In 2010, more than 22,000 consumers filed complaints with the Washington State Attorney Generalâ€™s Office and $4.8 million was recovered for them through the agency.
The officeâ€™s Consumer Protection Division released its annual Top 20 list of consumer complaint categories today as part of National Consumer Protection Week.
Two out of every three complaints are resolved through the informal mediation service.
Those receiving help include an unemployed Seattle resident who filed a complaint about an online company that provides skills testing for job applicants; a Blaine man who complained about an unauthorized charge on his credit card coming from a misdialed number; and the owner of a Port Angeles car dealership that was subject to a customer complaint.
The agencyâ€™s four consumer centers also provide general information about consumer protection concerns. Staff and volunteers handled 39,250 phone calls from the public in 2010.
The most commonly asked questions related to car purchases, collection agencies, and advance-fee schemes that involve a request to wire money.
Attorneys in the Consumer Protection Division enforce the stateâ€™s consumer protection laws and recovered more than $3.4 million for consumers through civil litigation during the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The division also administers the stateâ€™s Lemon Law program, which saved car buyers $2.8 million during the fiscal year, and a Manufactured Housing Landlord-Tenant Dispute Resolution Program.
Collection agencies lead in complaints
Washington consumers filed more complaints last year about collection agencies than any other industry.
Complaints about the collection agencies rose 7 percent from 1,671 in 2009 to 1,795 in 2010. Collection agencies were responsible for 8 percent of the 22,141 written complaints the agency received last year.
Cable networks ranked fourth on the agencyâ€™s list in 2009 with 1,465 complaints and have been a steady climber, due mostly to lawsuits involving DIRECTV and Dish Network. For the 2010 report, the Attorney Generalâ€™s Office combined cable networks with Internet service providers (ranked 17th in 2009) to create the new category of broadband service providers. Together, the industries moved into second place with 1,754 complaints.
That change helped the telecommunications sector drop to third place. A longtime holder of the top spot on the agencyâ€™s list until last year, those phone companies also saw an 18 percent drop in complaints from 1,670 in 2009 to 1,366 in 2010.
Retailers and auto sales rounded out the top five, consistent with previous years.
2010 Top 20 consumer complaint categories
Here are the Attorney Generalâ€™s Office consumer complaint categories, ranked in order, then followed by the 2010 total, the 2009 rank , and the 2009 total.
1. Collection Agencies, 1,795; 1, 1,671
2. Broadband Service Providers (combines two categories formerly termed Internet Service Providers and Cable Networks & Program Distributions), 1,754; Cable Networks, 4; Internet, 17; Cable Networks, 1,465; Internet, 434
3. Telecommunications, 1,366; 2, 1,464
4. Retail Sales, 1,280; 3, 1,641
5. Auto Sales, 1,016; 5, 1,199
6. Books, Magazines, Directories, 824; 9, 809
7. Commercial Banking, 823; 7, 871
8. Mortgage Lending, 774; 12, 642
9. Electronic Shopping, 763; 6, 904
10. Health Care, 683; 10, 712
11. Contractors, 547; 11,647
12. Credit Card Issuers, 511; 8, 817
13. Advance-Fee Fraud, 494; 14, 493
14. Travel, 469; 18, 426
15. Consumer Lending and Transfer Agents, 455; 15, 467
16. Financing, 433; 13, 502
17. Manufactured Housing Landlord/Tenant Issues, 369; N.A., 371
18. Auto Repair, 367; 16, 459
19. Insurance Agencies, 313; 19, 379
20. Residential Housing Landlord/Tenant Issues, 284; 21, 341