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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 07, 2006
Attorney General’s Office Consumer Programs Recover $9 Million in 2005


SEATTLE – The Attorney General’s Office recovered about $9 million for Washington consumers last year through its complaint mediation and Lemon Law programs, Attorney General Rob McKenna said today.

McKenna announced new statistics from the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, which enforces the state's consumer protection laws, mediates consumer complaints and educates the public on consumer protection issues. In doing so, he also recognized National Consumer Protection Week, celebrated Feb. 5-11.

“Last year, we added two new attorneys, Katherine Tassi and Shannon Smith, and a computer forensics investigator, Aaron Munn, to help investigate and prosecute high-tech crimes and identity theft,” McKenna said. “That investment, made possible with additional support from the Legislature, enabled us to recently file our first lawsuit under Washington’s new spyware act.”

“We also developed a new unit to focus specifically on scams that target seniors, immigrants and other vulnerable populations,” he continued. “We’ve begun to take additional enforcement actions in those areas.”

For each $1 appropriated for consumer protection operations for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit recovered roughly $2.28 for consumers through litigation, complaint mediation and its Lemon Law program.

“The saying, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ is more than a cliché when you’re dealing with consumer protection issues,” McKenna said. “Last year, we hired Rebecca Sears to coordinate our public outreach and education efforts. And we recently appointed Norma Chavez, from our Kennewick office, to provide increased outreach to Spanish-speaking consumers statewide.”

Consumer protection staff made 111 presentations to consumer groups in 2005, reaching more than 9,100 attendees. Identity theft was the most frequently requested topic.

AGO Recovers Millions for Consumers

In addition to consumer restitution from its civil lawsuits, the Attorney General’s Office also recovers millions of dollars for consumers through its mediation programs.

Last year, the office recovered about $5.2 million for consumers through its Consumer Resource Centers, which provide informal mediation between consumers and businesses at no cost to either party. In addition, consumers benefited by receiving more than $4 million in settlements through the office’s Lemon Law program.

“Our Consumer Resource Centers play a vital role in our mission to protect the people of Washington, and have recovered more than $91 million for consumers since 1990,” McKenna said. “Time and time again, Washington consumers and businesses have told us how much they appreciate our help resolving their concerns and helping them avoid costly lawsuits.

“On average, two out of three complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office are satisfactorily resolved,” McKenna continued. “The information consumers provide in their complaints is also helpful for identifying unfair business practices worth further investigation and potential litigation.”

In addition to full-time professionals, the Attorney General’s Office employs trained volunteers and work-study students in its Consumer Resource Centers. Last year, volunteers and students gave nearly 22,000 hours to help Washington consumers.

The office’s five Lemon Law staff handled 15,162 phone calls and 182 arbitrations last year. All told, Lemon Law outreach efforts reached 261,357 Washington consumers.

“Washington arguably has the best Lemon Law in the nation,” McKenna said. “Funding for the program comes from a $3 fee on the purchase of a new car – which was lowered from its original level of $5 at our office’s request. We are so successful that we were able to ask the Legislature for a reduction in funding and still provide arbitration at no charge to consumers or car manufacturers.”

2005 Complaint Facts

The office’s Consumer Resource Centers handled a total of 17,424 formal written complaints and 143,750 phone calls from consumers in 2005.

The Consumer Protection Division is focusing its enforcement efforts on 10 key areas considered the most critical to consumers: Internet commerce; privacy and identity theft; senior fraud; automobile sales and the Lemon Law; credit and financial industries; health and drugs; telecommunications issues; charitable solicitations; emergency home repair contractors and emerging marketplace issues.


Top 20 Complaint Categories for 2005

Rank

Industry

Total Complaints

Percent of Total Complaints

2004 Rank

1

Communications

1,680

9.64%

1

2

Retail Sales

1,318

7.56%

2

3

Collections

1,270

7.29%

5

4

Auto Sales

1,017

5.84%

4

5

Contractors

844

4.84%

6

6

Online Auctions

774

4.44%

Previously included with electronic shopping

7

Credit Card Issuers

664

3.81%

8

8

Books/Magazines & Directory Publishers

596

3.42%

11

9

Electronic Shopping

532

3.05%

3
Category previously included online auctions

10

Auto Repair

522

3.00%

10

11

Internet Service Providers

409

2.35%

17

11

Commercial Banking

409

2.35%

16

12

Health Care

399

2.29%

13

13

Travel

320

1.84%

12

14

Consumer Lending & Transfer Agents

317

1.82%

18

15

Telemarketing

288

1.65%

20

16

Insurance

287

1.65%

14

17

Landlord/Tenant

256

1.47%

15

18

Cable Networks & Program Distribution

246

1.41%

19

19

Mortgage Lending

229

1.31%


New data measures

20

Health & Diet Clubs

199

1.14%

Not ranked


Additional statistics are available on the Attorney General's Office Web site.

How to File a Consumer Complaint

The easiest way to file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office is by filling out an online form at www.atg.wa.gov. Consumers can also contact the office’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-551-4636 to speak to a complaint analyst and/or have a form mailed. Consumers are encouraged to try resolve a complaint directly with a business prior to contacting the Attorney General’s Office.

In addition to the informal mediation process provided by the Consumer Resource Centers, the Attorney General's Office offers consumers and businesses the option of formal mediation. This is made possible through a collaboration with the University of Washington Law School's Clinical Law Program. Through this voluntary process, parties negotiate their own settlement with the assistance of an impartial mediator.

- 30-

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


 

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