PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s National Consumer Protection Week, which seeks to inform people of their rights and help them make good financial decisions.
Attorney General Peter Neronha says it’s also a good time to remind Rhode Islanders about the resources available through his office’s Consumer Protection Unit.
The unit has been around for decades and helps people solve a wide range of consumer-related issues.
“Things about appliances and warrantees, leased cars, gift cards, gyms,” Neronha said. “Sometimes it’s a $20 mistake on a utility bill. Well, that $20 can really matter to everyday Rhode Islanders.”
“At the same time, we’ve had travel refund issues where the amounts are over $10,000,” he added.
The Consumer Protection Unit has several full-time investigators who work out of Neronha’s Cranston office. Before the pandemic, they would typically receive 600 to 700 calls a month, according to Neronha, but during its peak, they had more than 1,000 calls coming in.
“We have enough bandwidth to be able to answer every phone call in real-time,” Neronha said. “Or, for whatever reason we can’t take it, we’re back to them within minutes.”
The services are free for any member of the community.
“The dollar amounts many times are not that big, and so to hire a lawyer to sort of get economic justice, if you will, just isn’t worth it,” Neronha explained.
He said the unit also puts out alerts about scams and works with anyone who thinks they may have fallen victim to one.
“Take the steps that they need to make sure that if they’ve become victimized, to limit, if you will, the damage from it,” he said.
If a person’s issue is not something the unit can help with, they’ll connect them with another agency that can.
“We’ll pick up the phone, we’ll call the agency, make sure that they know a call is coming, and then follow up to make sure the contact happens,” Neronha said. “We call it a ‘warm handoff.’ It’s really important.”
Neronha encourages anyone who feels they’ve been mistreated by a business to call the Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400. The message will prompt you to select option 1 to get through to a investigator.