Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan State Police (MSP) Director Colonel Kriste Kibbey Etue announced the success of Michigan's student safety initiative, OK2SAY, in its first semester. Since the start of this school year, OK2SAY has already generated 410 confidential tips submitted by Michigan students. These tips included reports of bullying, suicide threats, and child abuse. "If even one child's life is saved by OK2SAY, this program will have been a success. OK2SAY has passed its first semester with flying colors," said Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Read more: 410 Tips Received by OK2SAY!
- Schuette Releases Top Ten Michigan Consumer Complaints List
March 2, 2015
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today marked National Consumer Protection week by releasing his annual list of the Top Ten Consumer Complaints in Michigan and highlighting his Department's free educational resources. Schuette's Top Ten List is compiled by analyzing the more than 10,500 written complaints filed with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection team in 2014. Schuette's Consumer Protection team also recovered nearly $2 million in consumer refunds and forgiven debts and more than $4.2 million in State recoveries in 2014.
"Consumer protection isn't just one program," said Schuette. "It's a philosophy that guides everything we do. We emphasize safe social media use for students and fight to protect seniors from scams and fraud. We also defend consumers by exposing insurance fraud and price fixing, guarding against bogus charities, and prosecuting home foreclosure scams."
Credit and Financial Concerns Top Complaint List
In 2014, Credit and Financial Concerns once again topped the list with the Consumer Protection team receiving 865 complaints on debt collection and credit reporting. Consumers often voice concerns regarding aggressive debt collection tactics used by debt collection agencies. Debt collection scams, or phony debt collectors trying to scare consumers into giving money to pay off fraudulent debts, continues to remain common.
"While debt collectors have the right to contact you on legitimate debts, they never have the right to threaten, intimidate, or harass you," said Schuette.
Schuette's Consumer Alert on Debt Collection and Debt Collection Scams details prohibited debt collector practices and provides tips on avoiding common debt collection scams and disputing bogus debts.
Consumer Education Key to Prevention
During National Consumer Protection Week, Schuette's office joins consumer advocacy groups and governmental agencies from across the nation to highlight how individuals and families can protect themselves from abusive practices and scams.
Schuette noted one of the best ways to safeguard citizens from commercial exploitation is by equipping them with the information necessary to avoid becoming the target of a scam. The Top Ten Complaint List is one useful component of this information-sharing effort. By highlighting the most problematic product and service categories, the List encourages consumers to engage in commercial transactions with a heightened level of caution.
Top 10 Consumer Complaint Categories of 2014
Credit and Financial Concerns: The top complaint category for 2014 held on to the spot that it has had since 2006 generating almost 1,700 complaints in a variety of areas including debt collection, credit repair, payday lending, and mortgage brokering.
Gasoline, Fuel, and Energy: Rising all the way from number 8 in 2013, propane complaints dominated this category last year. In 2014, Attorney General Schuette secured agreements with two companies relating to their propane prices and helped more than 6,200 customers obtain more than $600,000 in relief.
Telecommunications, Cable, and Satellite TV: Maintaining the third spot from the previous year, this category includes complaints involving issues like robocalls, telemarketing, and cable and satellite TV services. These categories made up almost 1,000 of the complaints in 2014.
Retail: This category also ranked fourth for the second year in a row includes complaints about merchandise quality, warranty, and pricing disputes.
Motor Vehicle and Automobiles: Rising back to number 5, disputes with used car dealers, automotive repair service complaints, and lemon law violations are included in this category.
Personal Service Providers: Falling back to number 6, complaints in this category range from dating services and beauty shops to home security and health and fitness organizations.
Internet: Complaints in this computer-based category numbered more than 600. Included are issues with internet service providers, online auction disputes, and fraudulent e-mail solicitations.
Landlord and Tenant: Rising one spot to number 8 in 2014, this category made up nearly 500 complaints. A majority of the complaints in this category involved apartment owners and managers.
Health Service Providers: Also rising one spot from 2013, this category involves complaints about different health service providers like doctors, dentists, and hospitals.
Contractors: Absent from last year's list and rounding out the top ten are complaints about landscaping services, special trade contractors, and residential building construction services.
Emerging Consumer Threats in 2015
Consistent with the theme that it is important to prevent victimization, Schuette takes this opportunity to look ahead and warn consumers about what many predict will be increasing threats in 2015.
