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Ask Anything: 10 questions with N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper

Posted May 11, 2009
Updated May 13, 2009

1What was the most challenging thing you had to deal with in office? – Eric Gillespie, Garner

As attorney general, my most important job is keeping our state safe which can be a challenge in the face of new and changing threats. New technologies like the Internet are wonderful in many ways, but they’ve made law enforcement’s job harder by giving criminals and con artists all over the world more ways to find and hurt victims.

One of my greatest challenges is helping law enforcement keep up with the latest technology so that we can stay a step ahead of the criminals. That’s why I started the Computer Crimes Unit in our State Bureau of Investigation, and why I’ve worked with the SBI to expand our state crime lab so that law enforcement has the high-tech tools it needs.

2How does the consumer protection part of your division work? I and three other families were ripped off by a pool contractor for over $120,000 and we were told by your staff that they weren't able to do anything because they were too busy! – Chris, Cary

I’m sorry to hear about your problems with a contractor. Complaints about home repair and improvement were one of the top 10 complaints to my Consumer Protection Division last year.

We encourage consumers who have a problem with a business to file a complaint with our office so we can look into their situation and try to resolve it.

If we find a pattern of illegal business practices, we can enforce the law on behalf of all North Carolina consumers. Even when there is not a pattern of illegal business practices, we still try to mediate disputes between individual consumers and businesses and often reach resolutions that are satisfactory to both.

However, we can’t represent individual consumers in private legal disputes.

Our Consumer Protection Division handles more than 20,000 consumer complaints a year, and we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of consumers get more than $80 million back over the past few years. We can also help with tips and advice before you make a big purchase or sign a contract. You can visit www.ncdoj.gov to read our consumer tips.

3Mr. Cooper, what crime, if any, is being committed by people who daily send spam e-mail, and what recourse do private citizens have? – Tim Wade, Angier

Spam can be very frustrating and in some cases dangerous. Some criminals use spam to send out malware and viruses that can infect your computer and steal your personal financial information. Spam e-mails often originate overseas and go out to e-mail addresses all over the world.

There is a federal law against spam which federal prosecutors have used against some notorious spammers. That law, the CAN SPAM Act, also gives individuals a private right of action against spammers in federal court.

Here’s the best way to protect yourself from spam:

  • Don’t respond to it. If you respond, the spammer will know your address is real and you’ll get more spam.
  • Report it to your Internet Service Provider.
  • Use filters to keep out bulk e-mails or only allow e-mail from addresses you approve.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission by forwarding the e-mail to spam@uce.gov

4My home phone # and cell # are on the "Do Not Call List." I know that I can still receive calls from organizations that I have donated money to in the past, but why do I still receive calls from telemarketers who say, "I'm not selling anything…", survey calls that are not pertaining to politics, etc. Thanks for your time and for your service to N.C. citizens! – Catherine Stevens, Raleigh

The Do Not Call Registry is a great way to cut down on unwanted telemarketing calls. I’m glad to hear that you’ve placed both your home and cell phone numbers on the registry. You’re not alone – more than 5 million North Carolina telephone numbers have been placed on the Do Not Call list since it started in July of 2003. For anyone who hasn’t signed up yet, you can join the registry by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you wish to register. If you have an active e-mail address, you can sign up online at www.DONOTCALL.gov.

As you’ve found out, putting your number on the registry stops most but not all telemarketing calls. Current Do Not Call laws exempt companies with which you have an existing business relationship, nonprofits, political groups and polling firms. I fought many of these exemptions and have recently asked state legislators and Congress to add political robo calls, those annoying pre-recorded messages you get around election time, to the list of calls covered by the Do Not Call Registry.

If you get any calls from telemarketers that you don’t think should be calling you, let my office know about it. You can report the calls to us by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or submitting a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov. Since 2003, we’ve taken action against dozens of telemarketers that violated the Do Not Call Registry, stopping the illegal calls and winning more than $1 million.

5Mr. Cooper, back when gasoline prices escalated way up and some service stations were "extremely" gouging the public, I remember you initiated challenges to several stations. I am curious what the result was and what type or types of restitution were paid by those found in the wrong and where did any restitution wind up? I would also say that I've been extremely happy with how I've seen you handle N.C. business on our behalf; I feel you're doing a great job! Regards. - Brad Lane, Raleigh

Thank you, Brad. As you and many other drivers out there remember, we saw prices at the pump skyrocket last September after Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast. What’s called an abnormal market disruption was declared, which triggered our price gouging law. Thousands of North Carolinians called to let us know about possible gas price gouging and we launched an investigation and subpoenaed records from dozens of gas stations.

So far, we’ve won refunds for consumers of ten North Carolina gas stations. Refunds went back to individual consumers. Any amount that couldn’t be returned to consumers is going to a special fund to provide energy assistance to people in the counties where these stations are located. We’re continuing our investigation and expect to be able to announce more refunds before too long.

6After the recently publicized locksmith scam, you said your office would not investigate because you had not received enough complaints. A few days later, an announcement was made that your office would be investigating. Did you receive enough complaints after the story aired, and what constitutes "enough" complaints to begin an investigation? – Steve, Garner

I was very concerned when I saw WRAL’s reports about North Carolinians being taken advantage of by questionable locksmiths. My office had issued a warning on locksmith scams last year, but we hadn’t heard from any North Carolina consumers that this was a particular problem here. WRAL’s Cullen Browder shared the information he uncovered with us and put us in touch with consumer victims, and my office has launched an investigation. We encourage any consumers who are willing to come forward about this scam to please get in touch with us right away.

