WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today released a new report during Consumer Protection Week highlighting the drastic increase in consumer complaints to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2021, largely due to the office’s efforts to stand up for consumers, and the amount of money the office has recovered for defrauded consumers.
The report points out that for the first time ever, OAG received more than 2,500 consumer complaints — a nearly 70% increase in two years — and that OAG was able to recover over $600,000 for District consumers through its mediation program and over $5 million for District consumers through lawsuits and settlements. The report also provides data on District consumers’ complaints based on volume and category. And it points out that the COVID-19 pandemic directly resulted in an onset of several new consumer-related issues, including price-gouging and cancellation of services, as well as COVID-19 related scams.
“Our office is seeing a substantial increase in complaints by DC residents being misled by deceptive businesses, scammers, and fraudsters. Not unlike our housing work, DC residents are increasingly looking to our office to assist them when they feel wronged,” said AG Racine. “Our Consumer Protection Office has worked diligently to fight these bad actors and as a result, have successfully returned more than $5.6 million to District residents last year alone. I urge any District resident who has been taken advantage of by a deceptive business to file a complaint with our office, so we can investigate and where possible, return money back to District residents. Of course, the best means of protection is education, and we will continue to keep the public informed of how best to not fall prey to individuals and businesses who seek to unlawfully take their money.”
OAG’s 2021 report is available here on Medium.
In 2021, OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection received over 2,500 consumer complaints from District residents. Some of the findings in today’s consumer complaint report include:
- Significant increase in consumer complaints: In 2021, the OAG received more than 2,500 consumer complaints. The number of complaints increased by nearly 70% in two years, with OAG receiving more complaints from consumers in 2021 than in 2020, and significantly more than 2019. OAG received more consumer complaints in each of the last three months of 2021 than any other period in the last two years, apart from April 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.
- Refunds, billing, and scams were the most criticized issues: A significant number of consumer complaints received in 2021 concerned refunds (301 complaints), billing (177 complaints), and cancellation issues (45 complaints), all issues consumers continue to face during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery. The most frequently reported scams in 2021 included tech support scams, imposter scams, phishing scams, and lottery scams. Examples of refund complaints included pandemic related complaints due to canceled events and travel as well as more traditional consumer complaints relating a business’ return policy. For example, in October 2021, OAG filed a lawsuit against a wedding-venue company that refused to provide refunds to consumers for weddings that were cancelled due to COVID-19, despite promises from the company that they would be able to reschedule their event or receive a refund in the event of cancellation.
- Housing and retail industries generated the most complaints from residents: Complaints relating to apartments and rental units received the highest number of complaints (290 complaints), followed by complaints regarding home improvement and contracting services. In some cases, OAG has brought enforcement actions against home improvement companies where it has received multiple complaints reflecting a pattern or practice of illegal conduct.
OAG also saw an increase in banking and lending complaints (90 complaints). In 2020 and 2021, OAG brought lawsuits against two such lenders, OppFi and Elevate, that offered loans with interest rates as high as 250%, and recently reached settlements in both cases, which will return at least $4.8 million in restitution to District residents and result in over $1 million in additional debt relief to consumers.
- OAG helped District consumers recover over $600,000 through mediations, and over $5 million through lawsuits: Separate from legal action OAG took to stand up for consumers, many disputes were settled through the office’s consumer protection mediation program, where OAG works collaboratively with a consumer and a business to resolve concerns. OAG was able to recover $616,728 for District consumers through this program in 2021, a nearly 50% increase from 2020. This number is in addition to the $5.35 million in restitution that OAG recovered for consumers in 2021 through legal action.
How to Report Unfair Business Practices
To report scams, fraud, or unfair business practices, contact OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection by:
- Texting (202) 738-5212
- Messaging OAG using the chat feature at: oag.dc.gov/consumer
- Submitting a complaint online at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint
- Calling (202) 442-9828
- Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumer Alert: Protect yourself from scams, price gouging, discrimination, and get information about your rights during the pandemic by reading OAG’s Consumer Alert (available in Amharic, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese).