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Post date: February 6 2004

Spitzer Marks National Consumer Protection Week - Binghamton

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 Souther Tier region were related to autos, credit, home repair, retail sales, and telecommunications.

"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 acts 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 Binghamton Regional Office mediates complaints for consumers and provides educational programs throughout the region. Staff speak to service clubs, senior citizen groups, as well as other community groups, all in an effort to provide consumer education, and to alert the public about scams which may be occurring within the region.

In 2003, Spitzer's Binghamton Regional Office handled nearly 1,600 consumer complaints and obtained nearly $410,000 in restitution through mediation. Through enforcement actions, the regional office obtained another $181,000 in restitution and $14,000 in fines.

Some of the 2003 cases significant to the region include:

• The filing of a lawsuit against John E. Stratton, the operator of J.E.S. Building and Remodeling of Broome County, who was accused of: failing to perform promised work; failing to complete projects; and failing to refund monies to customers whose projects were not begun or begun but not finished. The office successfully obtained a court order that: bars Stratton from engaging in any type of consumer business in New York State unless he posts a $100,000 performance bond; requires Stratton to pay at least $57,650 in restitution for injured consumers, and $8,190 in civil penalties and court costs.
• A lawsuit filed against SDI Concepts, Inc., which does business as PC Shop Computer Center in Tompkins County, and its owner, Steven D. Irvin who accepted payments from consumers for merchandise that it failed to deliver. In December, the office obtained a court order barring the computer store and its owner from operating unless they post a $100,000 bond. The order also requires Irvin to pay at least $57,650 in consumer restitution and $8,190 in civil penalties and costs.

In addition to these 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 in restitution to consumers statewide, including $1.67 million in restitution to 960 residents of the Southern Tier.

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

The following is a list of top complaints to the Binghamton Regional Office, including the counties of Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, and Tompkins.

 
Industry
Number of Complaints
1 Automobile
194
2 Credit
183
3 Home Repair/Construction
159
4 Retail Sales
153
5 Telecommunications
118
6 Mail Order
95
7 Services
83
8 Landlord/Tenant
80
9 Health
39
10 Utilities
36

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.