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Consuming Interests A blog for the smart consumer
Md. and 21 other states reach $11 million settlement with Classmates and FTD

The Maryland attorney general's office signed on to an $11 million settlement Tuesday with the websites Classmates.com and floral delivery company FTD that resolves allegations that the companies duped customers into buying memberships they didn't want.

The attorneys general for Maryland and 21 other states alleged that FTD and Classmates, a social networking site for people who attended high school together, violated state consumer protection laws by allowing third parties to charge online customers who failed to expressly opt out of a membership program.

The attorneys general said that the practice is known as negative-option marketing and that as many as 89 percent of the Classmates customers had unknowingly signed up for memberships with third parties.

"This is a suspect sales practice that often goes unnoticed by customers who end up paying for something they never wanted," Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in a statement. "Consumers should always carefully review service...

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Rite Aid launches enhanced rewards program Plenti

 Rite Aid Corp. has unveiled an enhanced version of loyalty program wellness+ by joining consumer loyalty coalition Plenti.

The drugstore chain is moving its 25 million active loyalty card members to the new wellness+ with Plenti program. The Plenti coalition includes retailers such as AT&T, ExxonMobil, Macy's, Nationwide Insurance, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Direct Energy and Hulu.

"Joining Plenti is the next step in the continued evolution of our highly successful wellness+ loyalty program," Ken Martindale, Rite Aid's president and chief operating officer, said in the announcement. "We believe that joining Plenti is going to be the next great differentiator for our business and consumers, given the premiere brands participating in the program."

The retailer is encouraging new and existing wellness+ members to sign up for the new program at Rite Aid stores or online at www.riteaid.com/plenti. The program offers Plenti points on items at any participating Plenti partner and can be used for...

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Credit reporting agencies will change practices and pay $6 million to resolve complaints

The three national credit reporting agencies have agreed to change business practices that sparked consumer complaints and pay $6 million to 31 states, including Maryland, under a settlement announced Wednesday.

The agreement with Equifax Information Services LLC, Experian Information Solutions Inc. and TransUnion LLC resolves a multiyear investigation of consumer disputes about the accuracy of credit reports, attorneys general in those states said.

"This settlement helps ensure more accurate credit reporting and provides consumers greater control over the financial records that are compiled by the credit reporting agencies," Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in an announcement of the settlement.

It calls for credit reporting agencies to increase their monitoring of creditors, lenders, utilities and debt collection agencies that report payment histories to credit bureaus. The agencies also agreed to limit marketing of credit monitoring products to consumers who call to dispute credit...

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Bob's Discount Furniture will open two Baltimore area stores

Bob's Discount Furniture, a Connecticut-based "everyday low price" chain, is expanding into the Baltimore area with stores in Columbia and Hunt Valley. 

Stores at Columbia Crossing Drive and at Hunt Valley Towne Centre will open Thursday, the retailer said Tuesday.

Bob's sells furnishings for living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms and home offices.

The retailer has 61 stores in 11 states and ranks as the 14th biggest U.S. furniture chain. Other Maryland stores are in Rockville, Hyattsville and Waldorf.

All stores have cafes offering free coffee, ice cream, cookies and candy. Grand opening activities at the new Baltimore stores are scheduled through Monday, including face painting, balloon clowns, hot dogs, pretzels and giveaways. 

 lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

 

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Seasons, New York-based kosher market, planned for Pikesville

Seasons, a small New York-based kosher supermarket chain, plans to expand to Maryland, with a grocery store slated to open in Pikesville as early as the end of the year.

The upscale specialty grocer plans to move into a former Office Depot on Reisterstown Road, just inside the Beltway. The interior of the more than 10,000-square-foot store has been gutted.

The retailer, which has four locations in and around New York City, is expected to open the store by the end of the year or in early 2016, owner Mayer Gold told online food industry publication Kosher Today. Gold did not return calls seeking comment.

The chain would join Seven Mile Market as one of the area's only full-service grocery stores certified as kosher, meeting a growing demand from both Jewish and non-Jewish shoppers, experts said. The stores offer delivery and catering and a range of gourmet and mainstream products in bakery, butcher, produce, seafood, sushi, takeout and floral departments.

"I think the market for it is huge,"...

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Sprint and Verizon Wireless to pay $158 million in mobile 'cramming' settlement

Sprint and Verizon Wireless will pay $158 million in penalties and refunds to consumers nationwide, including many in Maryland, under a national settlement over allegations of mobile cramming.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh joined Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in announcing the settlement, reached with attorneys general in all 50 states and Washington, on Tuesday.

It holds the two mobile carriers accountable for cramming — unauthorized charges for third-party services, Frosh said. It complements similar nationwide settlements reached last year with T-Mobile and AT&T, combining to $290 million in consumer refunds.

"Consumers were being charged for services they never signed up for, and in many cases, they never knew about because the fee was so hard to spot on their bills," Frosh said in the announcement.

An estimated 700,000 Sprint...

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