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Government seeks to overhaul current Consumer Protection Act

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale
AG: A lot of consumer complaints received against car repair and insurance businesses

Pago {ago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale has told senators there are a lot of consumer complaints received by his office regarding businesses such as car repair shops and insurance, but didn’t elaborate as to the type of insurance businesses the complaints are referencing.

Talauega testified yesterday morning before the Senate Economic Development/ Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Sen. Tilo Vasaga, on an administration bill which seeks to overhaul the current Consumer Protection Act that includes expanding the powers of the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, an entity of the Department of Legal Affairs overseen by the Attorney General.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said current laws designed to protect consumers are outdated and do not sufficiently project consumers. “Thus, it is in the public interest to update these laws to create causes of action, remedies and to establish procedures that help ensure fair and ethical business practices in commercial transactions with consumers,” he explained.

And Talauega echoed this in his testimony before the committee, saying that the proposed law is to further protect consumers in their dealings with businesses. He says that there are still consumers — especially those from low-income families — complaining about unfair business dealings by local vendors.

Questions from some of the senators focused on stores, including those operated by Asians, and Talauega says this proposed law covers all types of businesses operating on island, and not just stores.

He said that there are a lot of complaints that have reached his office pertaining to insurance companies and car repair shops. For example, the consumer takes in his/ her car for repairs but after repairs, the owner finds that the car battery is missing. Another example, he said, a car is taken in to fix a tire and afterwards the owner finds that other parts of their car are missing.

For insurance, he says that a person continues to pay for insurance but when a “fa’alavelave happens”, it’s then learned that the insurance had been cancelled for a long time. (The AG didn’t specify the type of insurance he was referring to).

In these types of cases, Talauega says its very difficult for the Consumer Protection Bureau to move forward with enforcement of the law because the Bureau lacks specific authority and responsibility to bring in owners of such businesses, but this proposed law would give the Bureau more authority to address such consumer problems.

Talauega repeated several times that many consumers continue to face various problems in dealing with local businesses.

Among the proposed amendments that would add new provisions to the current statute, according to the bill, which “shall be construed liberally to promote” the following policies:

•    the protection of consumers from suppliers who commit deceptive, fraudulent and unconscionable sales practices; and

•    the encouragement and development of fair consumer sales practices.

Definitions of “Deceptive acts and practices” and “unconscionable consumer sales practice” are described in the bill.

For example, among definitions of deceptive acts are: Goods have been used to an extent that is materially different from the fact; advertising the product with the intent of not selling it as advertised; and, engaging in any act or practice which is otherwise misleading, under false pretense, fraudulent, misrepresentative, or otherwise deceptive to the consumer.

According to the bill, an “unconscionable” act or practice is a question of law for the court. The bill then outlines how the court would determine such act or practice as unconscionable.