Each day, American consumers encounter problems in their dealings with businesses, ranging from simple misunderstandings to outright fraud. We know, because we hear from hundreds of consumers each day.
"They took my initial $7.95 and guaranteed I would make money in seven days," Linda, of Oklahoma City, told ConsumerAffairs.com.
Linda said she had signed up with an online company called DataMoneyonline.com, which she said offered a way to earn extra money. Instead, she says, it took her money.
"They took $197 out of my bank account under the name of "Money Machine" and now they will not even return my emails," she said.
In addition to complaining to ConsumerAffairs.com, Linda should also complain to her state attorney general -- in her case, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. Most consumers don't realize that they have an elected official in their state whose job is to see they don't get ripped off. In most cases, these officials take this task seriously.
For example, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office says it receives more than 30,000 complaints related to consumer issues each year. These complaints include health care issues, insurance fraud, violations of the Pennsylvania Do Not Call Law, SPAM email and junk mail, and numerous other subjects. The office says it begins an investigation in an attempt to resolve the complaints.
Despite being a relatively small state, West Virginia also has an active attorney general who takes his role as a consumer advocate seriously. So far this year, Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office has blocked collection agencies from harassing consumers, forced marketers to live up to their free gas promotions, and sued a number of businesses for violating consumer law.
"After your complaint is received, we first decide whether it can be resolved through our voluntary mediation process. These complaints are assigned to a mediator who contacts the business and requests a written response to the complaint. Many complaints are resolved successfully when the business makes a favorable response or when the consumer and business reach a compromise," McGraw's office says.
When mediation is unsuccessful, staff attorneys investigate to determine whether consumer laws have been violated.
In January 2008, a New Jersey wedding photography studio suddenly closed its doors, throwing New Jersey brides into a panic and triggering an avalanche of complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com and New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram.
Milgram went to court and, by November 2008, had seized Celebration Studios' assets, including wedding photos and videos, and began distributing them to the brides who had paid for them.
"The sheer volume of materials made this a major undertaking, but for our staff, it was a labor of love because we know these photos and videos are cherished keepsakes," said New Jersey's Consumer Affairs Director, David Szuchman.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers recently announced that his office's consumer credit compliance examinations retreived more than $1.8 million in refunds to more than 13,000 Colorado consumers during the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
"Although individual refunds might be small in most cases, the overall results are sizeable.," Suthers said. "Consumers may not know if the terms of their credit agreements are legal or if payments have been correctly applied. However, my staff is able to review loan files and require appropriate corrective action when violations are discovered."
But violations can't be discovered unless consumers speak up. When consumers visit ConsumerAffairs.com to lodge a complaint, they should also take advantage of the site's connection to their state attorney general. Just click on the Resources link and then click on your state.