When a retailer charged consumers more at checkout than the price advertised on the shelf, the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division worked to make sure that didn’t happen again.
The prosecutors and investigators in the division also stepped in when insurance companies deceived consumers about rate hikes, when ride-sharing companies misled the public, when people claiming to be immigration lawyers ripped off their clients and when a host of other crimes occurred that affected consumers’ wallets and safety.
The division was created in 1972 to handle criminal and civil business regulation cases. Since its inception, the division has been responsible for obtaining more than $100 million in victim restitution and civil and criminal penalties.
The prosecutors and investigators spring into action when presented cases of businesses that are accused of unlawful practices designed to take advantage of county residents. The division’s mission includes protecting consumers and ensuring that companies operate on a level playing field.
“The CPD has filed cases against some of the largest companies in the world in just about every type of business area imaginable,” said Stanley Williams, head deputy of the division, which has eight prosecutors and three investigators. “It is a wide range we cover, from unauthorized practice of law – illegal ‘notario’ cases – to addressing very large corporations.”
For example, when a national pharmacy chain was overcharging customers at checkout, the office filed a lawsuit. The $2.4 million settlement included an agreement by the company to ensure price accuracy and protect consumers from being overcharged for their purchases.
When insurance companies were touting “accident forgiveness” policies in California, the office reached settlements that required the companies to clearly say in advertisements that the policies are not available in the state.
The office also reached settlements with ride-sharing companies Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., regarding allegations that they misled the public about background checks for their drivers. Both companies are under permanent injunctions prohibiting them from making untrue or misleading statements about their background checks.
Williams said prosecutors in the division work hard to make sure that the settlements include measures that protect the public and force companies to correct their unlawful practices.
“It is ultimately our goal to make sure the conduct that led to the complaint is not repeated,” he said.