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Post date: February 6 2004

Spitzer Marks National Consumer Protection Week - Buffalo Regional Office

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 Western New York region were related to credit, auto, services, telecommunications, and mail order.

"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 Buffalo Regional Office mediates consumer complaints 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 Buffalo Regional Office handled more than 4,000 consumer complaints and obtained nearly $460,000 in restitution through mediation. Through enforcement actions, the regional office obtained another $651,000 in restitution and $135,000 in fines.

Some of the 2003 cases that were significant to the region include:

• Two investigations related to health facilities, including defunct health club, One On One Health Club of West Seneca, which abruptly closed and left 1,600 without a health club and without refunds. As a result of the office's efforts, a local attorney, made arrangements to open a new facility, Fitness Factory of West Seneca, at the same location and honor One On One's memberships. The other case, Advanced Weight Loss & Fitness of America, Inc. and its president, Fred Grant Morse III, consented to a court order that permanently bans them from both the health club industry and the vitamin and dietary supplements industry in New York State. The facility had closed abruptly without giving notice to consumers or refunding members' advance payments for services not provided.
• A lawsuit that resulted in a court order against the operators of an on-line home furnishing business, BeaverHome.com and its principals, Neal and Cole Martin, requiring them to personally pay $720,000 in restitution to dozens of consumers for failing to deliver merchandise after accepting payments and failing to make refunds.
• A consent order with Scott Wizig, owner of Liberty Homes of Buffalo, who had duped scores of low-income people into renting, leasing, or buying ramshackle homes. The court order holds Wizig liable for $50,000 in housing repairs, rental credits, rescinded mortgages, restitution and other 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 consumer restitution statewide, including $6.7 million in restitution to 3,800 residents of Western New York.

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 Buffalo Regional Office, including the counties of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming:

 
Industry
Number of Complaints
1Credit
818
2Automobile
449
3Services
280
4Telecommunications
253
5Mail Order(Excluding Sweepstakes)
246
6Home Repair/Construction
241
7Retail Sales
180
8Health Clubs
152
9Utilities
106
10Telemarketing
95

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.