HOWELL, NJ – Freehold Township High School came up winners of the 14th annual Monmouth County Consumer Bowl, a game-show-style competition for teams of high school students.

Students from 10 high schools answered consumer-related questions in a multiple choice and open-ended format to test their knowledge of consumer issues, such as Internet fraud and buying and leasing automobiles. The contest was held today at the Monmouth County Fire Academy.

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The five-member team from Freehold Township High School successfully defended its 2010 Monmouth County Consumer Bowl title against students from Howell, Freehold Borough, Keansburg, Manalapan, Manasquan, Marlboro, Neptune, Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney.

The Consumer Bowl comes on the heels of National Consumer Protection Week, which was March 6 through March 12. The national focus this year was on fake check scams and how to protect against them. Fake check scams are the number one fraud reported to the National Consumer’s League’s Fraud Center; accounting for more than 40 percent of all complaints in 2008.

“It’s important that kids understand key consumer and business concepts, like credit and identity theft, banking and fraud, and marketing and advertising,” said Patricia Watson, director of the county Department of Consumer Affairs. “All of our Consumer Bowl participants showed remarkable knowledge of consumer issues, and are well prepared for tackling issues in the real world.”

The three finalists, Freehold Township High School, Neptune Township High School and Keansburg High School, were fairly close going into the bonus round, but Freehold Township was quicker on the draw and answered most of the questions correctly. Team members are Jackie Myers, Nicole Haas, Casey Moore, Samantha Fitzgerald and David Domke.

The Freehold Township team will move on to the regional competition on April 13 with home field advantage because the competition will be held at the Monmouth County Fire Academy.

The winner of the regional competition will go on to compete in the 2011 New Jersey State Consumer Bowl scheduled for May at the State House in Trenton. The New Jersey High School Consumer Bowl was established in 1997 to help students learn about consumer issues that will benefit them throughout their lives.

“All of our participating young adults gained some knowledge about what it takes to help them be smarter consumers and possibly future consumer advocates,” Freeholder Lillian G. Burry said. “This event is a great way to promote the county’s Consumer Affairs office that enforces consumer laws and helps people who suspect they might be victims of unscrupulous business practices.”

The county’s Department of Consumer Affairs was established in 1977. So far, the department has handled more than 50,000 complaints and resolved disputes, resulting in savings to consumers of more than $12 million.

In 2010, the department mediated more than 900 complaints and recovered more than $630,000 for consumers. Mediation includes letters, telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and informal conferences with businesses. If a business is uncooperative and does not appear as scheduled, the Department has the authority to issue a subpoena, a function coordinated with the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

The Consumer Affairs department is a law enforcement agency, created and funded by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders. It protects against consumer fraud and dishonest and unscrupulous business practices by enforcing the state Consumer Fraud Act and other regulations.

The Department also maintains a “complaint history” on all reported businesses that can be helpful to consumers who are considering an agreement or transaction with a local business. If there is an active file, the information may be very valuable.

“We are here to help consumers resolve all sort of consumer-related issues,” Watson said.  

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scam artists, fraudsters and four-flushers follow the headlines and are likely to be using the economic downturn to take advantage of consumers who may be under water financially. The county Web site has resources and tools people can use to recognize a rip-off, sniff out a scam, and make smart choices for today’s market.

Additional information about fraud and other consumer affairs programs can be found on the county Web site at www.visitmonmouth.com or by calling 732-431-7900. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.