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Post date: February 4 2004

Spitzer, Spano Mark National Consumer Protection Week

In observance of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Spitzer and Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano today released a list of the top consumer complaints in Westchester County and across the state.

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 Westchester region were related to auto issues, credit, retail sales, mail order and health clubs.

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

"Thousands of Westchester residents, on a daily basis, rely on our Department of Consumer Protection to help them with their complaints or just to give them unbiased information. Its reputation continues to grow," said Westchester County Executive Spano.

The Attorney General’s office --through its Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, Internet Bureau and Telecommunications and Energy Bureau -- investigates and prosecutes businesses 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 more than 130 enforcement actions and, through these actions and mediation efforts, obtained approximately $53.3 million in restitution for consumers.

The Westchester County Department of Consumer Protection also resolves consumer complaints and implements programs and procedures to educate citizens on consumer issues. Through its Weights and Measures Division, the Department inspects and certifies the accuracy of all weighing and measuring devices used in the marketplace. The Department handles 1,500 consumer complaints annually.

Last year, the county handled more than 2,000 consumer complaints and obtained $563,000 in restitution through mediation. Through enforcement actions, the county obtained another $104,000 in restitution and $26,000 in fines.

The following is a list of top consumer complaints statewide 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 in Westchester County:

 
Industry
Number of Complaints
1 Automobile
261
2 Credit
175
3 Internet
157
4 Mail Order
143
5 Services (non-auto related)
141
6 Telecommunication
132
7 Home Repair/Construction
110
8 Retail Sales
97
9 Landlord/Tenant
91
10 Utilities
75

The list does not include cases handled by the Attorney General’s Health Care helpline, 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.

WHERE CAN CONSUMERS TURN FOR HELP?


Complaints can be filed through the Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline at 1-800-771-7755.

To access consumer "tips" on topics ranging from identity theft, housing concerns, auto problems, and toy safety to health care problems, consumers can go to the Attorney General’s web site at: www.ag.ny.gov.

Complaints can also be filed in Westchester County at www.westchestergov.com/consumer or by calling 914-995-2162.

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.