Wash. AG touts consumer protection efforts

Bryan Cohen Feb. 2, 2012, 1:29pm


SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said Thursday that his office's Consumer Protection Division saved the public more than $4 million in 2011 while fielding approximately 40,000 calls, 23,000 letters and 450 walk-ins.

The Consumer Protection Division released its annual top 20 list of the classes of companies that consumers complain about the most. In first place were telecommunication companies, which resulted in 1,581 complaints last year. Collection agencies, last year's first-place holder, fell to number two in 2011, while broadband companies held the third most complaints spot. These three classes of companies were in the top three in 2011 as well.

"The fact that collection agencies and mortgage lenders continue to generate so many complaints is a reminder that too many people are struggling during these tough times," McKenna said. "That's one of the big reasons we're proud to have saved consumers more than $4 million in 2011, through free mediation. That extra money makes a difference in peoples' lives."

The mission of the Consumer Protection Division is to foster a competitive, fair and non-deceptive marketplace.

The other classes of companies in the top 20, in order of most complaints to least, were retail stores, auto sales, commercial banking, mortgage lending, books/magazines and directories, electronic shopping, health care, contractors, travel, advance fee fraud, consumer lending, auto repair, government agencies, financing, residential landlord/tenant, manufactured home landlords and credit card issuers.

"Complaints coming into our customer resource centers can be an early warning system, focusing us on areas that demand attention," Doug Walsh, the chief of the Consumer Protection Division, said. "Other times, complaints help bolster current cases targeted at stopping the greatest harm to the marketplace."

Complaints that are filed with the office are analyzed to allow staff to identify classes of specific companies or industries that may require extra scrutiny. The division does not have the resources to file suits against every wrongdoer and instead promotes deterrence by focusing enforcement actions of civil law in areas where the harm to the marketplace is the greatest. Complaints help the division to determine those targets.

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