Jack Zurlini Jr., is the assistant attorney general for the state of Washington. Mr. Zurlini's office has filed (so far) six civil suits against window companies in that state, alleging use of "deceptive practices" in their marketing and sales.
Replacement Contractor: Why are you targeting home improvement companies at this time?
Jack Zurlini: We look at different industries to see if there are irregularities or problems in the marketplace that we need to correct. Our mission [at the attorney general's office] is to create a fair and non-deceptive marketplace, using the state Consumer Protection Act. We noticed a large number of complaints concerning certain window replacement companies here in Washington state. For example, Evans Glass, Penguin Windows, and the others we've taken actions against.
We started looking at the companies' practices. Both the ones that get complaints and the ones that fly below the complaint radar. What we found is that a significant minority of companies [in the window replacement industry] had similar bad practices. These practices had been uncorrected for such a significant amount of time that it became accepted practice on the part of some companies, and then other companies mimicked them simply to remain competitive.
RC: How did these companies come to your attention in the first place?
JZ: We've used a combination of review sites ? such as Rip-Off Report and blogs ? and our own site. The Internet has been a boon for regulators because we can get information there that we weren't able to get at before.
RC: Don't you think the review sites are somewhat prejudicial?
JZ: We take those reports with a grain of salt. And we look at other sources.
RC: To what extent did these complaints from homeowners come directly to you?
JZ: Our office has a complaint division that processes consumer complaints sent online or mailed to our office. We offer a neutral mediation service. We receive the complaint, determine if it fits within the criteria, and if it does, forward it to the business with a cover letter from us asking the business to respond. We do not take sides; we just facilitate the exchange of information. That process returned more than $5 million to consumers in Washington state last year. That money is money transferred from the business back to the consumer. In other words, the consumer paid for something he or she felt they didn't get.
Our Consumer Resource Center does a mediation process, and that process alone returned $5 million. The Consumer Resource Center is a section of our Consumer Protection Division, and one of its functions is taking in consumer complaints and keeping a database of the complaints received. We have them going back decades. It also lets us identify who consumers are complaining against. And we have good relations with our Better Business Bureaus in Washington state.
RC: What is the BBB's role here?
JZ: We conduct discovery before we file a complaint and start litigation, and we will issue a civil investigative demand ? CID ? similar to a subpoena, to the BBB, asking if they could give us the complaints filed against such-and-such a company during a particular time period.