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Post date: February 6 2004

Spitzer Marks National Consumer Protection Week - Rochester

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 Rochester region were related to services, autos, credit, home repair, 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 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 Rochester 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 which may be occurring within the region.

In 2003, Spitzer's Rochester Regional Office handled nearly 3,000 consumer complaints and obtained more than $832,000 in restitution through mediation. Through enforcement actions, the regional office obtained another $38 million in restitution and $16,350 in fines.

Some of the 2003 cases significant to the region include:

• A landmark predatory lending settlement with Household Finance that provided significant reforms to its lending practices as well as $3.6 million in restitution to 2,100 residents of the Rochester area. This case, handled out of the Rochester Regional Office, provided more than $37.6 million in refunds to more than 21,700 consumers across the state.
• A settlement with an upstate used car dealer, Cars By Phone, Inc., which does business as Auto Solutions, that misled consumers about their warranty repair rights under the Lemon Law.
• Agreements with two Ontario County motels which paid more than $8,800 to settle allegations of price gouging during an April ice storm.
• A settlement in which Allstate Hearing Systems, Inc. - a defunct Rochester-based hearing aid dispenser - that provided to pay $28,000 in refunds for 30 customers who had paid for hearing aids that had not been delivered. It also agreed to return the hearing aids to other consumers who had hearing aids in under repair.

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

Number of Complaints
1 Automobile
2 Credit
3 Internet
4 Mail Order
5 Services (non-auto related)
6 Telecommunication
7 Home Repair/Construction
8 Retail Sales
9 Landlord/Tenant
10 Utilities

The following is a list of top complaints to the Rochester Regional Office, including the counties of Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates:

Number of Complaints
1 Services
2 Automobile
3 Credit
4 Home Repair/Construction
5 Telecommunications
6 Health
7 Retail Sales
8 Mail Order
9 Landlord/Tenant
10 Internet

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

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



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.