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Post date: February 6 2004

Spitzer Marks National Consumer Protection Week - New York

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 Central New York were related to auto, credit, home repair, telecommunications, and retail sales.

"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 Central New York Regional Offices 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 which may be occurring within the region.

In 2003, Spitzer's Syracuse and Utica Regional Offices handled more than 2,180 consumer complaints and obtained nearly $550,000 in restitution through mediation. Through enforcement actions, the regional office obtained another $513,000 in restitution and $63,000 in fines.

Some of the 2003 cases significant to the region include:

• Successfully obtaining a court order against Douglas Ward, also known as Doug Landers, the owner of Affordable Roofing & Contracting of Syracuse and Landers Roofing Co. of Solvay to cease operations unless he posts a $25,000 bond. The order also requires Ward to pay over $30,000 in restitution to injured consumers, $9,500 in civil penalties and costs. Ward had performed poor quality work, failed to respond to consumer complaints, and failed to honor warranties or remedy defects in workmanship.
• A settlement with Binghamton-based Crowley Foods, Inc., in which nearly 130 school districts and six BOCES districts in 35 counties received a distribution of nearly $310,000. It had been alleged that Crowley had overcharged the school districts for milk.

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 $4.2 million in restitution to 2,450 residents of Central New York.

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

 
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 Syracuse and Utica Regional Offices, including the counties of Cayuga, Cortland, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego.

 
Industry
Number of Complaints
1 Automobile
487
2 Credit
308
3 Home Repair/Construction
288
4 Telecommunications
192
5 Retail Sales
166
6 Services
153
7 Landlord/Tenant
132
8 Mail Order
102
9 Furniture & Major Appliances
74
10 Health
48

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" by 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.