Communications Industry Tops 1999 List of Consumer Complaints Made in Washington

“The message must not be getting through. For the second year in a row, problems with the communications industry, including telecommunications and on-line services, are at the top of the state Attorney General’s annual list of consumer complaints. They have been the number one consumer complaint for both 1998 and 1999.The increasing popularity of the Internet, cellular phones and pagers, and the intense competition among long distance telephone service providers, have brought new opportunities and new problems for consumers, said Attorney General Christine Gregoire.The AG’s Office received almost 4,000 complaints against providers of communication services last year. The majority involved problems with billing and service, deceptive marketing tactics such as unauthorized switching of a long distance carrier – slamming, bills for services never ordered, and receipt of unsolicited commercial e-mail.Consumers statewide reportedly received over $11.8 million in restitution and savings from complaints and actions taken by the AG’s Office. Of that total, more than $336,000 was restitution from lawsuits filed by the office and over $5.2 million was recovered for consumers in the office’s informal mediation process.Consumers also received nearly $6.25 million in awards and settlements from vehicle manufacturers through the Lemon Law Program.In 1999, the AG’s seven Consumer Resource Centers processed a total of 26,945 written complaints. This was 3,000 more than the number of complaints filed in 1998. CRC volunteers handled over 231,000 telephone inquiries and nearly 4,000 e-mail messages.On top of that, the Lemon Law Program received more than 20,000 inquiries. Of the cases arbitrated in 1999, 85 percent were resolved in the consumer’s favor, according to the AG’s Office.The top 10 consumer complaint categories in 1999 included:1. Communications2. Credit3. Retail Organizations4. Travel Sellers/Tour Operators5. Motor Vehicle Repair6. Motor Vehicle Sales7. Contractors8. Direct Mail Advertising9. Books and Magazine Sales10. Catalog and Mail Order HousesThe Consumer Protection Division assists consumers in reconciling disputes with businesses. If a problem falls within the AG’s jurisdiction, the office can informally mediate or arbitrate complaints in an effort to get the involved parties to reach an agreement on how to resolve their dispute. Over 80 trained volunteers and work study students handled the inquiries and mediation, providing more than 33,000 hours to help Washington consumers.Consumers wanting to file a complaint or interested in joining the team of volunteer consumer representatives should call the Consumer Protection Division at 800-551-4636, 800-276-9883 for the hearing impaired, or visit the AG website at”