California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a settlement with Washington state-based Rena Ware International, Inc., which "made fraudulent and unethical claims" that its high-priced cookware could cure diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The company agreed to pay more than $600,000 in refunds and other fees.
"This company made fraudulent and unethical claims that its products cured serious diseases," Brown said. "Their illegal, high-pressure sales tactics preyed on the fears of vulnerable Californians."
Rena Ware targeted Spanish-speaking immigrants in the Los Angeles-area to sell its high-priced cookware. Sales representatives employed deception to enter people's homes -- claiming to offer health and nutrition information, to be taking an opinion poll, or to be willing to service the consumer's current cookware.
Once inside the home, the representatives claimed the consumer's cookware caused a variety of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart problems. The representatives claimed Rena Ware's products were not only safe to use but could actually cure some of these diseases.
Consumers who were persuaded to buy the products were often enticed into financing plans with a rate of more than 21% a year. Sales representatives often did not tell consumers they had a three day cooling-off-period to change their minds and cancel the order, a right California law guarantees all consumers who buy products from door-to-door salespeople.
Rena Ware sent consumers harassing debt collection notices purportedly signed by an attorney, but no attorney had signed the notices or seen customers' files to verify whether the debts were actually owed. The purpose of the notices was sheer intimidation.
In late 2008, a Rena Ware International sales representative went to the home of Mercedes Ballestero in Los Angeles. The representative requested an in-home demonstration to show off Rena Ware's products and put to shame Ms. Ballestero's current cookware. The representative claimed Rena Ware's products could reduce high blood pressure by removing hormones from meat as it cooked.
Ms. Ballestero bought a set of Rena Ware cookware for more than $1,500 with a hidden interest rate of 21.5 percent. After discovering the high interest rate, Ms. Ballestero canceled her contract, but the company refused to return her deposit.
Today's agreement requires Rena Ware to pay $135,400 in penalties, $250,000 in refunds to consumers, and $239,600 in other costs.
Rena Ware must also obtain an independent monitor to ensure the company refrains from using false information or high-pressure sales tactics to lure customers.
Brown's office was joined in today's agreement by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs assisted in the investigation.
In 2008, Brown obtained a judgment against Hy Cite Corporation for similar misrepresentations in the sale of its "Royal Prestige" line of cookware. Hy Cite was required to pay more than $1.3 million in penalties, restitution and costs, agreed to three years of independent monitoring, and forced to change its business practices.
Rena Ware customers who are eligible for a refund will be contacted by mail, and any consumers who feel they have been victimized by Rena Ware International, Inc. or other houseware companies may file a complaint with the Attorney General's Public Inquiry Unit at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php, or by calling (800) 952-5225.