RealTime IT News

Probing Priceline

Connecticut's attorney general, who has made something of a name for himself as a consumer activist, is the latest to focus on beleaguered Priceline.com Inc., announcing an investigation of complaints from customers.

The company's stock has headed to the basement since it announced last week that third quarter revenues would be off and since the media splashed a number of big stories about consumer complaints at the name-your-own price e-commerce company.

Norwalk-based Priceline is located in Connecticut, where Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has over the years wrapped himself in the cloak of consumerism. On Saturday Blumenthal said he launched an investigation after receiving more than 100 complaints.

"The complaints we've received have to do with the lack of availability of gasoline at places where (consumers) understood it would be sold to them at the price that they bid, and was accepted," Blumenthal told reporters. He said there had also been complaints about airline tickets.

Earlier this month, the Better Business Bureau of Connecticut revoked Priceline's membership in the organization because of alleged consumer complaints.

Priceline stock dropped 42 percent last Wednesday after the company said third quarter revenues would be "below the range of analysts' estimates." And that came on the heels of a media blizzard, including negative publicity about spurious advertising that said that celeb spokesman William Shatner doesn't actually use the service.

Monday the company's stock was trading at $10.75 at midday, down $1.125. Its 52-week high surpassed $104.

Blumenthal said his investigation began about three weeks ago, and he expects a preliminary finding within a few weeks.

There's no indication so far that the company violated the law, Blumenthal was quoted as saying in an Associated Press report. The probe focuses on civil complaints, not criminal.

"We have an ongoing investigation ... concerning claims of incomplete and inaccurate disclosure about the terms and conditions of sales, particularly of airline tickets and gasoline," he was quoted as saying.

The company has said it is working to resolve customer compaints and is cooperating with the investigation.