10 01 2016
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Washington consumers filed 25,197 written complaints with the Attorney General's Office in 2008 – the greatest number since 2002. Gripes about health care businesses and commercial banks moved into the top 10 and telecommunications maintained its stronghold as the industry to generate the most criticism.
The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division released its annual Top 20 list of consumer complaint categories today in conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week.
"Year after year, the same handful of industries are generating the most complaints but what I find reassuring is that our Consumer Resource Centers continue to resolve most of those disputes and help consumers recoup millions of dollars," Attorney General Rob McKenna said.
Consumer Protection Division staff had predicted that complaints about collection agencies, which had been steadily rising for several years, might bump phone companies out of the top spot. But collectors slipped back down to third place with 1,431 complaints in 2008, allowing retailers to pop back into No. 2 with 1,494 complaints while telecommunications, with a total of 1,728 complaints, clung onto pole position for the 12th consecutive year.* Complaints about auto sales ranked fourth among the categories.
Staff reached out to businesses in 2008, starting a dialog with debt collectors and holding meetings with auto dealer associations in an effort to reduce complaints and strengthen compliance with consumer protection laws.
Volunteers and staff in the office's four Consumer Resource Centers process consumer complaints and attempt to resolve them through informal mediation without picking a side. The service is provided at no cost to consumers or businesses. The centers recovered $6.6 million for consumers during the last fiscal year from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008. (Nearly $6.9 million was recovered during the 2008 calendar year.)
Complaints that can't be resolved through mediation can sometimes prompt the office to launch a formal investigation and pursue enforcement action. The Consumer Protection Division recovered more than $11 million for consumers through litigation during the last fiscal year.
The Consumer Protection Division also administers the state's Lemon Law program, which saved car buyers about $3.5 million during the fiscal year, and a new Manufactured Housing Landlord-Tenant Dispute Resolution Program.
Some complaints received by the office can't be handled through mediation or even civil lawsuits. The office refers matters to criminal prosecutors, when appropriate, as well as other state regulators.
McKenna and Consumer Protection Division Chief Doug Walsh agree that prevention is the most important tool, particularly with scams involving counterfeit checks and wire transfer fraud. The office began specifically tracking advance-fee scams last year and recorded 395 complaints.
"We often liken fighting fraudsters to the Whack-a-Mole game; you knock one down and another pops up," McKenna said. "With prevention, we're teaching people how to avoid the scams in the first place."   

  
Top 20 Complaint Categories for 2008
   
 
2008
Rank
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
 

Industry
Category

Telecommunications
Retail Sales    
Collections     
Auto Sales
Electronic Shopping    
Contractors     
Books/Magazines & Directory
Cable Networks & Program Distribution   
Health Care     
Commercial Banking
Credit Card Issuers    
Auto Repair     
Mortgage Lending
ResidentialLandlord/Tenant     
Internet Service Providers
Advance Fee Fraud
Insurance
Consumer Lending
Travel  
Health and Diet Clubs   
 
2008  Complaints
1,728
1,494
1,431
1,402
900
868
785
667
639
599
544
433
425
416
403
395
387
361
351
321
 
2007
Rank
1
3
2
5
4
6
8
10
12
13
9
11
14
7
16
n/a     
18
15
20
21
 
2007 Complaints  
1,650
1,452
1,620
1,184
1,210
981
640
569
466
445
636
475
407
695
398
n/a
362
405
314
256

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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