Morrisey website thin on consumer info
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians looking for information about crooked contractors, product safety recalls and identity theft schemes will no longer find it on the state Attorney General Office's website.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey removed consumer tips and alerts from the website, after replacing his predecessor, Darrell McGraw. Morrisey recently posted a press release about "free money" social media scams on the website -- and a warning about fireworks safety -- but nothing more about consumer fraud during his first six months in office.
Morrisey's office said Tuesday that McGraw's "outdated" website was to blame, and more information about consumer protection issues was in the works.
"We will be further updating our website as we change our office technology and move away from outdated systems that previously were in place," said Beth Ryan, a Morrisey spokeswoman. "As our new website evolves, it will contain additional recommendations, information, tips and alerts."
Besides the press releases, Morrisey's website includes only a short section called, "How to file a consumer complaint." The section includes downloadable forms for submitting formal consumer complaints, including separate documents for mortgage, motor vehicle and "pre-need" funeral service complaints. The same forms also were available on the office website when McGraw was attorney general.
Morrisey's website also states, "The Attorney General's Consumer Protection division works to protect West Virginia consumers and citizens against consumer-related fraud on many levels as well as focusing on fair, safe business practices for individuals and companies doing business in the state of West Virginia."
Since taking office, Morrisey, a Republican, has seemingly shifted much of his office's attention away from consumer protection -- a trademark of McGraw's 20-year tenure as attorney general. Morrisey defeated McGraw in the November election.
"Our philosophy on consumer protection is quite clear: vigorously enforce the law in a fair manner, and take a more proactive approach educating consumers and businesses about how to comply with the law," Ryan said.
In late January, Morrisey shelved his consumer advocate program, directing employees to cancel all planned speaking engagements and appearances -- and not schedule any new ones.
Morrisey has since fired five consumer advocates as he restructures the consumer program. The remaining employees, for the most part, have sat idle -- or have been assigned new duties such as answering phones and picking up mail -- for the past five months. The advocates formerly spoke at community centers and schools, warning seniors and teens about consumer fraud and scams.
Morrisey's office recently asked the remaining consumer advocates to suggest how they would talk to business owners about complying with West Virginia's consumer protection laws.
"Our approach to consumer protection will ensure that the Attorney General's Office no longer chooses winners and losers on the basis of economic and political affiliation," Ryan said.
During his campaign, Morrisey promised to strengthen the consumer protection division. But Morrisey's "17-point plan" for improving the Attorney General's Office during his first 100 days on the job makes no mention of consumer protection.
A report on Morrisey's 100-day plan -- called "Promises made, promises kept" -- is featured prominently on the Attorney General Office's main website, or "welcome" page.
By contrast, McGraw's main web page included links to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, spotlighting product safety recalls. The former attorney general's website also listed direct links to "consumer alerts" about email and investment scams, foreign lottery schemes and dubious contractors. The website gave specific examples of fraudulent schemes, provided tips on how to avoid them, and included contact information at the attorney general's office for victims of scams.
McGraw's website had links to two in-house websites that spotlighted projects on student loans and mortgage foreclosures, as well as a special section for seniors and a link to information at the Consumer Protection Division's "Theft Resource Center," which specialized in helping victims of identity theft.
The former website also had a search engine so consumers with questions about a specific scam could search for information.
Morrisey's website isn't searchable. The office also took down McGraw's YouTube channel, which provided consumer tips but also frequently mentioned McGraw's name.
On Tuesday, Morrisey cited meetings with law enforcement officers about prescription drug abuse and its "scourge on our state" as an example of his consumer work.
"We are making great strides bringing a more professional approach to this office and advancing our consumer protection agenda, which has already resulted in positive things for the state," Ryan said.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.