Banner Staff Writer
The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs seeks to protect consumers from scams by giving them the knowledge they need to outsmart scam artists.
Gary Cordell, director of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, said the goals of his office are to educate consumers on issues affecting them, handle complaints and enforce laws protecting consumers.
When most people think about consumer complaints, they think about the Better Business Bureau.
“The Better Business Bureaus do a good job, but they are limited in what they can do. They mediate complaints like we do but as far as the enforcement end, their hands are tied for the most part,” Cordell said.
The consumer affairs department works closely with the attorney general’s office, Cordell said. The lawyers at the attorney general’s office work with the consumer affairs office to investigate complaints and bring scammers to justice. The office also works with several other agencies, such as the FBI, U.S. postal inspector, consumer safety commission and agencies that issue product recalls.
Cordell said he has tried to make state government more user-friendly since he became director of the office.
One way he has done this is by trying to connect with younger Tennesseans through technology, including adding Quick Response, or QR, codes to all of his department’s literature.
“I noticed in researching where complaints came from to our agency. And there was an age group that we really didn’t seem to be on the radar — the younger group,” Cordell said.
The director said he began putting the QR codes on the handouts and literature because he knew that younger Tennesseans communicate extensively through smartphones.
Scanning these codes allow consumers to go to the consumer affair website or to go straight to the form to file a consumer complaint.
“We’re seeing a growing number of people filing complaints using this new technology,” Cordell said.
He said his is the first government agency to use the code. He has also focused on educating the public about the services available from his office.
Cordell is working to establish partnerships with local sheriffs to investigate possible scams. Cordell said he plans to visit every county sheriff in Tennessee. He has met with 25 so far.
Cordell also outlined a few scams during his presentation. More information about scams, many of which target the elderly, is available on the department’s website.
Being cautious and skeptical can keep individuals from being scammed. Cordell said anytime an unsolicited communication asks for money to be wired outside of the United States, the individual will never see that money again. Many scams play on people’s emotion and desire to help others.
If a person has been scammed, it is important for them to file a formal complaint with their local sheriff’s office, Cordell said.
Complaints can also be made through the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs and the Federal Trade Commission.