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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 03, 2006
Attorney General’s Conference Explores New Strategies to Protect Latino Consumers

SEATAC – Attorney General Rob McKenna convened the first of two statewide Latino Consumer Education Conferences today in SeaTac, bringing together expert consumer advocates and a diverse group of participants with a shared goal of helping protect Washington’s Latino consumers from fraud.

The group identified a number of pressing issues facing Latino consumers in Washington and offered suggestions for improved outreach and fraud prevention.

“Hispanics are now Washington’s largest ethnic group and a growing segment of our state’s consumer base,” McKenna said. “Many scams that target Latinos go unreported, possibly because victims are afraid of government or they simply don’t know where to go for help.

“The Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division has an important role in ensuring a fair and competitive marketplace for businesses and consumers,” McKenna continued.

The office not only enforces the Consumer Protection Act but also records and mediates consumer complaints regardless of citizenship status. Of the 17,424 formal written complaints our Consumer Resource Centers handled last year, 95 were filed in Spanish.

“ We’re looking for new opportunities to educate Latinos before they become victims,” McKenna said, “We recognize the advantage of coordinating with partners across all sectors, public, private and nonprofit, to be more effective. It’s a big job and a significant challenge, but together we can make a difference.”

Today’s conference attracted nearly 60 government employees, consumer advocates, lawyers, educators, and representatives of financial institutions, insurance and mortgage agencies, Spanish-language news organizations and other businesses. Many participants are bilingual.

Rosario Méndez, Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in Washington, D.C., gave the keynote address. She said that a study by the FTC found that Hispanic consumers are twice as likely to be victims of fraud as non-Hispanic whites. And a new one-day survey of news media found hundreds of advertisements targeted to Hispanics that potentially could violate federal and state laws.

“The Hispanic community is very trusting – but not necessarily of government agencies, so it’s important for us to reach out to them through the media, grassroots organizations and other partners,” Méndez said.

Other guest speakers included Hanford Patrol Captain Raul Almeida; Michael Sotelo, president of the state Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Mario Villanueva, director of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima Housing Services Office. Each shared examples of successful outreach initiatives.

Conference participants identified a variety of issues affecting Washington’s Latino consumers including unfair and deceptive labor practices, bait and switch sales tactics and predatory lending. They also discussed barriers that affect agencies’ success in providing consumer protection information to Latino consumers, such as:

  • Unfamiliarity with contracts, credit and banking systems in the United States;
  • Limited literacy and linguistic barriers;
  • Lack of knowledge of available services; and
  • Reluctance to trust government agencies.

Organizations that provide services could do a better job of communicating with each other, they added.

A few of the recommendations that came out of the conference:

  • Develop a speaker’s bureau that includes experts who can educate Latinos, particularly new immigrants, about their consumer rights and services available to help them.
  • Create new, culturally specific materials to help car buyers compare loans and identify lenders in their community. Packets could be distributed through government and social service agencies, repair shops and displays near automotive malls.
  • Communicate consumer messages through trusted community leaders and celebrities, radio novelas (dramas), and DVDs distributed to schools.

Consumer Protection Division Chief Doug Walsh described the conference as a success. He said the Attorney General’s Office will pore over all ideas during the coming months and incorporate recommendations into a work plan to be released in late spring.

The Attorney General’s Office will sponsor a similar conference Oct. 20 in Yakima. Registration information is available at www.atg.wa.gov/LatinoConference.

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Contact: Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432, kalexander@atg.wa.gov

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