Bureau of Consumer Protection
By law, the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection is authorized to perform the following duties:
Investigate commercial and trade practices in the distribution, financing and furnishing of goods and services for the use of consumers;
Conduct studies, investigations and research into matters affecting consumer interests and make such information available to the public;
Advise the Legislature on matters affecting consumer interests, including the development of policies and the proposal of programs to protect consumers;
Investigate fraud and deception in the sale, servicing and furnishing of goods and products, and strive to eliminate such illegal actions;
Promote consumer education and publicize matters relating to consumer fraud, deception and misrepresentation.
Based upon consumer complaints or investigations, the Bureau is authorized to take formal legal action against persons and organizations who engage in unfair and deceptive conduct in the advertisement or sale of goods or services within the Commonwealth. However, in response to numerous consumer complaints received each year, the Bureau has also developed a statewide mediation program which seeks restitution, refund or other relief for consumers and affected businesses in a fair and impartial manner.
Upon receipt of a consumer complaint, the Bureau will generally attempt mediation by sending a copy of the complaint to the business involved in an attempt to reach a resolution of the dispute. The Bureau does not act as a judge in these disputes or order any payment or action. In the majority of cases received by the Bureau, Consumer Protection Agents serve as mediators who work to resolve disputes using the mail, telephone and/or personal contacts.
In general, the Bureau is only authorized to file formal legal action where it has reason to believe that a business is engaged in illegal practices and it is in the public interest to do so. "The public interest" may include a pattern or practice of fraud, an important question of law, a significant number of consumer victims, a significant amount of money at risk or a variety of other things.
In addition, the Bureau responds to Consumer Protection Hotline inquiries by telephone and in writing. Further, in keeping with its mandate to educate consumers, the Bureau makes available agents and attorneys to conduct public demonstrations and programs and provides a variety of consumer education brochures and materials to schools, consumer groups and other interested organizations.
The Health Care Section
Operating within the Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Health Care Section focuses on protecting the public from unfair health care practices and helping shape Pennsylvania's policies in favor of the consumer. Those who believe they are unfairly denied medical treatment by Health Maintenance Organizations, managed care or other health insurers can receive help by filing a complaint with the Attorney General's Health Care Section. Among the first of its kind in the nation, the Health Care Section helps Pennsylvanians get around the barriers to secure the treatment they need.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection has regional offices located in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Scranton, Erie, Pittsburgh and State College.