They're Listening

Roha, Ronaleen R

Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine


CONSUMER SPENDING is a $7-trillion-a-year proposition in the U.S.-a vast and teeming marketplace where even the savviest of us needs a hand now and again. The government helps, to be sure. But new products breed new problems, and sometimes it's the private sector that works fastest and best to ensure you buy wisely, helps remedy a situation when you're taken advantage of, and protects your basic rights as a consumer.

Consumer advocates generally keep profiles so low that you think of them only when you need them. But here are some whose special skills make them worth knowing up front.


King of Consumer World

EDGAR DWORSKY dashes across six lanes of traffic in search of bargains at Building 19, a warehouse-size conglomeration of closeouts and odds and ends, from expensive Oriental rugs to gallon-size jugs of mayonnaise. Once there he tours the great deals of the week, from designer denim shorts for $6 to assorted bed sheets-but "watch out for the muslin ones," he warns, pointing instead to the smoother, finer percale sheets. Dworsky makes this death-defying run from his Somerville, Mass., townhouse a few times a week. In fact, you could say that Edgar Dworsky shops for a living.

Since 1995 Dworsky has singlehandedly run a massive Web site, Consumer World (www.consumerworld .org), from an office in his den. The site is chock-full of consumer news, scam alerts, product and service bargains, and hundreds of links to government agencies, attorneys general and consumer-affairs offices.

A short man with a spontaneous smile and a devilish sense of humor, Dworsky may look mild-mannered in his brand-name but bargain-bin running shoes, denim shorts and plaid shirt. But just show him a company ripping off consumers and, he says, "I go crazy trying to fix it."

Dworsky found his calling early in life. As a kid, "I was lousy at sports but good at shopping," he says. In college, he majored in business and marketing, then went to law school to polish his expertise in consumer law.

He began his career in consumer advocacy in the late 1970s as an investigator with the Boston consumers' council and then as a consumer reporter for a local TV station. Then came his years in the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and as assistant attorney general for consumer protection. His pride in his work during those years becomes apparent as he thumbs through the fat notebooks of press releases about his triumphs. He wrote the regulations under which Massachusetts's auto lemon law operates. He won restitution and other concessions for consumers from utilities, CVS, McDonald's, Mattress Discounters and Procter & Gamble.

And even though he doesn't have the weight of government behind him now, when he sniffs a consumer wrong, he still tries to make a difference by calling reporters-who also call him. He still takes offending merchants to task, most recently a store that wasn't individually pricing its items as required under state law.

Dworsky doesn't make much money from the commissions he earns from some links on the Web site, but he says that all his years of frugal living are allowing him to run Consumer World now. "Friends tell me, `If you had $1 million, you wouldn't live any differently.' They're right."

Copyright Kiplinger Washington Editors Jan 2002