CHARLESTON – When you ask people in West Virginia what the Office of the Attorney General does, one of their first responses often is “consumer protection.”
While we are involved in myriad other issues in the state, our Office's efforts to protect citizens against scammers, identity thieves, and unscrupulous businesses are efforts citizens know, see, and appreciate.
But our office’s successes in protecting consumers depend upon help, feedback, and cooperation from citizens. When residents report scams, inform us about possible instances of identity theft and share safety tips with friends and family members, they are helping not only our Consumer Protection Division but also the state.
Quite simply, they are like heroes.
Back in 2003, Shirley Jones of Morgantown did her part in serving as a Consumer Protection hero. Jones, who worked as an intake worker for West Virginia Senior Aid, volunteered to go undercover for "Dateline NBC" to expose deceptive and high-pressure tactics used by some home water filtration salesmen in West Virginia.
She wore a wire, had hidden cameras around her house, and agreed to let the salesmen come into her home to demonstrate and pitch their products. She was bold. She was brave.
She was a widowed grandma wearing recording equipment in her clothes. And her willingness to confront businesses trying to take advantage of senior citizens had a lasting impact.
Not only did she help protect other seniors, but her efforts also helped the state recover millions of dollars in relief for consumers who had been deceived.
Jones was honored for her work by then-Gov. Bob Wise. Her efforts were so meaningful to her that when she died in October, her obituary mentioned her efforts to stop the senior citizen water scam.
While I never met Jones, I have a lot of respect for her and anyone else who is willing to shield people from scammers.
Every month, hundreds of West Virginians reach out to our Office to report problems they have encountered. Most people don’t file reports for selfish reasons; rather most say they want to make sure someone else isn’t taken advantage of like they were.
They seek to protect strangers, just as Jones did.
We can’t say thank you enough to those citizens who do alert us to possible scams. We use the complaints they file not just to pursue wrong-doers but also to detect trends, which we then use to issue scam alerts.
Because many scams are based outside of the country, finding the parties responsible and bringing them to justice can be difficult. So rather than focus simply on prosecution, our Office also focuses on prevention and education.
We believe is it much better for everyone if we warn consumers about what con artists are trying to do instead of only reacting after the damage has been done.
Everyday heroics don’t end with filing a complaint, though. Each time a person forwards a scam alert or news release to a friend, neighbor, family member or church group, that person is actively helping to keep others safe.
His or her simple act of passing on a newspaper clipping helps to defeat the bad guys whose only goal is to separate people from their money.
We can learn a lot from Shirley Jones and other everyday Consumer Protection heroes. By dedicating ourselves to protecting one another with no expectation of getting anything in return, we can ensure that West Virginians stay safe.
But we can’t do it alone.
If you encounter a scam, believe you have been the victim of identity theft or encountered a business that you feel has been deceptive, call our consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 or file a complaint online at www.wvago.gov.
By working together we can and will protect West Virginians.
Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.