Today Attorney General John Kroger and legislative leaders announced the Oregon Department of Justice Top 10 Consumer Complaint Annual Report for 2009 (pdf).
"In hard economic times, it is more important than ever to protect Oregon's consumers," Attorney General Kroger said. "The huge volume of complaints from Oregonians shows that we have a lot of work to do."
Kroger, Consumer Protection Committee Chairs Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, and Rep. Paul Holvey discussed their solutions for protecting consumers and urged the passage of important pieces of legislation that would help keep consumers in their homes and protect them from illegal debt collectors.
"Laws that protect consumers from& unfair business practices are even more important in difficult economic times," said Sen. Bonamici.
The Top 10 list is generated by counting the number of written complaints received by the Department of Justice. The top 4 complaints involved telecommunications companies, financial institutions, consumer scams and collection agencies. 132 Oregonians reported losing a total of $1.2 million in international money transfer scams in 2008.
There are thousands of individual stories that comprise the report. An example of one complaint comes from a Salem man who asked that he be only identified by his first name (Michael). Michael described being caught up in a "mystery shopper" scam. Michael cashed what appeared to be a legitimate check from a company that was recruiting people to shop at retailers and rate the service. After deducting his "fee," Michael sent the remainder of the money - $2,980 - back to the company. Only later did he discover that the check was bogus and that he had been scammed.
"Oregonians are vulnerable right now and the Legislature has an even greater responsibility" said Rep. Holvey.
State leaders are taking renewed actions to address consumer concerns. Earlier this week Attorney General Kroger joined forces with other state agencies, law enforcement, elected officials, advocacy groups and Oregon citizens to announce the Oregon Scam Alert Network. The Oregon Scam Alert Network is a growing coalition designed to increase awareness of emerging scams. Kroger encouraged citizens to sign up for the Oregon Scam Alert Network at http://www.doj.state.or.us/. Attorney General John Kroger leads the Oregon Department of Justice. The Department's mission is to fight crime and fraud, protect the environment, improve child welfare, and defend the rights of all Oregonians.
Top 10 Consumer Complaints
Protect Consumers from Illegal Debt Collection by Passing SB 328
Illegal debt collection is a growing problem – complaints are up 16% in just the past year. Part of the reason complaints are so high is that in Oregon, there is currently no state agency able to enforce violations of the Unlawful Debt Collection Practices Act. SB 328, which passed the Oregon State Senate 23-6 with bi-partisan support, would give the Attorney General the authority to hold debt collection agencies accountable when they break the law. That authority will promote more just behavior from the collection industry
Expand the Oregon Scam Alert Network
As the economy sours, scams preying on those desperate to make ends meet will rise. According to the Federal Trade Commission, scam artists are likely to be using the economic downturn to take advantage of consumers who may be financially vulnerable. Financial fraud is already ripping off hundreds of Oregonians. Just this last year, 132 Oregonians reported over $1.2 million in losses to these elaborate and convincing scams. In response, the Attorney General is expanding and improving the Oregon Scam Alert Network to make sure consumers have the resources they need to protect their pocketbooks. Oregonians can sign up for the Oregon Scam Alert Network at http://www.doj.state.or.us.
Register with the National Do Not Call Registry
Telemarketing complaints returned to the list after State enforcement was effectively pre-empted by federal law and regulations since 2003. Oregonians are urged to register with the National Do Not Call Registry by calling 1-888-382-1222 or online at http://www.donotcall.gov. Registration is free and, after 31 days, most "cold calls" made to Oregonians on the list, with few exemptions, will violate both federal and state laws. Oregonians on the list can then report violators to the Attorney General's office for prosecution.
Improve Communication between Business and State Government
99% of Oregon's businesses are good citizens - they always try to provide quality service and a quality product. The complaints we receive at the Department of Justice are often a sign of a simple problem gone awry. Instead of just complaining, the Attorney General is coordinating outreach to business leaders to work with them to identify consensus solutions to problems this report identifies. Later this month, Attorney General Kroger will host his first Business Advisory Council meeting. At that meeting, the Department of Justice will begin the conversation about how we can work together to address consumer concerns. This council should help business work better without needless new bureaucracy.
Tony Green, (503) 378-6002 firstname.lastname@example.org