Business and Economics

Zoeller Seeks Additional Consumer Protections From 2015 Legislature

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October 1, 2014 — TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Attorney General Zoeller will ask lawmakers in 2015 to expand consumer protections for Hoosiers by requiring more transparency for home repair contractors and debt collectors.

Zoeller, a Republican, said the proposals are aimed at addressing some of the most common complaints received by his office, which serves as the state’s consumer protection agency.

“Bad actors are finding new ways to defraud, scam and victimize consumers every day,” Zoeller said.

“The Consumer Protection Division in my office works tirelessly to shut these criminals down and educate the public about how to avoid scams,” he said. “We have been able to identify common fraud patterns and areas in which consumers are particularly vulnerable, and this year’s legislative package hopes to address these top concerns.”

Zoeller said he is recommending that the Indiana General Assembly consider proposals to enhance the state’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act in a few key areas.

Zoeller is proposing to a voluntary registration list for home improvement contractors. Those who sign up would be required to post a bond to cover customers in case the contractor violated state law.

The attorney general’s office received 923 complaints last year about home repair and construction scams or problems, making it the third largest category of consumer complaints.

Zoeller said scam contractors often prey on homeowners when they are most vulnerable, such as after natural disaster, and charge inflated prices or deliver poor or incomplete work.

“The registry would offer Hoosiers a free resource to access and determine whether a contractor with whom they plan to do business has opted into a voluntary registry and purchased insurance which serves to protect consumers from contractual violations or deceptive acts,” Zoeller said.

He said reputable home improvement contractors would benefit from having their companies’ names listed as registered with the attorney general’s office and as having protections in place to safeguard customers.

Zoeller also proposed legislation that would require debt collectors to disclose more information when first contacting consumers.

Complaints against debt-collection practices rank among the top five consumer categories, with 787 debt collection-related complaints in 2013.

Zoeller said consumers often complain that collectors harass them – even when the debt isn’t legitimate. He proposed to improve transparency in the debt-collection process and weed out potential scams by expanding the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act at the state level.

The proposal would provide greater state protections beyond the federal act, including requiring debt collectors to disclose the details of the debt upon initial communication with a consumer. Under the federal law, a debt collector has the option to provide the details of the debt in a written notice within five days after the initial communication with a consumer.

Additionally, Zoeller is proposing new state-specific protections not covered under the federal law, including requiring debt collectors during the initial communication with a consumer to immediately identify themselves as a debt collector and immediately disclose from whom the debt was purchased, if applicable.

Zoeller said changes will reduce confusion in the debt-collection process.

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