip on reported images that contained child pornography. The email associated with both social media accounts were consistent, but the owner was unable to be identified by Attorney General’s Office agents until a judicial order was served to CenturyLink who reported the owner to be Beckstead.

Beckstead was arrested and charged with 20 second-degree felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor by the Orem Police Department. He is currently being held on $200,000 bail.

Report tips to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at 801-281-1211 or at utahicac@agutah.gov.


Utah Opioid Task Force Presents on Resources Helping Combat the Opioid Crisis

March 6, 2020

This week, the Utah Opioid Task Force hosted a Lunch & Learn featuring four TED Talk-style presentations on the types of community-based information and education seminars that the Task Force intends to develop and deliver in 2020.

Listen to the presentations below:

Chief Tom Ross with the Bountiful Police Department presented on the pilot project Davis County Receiving Center which offers a chance at recovery rather than jail time. The Receiving Center opened in December 2019. Read more here.

Dr. Jennifer Plumb with Utah Naloxone presented on the importance of having a Naloxone kit if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction. Naloxone saves lives by reversing an opioid overdose and giving first responders time to arrive. Plumb demonstrated the easy-to-use kit and discussed how to recognize an overdose. For more information, go here.

Anna Fondario with the Utah Department of Health presented on resources provided by the Department, their current efforts to combat the opioid crisis, and the Department of Health Data Dashboard, which provides an interactive, visual presentation of health data in Utah with the intent to provide actionable health-related data. Check out the Dashboard here and check out Stop the Opidemic, a campaign that can help you find resources and information on the opioid epidemic in Utah.  

Evan Done with Utah Support Advocates for Recover Awareness (USARA) discussed their peer-based recovery support system for those struggling with an opioid addiction. Their services focus on the reality of long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs for individuals and their families in Utah. For more information go here.

Watch the presentations below:


AG Reyes Joins Bipartisan Fight Against Robocalls With U.S. Supreme Court Filing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 3, 2020

UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL REYES JOINS BIPARTISAN FIGHT AGAINST NUISANCE ROBOCALLS WITH U.S. SUPREME COURT FILING

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes on Monday joined a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing for the preservation of the anti-robocall provisions of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein co-authored the bipartisan brief, which is joined by 31 other states.

The TCPA, enacted in 1991, is a critical piece of federal consumer-protection legislation allowing states to sue illegal robocallers on their residents’ behalf. A decision in the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently invalidated a portion of the act, potentially jeopardizing the entire federal robocall ban.

“Everyone hates those constant robocalls, which are both annoying and harmful at times,” Attorney General Reyes said. “On behalf of Utah consumers, I am continuing our state’s fight to safeguard peace and privacy without the disturbance of unwanted calls interrupting people’s routines at all hours of the day and night.”

“No court has ever questioned the constitutionality of the TCPA’s robocall restriction, and we must ensure no such challenge is ever taken seriously,” Attorney General Hill said. “We have state laws prohibiting robocalls right here in Indiana, and we must defend our ability both at the federal and state levels to continue protecting Hoosiers from annoying and illegal robocalls.”

Attorney General Reyes continues working with other states’ attorneys general, federal agencies and telephone service providers to develop better technologies and stronger regulations aimed at blocking nuisance phone calls, some of which are perpetrated by scammers and identity thieves.

Read the brief filed Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court here.

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Attorney General Reyes on Human Trafficking Panel: Survivors First, Awareness Essential

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL REYES ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING PANEL: SURVIVORS FIRST, AWARENESS ESSENTIAL

WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes helped outline the extent of the human trafficking problem on a panel that included Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Attorneys General Leslie Rutledge of Arkansas and Ashley Moody of Florida.
 
“There are more victims of human trafficking throughout the world than the public realizes,” said Attorney General Reyes. “In fact, there are more victims entrapped in slavery than ever before. We will keep working tirelessly to wake up America to the pervasiveness of the threat. Many people either don’t know or don’t want to know what’s happening to victims in their community because it is so shocking. We have to change that.
 
“In Utah, we have made great strides in six years. We went from an “F” grade in 2013 to an “A” grade in 2019 from Shared Hope International because of incredible public support, willing state leaders, aggressive law enforcement and a focus on empowering and healing victims and survivors. Yet, we still have a long way to go.”
 
