Experts Say Consumers 'Deserve More' - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Consumer Alert

Experts Say Consumers 'Deserve More'

NewsChannel 5 went undercover and exposed how Budget Brakes was charging customers for brake jobs they didn't need and for work they never did. NewsChannel 5 went undercover and exposed how Budget Brakes was charging customers for brake jobs they didn't need and for work they never did.
Michigan banned the man behind Budget Brakes from ever doing business there. Michigan banned the man behind Budget Brakes from ever doing business there.
After we went undercover and exposed problems with the dating service Great Expectations last year, Tennessee again didn't do a thing. After we went undercover and exposed problems with the dating service Great Expectations last year, Tennessee again didn't do a thing.
(Story created: 11/29/06)

Our NewsChannel 5 investigation into Bill Heard Chevrolet prompted the state to launch its own investigation into the dealership's sales practices.

But if past actions are any indication, that may not mean much.

So who's looking out for you?

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus discovered that some believe the state needs to do more to protect consumers:

When NewsChannel 5 investigated Bill Heard Chevrolet, we found customers like Pam Knight and her mother Gayle Thompson who'd bought a Chevy Cavalier from the dealership in Antioch.

Thompson says after her experience, "They'll do anything to sell a car."

And we discovered that Bill Heard employees had actually submitted bogus information on their loan application.

"I'd like to see them brought up on charges," Thompson added.

In fact, customers have complained about the business practices at Bill Heard for years. The Better Business Bureau has received hundreds of complaints.

Yet, the only action taken by the state has essentially been a slap on the wrist.

Kathleen Calligan, the head of the Middle Tennessee Better Business Bureau says, "It's discouraging."

Calligan says she frequently hears from folks who want to know why the state isn't cracking down on a business that's ripping off consumers. She says they ask her, "How can this company do business in Tennessee?"

Longtime consumer advocate Elizabeth Owen admits, "It's very frustrating for consumers."

Owen says the problem is the way consumers' problems are handled in Tennessee.

The state's Consumer Affairs Office is set up only to collect consumers' complaints.

They'll send a letter to the company if you've got a complaint.

But if the company doesn't respond, they really can't do anything, except ask the state attorney general's office to look into it.

"We have good laws, but I think we need better enforcement," Owen adds.

She says the Tennessee attorney general's office does the best it can, yet very rarely does it make headlines for its consumer protection work.

"Our staffing is probably close to the bottom when you consider the number of people that other states have," she notes.

The BBB's Calligan, though, believes it's more than that.

"It's just a matter of stepping up and accepting the responsibility," she says.

It was just two years ago, NewsChannel 5 went undercover and exposed how Budget Brakes was charging customers for brake jobs they didn't need and for work they never did.

Customer Charles Jones told us at the time, "It's nothing but a rip-off."

But after our investigation, the state never stepped on Budget Brakes.

Another customer, Earline Corley was quite upset about her experience and told us after our investigation, "It's not fair to rip off people like that."

Yet the state of Michigan banned the man behind Budget Brakes from ever doing business there after catching his brake stores there doing the very same things we found here.

And after we went undercover and exposed problems with the dating service Great Expectations last year, Tennessee again didn't do a thing.

Yet in Kansas, the attorney general there fined the company a million dollars after finding the same kinds of problems we did.

The BBB's Calligan says, "There's a tremendous loss of faith in what the whole process is."

Calligan says in the last five years, the BBB has investigated more than a hundred businesses it found ripping off consumers and breaking the law.

"The records are there," she says.

"Customers' names. Everything's there. Business practices. Our own investigation. Everything's tied up in a nice neat knot."

Yet, Calligan says the state's taken action in only a handful of those cases.

That's disappointing, she says, adding, "Consumers deserve more."

Now the Tennessee Attorney General's office insists it is looking out for consumers.

But in the last year, by their own account, they joined other states in 11 cases and only took action in 16 cases that started here in Tennessee.

And that raises the question: how many cases were referred to them? It's a question, we asked but one they refused to answer.

If you know of something Jennifer should investigate, e-mail us at investigate@newschannel5.com.

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