Buyer beware: Consumers urged to watch for scams

In honor of National Consumer Protection Week, the State Corporation Commission is asking Virginians to keep their eyes peeled for scams as well as to learn about their consumer rights.

National Consumer Protection Week was founded 17 years ago to help consumers become more aware of their rights and responsibilities, as well as to help them avoid scams and fraud. The State Corporation Commission is the regulatory body overseeing insurance, banks, securities, franchisees and investor-owned utilities.

Katha Treanor, a commission spokesperson, said the week is a “good opportunity for us to help generate consumer awareness.”

“We want to take the opportunity to [let people] know we are there for them if they have concerns about the industries we oversee,” Treanor said. “We want to try to help people avoid scams as well.”

Treanor said consumers should “ask questions, do their homework” and make sure goods and services are right for them before purchasing.

“We want to encourage people to shop around and compare prices, terms and features,” Treanor said. “We ask people to examine their investment statements and [utilities] regularly and to give us a call if there’s a problem.”

Consumers are also asked to be aware of cold calls and “high pressure sales tactics,” Treanor said. She said the commission could fine businesses and issue cease and desist orders if it finds a business is guilty of any wrongdoing.

Michael Kelly, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said his office also handles consumer complaints about scams and business malpractice.

“I’d say if somebody feels like they’ve been ripped off or scammed, they’re better off to give our office a call, checking in and letting us know what’s going on,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the Attorney General’s Office handles issues such as price gouging and violation of contracts.

“Virginia’s price gouging statues are activated during a state of emergency and are enforceable by the Attorney General’s Office … it’s been a number of years since price gouging was proven and a case was brought and tried,” Kelly said.

Kelly added, “We bring cases over violation of terms and conditions all the time … cell phone carriers, for example, have been settling cases with us over billing practices … we brought a lawsuit with North Carolina.”

The Attorney General’s Office can be contacted at 804-786-2071. The State Corporation Commission can be reached at 1-800-552-7946 or at the following divisions:

• Bureau of Insurance 804-371-9741
• Bureau of Financial Institutions 804-371-9657
• Division of Securities and Retail Franchising 804-371-9051
• Division of Energy Regulation 804-371-9611
• Division of Communications 804-371-9420

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or