Ransomware has been identified as an emerging threat to Michigan consumers in 2015. Ransomware is a type of malware that restricts access to the computer system that it infects, and demands a ransom paid to the creator of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed. For more information, see Attorney General Schuette's Consumer Alert on Ransomware
The next biggest scam is expected to be through the use of mobile payment systems. Mobile payment systems are a relatively new field for both consumers and thieves. The most likely way consumers will be taken advantage of will be by downloading what looks like payment apps to their phones, and ending up with a virus that steals money instead. To protect yourself, only download payment apps that you know are from a trusted source, and remember to know where your phone is, set up strong passwords, and always protect your financial information.
Schuette also advises consumers to be wary of how they use technology when providing personal information. Information can be stolen when provided over unsecured public wireless networks. Never log into your bank or other financial accounts over a public network and never provide personal information in response to unsolicited requests of any kind. Monitor your financial accounts and if you see suspicious transactions, contact your provider. If you feel you have been a victim of a scam, file a complaint with the consumer protection division.
How to File Complaints
Schuette encourages any residents with questions or concerns to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division toll-free by calling 1-877-765-8388. To file a consumer complaint, Michigan residents can submit an online complaint through the Attorney General's website or mail a letter explaining the problem and desired resolution to:
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
- Schuette Statement on DeBoer v. Snyder Brief Filing
February 27, 2015
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today released the following statement regarding the submission of the plaintiff's brief to the United States Supreme Court:
"This case involves people of good will, sincerely motivated, on both sides. All of Michigan's voters, as well as the citizens of our great nation, will be well served by the court's decision to decide this case and resolve such important issue. I am pleased that the Supreme Court has chosen to review this case, so that important issues involving the fundamental institution of marriage, our Constitution and the rights of voters will be decided. Court cases by their very nature create an adversarial atmosphere between those representing the two sides of an argument. But in a democracy, reasonable people can disagree without being disagreeable. We look forward to the oral arguments being scheduled soon."
- Schuette Files Lawsuit to Permanently Dissolve The Mandatory Poster Agency, Inc. of Lansing
February 10, 2015
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today filed a lawsuit to permanently dissolve The Mandatory Poster Agency, Inc. of Lansing, Michigan and enjoin its principals, brothers Thomas Fata, Steven Fata, and Joseph Fata, based on allegations they engaged in unlawful conduct meant to deceive businesses.
The lawsuit alleges the Fata brothers have been sending misleading and deceptive mailings to businesses in Michigan and across the country since 1999. The complaint alleges the defendants used the name "Corporate Records Service" to send mailings that were designed to look like "official" governmental forms that businesses had to fill out in order to comply with corporate filing requirements. Schuette received hundreds of complaints about the company and these mailings.
"Our friends and neighbors who live out the dream of running their own business work hard every day," Schuette said. "I will not tolerate companies that seek to take advantage of Michigan citizens and get rich on the backs of hard-working entrepreneurs through trickery and deception."
The complaint alleges the Fata brothers targeted small businesses, churches, and non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity groups with their deceptive mailings.
In addition, the lawsuit outlines the previous times the Attorney General has had to take action against the defendants. In 2001, the defendants signed an Assurance of Discontinuance which limited their ability to send out misleading solicitations to businesses. In 2007, the defendants were parties to a court Order that prohibited them from sending out misleading solicitations for hand washing posters. As outlined in the lawsuit, Schuette alleges that the defendants violated both of these prior agreements.
Schuette's charges allege that the Fata brothers continually change the content of their solicitation following each interaction with a regulatory body, but ultimately have not changed their conduct and continue to willfully operate in an unlawful manner in Michigan and several other states.
"Our goal here is to prevent businesses in Michigan and around the country from being misled and deceived by improper business practices," said Schuette.
A civil lawsuit is merely an allegation and defendants are not liable until the Court enters a judgment in the case.
- Schuette Charges Southeast Michigan Doctor with Felony Sex Offenses, Drug Delivery and Fraud
February 3, 2015
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced his Health Care Fraud Division has charged Dr. John Ronald Verbovsky, 67, of Southfield, Michigan, with two counts of first degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, one count of Conducting a Criminal Enterprise -Racketeering, one count of Conspiracy to Deliver Controlled Substances less than 50 grams, and nine counts of Medicaid Fraud - False Claim. The charges allege Verbovsky orchestrated an ongoing scheme to prescribe controlled substances in exchange for sexual favors and money.
"Physicians are supposed to heal their patients, not exploit them," said Schuette. "We will continue to aggressively prosecute anyone attempting to compromise the integrity of our healthcare system at the expense of patient safety and taxpayer dollars."
