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February 05, 2004
AG Releases Top Consumer Complaints List

SEATTLE -- Troubles with high tech companies-including a growing problem with Internet Service Providers (ISPs)-continued to dominate the Top 10 list of consumer complaints received by the Attorney General's Office in 2003, Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced today.

The annual list, released this year in observance of National Consumer Protection Week, consists of the industries that garnered the most complaints from Washington consumers who called, wrote, or filed complaints online with AG offices around Washington during 2003.

Moving into the Top 10 this year were ISP companies, which provide the portal through which consumers and others access the Internet to conduct online shopping or other tasks. Growing use of the Internet has increased the number of complaints involving ISPs.

ISPs moved to the number seven ranking in 2003, moving up five notches from number 13 in 2002. Nearly 500 more consumers complained about ISPs in 2003 than in 2002. There were 918 ISP complaints in 2003, compared to 428 in 2002.

Common complaints by ISP customers include billing for services not ordered, billing for service after cancellation, and billing for services not received.

Consumers had problems with other high tech industries as well.

Communications complaints, for example, ranked No. 1 for the fourth year in a row, with 3,398 recorded. Electronic shopping ranked third, moving up from number eight in 2002.

"The mounting number of complaints against relatively new industries demonstrates the increasing dominance of technology in the lives of consumers," Gregoire said.

Gregoire emphasized that while complaints against technology companies have grown, the vast majority of high tech transactions occur without complaints. "High tech may be the new wave in our lifestyles, but one thing hasn't changed - buyers still must beware and educate themselves about the products they buy."

One of the ways Gregoire addressed high-tech consumer problems was through the creation of a special High Tech Unit in 1999. The unit focuses on growing consumer concerns such as E-commerce, Internet auction fraud, misleading and deceptive e-mail, and ISP issues. The unit's activities range from informal meetings with local industries to more formal actions, including litigation.

Overall, complaints filed online in 2003 topped those in 2002. There were 9,970 online complaints recorded in 2003. The majority of complaints still come in via telephone.

Every year, the Attorney General's office collects and compiles complaints from around the state. This is one tool used to determine what is most important to consumers in charting the office's priorities and direction.

 Top Ten List of Consumer Complaints for 2003: 
 Rank Industry Number of Complaints 
 Communications 3,398
 Retail Sales 1,903
 Electronic Shopping 1,610
 Auto Sales 1,301
 Collections 1,150
 Mortgage Brokers 1,019
 Internet Service Providers 918
 Contractors 776
 Credit Card Issuers 756
 Auto Repair 735

High Tech Consumer Tips

  • Do business with companies you know or who you've researched thoroughly
  • Be careful providing any financial or personal information online
  • Choose the safest payment method when purchasing online; it is often your credit card
  • Know ALL the terms of the agreement you're entering into including cancellation policies, refund policies, warranties, and term of commitment
  • If you're responding to a "free" offer, make sure you know what "free" really means
  • Be skeptical of offers that are "good only today" or
    for a limited time" - if they're a legitimate business they'll likely be around tomorrow too
  • Know where to go if you feel you've been a victim of fraud - it may be the local police, your Attorney General's office or another law enforcement agency.
  • Watch out for operations based in another country. If they're not in the United States bringing the matter to justice will be that much more difficult
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • Do your homework BEFORE you buy

For more information and additional guidance on Internet consumer issues, see SafetyNet


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