Does Your State Reveal Consumer Complaints?
MADISON, CONN. November 18, 2015 — Consumers rely on online reviews and ratings sites when making purchasing decisions but these tools are fraught with issues ranging from fake reviews to the recent trend of companies tamping down on negative feedback through the use of gag orders and fines. Consumer complaints to state officials represent an often overlooked and underutilized public resource. However, these complaints are not always easily accessible and states differ drastically in how much information they make public as a truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org) investigation recently revealed.
In its FOI (Freedom of Information) project, TINA.org requested copies of consumer complaints filed with state consumer protection agencies in all 50 states against a particular company (with personal information redacted). The results show that more than 80 percent of states disclose some information they receive about businesses, ranging from posting consumer feedback online to simply providing the number of complaints filed.
The three most open states are Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Oregon, all of which offer an online searchable database for consumers. On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Rhode Island refuse to disclose any information with regard to consumer complaints. In between were numerous states that vary in the amount of information made accessible. TINA.org’s review also found that 11 states failed to comply to FOI requests within the time frame required by their open records laws.
Consumers who take the time to file a complaint with state officials can provide valuable information to others on how a business operates in practice. In addition, access to complaints allows the public to monitor whether government officials are doing enough to protect them from unscrupulous enterprises. While the majority of states do allow consumers to view complaints filed with the state, TINA.org is advocating that all 50 states make these records easily and readily available in online searchable databases.