DHS Acting Secretary Wolf pledged his support.
 
“We need to take a victim-first approach and assess the real threat to our communities,” Wolf said. “The Federal Government can’t do it alone. For example, we need to work with tech companies so they can identify victims and takedown harmful content. We need to go where the threats take us and ask the people in our nation for assistance. But we need to ensure our resources are allocated in the correct way.”
 
“If you see something, say something,” he added.
 
The panel emphasized that it is vitally important for the general public to keep an eye out for unusual behavior that could signal a person may be in a situation against their will.
 
A public-private partnership is necessary in order to accomplish the goal of freeing victims of human trafficking, the panel agreed.

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AG Reyes Leads Effort Urging FDA to Strengthen E-Cigarette Enforcement Guidance

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 28, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL REYES LEADS EFFORT URGING FDA TO STRENGTHEN E-CIGARETTE ENFORCEMENT GUIDANCE
 26 Attorneys General Encourage FDA to Expand Guidance to Include Menthol and Disposable, Refillable Products

SALT LAKE CITY– Attorney General Sean D. Reyes today announced he is leading a bipartisan coalition of 26 attorneys general along with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to strengthen guidance the agency issued to explain how it will enforce regulations of electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigarettes.
 
In comments submitted today, the coalition is encouraging the FDA to expand and strengthen its enforcement guidance by including menthol flavors and products that are not cartridge-based. Raoul and the coalition state that the current guidance creates loopholes that manufacturers can exploit and will not help decrease e-cigarette usage among youth.
 
“E-cigarette use has grown exponentially in the last few years, especially among Utah youth,” said Attorney General Reyes. “We need to do what we can to protect young people from being lured into a vicious nicotine addiction. These flavored, disposable alternatives to cigarettes have not proved to be any safer than other tobacco products.”
 
The FDA released guidance in January describing how the agency will prioritize e-cigarette enforcement resources. According to the guidance, the FDA will prioritize enforcement against flavored, cartridge-based e-cigarettes, with the exception of tobacco or menthol-flavored products. The FDA will also prioritize enforcement against e-cigarette products marketed toward minors or manufacturers that have not taken adequate measures to prevent minors from using their products. However, the guidance does not prioritize disposable products or refillable cartridge systems that are popular among youth.
 
Under the new guidance, mint-flavored e-cigarette products are included in the FDA’s enforcement priorities, and the coalition is urging the FDA to amend the guidance to include menthol flavors. The attorneys general point out that as a flavor derived from mint, menthol shares many of the same characteristics making it a convenient substitute for youths who would search for a flavor to substitute for mint. The coalition cites the FDA’s own data, showing that the use of mint and menthol flavors by high school e-cigarette users dramatically increased from 16 percent in 2016 to more than 57 percent in 2019. The coalition also points to the FDA’s admission that evidence has shown that individuals who already use flavored tobacco products will likely switch to other flavored tobacco products if their preferred flavor is no longer available.
 
In addition to menthol serving as a likely mint substitute due to the flavor similarities, the coalition states that the FDA’s decision to permit menthol is problematic because the guidance does not explain how the FDA will distinguish between the two similar flavors. The coalition expresses concern that the FDA will be forced to rely on packaging descriptions of the flavors, which the attorneys general argue creates a loophole which manufacturers can exploit by simply renaming the flavors on product labels.
 
The FDA claims its reasoning for allowing menthol is to avoid removing an incentive for adult smokers who might transition from using combustible cigarettes to “potentially less harmful” e-cigarettes. The coalition points to a 2020 Surgeon General report, which said there is not enough evidence to show that e-cigarettes increase smoking cessation. In fact, the coalition argues, the purported benefits of menthol’s availability to adult smokers should be outweighed by the risk it poses of attracting youth smokers.
 
Also in the comments, the coalition states that the FDA’s focus on cartridge-based products creates a loophole for self-contained, disposable products that are popular with youth. The coalition points out that with two of the most popular e-cigarette devices among high school students being disposable, the guidance will have the result of pushing youth toward refillable systems.
 
The letter includes the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin in submitting the comments.
 
A copy of the comment letter can be found here
 

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