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New Law Expands Local Consumer Protection Agents’ Enforcement Power

Let's say you've been the victim of a scam or want to report a business that is doing some shady stuff.

One place you can go is the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs. That's the 10-person agency charged with fielding those complaints. But since it was created in 2012, the agency has had a big weakness. 

"We were born without enforcement authority," said Sheryl Harris, Director of the Department.

Starting this week, however, that has changed. A new law passed by the Cuyahoga County Council on Tuesday gives local consumer protection agents more power to investigate consumer complaints. 

Last year, the department received about 180 complaints from Cuyahoga residents against businesses and 270 reports about scams. In many cases, said Harris, the agency would reach out to the business, and ask them to stop the alleged behavior. But in some cases, the alleged offenders called the agency's bluff.

"We've had companies tell us, 'What's your authority to tell us to stop anything?' And we didn't have authority to tell them to stop!" said Harris.

Although the Department was allowed to mediate disputes between consumers and businesses, or refer cases to state and federal consumer protection agencies, it did not, until now, have the authority to take certain legal actions.

Under the new law, the department Director can issue subpoenas for information, as well as issue court-enforceable cease and desist orders.

We don't have to just say, "'Gosh, we wish you'd stop doing that.'" Now we can say, 'We're demanding you stop.'"

Harris said it's too soon to say exactly how the agency will carry out its new mandate, but for now, they aren't requesting any additional funds.

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