WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Attorney General Karl A. Racine released a year-end “Consumer Complaint Report” about issues District consumers faced in 2020, a year largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the action the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) took to protect consumers. The report provides data on consumer complaints based on volume, category, and geography, as well as the amount of restitution OAG secured for consumers. The report, released during National Consumer Protection Week, noted a 50% increase in consumer complaints from 2019 and that OAG recovered $412,527 for consumers through its mediation program.
“OAG’s mediation team, led by Tim Shirey, seeks to resolve consumer complaints without initiating the costly process of litigation. During the pandemic, consumer complaints to our office increased by over 50%,” said AG Racine. “Working with D.C. residents, we returned over $400,000 to consumers, many of whom were subjected to unlawful price gouging. We are proud to stand up for consumers by mediating disputes and, if necessary, suing bad actors.”
OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection works on behalf of District residents to stop deceptive and unethical business practices. The Office educates District consumers about their rights and investigates complaints regarding potential violations of the District’s consumer protection laws, and when appropriate, files suits against businesses and individuals that take advantage of District residents. The Office also assists consumers in resolving disputes through other means, such as by mediating disputes between consumers and businesses.
In 2020, OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection received 2,264 consumer complaints. Some of the findings in today’s consumer complaint report include:
- Significant increase in consumer complaints: The number of complaints increased by 50% in 2020. Consumer complaints spiked in April and May, when they almost doubled what they were during the same time in 2019. January was the only month in 2020 that experienced a lower volume of complaints because the District had not yet felt the full impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Billing and refunds were the most criticized issues: Billing (16%), refund (13%), and cancellation issues (8%) all made up a considerable portion of the consumer complaints received in 2020. In the beginning of April, when the District was in the midst of its most significant COVID-19-related restrictions, the number of billing and cancellation complaints OAG received spiked as consumers were paying for memberships at gyms and other facilities that they could not use.
- Price gouging leveled off after OAG action: Price gouging accounted for 8% of the consumer complaints OAG received. During the beginning of the public health emergency, price gouging complaints were at a record high. OAG received approximately 17 complaints per week, totaling 157 over the first two months. To stop this unlawful behavior, OAG sent cease and desist letters to merchants and filed lawsuits in May 2020 and November 2020 against entities that did not come into compliance. This enforcement action resulted in a substantial decline of price gouging complaints.
- OAG helped consumers recover more than $400K: Rather than taking legal action, many disputes were settled through the consumer protection mediation program, where OAG works collaboratively with a consumer and a business to resolve concerns. OAG was able to recover $412,527 for District consumers through this program in 2020.
A copy of the report is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Consumer-Complaint-Report-Final.pdf
Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19
The financial fallout of this pandemic has been felt most heavily by low-income communities and communities of color. OAG is working to ensure that the District’s most vulnerable residents are not left behind. This year-end report and OAG’s continued monitoring of consumer protection trends helps the Office address the disproportionate impact on communities throughout the District by helping target enforcement and other resources.
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
- Calling 202-442-9828
- Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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
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).
For more District Government COVID-19 Updates visit coronavirus.dc.gov.