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News / Business / Clark County Business

Ferguson champions consumer protection

Attorney general, along with Gov. Inslee, also speaks at labor union convention at Hilton

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 18, 2017, 5:13pm
5 Photos
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to the crowd about consumer protection at Hilton Vancouver Washington on Tuesday morning. Ferguson said consumer complaints of scams have grown since he took office in 2012.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to the crowd about consumer protection at Hilton Vancouver Washington on Tuesday morning. Ferguson said consumer complaints of scams have grown since he took office in 2012. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Two separate conventions packed the Hilton Vancouver Washington on Tuesday and drew the attention of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee.

On the docket: consumer protection and labor unions.

Ferguson spoke first at an event held by the retirement organization AARP and meant to teach about the evolving dangers of scams and fraud. The attorney general said that last year his office fielded more than 42,000 complaints across the state — a rise from when he took office in 2012.

Ferguson said after his presentation that there is likely a correlation between a rise in complaints and advances in technology that has been manipulated by scammers.

“My team thinks part of the reason for the increase in consumer complaints is the changes with technology that frankly make it easier to scam the people of our community,” he said. “And it also allows folks in other countries to reach into your home, on your computer, through your telephone, in a way they could not before.”

Today it’s possible for a scammer in a boiler room of a building on a separate continent to make phone calls where “IRS” shows up on the caller ID, a representative with the attorney general’s office said Monday. Cybersecurity firms say emails that phish for passwords and bank account access are as sophisticated as ever.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of so-called “imposter scams” where a caller pretends to be someone they’re not totaled 400,000 in 2016, a 500 percent increase over four years.

One scam noted by Ferguson included a Seattle man who created a website where people could buy prayers a la carte, ranging from $9 to $35, and was fixed with fake testimonials about how effective the prayers were.

Ferguson told the 250 attendants that half of fraud victims are over the age of 50, and it’s not uncommon to think that the scams are underreported because people are embarrassed to admit if they have been duped.

“Most folks who fall victim to a scam, one of the last things they want to do is call someone and admit they fell for it, right?” he said.

Not every complaint leads to an investigation, but the reports should be filed to bring issues to light, he said.

“Our responsibility is to protect consumers from powerful interests that don’t play by the rules. If you think about it, the typical Washingtonian can’t take on a Wall Street bank, for example, if it’s not playing by the rules with their mortgage,” he said. “That’s where the attorney general and a consumer protection team can really help.”

Union rights

Down the hall, meanwhile, another convention was kicking off.

The Washington State Labor Council, a division of the national AFL-CIO labor union, began its three-day convention complete with workshops and guest speakers, including Ferguson and Gov. Inslee.

Talks on Tuesday morning revolved largely around Initiative 1433, which periodically raises minimum wages in Washington, and a forthcoming right-to-work lawsuit to be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The room cheered when Inslee talked of how last week he vetoed proposed tax cuts for manufacturers, saying it was unfair to taxpayers.

“I vetoed it, and it was the right thing to do,” the governor said.

The right-to-work lawsuit challenges the practice of labor unions deducting dues from a worker’s paycheck even if the worker isn’t a member of the union.

Unions say they represent all workers by bargaining with employers and to hinder their dues collection process tips the scales against workers.

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“Nobody has to join a union. Right now, you can withdraw and the only dues you pay is for collective bargaining,” said David Groves, a spokesman for the WSLC, which represents about 600 local unions and some 450,000 workers in the state.

“Our challenge is to convince people of the value in maintaining their membership,” he said.

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Columbian staff writer