The Department of Justice has improved its online business complaint search function and is making raw complaint data available to private sector software developers to create new applications
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger today recognized National Consumer Protection Week by announcing the Oregon Department of Justice’s Top 10 Consumer Complaint List for 2010.
“Scammers and crooked companies continue to target seniors, people who have lost their homes and other vulnerable Oregon consumers,” Attorney General Kroger said. “We will continue to aggressively pursue malefactors in and out of court.”
The Top 10 Consumer Complaints include telecommunications, international money transfer schemes, homeownership issues, collection agencies, financial institutions, motor vehicle sales, health products, internet retailers, telemarketers and construction contractors.
Attorney General Kroger also announced enhancements to Be InfORmed, the Oregon Department of Justice’s Consumer Complaint search feature introduced last year. Be InfORmed now allows users to conduct searches by zip code or geographical area, so they can search for complaints against businesses in their neighborhood. Be InORmed can be found at https://justice.oregon.gov/complaints/.
The raw data from Be Informed has also been made available at http://data.oregon.gov/ in a format that private sector software developers can use to create applications, mashups and visualizations.
Oregon has one of the most innovative consumer protection programs in the country. The program operates exclusively on funds recovered from companies that break the law. DOJ in 2010 recovered more than $22 million for Oregon workers, consumers and investors without spending a single taxpayer dollar.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline, at 1-877-877-9392, is staffed by a team of volunteers who fielded 33,529 calls in 2010. The Department of Justice last year also received 12,963 written complaints.
The number of Spanish-language complaints increased by 41 percent from 2009, although the total of 103 was a small percentage of the overall numbers. The increase may be due in part to increased consumer outreach by the Oregon Department of Justice.
Below are highlights from the Top 10 Consumer Complaint List for 2010.
For the fifth year in a row, telecommunications companies ranked #1 on Oregon’s Top 10 Consumer Complaint List with 1,456 written complaints received in 2010. The most complaints were against satellite television service providers with 397. Cellular telephone service providers claimed the second spot with 237 complaints, while internet service providers and “bundled” service providers ended the year with 186 and 154 complaints respectively. Telecommunications companies have consistently emerged at the top of the consumer complaint list in Oregon. Attorney General Kroger has pledged to aggressively pursue legitimate claims against telecommunications companies. In December of 2010 DOJ helped recover $13.25 million from DIRECTV, Inc., one of the nation’s largest providers of satellite television service. The action followed a two-year investigation into a variety of misleading sales and advertising tactics, including deceptive “cash back” and free trial offers. DIRECTV is one of the largest generators of consumer complaints – over 1,100 have been filed with DOJ since 1996. In addition to refunding consumers, DIRECTV also agreed to change the way it does business by clearly explaining and fully disclosing the terms of consumer contracts.
International Money Transfer Schemes
Complaints about international money schemes have continued to rise over the last three years. For the second year in a row, the category ranks #2 on the Top Ten Consumer Complaint List. The Department received 1,054 complaints about international money schemes with $1,999,323 in reported losses – more than double the $707,783 reported lost in 2009. These international money schemes take a variety of elaborate and convincing forms, ranging from the foreign lottery, work-at-home and bogus business opportunity schemes, to elaborate fake investment opportunities. In response, Attorney General Kroger has dramatically increased consumer protection outreach performed by the Department of Justice and expanded the Oregon Scam Alert Network, an e-mail notification system that warns consumers about current scams. Oregonians can sign up for the Scam Alert Network at www.oregonattorneygeneral.gov
Home Ownership Lending
The effects of the home foreclosure crisis have pushed the home ownership lending industry from #5 to #3 on the 2010 Top Ten Consumer Complaint list. The home ownership lending industry made its first appearance on the list last year. In 2010, Oregonians filed 1,002 home ownership lending complaints. This category includes foreclosure rescue scams, loan modifiers, mortgage brokers, equity buyers and companies that extend real estate credit, including banks and mortgage servicers. One of the most recent trends among the complaints received involves predatory “mortgage rescue” companies that target homeowners desperate to save their homes. These companies charge homeowners large up-front fees to review mortgage documents and negotiate a modification with the lender. In reality, these companies do little to help save homes and often leave homeowners in a worse predicament.
Attorney General Kroger has made it a priority to stop deceitful foreclosure consultants and loan modification companies. The 2008 Oregon Mortgage Rescue Fraud Protection Act prohibits foreclosure consulting companies from collecting advance fees and using confusing contract language. To date, the DOJ has responded to scores of complaints, concluded a dozen cases and recovered roughly $1.6 million in fines and penalties. DOJ also banned the following companies and individuals from performing these services in Oregon:
- USMAC Law Group
- Liberty Law Firm, Inc.
- Noah Savings Mortgage, Inc.
- Premier Legal Advocates
- National Homeowners Assistance Services, Inc.
- American Mitigation Group
- American Modifications
- Westwood Properties
- Scott Barnes
- Ken Buttvill
- Alicia Guidotti
- Julian James Ruiz III
Additionally, loan modification companies must register with the State as debt management service providers. DOJ ordered 18 other companies who failed to register, demanding that they cease doing business in Oregon until they comply with the law.
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, promote a positive business climate and defend the rights of all Oregonians.
Tony Green, (503) 378-6002 firstname.lastname@example.org