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Post date: February 6 2004

Spitzer Marks National Consumer Protection Week - Albany

In observance of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Spitzer today released a list of the top consumer complaints in the state and region.

Automobile problems, credit and banking issues and Internet concerns headed the list of statewide consumer complaints in New York in 2003, according to an analysis of the 56,000 written consumer complaints received by Spitzer's office.

Similar to the statewide numbers, the top consumer complaints in the Capital Region were related to credit, automobile, telecommunications, and services.

"This analysis highlights areas where consumers should be especially careful and diligent to protect their rights and interests," Spitzer said.

The Attorney General's office -- through its Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, Internet Bureau and Telecommunications and Energy Bureau -- investigates and prosecutes business and individuals engaging in fraudulent, misleading, deceptive and illegal trade practices. It also mediates thousands of complaints from individual consumers and issues reports on emerging consumer protection issues.

Last year, the office commenced nearly 130 enforcement actions and, through these actions and through mediation efforts, obtained approximately $53 million in restitution for consumers.

In addition to enforcement actions, Spitzer's Albany Consumer Frauds Bureau mediates complaints for consumers and provides educational programs throughout the region. Staff speak to service clubs, senior citizen groups, and other community groups, all in an effort to provide consumer education, and to alert the public about scams that may be occurring within the region.

In 2003, Spitzer's Albany office handled over 11,000 consumer complaints and obtained nearly $1.9 million in restitution.

Some of the 2003 cases significant to the region include:

• Two settlements with area auto dealers, Fuccillo Ford of East Greenbush and Garvey Volkswagen of Queensbury, that provided in total $73,500 in refunds to 55 consumers who unknowingly bought former rental vehicles.
• A settlement with Watervliet-based Pro-Rooter, Inc., formerly doing business as Rooter Man, Inc. and Rooter Man of Capital District, Inc., and its owner, James N. Ward, Jr., a local plumbing and sewage contractor that resulted in more than $18,000 in refunds to 24 customers. Consumers had complained that the company failed to honor warranties, failed to pay small claims judgments, damaged homeowners' property and refused to provide information to homeowners about its insurance coverage.


In addition to those enforcement actions and mediation efforts, Spitzer's office secured a landmark predatory lending settlement with Household Finance that provided significant reforms to its lending practices as well as $37 million to consumers statewide, including $2.8 million in restitution to 1,600 residents of the Capital Region.

The following is a list of top statewide consumer complaints by industry in 2003 (a description of the categories is attached):

 
Industry
Number of Complaints
1Automobile
6,699
2Credit
6,127
3Internet
5,529
4Mail Order
3,536
5Services (non-auto related)
3,408
6Telecommunication
3,275
7Home Repair/Construction
2,247
8Retail Sales
2,140
9Landlord/Tenant
2,041
10Utilities
1,095

The following is a list of top complaints to the Albany Consumer Frauds Bureau, including the counties of Albany, Columbia, Greene, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren and Washington.

 
Industry
Number of Complaints
1Credit
1,485
2Automobile
874
3Telecommunications
808
4Services
619
5Home Repair/Construction
590
6Retail Services
491
7Mail Order
417
8Internet
344
9Mortgages
286
10Utilities
243

The list does not include cases handled by the Attorney General's Health Care help line, which each year handles more than 8,000 calls. The largest number of those complaints arise from provider mistakes in processing health insurance claims. A separate report analyzing health care complaints and providing consumer tips is available at the Attorney General's website www.ag.ny.gov.

Spitzer noted that his office stands ready to assist consumers in resolving their problems. He encouraged individuals to contact his consumer helpline at (800) 771-7755. Consumers can access a wide range of consumer "tips" visiting his website at www.ag.ny.gov.

Description of Consumer Complaint categories

•The "Automobiles" category includes new, used, leased, and rental cars, repairs, service contracts and other industry related complaints.

•The "Credit" category includes credit cards, debt collection, Identity Theft, credit reporting, credit counseling and debt consolidation.

•The "Furniture/Major Household Appliances" category includes complaints concerning household furniture (i.e., problems with chairs, tables, cabinets, sofas, carpets, rugs, curtains, bedsteads and chests) and major household appliances (includes problems with air conditioners, washing machines clothes dryers, food freezers, refrigerators, stoves, ranges, ovens, microwave ovens and sewing machines). Complaints typically allege furniture or appliance is defective, damaged or is not the item ordered by the consumer, ( i.e., wrong color, size or model), or was not delivered within time specified by retailer or manufacturer.

•The "Retail Sales" category includes all complaints against any retail establishment that sells goods for personal household use. Included here are problems with department stores, supermarkets, clothing stores, specialty stores, consumer electronics, rent-to-own, discount houses and buying clubs.

•The "Services" category includes complaints concerning consumer service industries categorized. This includes, but is not limited to, alarm companies, answering services, buying clubs, carpet cleaners, dry cleaners, furniture repairers and refinishers, restaurants, hair and nail salons, automobile clubs, watch repairs, locksmiths, upholsterers, banking, parking garages, movers, dating services, schools, special occasions, and other non-medical professional services.

•The "Telecommunications" category includes phone cards, slamming, cellular service, pay-per-call, and residential service.

• The "Utilities" category includes complaints concerning unregulated energy service providers; and energy distributors. Complaints concerning billing, contracts, service and equipment problems with cable companies and digital satellite systems (DSS), and complaints concerning water, oil, liquid propane and electric & gas companies.