Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
Jan 28 1999

Seattle - January 28, 1999 - Problems with the communications industry, including telecommunications and on-line services, topped the state Attorney General's 1998 list of consumer complaints.

“Competition for long distance phone service, the cellular phone market and increased Internet use have created an environment ripe for consumer troubles,” said Washington Attorney General Chris Gregoire. Noting that the communications industry generated more than twice as many complaints as any other industry, Gregoire said, “new technology has clearly generated new opportunities for consumer fraud and well as a whole new jargon of questionable practices including cramming, spamming and slamming.”

The AG's Office received nearly 5,000 complaints against providers of communication services last year. The majority involved problems with billing and service, deceptive marketing tactics such as the unauthorized switching of a long distance carrier (slamming), bills for services never ordered (cramming) and receipt of unsolicited e-mail (spamming).

One reason that pushed communications from its second position on last year's list into first place was the state's new junk e-mail law. Since the law went into effect last June, the AG's Office logged more than 1,600 spamming complaints. The law prohibits the sending of unsolicited commercial e-mail that contains misleading information in its subject line, uses a third party's domain name without permission, or misrepresents the message's point of origin.

Consumers received more than $15.3 million in restitution and savings from complaints and actions taken by the AG's Office. Of that total, more than $2.3 million in restitution was collected for consumers from businesses. Consumers also received close to $6.8 million in awards and settlements from vehicle manufacturers through the Lemon Law Administration.

The AG's seven Consumer Resource Centers processed a total of 23,692 written complaints in 1998, nearly 2,000 more than the number of complaints filed in 1997. CRC volunteers handled over to 233,000 telephone inquiries and nearly 2,000 e-mails.

In addition, the Lemon Law Administration received more than 23,000 telephone calls and more than 200 e-mails. Of the eligible arbitration requests filed in 1998, 83 percent were resolved in the consumers' favor.

The top ten complaint categories in 1998 include: (1) Communications; (2) Credit; (3) Motor Vehicle Repair; (4) Motor Vehicle Sales; (5) Travel Sellers/Tour Operators; (6) Retail Organizations; (7) Contractors; (8) Books and Magazines; (9) Telemarketing; (10) Direct Mail Advertising.

The Consumer Protection Division assists consumers in reconciling disputes with businesses. If a problem falls within the AG's jurisdiction, the office informally mediates, or arbitrates (Lemon Law) complaints in an effort to get the two parties to reach an agreement on how to resolve their dispute. Inquires are handled by more than 100 trained volunteers and work study students.

Consumers wanting to file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division should call 1-800-551-4636 or 1-800-833-6384 for the hearing impaired or visit the AG web site at www.atg.wa.gov.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL OF WASHINGTON
1998 CONSUMER CONTACTS

Written & E-mail ComplaintsInquiries

CONSUMER RESOURCE CENTERS CONSUMER RESOURCE CENTERS
Bellingham 1670 Bellingham 9,690
Kennewick 1,025 Kennewick 5,157
Olympia 1,359 Olympia 18,832
Seattle 12,259 Seattle 121,221
Spokane 2,275 Spokane 33,112
Tacoma 3,475 Tacoma 31,924
Vancouver 1,629 Vancouver 13,816
CONSUMERLINE TAPES 31,201
LEMON LAW ADMINISTRATION (state wide) LEMON LAW ADMINISTRATION (state wide) 25,300
Arbitration requests 318
E-mail 270
TOTAL 24,280 TOTAL 290,253

ACTUAL & ESTIMATED CONSUMER SAVINGS,

CONSUMER RESOURCE CENTERS $5,391,070
Bellingham $ 295,830
Kennewick 317,593
Olympia 262,962
Seattle 2,429,280
Spokane 336,071
Tacoma 1,242,636
Vancouver 506,698
LEMON LAW ADMINISTRATION 6,768,015
LAW SUIT RESTITUTION 3,154,917
TOTAL $15,304,002

COVERAGE AREAS OF CONSUMER RESOURCE CENTERS (by counties)

BELLINGHAM: Island, San Juan, Skagit, Whatcom; KENNEWICK: Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Klickitat, Walla Walla, and Yakima; OLYMPIA: Thurston ; SEATTLE, Clallam, Jefferson, north King and Snohomish ; SPOKANE: Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, and Whitman; TACOMA: Grays Harbor, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce, south King;; VANCOUVER: Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania, and Wahkiakum.

CONSUMERRESOURCE CENTER PERSONNEL

  • 18,150 hours were contributed by Consumer Resource Center volunteers for the year. That is a donation to the consumers worth $93,474
  • Work study students worked 20,394 hours in the Consumer Resource Centers

WASHINGTONSTATE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE

1994 - 1998 TOP CONSUMER COMPLAINT CATEGORIES

1994 1995
  1. Motor vehicle sales
  2. Motor vehicle repair
  3. Retail organizations
  4. Contractors
  5. Collection agencies
  6. Books/ magazines
  7. Direct mail advertising
  8. Telemarketing
  9. Health clubs
  10. Credit/ mortgage
1. Motor vehicle sales
2. Retail organizations
3. Motor vehicle repair
4. Health clubs
5. Contractors
6. Collection agencies
7. Communications
8. Direct mail advertising
9. Books/ magazines
10. Catalog/mail order

 

1996 1997
  1. Motor vehicle sales
  2. Motor vehicle repair
  3. Retail organizations
  4. Credit/ mortgage
  5. Travel/ tour operators
  6. Contractors
  7. Communications
  8. Collection agencies
  9. Direct mail advertising
  10. Catalog/ mail order

1. Travel/ tour operators
2. Communications
3. Motor vehicle sales
4. Motor vehicle repair
5. Retail organizations
6. Credit/ mortgages
7. Contractors
8. Collection agencies
9. Catalog/ mail order
10. Books/ magazines

1998

  1. Communications
  2. Credit/mortgage
  3. Motor vehicle repair
  4. Motor vehicle sales
  5. Travel/ tours
  6. Retail
  7. Contractors
  8. Books/ magazines
  9. Telemarketing
  10. Direct mail advertising