We all have had bad experiences with companies before — a bank that charged you a fee in error, a package that never arrived, a mechanic who doesn’t seem to be charging you a fair price for your repairs.
When you have a complaint, there are people on the ground that are here to help. Those people — 40 agencies in 20 states across the U.S. — have pooled their records with the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators to track and analyze the biggest problems facing consumers, and what laws should be instated to better protect them.
“Foreclosure rescue scams, dirty debt collection tactics, sudden store closings, and landlords skimping on the heat and ignoring needed repairs are just some of the issues that confront consumers in these difficult economic times,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection at the CFA. “In addition to those problems, new types of scams and new payment methods that are being exploited by fraudsters pose challenges for consumers and consumer agencies.”
Though the following ten categories are the most common complaints from the CFA survey, there are some specific complaint categories that are trending this year. The five fastest-growing complaints last year were: towing disputes; landlord/tenant problems; abusive debt collection practices; telephone service billing issues; and unlicensed contractors.
The report shows little change from the previous year in the top categories that irk consumers, though home solicitations (which include telemarketing and do-not-call complaints) did jump from 10th to 7th place on the list. Here are the biggest consumer complaints of 2012:
10. Household Goods
Definition: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.
2011 ranking: tie for 10
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office received a complaint from a consumer that the warranty he purchased with some new furniture was not being honored. The agency found that the retailer might not have been turning in the warranties, and the warranty company’s share of the payments for them, until claims were made.
9. Internet Sales
Definition: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practice, failure to deliver online purchases.
2011 ranking: tie for 7
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office reported a scheme last year that had scammers advertising rental properties they didn’t own on Craigslist. One consumer paid for a Florida vacation rental, but was told by the owners of the property that they had no idea what he was talking about when he arrived at their door.
Definition: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.
2011 ranking: tie for 7
Though states each have their own ways of dealing with landlords, a growing problem is with landlords that are renting rooms and may not understand the ways these laws apply to them. The Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services noticed a rise in complaints against individuals who were renting out rooms in their houses. One landlord would enter the tenant’s room without notice and restricted access to the laundry room.
7. Home Solicitations
Definition: Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations.
2011 ranking: tie for 10
Though many scammers are learning new ways to scam consumers, the old tricks still work. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office reported that several homeowners were approached by door-to-door salesmen offering to seal their driveways for a specific price, then demand more money halfway through the job.
Definition: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.
2011 ranking: 6
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office received several complaints about a moving company that allegedly low-balled the quotes it gave to customers, then raised the prices once the property was loaded onto the trucks. The movers also threatened to auction off customers’ property if the higher price wasn’t paid.
5. Retail Sales
Definition: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
2011 ranking: 4
The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation reported a complaint from a woman who bought a camera that didn’t work, so she returned it and was given a replacement. That camera didn’t work, either, and the store refused to take it back or refund her money.
Definition: Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service.
2011 ranking: 5
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Services unearthed a trend in consumer complaints surrounding unauthorized third-party charges appearing on cell phone bills. A consumer reported he was being charged $9.99 for text messages from “Gossiptexts” despite the fact that he never opted into the service.
Definition: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.
2011 ranking: 2
The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs reported a homeowner in foreclosure was approached by a man who said that a group of investors wanted to buy the consumer’s house and would rent it back to the man until he could make the mortgage payments. The homeowner gave more than $10,000 in fees to the man until he realized nothing had been done.
2. Home Improvement/Construction
Definition: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.
2011 ranking: 3
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is continuing to deal with consumer complaints related to Hurricane Katrina. To ensure homes did not experience the same level of destruction as they did in 2005, parishes have instituted elevation requirements for homes. The homeowners received grants to help pay for this work, but some contractors took the money and never completed any work.
Definition: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.
2011 ranking: 1
The Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection reported a company that was selling cars with the odometers rolled back and altering the Odometer Disclosure Statements with lower mileage.
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