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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 18, 1996
AG's Office Saves Consumers a Record $5 Million Through Help of Volunteers

SEATTLE - The State Attorney General's Office last year saved Washington consumers nearly $5 million dollars - a record amount - primarily through the help of volunteers.

Consumers received $4,921,836 in restitution and other savings as a result of the Attorney General's Office mediation efforts with businesses. In 1994, consumers were saved $4,662,262, up 21 percent over 1993.

"Each year we continue to show an increase in the number of complaints and the dollars saved," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "That's good news for all consumers we are trying to protect, as well as businesses and taxpayers, since most disputes are resolved by our volunteers and without expensive and lengthy court action."

Volunteers and work study students last year handled 266,125 consumer-related telephone inquiries and 22,056 written complaints to the AG's Office.

More than 100 volunteers field consumer inquiries and complaints in the seven AG's Office Consumer Re source Centers (CRC's) in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Olympia, Bellingham, Kennewick and Vancouver.

"Based on the number of inquiries and complaints handled, Washington has one of the largest consumer assis tance volunteer programs in the country," Gregoire said.

Like 1994, motor vehicle sales again ranked number one in the 1995 complaint categories, with retail stores moving to second place from third. Motor vehicle repair complaints ranked third and health club complaints jumped into fourth from a ninth place ranking last year.

Gregoire believes there may be a link between increases in retail organization and health club complaints and actions taken last year by the Attorney General's Office. Five prominent health clubs in Western Washington were ordered to pay restitution to consumers for alleged violations including high pressure tactics, failure to deliver promised services and facilities, and unfair and deceptive billing and collection practices.

"Complaints against health clubs more than doubled in 1995 after our office sent a strong message to the fitness industry to 'shape up,'" Gregoire said.

Regarding retail firms, the Attorney General's Office settled a lawsuit last July alleging deceptive advertising and sales practices against Smith's Home Furnishings for a record half million dollars. Retail complaints peaked again when Smith's filed for bankruptcy in September and closed its stores in Washington.

In addition to resolving complaints, the CRC's maintain a database of complaints which helps the AG's attor neys and investigators identify consumer problem areas. The information is used to pinpoint individuals, businesses and industries using unfair or deceptive business practices and violating state law.

The statewide number to reach a CRC is 1-800-551-4636, or 1-800-833-6384 for the hearing impaired (TDD). -

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Contact: Sally Sterling, AG's Consumer Resources Director (206) 464-6431

Janice Marich, AG's Public Affairs Office
(206) 464-6432

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