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Luncheon provides business owners opportunity to learn consumer law

The resources for small business owner’s offered by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office was on display Friday.

That was the main topic of conversation during the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon, which was held at the Ohio University Proctorville Center.

Guest speak Manilath James provided details on a new business guide that the Ohio Attorney General’s office created for business owner’s.

“The reason that I’m here is to promote our business guide,” said James, who works in the consumer protection division at the Attorney General’s Office in Columbus. “We’ve created this guide to make sure that you as a business owner know what laws you should be in compliance with.”

The manual is called “Complying with Ohio Consumer Law: A Guide for Business.”

“We’ve created this guide to make you are aware of what these laws are,” James said. “This is just a guide. At the attorney general’s office, we can’t provide legal advice but this is our interpretation of the law.”

The consumer protection division works with businesses to make sure they are in compliance with Ohio consumer laws. There are around 26 Ohio consumer laws that are enforced as well as federal laws.

“One of the major laws that we enforce is the Consumer Sales Practices Act,” James said. “It protects consumers against unfair and deceptive sales practices. We hold jurisdiction over consumer transactions. Anytime there is money changing hands on a transaction, we hold jurisdiction over that. We also have jurisdictions over the advertisements that businesses makes on TV, on the radio or even on the internet.”

The Consumer Protection Division has three units, the Complaint Unit, the Investigation Unit and the legal unit.

“Last year we had 30,000 complaints, which is a record for our office,” James said. “We get complaints from consumers throughout Ohio about businesses that they feel have taken advantage of them or they feel they’ve been treated unfairly in some way.”

The complaint department is in charge of mediating complaints and sharing those complaints with the business.

“When we get a complaint against a business, we don’t automatically say we are going to sue this business,” James said. “We make sure they know that they are in a violation of this law. We make sure they know what the law is before we try to sue. The businesses that we do sue are the businesses that don’t get back to us. They don’t offer any sort of resolution to the consumer but they are clearly taking advantage of consumers.”

The Consumer Protection Division operates similarly to the Better Business Bureau. Like the Consumer Protection Division, the Better Business Bureau helps mediate complaints against businesses.

The main difference between the two entities is the Consumer Protection Division has the authority to enforce the law. The Better Business Bureau doesn’t have that authority.

The investigation unit and the legal unit work hand in hand.

“Our investigation unit is kind of like our secret shoppers,” James said. “They go out and pretend to be consumers. If you are under investigation, you will never know it. They are the people who do the leg work for our attorneys, they provide the evidence. Then we build a case and take the business to court if necessary. If we take a business to court, we ask the judge for a minimum of $25,000 for each violation.”

For more information, visit the Ohio Attorney General’s business web page at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/BusinessServices.

For more information on the business guide, visit www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/BusinessGuide. To contact the Attorney General’s Help Center call 1-800-282-0515.

The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce also welcomed new members at the luncheon: H&R Block in Ironton, City National Bank in Ironton, Dr. Kurt Hofmann, Lawrence County coroner’ Huntington Symphony Orchestra in Huntington, W.Va.’ Mountwest College in Huntington, and WLGC Radio in Ashland, Ky.