Collection agencies continue to lead in complaints
SEATTLE – In a sluggish economy when every dollar saved counts, the Attorney General’s Consumer Resource Centers are a valuable ally. Helping consumers and businesses resolve disputes, at no cost and without picking sides, the program’s volunteers and staff handled complaints from more than 22,000 people last year and helped recover $4.8 million those individuals said they were owed.
“Our Consumer Resource Centers go above and beyond to prevent the public from losing money to fraudsters, and to spare consumers and legitimate businesses the cost and headaches of going to court to resolve quarrels.” Attorney General Rob McKenna said.
The office’s Consumer Protection Division released its annual Top 20 list of consumer complaint categories today in conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week, along with statistics showing how much money its services saved the public in 2010.
On average, two out of every three complaints are resolved through the informal mediation service.
“The stats are impressive but the value of the Consumer Resource Centers can’t always be factored by a calculator,” McKenna said.
Recent messages from satisfied individuals help tell the story:
- From an unemployed Seattle resident who filed a complaint concerning an online company that provides skills testing for job applicants: “I just got an e-mail from the business and they will refund me $300. I'm really happy about this. … I wanted to thank you for your hard work and persistence. This was a complex issue that no one else would help me resolve.”
- From a Blaine man who complained about an unauthorized charge on his credit card stemming from an apparently misdialed number: “Please accept my thanks for your successful effort in my case. I am positive I could not have achieved the same results on my own.”
- From the owner of a Port Angeles car dealership that was subject to a customer complaint: “I appreciate your time yesterday – you have definitely dispelled any myth that great customer service does not exist in public government! I was impressed with your prompt follow up and with how quickly you called me…In the private sector, if people don’t like what they see or the service they are getting, they go elsewhere. In the public sector, that is not always a choice. It perhaps stings more when people stop and realize it is their tax dollars. It is assuring to know that our tax dollars in your department are working hard – thank you for your dedication, commitment and professionalism!”
The centers also are a clearinghouse for general information about consumer protection concerns. Staff and volunteers handled 39,250 phone calls from the public in 2010. The most commonly asked questions included those relating to car purchases, collection agencies and advance-fee schemes that typically involve a request to wire money. The centers are also skilled at helping consumers whose issues fall outside the office’s jurisdiction. Requests for legal advice and disputes between apartment renters and landlords, for example, are referred to appropriate organizations.
Attorneys in the Consumer Protection Division enforce the state’s consumer protection laws and recovered more than $3.4 million for consumers through civil litigation during the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The division also administers the state’s Lemon Law program, which saved car buyers $2.8 million during the fiscal year, and a Manufactured Housing Landlord-Tenant Dispute Resolution Program.
Collection agencies lead in complaints to Attorney General’s Office
Call it a sign of the times. For the second consecutive year, Washington consumers filed more complaints about collection agencies than any other industry.
Complaints about the collection industry rose 7 percent from 1,795 in 2010 to 1,671 in 2009. The industry garnered 8 percent of the 22,141 written complaints the Consumer Resource Centers handled last year.
Cable networks ranked fourth on the AGO’s list in 2009 with 1,465 complaints and have been a steady climber, thanks largely to lawsuits involving DIRECTV and Dish Network. This year, the Attorney General’s Office lumped cable networks with Internet service providers (ranked 17th in 2009) to create the new category of broadband service providers. Together, the industries surfed into 2nd position with 1,754 complaints.
That change helped the telecommunications sector slip to third place. A longtime holder of the top spot on the AGO’s list until last year, those phone companies also saw an 18 percent drop in complaints from 1,670 in 2009 to 1,366 in 2010.
Retailers and auto sales rounded out the top five, consistent with previous years.
|Top 20 Consumer Complaint Categories|
|2||Broadband Service Providers|
(combines two categories formerly termed Internet Service Providers and Cable Networks & Program Distributions)
Cable Networks: 1,465
|3|| Telecommunications || 1,366||2||1,464|
|4||Retail Sales||1,280||3|| 1,641|
|5|| Auto Sales || 1,016 || 5 || 1,199|
|6 ||Books, Magazines, Directories || 824|| 9|| 809|
|7 ||Commercial Banking || 823 || 7 || 871|
|8||Mortgage Lending || 774 || 12 || 642|
|9||Electronic Shopping || 763 || 6 || 904|
|10 ||Health Care || 683 || 10 || 712|
| 11 ||Contractors || 547 || 11 || 647|
| 12 ||Credit Card Issuers || 511 || 8 || 817|
| 13 ||Advance-Fee Fraud || 494 || 14 || 493|
|14 ||Travel || 469 || 18 || 426|
|15 ||Consumer Lending & Transfer Agents || 455 || 15 || 467|
|16 ||Financing || 433 || 13 || 502|
|17 ||Manufactured Housing Landlord/Tenant Issues || 369 || n/a || 371|
|18 ||Auto Repair || 367 || 16 || 459|
|19 ||Insurance Agencies ||313 ||19 ||379|
|20 ||Residential Housing Landlord/Tenant Issues ||284 ||21|| 341|
Complaint statistics, charts and graphs: www.atg.wa.gov/complaintstats.aspx
Consumer Resource Center Hotline: 1-800-551-4636. Calls answered 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. weekdays.
File a Complaint Online: http://atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx
All Consuming blog: www.atg.wa.gov/allconsuming.aspx
Collection agency regulations: http://atg.wa.gov/ConsumerIssues/Credit/CollectionAgencies.aspx
Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432