SEATTLE - February 23, 1998 - The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division today announced that Washington consumers last year received a record $6.2 million in restitution and estimated savings from unfair and deceptive business practices. That is a 15 percent increase over 1996.
"Complaints against the travel and technology industries soared last year," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "Our numbers went up because of consumer awareness, enforcement action, and legislative attention."
1997 Consumer Contacts:
Travel and tour operators topped the list of business categories receiving the most complaints statewide. Traditionally, the auto industry holds the first and second positions on the list. In 1997, auto sales fell to third with auto repair following in the number four position.
"Last year we took action against half a dozen travel sellers," said Gregoire. "Companies advertised big savings on dream vacations but offered only empty promises for many consumers."
The Attorney General's Office reached settlements with several travel sellers, including Vacation Time Worldwide and Ultima Travel, both of which misrepresented the amount of discounts and lured consumers to attend sales presentations using false claims of free prizes.
Communications surged from the number seven position to second place on the 1997 list. The communications category covers complaints about various Internet and on-line services including complaints about unsolicited e-mail (spamming); pagers and cellular phone service; and complaints against companies who switch long distance service without the consumer's permission (slamming).
"As the popularity of the Internet, cellular phones and pagers increases with consumers and businesses, so do the number of complaints we receive about these services," said Gregoire.
Last year, consumers made more than 310,717 telephone inquires and filed over 22,434 written complaints with the AG's seven Consumer Resource Centers located in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Olympia, Bellingham, Kennewick and Vancouver. Telephone inquiries were up 14 percent and written complaints up 3 percent from 1996.
The top ten complaint categories for 1997 include :
- Travel/Tour operators
- Motor Vehicle Sales
- Motor Vehicle Repair
- Retail Organizations
- Collection Agencies
- Catalog/Mail Order
- Books and Magazines
The Consumer Protection Division assists consumers in reconciling disputes with businesses. If a problem falls within the division's jurisdiction, the office's Consumer Resource Center informally mediates in an effort to get the two parties to reach an agreement on how to resolve their dispute. All inquires are handled by trained volunteers and work study students.
A record of the types of complaints is maintained to assist attorneys and investigators in identifying patterns of deceptive or unfair business practices by an individual company or an industry.
In addition to assisting consumers, the Attorney General's Office also works closely with businesses, providing them with guidelines and other information on complying with the law.
The Consumer Protection Division can be reached statewide by calling 1-800-551-4636 or 1-800-833-6384 for the hearing impaired (TDD).
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Consumer Resource Centers
1997 CONSUMER CONTACTS
ACTUAL & ESTIMATED CONSUMER SAVINGS
COVERAGE AREAS OF CONSUMER RESOURCE CENTERS
BELLINGHAM: Island, San Juan, Skagit, Whatcom
KENNEWICK: Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Yakima
SEATTLE: Clallam, Jefferson, King, Snohomish
SPOKANE: Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Whitman
TACOMA: Grays Harbor, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce
VANCOUVER: Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania, Wahkiakum