In addition to being the final week of Standard Time (Daylight Saving Time starts Sunday, so remember to set your watches and clocks ahead by one hour Saturday night) this week, March 4-10, is National Consumer Protection Week.

The week serves as a reminder to be on guard against scams and fraud, although we need to be on guard year-round as would-be scammers become ever more creative and deceptive.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said his office’s Consumer Interest Division has seen an increase in consumer complaints, from 2,779 in 2016 to 2,967 in 2017. Of these the top category of complaints involved sales of automobiles. Number two and growing were complaints about internet sales––another reason to shop locally whenever possible. Rounding out the top five categories are landlord and tenant disputes at number three, home repair at number four, and debt collection at number five.

In case you feel you are the victim of fraud, the AG’s office has a consumer protection hotline to take complaints. That number is 800-392-5658. Complaints also may be filed online at http://ago.alabama.gov/ConsumerComplaint.

The office stresses that it cannot serve as an individual’s private attorney or provide consumers with legal advice. However, in many instances, the Attorney General’s Office has been successful in mediating complaints between a consumer and business. If circumstances warrant, the attorney general may initiate legal action, either civil or criminal, to represent the interests of the State of Alabama and to enforce the various laws designed to protect consumers from con artists and unscrupulous practices by businesses.

This is good information to have in case we are victimized by fraud or scam. The best outcome, however, is to heed the message of National Consumer Protection Week and be on guard so that we don’t fall victiim in the first place.

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