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$2 million set to bolster Erie County consumer protection office

The money was originally paid to the state after an investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office led to the shutdown of several collections companies.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Erie County will get $2 million from the bust of a predatory debt collection operation to bolster its Consumer Protection Office.

The money was originally paid to the state after an investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office that resulted in the shutdown of several collections companies including JPL Recovery Solutions, which had offices in Erie County.

The AG's Office announced Tuesday that Erie County would use the funds to expand initiatives and hire a full-time, in-house attorney for their reborn Consumer Protection Office, which opened in 2020.

"It is a predatory climate and our office is here to address that," Erie County Commissioner of Public Advocacy Karen King said.

Consumer protection is umbrellaed under public advocacy as the office works with neighbors who may have been scammed by a constructor or had a snow plow company renege or fail to honor a contract.

"We are a resource for consumers. They can call us. They can reach out to us. They can ask us questions. We can provide them with information on what their legal rights are, what the scope of a contract entails," King said.

The office mostly focuses on contract law and contract violations of $500 or greater and, if there is an issue, sort out what legal recourse someone might have for getting their money back. Complaints about gouging and other consumer issues are also investigated or referred to the proper authorities.

"Especially during the pandemic, we got a lot of calls about price gouging. We've received numerous calls regarding the gas tax," King added.

Since the gas tax reprieve was put in place, King relayed via email that the consumer protection office has received fifty calls about gasoline gouging. She added they usually get one to two consumers a month reporting issues or submitting complaints about other businesses.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz praised the AG's Office for directing the funds to Western New York and said Tuesday.

"Now we in Erie County can subpoena information from the contractor, can hold them responsible, and turn that information over for not only civil but also criminal prosecutions."

Erie County's Office of Consumer Protection can be reached via email at ConsumerProtection@Erie.gov or by calling (716) 858-1987.

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