Carol Clark traverses Utah to aid consumers
| New York
For the past two years, Carol Lois Clark has traveled the state of Utah, talking to everyone from fifth-graders to senior citizens about money - how to spend it better and how to keep from losing it.
As a result of her statewide consumer education program, the state's citizens have become better-informed consumers who are more aware of the pitfalls of investment frauds.
The post of consumer specialist did not exist before Utah Attorney General David Wilkinson appointed Miss Clark. ''Utah had become a hotbed of fraudulent investment schemes. Our people were losing thousands of dollars, and something had to be done,'' he explained in a telephone interview.
''Our citizens are trusting people,'' he said, ''and because most of them had little investment know-how, they didn't know how to protect themselves against greed and dishonesty. They consequently became the victims of many scams, including fraudulent real estate, diamond, and oil and gas leasing deals, as well as penny stocks and pyramid sales schemes. We saw that they needed help at the grass-roots level.''
Mr. Wilkinson decided he did not need an additional lawyer to help prosecute fraud cases, but one competent consumer educator who would go out and teach people how to avoid losing their money and how to spend it more knowledgeably.
So he appointed Carol Clark, whose three degrees from the University of Utah include a PhD in education, with an admonition: ''You are an educator, so get out there and educate.'' She promptly began to develop a program of consumer education and became the one-woman faculty to go out and apply it.
''I traveled all over the state,'' she says, ''to see what people were thinking and experiencing. The shocking fact I discovered was that nearly everyone had been ripped off and had lost money in one way or another. Many had been badly hurt, such as the retired railroad man and his wife who had invested their entire life savings in a real estate deal that went sour.
''I became very protective about these people who had been injured by unscrupulous con men. It motivated me to work harder to help prevent such things happening in the future.''
Miss Clark She has written hundreds of newspaper columns, appeared on television, talked on radio, visited civic leaders, and spoken to clubs, schools , and churches in her effort to educate the state's million and a half citizens to wise investment and buying practices.
What does she say in the 250 talks she has given so far around the state? ''I give people basic investment information and tell them how to research a project before they invest. I show them how to check out the financial standing of a company with a banker, a financial consultant, or lawyer. I give them checklists of things to be considered before investing. I offer them a pamphlet that describes pyramid schemes and tells why they are dangerous, as well as a pamphlet on how to choose a good financial adviser.''
She also hands out printed material on what to beware of in door-to-door sales, charitable solicitations, mail-order fraud, and instructions on how to file a good consumer complaint.
''I always warn people that any scheme that promises 50 percent or more return on their investment puts their money at risk, and about fellow church members who seek investors on the basis of common religious affiliation.''
''I am not an advocate of the aggressive Ralph Nader approach that sometimes comes across as being antibusiness,'' Miss Clark continues. ''My approach is conciliatory. I try to explain the point of view of business people as well as of consumer groups. For that reason, I work closely with chambers of commerce and Better Business Bureaus.''
Recently, after a cluster of automobile-purchase complaints, she not only consulted national consumer groups for helpful advice, but also, for balance, asked auto dealers themselves what they thought customers should look for and know about when shopping for new cars.
Attorney General Wilkinson says of her: ''She has built her program from nothing and has been able to accomplish on a $50,000-a-year budget what many other states do with a budget 10 times that size. With the help of four university interns, she is now writing and editing the first Utah Consumer Handbook. I cannot speak highly enough of her.''
Miss Clark was recently honored by the National Council of Women in New York as one of six ''Young Women Achievers'' for 1984.
Last year Miss Clark received the Annual Achievement Award from the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.