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State to boost its anti-fraud efforts

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state attorney general's office is boosting staff size at its consumer protection office, which will be turning more of its attention toward fighting telemarketing and Internet fraud.

Over the past year, the agency's Fair Business Practices Section has added a full-time investigator and a second lawyer who will work halftime.

The office is charged with overseeing consumer protection and antitrust issues.

Fraud violations are a growing problem, particularly in false advertising and on the rapidly expanding Internet, section head Ed Sniffen said.

''Every day I see ads that violate our regulations,'' Sniffen said Thursday at a meeting of the Alaska Bar Association in Anchorage. ''We're going to crack down.''

But Sniffen said that despite staffing increases, his office has too few employees to pursue all complaints.

He cited a recent case where a building contractor built a house for a couple but allegedly ignored blueprints and used shoddy building techniques. When the couple asked that the house be changed, the contractor charged them. Then the foundation began to sag.

Sniffen's office looked into the complaints. While the contractor seemed to have done wrong, pursuing the case would have cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours of time. Also, the contractor had no history of violations.

''Looking at all the factors and the broader public interest, this is not a case we could pursue,'' Sniffen said. ''We're not a pro bono outfit.''

Faced with competing demands on his office's time, Sniffen said he plans to concentrate on cases that benefit the most consumers.

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