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Office fights consumer fraud

Tammy Massengale, with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs, said the economy isn’t getting better fast enough, so there is a level of desperation to cause intelligent people to make careless decisions.

Tammy Massengale, with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs, said the economy isn’t getting better fast enough, so there is a level of desperation to cause intelligent people to make careless decisions.

ALBANY, Ga. -- If something looks too good to be true, it "absolutely always is."

How many times have you heard that? But Tammy Massengale, with the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection, said it once again in her recent address to the Dougherty County Rotary Club.

"I know we say that a lot," Massengale said, "But scammers are getting more creative. (The economy) isn't getting better fast enough and there's a level of desperation that can cause otherwise intelligent, capable people to make stupid decisions."

Massengale, who is executive assistant to administrator John Sours, said the primary function of her office is to enforce the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, intended to protect household consumers.

According to Massengale, the OCP actively seeks out consumer fraud in Georgia and, if warranted, moves to shut it down. Typically, her office pursues scam cases which target a large, specific group of people, such as the elderly or military personnel.

The staff also takes into consideration if the offending companies are based in Georgia and if the chances of shutting down the operations are good. Out-of-state and Internet frauds are more difficult or even impossible to counter, she said.

Massengale said one of the biggest ongoing Georgia frauds is the offer to erase debt or bad credit history. According to the Georgia OCP, in order to offer that service a company must be registered with the OCP office, submit to an annual audit, provide proof of insurance and charge no more than 7.5 percent of the total debt owed.

"There's only one legal way to offer help in paying off consumer debt," Massengale said. "If you don't do it the way I've described, we're going to shut you down."

Massengale stressed that the state of Georgia assumes that when you sign a contract, you've read it and understand the terms.

"Don't sign anything without reading it," Massengale said, "and make sure there are no blank spaces."

Massengale said some of the recent fraud cases thwarted by the Office of Consumer Protection include a mattress company putting new covers on used mattresses and selling them for new, and a debt collection agency for overstepping its legal bounds. In the latter case, the company gave up almost 32,00 accounts amounting to about $15 million and the principals of the scam were prosecuted.

To reach the Georgia Office Consumer Protection call 1 (800) 869-1123 or go to www.consumer.georgia.gov.