William J. Brown, a Youngs-town native who was Ohio's longest serving attorney general and who died of a sudden heart attack 10 years ago this month, held this job in the early 1970s, when the state finally began to get serious about protecting consumers.

William J. Brown, a Youngs-town native who was Ohio's longest serving attorney general and who died of a sudden heart attack 10 years ago this month, held this job in the early 1970s, when the state finally began to get serious about protecting consumers.

Ohio was one of the last states to pass a comprehensive law protecting consumers. The Consumer Sales Practices Act, signed into law in 1972, protects Ohioans from unfair and deceptive business practices, among many other provisions. Backed by that law, Brown used this office to protect consumers -- as have his successors, including myself.

Back then, Brown made an observation that probably remains true today: "I doubt if there is a citizen today who hasn't helped line the pockets of some dishonest person who has taken advantage of the natural, trusting nature of the American consumer," he said.

Scammers, thieves and cheats often try to separate consumers from their hard-earned money by pretending to be someone else. They will do just about anything.

I should know: My office has been receiving reports of a scam in which callers pose as representatives of the attorney general's office. The callers ask for Social Security numbers. We know that these scam artists are particularly assertive and in at least one instance have used threats of arrest and job loss.

We would never ask for such personal information, and you should refuse to give it to me or anyone else unless you are quite clear on the reasons why you would really want to do so.

This scam confirms Brown's observation from more than three decades ago: Scammers pretend to be someone regular people think they can trust -- in this case, my office -- in order to manipulate consumers. With a person's Social Security number in hand, there is no telling what damage a scammer can do.

Scams such as these happen all the time. Earlier this year, scammers used buzz words like "stimulus package" and "Cash for Clunkers" to get people's attention and give themselves the appearance of propriety. Veterans were targeted by scammers who said that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently changed its procedures on dispensing prescriptions and then asked for the veteran's credit card number.

Those who feel they have been scammed can file formal complaints at my office's Web site, www.SpeakOutOhio.gov, or call (800) 282-0515.

If you have avoided a scam but have still noticed something fishy -- something that sounds like the veterans phone scam, for instance -- please also let us know so we can get the word out to others.

When my office finds out about scams or shady business practices, we will take action if we can. In our robust role as the state's consumer watchdog, my office's Consumer Protection Section tries to root out unscrupulous businesses that try to enrich themselves by cheating Ohioans.

Complaints help us build cases that hold businesses accountable for their actions. For instance, after receiving more than 240 complaints against a wallpaper company, we sued the company, alleging that it accepted payment for wallpaper and other home decoration items but then failed to deliver the goods or to refund the payments. Without hearing from consumers, we might not have known to pursue this lawsuit.

Thanks to Bill Brown's legacy of strong state consumer laws, my office has the tools to protect consumers. With your help, we can use them most effectively.

Richard Cordray is Ohio's attorney general.

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Cordray