Last week nine million TV viewers saw Attorney General Darrell McGraw on Dateline NBC and heard him explain his successful strategy for combating fraudulent sales of water treatment systems in West Virginia.
Today McGraw announced his officeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s latest settlement with Aquion Partners, manufacturer of RainSoft water treatment systems. Aquion, of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, agreed to offer full refunds to any West Virginia consumers who file complaints with the Attorney GeneralÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office by August 4, 2003, about the RainSoft systems they purchased from its now-defunct dealers, Advanced Water Solutions, Inc. of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and The Only Way Water Treatment Company f/k/a CURE Water Treatment, Inc. of Buckhannon. More than 100 consumers have already complained about the RainSoft systems that typically sold for $3,500 or more.
McGraw also honored Shirley L. Jones, a Morgantown great-grandmother, as a "consumer protection hero" for her role in the undercover investigation by McGraw and Dateline that produced dramatic hidden camera proof that some dealers were making outrageous unfounded claims about the benefits of their systems. Ms. Jones, who works as a part-time receptionist for West Virginia Senior Legal Aid in Morgantown, posed as a potential buyer and invited various dealers to give sales presentations in her home.
Jones captured Ed Wise of now-defunct Crystal Clear Water, a former Kinetico dealer, claiming that his system could protect her from bio-terrorism because it could "completely take out *beep*" from her system. He also scared her by explaining that mustard gas had been used as a "killing tool" in World War II and was a component of chlorine, which his system could remove. She also captured "Rick," a salesman for former RainSoft dealer, Advanced Water Solutions, Inc., claiming that his system would protect her from "chlorine gas," stuff that "will kill you," and "anthrax."
Attorney General McGraw explained, "We started this investigation a few years ago after learning to our dismay that overpriced water treatment systems were being sold door-to-door and put on credit cards, thereby saddling unsuspecting West Virginia consumers with mountains of debt that they could not pay in their lifetimes. This was the same objectionable financing program that we tried to halt in our investigation of the door-to-door sale of C-Band satellite dish systems in the mid 1990s.
"Later, we learned that the Ã¢â‚¬ËœbogusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ credit card financing was just the tip of the iceberg. We discovered that independent dealers of well-known manufacturers of water treatment systems were gaining entrance to homes of unsuspecting consumers through telemarketers promising Ã¢â‚¬Ëœfree water tests.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Once in their homes, these salespersons misled consumers about the quality of their water, made unfounded claims about the health benefits of the systems, and shamelessly scared consumers by claiming that their systems could remove *beep* and anthrax from water supplies in the event of bio-terrorism attacks.