Newspapers have dedicated many inches of column space in the course of covering my office’s entanglements with the federal government. So much so, residents might be tempted to believe that pushing back against the regulatory leviathan was the attorney general’s principal, if not sole, responsibility. The truth is, however, that these lawsuits represent but a slender slice of what is entrusted to our care. 

The Attorney General’s office exists in order to defend the rights of all Texans. On occasion that means gearing up the figurative troops and daring the federal bureaucracy to “come and take it.” More often than not though, it means putting a stop to those individuals who would seek in some way to defraud Texas residents of their hard-earned money.

Paxton
Paxton

The Consumer Protection Division (CPD) offers a great example of this. The CPD is a 95-person specialized enforcement team, with highly trained attorneys and investigators stationed in six cities across Texas. It is exclusively dedicated to being the voice of Texas consumers and their shield against exploitive business practices.

Although the CPD’s mission might sound straightforward, the cases and schemes they pursue are in fact quite eclectic. The CPD, for instance, has taken point in the fight against synthetic drugs, such as “kush” and “spice.” These drugs are highly dangerous, often lethal, and very much illegal. Unscrupulous retailers nonetheless market and sell them over the counter, giving consumers the impression that the packages are safe for consumption.

The CPD has filed 11 lawsuits against retailers to date, securing in one memorable instance a nearly $1 million jury verdict and shutting down a store after it continued to sell illegal substances in another. Their work has undoubtedly saved lives.

In addition, the CPD has played a crucial role in protecting consumer privacy rights. Back in 2015, the CPD, along with our Bankruptcy and Collections Division, led a 38 state coalition to stop RadioShack from selling certain personal information it had collected from its customers. Thanks to their efforts, the bulk of RadioShack’s data was destroyed, and no credit card numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, or phone numbers entered circulation.

Another occasion saw the CPD securing a final judgement against Volkswagen over its deceptive marketing of “clean” vehicles. Volkswagen, which blatantly falsified emission standards tests, will pay the state of Texas $50 million in penalties and attorney fees as well as establish a $10 billion restitution program. Volkswagen has set up a $2.7 billion trust fund designed to mitigate any environmental harm caused by their fraudulent actions. We expect Texas to benefit from as much as $191 million from that fund.

What my office has found is that most companies act in good faith. Most companies recognize that the competitive market penalizes dishonest business practices and that it is therefore in their best interest to treat their customers right.

The CPD exists for the occasions when ignorance of law, carelessness, or the desire for profitable shortcuts overrides a company’s better instincts. It bridges current practice with the high standards Texas expects its businesses to meet.

But the CPD cannot do it alone. They need your help. The sheer size of the Texas market—over 2.3 million private businesses—along with its complexity means that it is doubtful CPD staff will learn of commercial misbehavior unless a civic-minded consumer reports it.

That is why the CPD, among its more recognizable responsibilities, collects and assesses the approximately 20,000 annual complaints consumers submit regarding perceived violations of the law. Although not every complaint is actionable, these filings inform investigators of where to direct CPD resources and may give rise to a legal action.

I therefore ask each and every one of you to remain vigilant and to not be shy about voicing your concerns to my office. State law prohibits the CPD from filing on the behalf of specific consumers, but their lawsuits succeed in the ultimate goal, which is stopping illegal conduct and preserving a fair marketplace.

The cases CPD pursues help create a business climate of which all Texans can be proud. Let us work together and demonstrate exactly how Texans do not tolerate having their rights infringed, whether the transgression originates from Washington, DC or closer to home.

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Texas Attorney General's Office
300 W 15th St
Austin, TX 78701

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