Post Your Problems / Lawrence Walsh: Fair welcomes consumers hungry for information

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Consumers who visited the City-County Building in Pittsburgh last week found a buffet of valuable information on the first floor of the nine-story landmark.

A four-hour Consumer Fair, one of five statewide events hosted by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, was a hello-how-are-you meet and greet affair. It was designed to answer the public’s questions and offer brochures and booklets to make them better informed consumers.

Tables were set up on both sides of the floor to make it easy for consumers to see what information each one offered. The fair was held in conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week. Local, state, federal and nonprofit organizations were represented.

In addition to employees from the local office of the state Bureau of Consumer Protection, there were tables staffed by:

AARP, Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging and the treasurer’s office, the Better Business Bureau, the state Department of Banking and Securities, Public Utility Commission, Social Security Administration, U.S. Postal Service and the Urban League of Pittsburgh.

Ms. Kane said in a statement that she has made “consumer education, engagement and outreach in Pennsylvania a priority.” She said the consumer protection bureau offers a variety of assistance to thousands of Pennsylvanians every year.

Among other things, it accepts and mediates consumer complaints, promotes consumer safety regarding finances, privacy, technology and other issues and advocates on behalf of consumer rights and protections. She noted consumer protection has been a major issue in the news.

“Data breaches at major retailers, health providers and web sites have threatened the personal and financial security of millions of Pennsylvanians,” she said.

Ms. Kane urged consumers to file complaints if they were hit with “alarming spikes” in their electric bills.

Sky-high electric bills weren't the only things on the minds of consumers who stopped at the bureau’s table, said Darlene Westfall, consumer protection agent supervisor.

“They complained about home improvement hassles, used cars that broke down soon after they were purchased, spam calls, debt collection calls for debts they didn’t owe or had paid years ago.”

The latter are particularly onerous, Ms Westfall said, because the callers sometimes threaten to have the individuals arrested. “There are no debtors’ prisons anymore,” she said. She advised consumers to get the callers’ names and phone numbers, if possible, and call the bureau at 1-800-441-2555.

The same goes for telemarketing calls, human and automated.

If consumers have signed up for the Do Not Call List, they should, whenever possible, write down the caller’s phone number and name — if he or she will provide it — and then contact the bureau.

The attorney general’s office has toll-free numbers for its Health Care Section (1-877-888-4877), Education & Outreach (1-800-525-7642), Child Predator Unit (1-800-385-1044) and Elder Abuse Unit (1-866-623-2137).

It also maintains a Consumer Helpline (1-888-520-6680) and a Contractor Helpline (1-717-772-2425).

To sign up for the Do Not Call List: 1-888-777-3406.

I’ll have more Consumer Fair information from the Better Business Bureau, Public Utility Commission and the U.S. Postal Service next time. 

Bug-free box spring

Shawna Williams of the North Side has a bug-free box spring, thanks to the efforts of Dan Shaw, customer service manager of Home Decor Liquidators based in Johns Creek, Ga.

The first plastic-wrapped box spring delivered to Ms. Williams apartment on Valentine’s Day contained two stink bugs, one of which was still alive. It had been sent to her from the company’s store in the Strip District and the local store initially had refused to replace it.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email or phone call.

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