Verbovsky practiced as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at his clinic, Progressive Family Medicine, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and at Stout Family Medicine in Detroit. Charges against Verbovsky stem from an Attorney General investigation into allegations that Verbovsky was prescribing controlled substances based not upon medical need, but instead allegedly using his prescriptive authority as a physician to coerce sexual favors and money from patients. The Attorney General investigation also revealed that the Medicaid program was allegedly billed and paid for prescriptions that were written by Verbovsky without medical necessity.
Schuette filed the following charges against John R. Verbovsky in Ingham's 54B District Court on January 28, 2015:
Two counts of first degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, a felony punishable by up to life or any term of years in prison; and,
One count of Conducting a Criminal Enterprise - Racketeering, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine; and,
One count of Conspiracy to Deliver less than 50 grams of a Controlled Substance, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $35,000 fine; and,
Nine counts of Medicaid Fraud - False Claim, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.
Verbovsky surrendered himself to the court on February 3, 2015 and was arraigned in Ingham's 54B District Court before Judge Andrea Larkin. Verbovsky was granted a $50,000 personal recognizance bond by Judge Larkin. Verbovsky is next due in court for his pre-exam conference on February 20, 2015 at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Richard D. Ball and his preliminary exam is set for February 26, 2015 also before Judge Ball.
Citizens with additional information that may assist this investigation should please contact Attorney General Schuette's Health Care Fraud Division at their 24-hour Hotline: 1-800-24-ABUSE/1-800-242-2873.
The Attorney General Health Care Fraud Division exists to identify, prosecute and prevent fraudulent activity by doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other health care providers participating in the Medicaid program. Taxpayer dollars provide health care to indigent patients and other recipients. It is vital that these dollars be effectively spent to help those in need. Fraud affects everyone including the recipients of care, the taxpayers who pay for it and the overwhelming majority of providers who conscientiously provide quality care.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
- Army Corps Must Act Quickly at Asian Carp Choke Point
February 2, 2015
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today continued his fight against Asian carp by submitting formal comments to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers concerning the prevention of upstream movement by Asian carp and other harmful invasive species into the Chicago Area Waterway and the Great Lakes. This was in response to the Corps' request for comments on this extension of its Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS).
The Great Lakes Commission currently recommends "designing, engineering and constructing modifications to the Brandon Road lock and dam structure including electric barriers at the entrance and exit of the lock, use of fish deterrents, modifications to the gates on the dam, and other technologies."
"We must do everything we can to protect the Great Lakes, and that begins with safeguarding our ecological and economic resources from invasive species like Asian carp," said Schuette. "Michigan simply cannot afford to wait on a federal government that fails to act. We need to permanently separate these two bodies of water as soon as possible and until that is done, take other actions to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes. The time for talk is over. We need action."
Schuette supports taking swift action at the Brandon Road site, noting it is a logical "choke point" for reducing the risk that Asian carp can move upstream to the Waterway. As the Corps itself has noted, the Brandon Road site has several advantages, and that "[o]peration of the lock at this location currently provides the only known aquatic pathway that allows transfer of the Mississippi River ANS [aquatic nuisance species] to the Great Lakes through the CAWS [Chicago Area Waterway System]."
Schuette also noted that his April 2014 comments on the Corps' GLMRIS Report urged the Corps to move forward immediately with actions like those recommended by the Great Lakes Commission, which included interim measures at Brandon Road.
Schuette's formal comments emphasized the following:
Constructing additional measures in Joliet, Illinois are only interim steps. They may serve as a "bridge" in time to reduce risks until an effective permanent remedy—hydrologic separation—is implemented, but they are not a substitute for it.
Time is of the essence. The Corps' existing electrical barrier system cannot be relied upon to prevent the movement of Asian carp through the Chicago Waterway into Lake Michigan. With each day that this situation continues, the risk that enough Asian carp will enter the Lake to trigger the establishment of a reproducing population increases. Thus, it is imperative that the Corps move as quickly as possible to design and implement measures to reduce that risk.
The Corps should not wait until it completes further study of all potential control measures for Brandon Road. Instead, the Corps should proceed in phases, and prioritize those risk-reduction measures that can be most quickly designed and implemented. For example, the Corps could expeditiously design and install technologies (e.g., underwater cameras and/or sonar) to monitor, in real time, for the presence of Asian carp within the Brandon Road Lock. The results of that monitoring could then be used to guide immediate responses, such as changes in lock operations or selective application of fish poison.
The Corps need not wait for further Congressional authority before taking any additional action at Brandon Road, or elsewhere in or near the Chicago Waterway. Instead, it should use its existing legal authorities under 2012 and 2014 laws to the fullest extent possible in order to expedite action.
View a map of the Brandon Road site at the following link: Brandon Road map.