Cars, credit, and home repair and construction again topped the list of complaints made to state and local consumer protection agencies, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.
Thirty-eight agencies from across the United States provided information about the most common, fastest-growing, and worst complaints they received in 2011. They were also asked about new types of consumer problems, what their biggest achievements and challenges were last year, and what new laws are needed to better protect consumers.
Top 10 complaints
1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing, and towing disputes.
2. Credit/debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.
3. Home improvement/construction: Shoddy work and failure to start or complete the job.
4. Retail sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, and failure to deliver.
5. Utilities: Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric, and gas service.
6. Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, and failure to perform.
7. (Tie) Internet sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practice and failure to deliver online purchases. Landlord/tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, and illegal eviction tactics.
8. Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, the grandparent scam, and other common frauds.
9. Real estate: Timeshare sales and resales, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and real estate fraud.
10. (Tie) Household goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, and faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances. Home solicitations: Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing, or mail solicitations and do-not-call violations.
Other key survey findings
- The top five fastest-growing complaints were about fraud, debt collection abuses, Do Not Call violations, mortgage-related problems, and home improvement.
- The top five worst complaints involved mortgage-related problems, home improvement, timeshare sales and resales, Internet sales, and fraud.
- New types of consumer problems that agencies dealt with last year covered a wide variety of subjects, from bedbugs in apartments to penny auctions on the Internet, from gold buying companies to telemarketing and mail solicitations for home repairs disguised as “free” energy audits. Some agencies also noted that scammers are exploiting a new form of payment, prepaid card products, to get cash from consumers.
- Budget cuts and limited resources were most frequently cited as the biggest challenges that state and local consumer protection agencies faced last year. Another major challenge was the evolving nature of fraud and the fact that many scammers are located in other countries, complicating efforts to resolve complaints.
The agencies provided suggestions for strengthening consumer protection including:
- Prohibiting mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts.
- Assessing stiffer penalties for operating without required licenses or registration.
- Providing consumers with greater legal protection from unwanted online tracking and other invasions of their privacy.
- Requiring that all businesses including online companies provide their names and other information to make it easier to identify and contact them.
- Regulating business such as Internet cafes and dating services.
- Creating the equivalent of Interpol to help U.S. law enforcement agencies take action against scammers located in other countries.
The survey report features real-life examples of consumer complaints from agencies’ files and tips for consumers to help them avoid those problems and to let them know what to do if they encounter them.
The full report can be found on the federation’s website at www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/Studies.Top10ConsumerComplaintsSurvey7.31.12.pdf.