Consumers often do a great job of letting us know when a new scam pops up or businesses aren’t doing right by their customers, but we may not know about it unless consumers tell us. Complaints from consumers help guide our investigations and help us prevent other people from falling victim to fraud. That’s why we encourage consumers to let us know if they have a problem with a business or if they see something that doesn’t look right and may be a scam. Call us toll-free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or contact us at www.ncdoj.gov to file a consumer complaint or let us know about a potential scam.

7N.C. residents as well as people across the nation interested in justice were very grateful for your thorough, as well as courageous, handling of the Duke Lacrosse hoax. Given the way that false accuser Crystal Mangum continues to tell audiences that she was raped, do you ever regret not charging her for her high crimes? – Debrah Correll, Chapel Hill

When my office took over this case, I promised a fresh and thorough review of the facts and a decision based on the evidence, and that’s what we did. I assigned veteran investigators and prosecutors to conduct interviews, gather evidence and review all of the allegations carefully. The result of our review and investigation showed clearly that there was insufficient evidence to proceed on any of the charges against the accused.

We considered whether or not to bring charges against the accuser. Our investigators and attorneys who talked with her thought that she may have actually believed the many different stories that she told. In reviewing her history, her records which were under court seal, and the history of the entire case, we decided that it was in the best interest of justice not to bring charges against her.

8With recent news of corruption among prosecutors and defense lawyers involving DUI and with personal experience where judges give favorable treatment to lawyers that are known personally to them, what assurances can you give the North Carolina public that the system of justice in the state is actually working? – James Jack, Raleigh

The integrity of our criminal justice system depends on the integrity of the people who serve as law enforcement officers and officers of the court. Prosecutors and investigators in my department work hard to uncover wrongdoing by those who are supposed to enforce and uphold the law. We have investigated more than 500 public corruption cases over the past eight years. We’re currently prosecuting a case involving allegations against attorneys in Johnston County and investigating a law enforcement agency in Cumberland County. By rooting out corruption, we hope to ensure people’s trust in our justice system.

9Dear Mr. Cooper, why are you allowing prostitution on CraigsList? There are dozens of prostitutes listed under the "Services - erotic" section. Shouldn't these people be prosecuted under the laws of NC? Thank you. – Sandra Andrews, Raleigh

The Internet can be a wonderful tool but there’s no question that it has a dark side. Local law enforcement will also tell you that certain crimes have long been difficult to police, whether they happen on the street or on the Internet. A group of state Attorneys General is currently pushing CraigsList to make changes to its site, and I’m supportive of any effort to make the Internet safer.

In North Carolina, we’re concentrating our efforts on protecting children from online threats such as child predators and pornographers. We’re doing that through tougher laws and more tools for investigators, and also by pushing social networking sites that are popular with young people to clean up their act.

10Is it going always be hard for convicted felons to get jobs? And why can’t y’all set up some type of program to help those people out, instead seeking a conviction all the time. Maybe if most of them can find employment, they may live by the law. We need them also to get our economy back on track, don’t you think? – Tony, Raleigh

That’s a great question, Tony. I also believe that one of the best ways to make our communities safer is to stop criminals from repeating their crimes. Far too often, police arrest and convict criminals only to see them go right back to their old ways as soon as they get out of prison.

I’m currently working with Gov. Perdue to launch the StreetSafe task force to break the cycle of crime and stop the revolving prison door. StreetSafe will bring non-profits, faith-based groups, government, and the business community together to tackle this problem. Through education, job training and substance abuse treatment, we can help ex-offenders become productive citizens and reduce the crime rate in our neighborhoods.

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  • NCSUPackfan May 13, 2009

    The other questions should be posted just so we can see what was passed on!

  • FoxtrotUniformCharlieKiloakaCALM May 12, 2009

    hilarious that this guy is wasting his time getting "social networking sites to clean up their acts" um really? the parents get no blame in their half naked daughters and very sexually curious teenage boys? wow. these social networking sites have RULES to protect children, it's the PARENTS that let their kids live on the internet that need to be addressed.

  • msncdso May 12, 2009

    Like Axilla, I would like to see the questions not addressed online and I have one of my own. In the past month I have received two letters that are obviously a scam. What can I do to alert the public to watch out for these crooks? The letters came in airmail envelopes with letters and ligitimate looking checks for $3,900 proclaiming that I have won huge sums of money from a lottery that I never entered. They have a number to call for "further instructions".

    I know this is a scam, but I would like someone with some authority to check into the source to possibly prevent some unsuspecting person from losing their money and giving out their personal information. Every place I have tried to report this to seems much more interested in getting my own information than checking these people out.

  • tdouble232323 May 12, 2009

    I wonder if ROY has the guts to go after a certain ex-Gov who used his position and influence to get benefits?

  • hdsoftail May 12, 2009

    Why would you ask someone about prostitution on Craigs list? And how do you know? If they are not bothering you why would it be any of your business?

  • Just the facts mam May 12, 2009

    What - no one asked him why he is not investigating former Governor Easley??? Or did he choose to not answer that question...

  • Axilla May 12, 2009

    I'd like to see the questions that were not addressed.