A new survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America, National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and North American Consumer Protection Investigators identified the top 10 consumer complaints in the nation for 2008.
The Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs was one of 34 state and local consumer protection authorities who participated in the survey. According to Joe Doyle, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs, the top complaints among Georgia consumers are automobile repair issues, price gouging/overcharging/gas shortage, used car sales, debt collection, and new car sales. With the exception of complaints related to price gouging/overcharging/gas shortage, these issues were among the nation’s top-ranked complaints as well.
Debt collection topped the list of the fastest growing complaints, in Georgia and nationwide.
Top consumer complaints nationwide for 2008
1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
2. Home improvement/construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job
3. Credit/debt collection: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt settlement, predatory lending, illegal or abusive collection tactics
4. Utilities: Service problems, billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services
5. Retail sales: False advertising, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, nondelivery, illegitimate going-out-of-business sales, deceptive comparative pricing
6. Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
7. Household goods: Major appliances and furniture, problems with nondelivery, misrepresentations, faulty repairs
8. Landlord/tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics
9. (tie) Internet sales: Misrepresentations, nondelivery in online purchases;
Home solicitations: Misrepresentations, nondelivery in door-to-door, telemarketing and mail solicitations, do-not-call violations
10. Health products and services: Misleading claims, failure to deliver
Complaints related to the nation’s economic situation
When the agencies were asked what kinds of complaints they received last year that were particularly related to the worsening economy, the responses included:
Aggressive debt collection tactics;
False promises to help consumers repair bad credit, modify loans, settle debts, and forestall foreclosure;
High-cost payday loans and bogus offers for loans with upfront fees;
Fraudulent work-at-home and business opportunities;
Business closings resulting in lost deposits, unused gift cards, undelivered products or services, and unfulfilled warranty repairs;
False advertising and billing and cancellation issues;
Tenant problems stemming from foreclosed rental properties;
Unfinished construction projects;
Cheating consumers on the price, quantity or quality of gasoline and home heating oil.
“During economic hard times, consumers are even more vulnerable to phony promises to loan them money, save their homes from foreclosure, or help them make money,” said Anna Huddleston-Aycock, a justice analyst with the Pinellas County Florida Department of Justice and Consumer Services and president of NACPI. “Another big problem is sudden business closings, which can leave consumers without their money or the goods and services they paid for.”
The report offered the following tips on how consumers can protect themselves:
1. Look at the track record. Before you buy from unfamiliar companies, check with your state or local consumer agency, the Better Business Bureau, and online complaint forums to see if other people have reported serious problems.
2. Hire licensed professionals. When you’re hiring home improvement contractors or other professionals, ask your state or local consumer agency if they must be licensed or registered and how you can check to confirm that they are.
3. Pay the safest way. When you buy goods or services that will be delivered later, pay with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if they don’t arrive or aren’t what you were promised.
4. Don’t pay in full upfront. If you are asked for a deposit for home improvement or other services, pay a small amount, never the full price upfront.
5. Recognize the danger signs of fraud. Be suspicious of any requests to wire money; scare tactics or pressure to act immediately; promises that you can borrow, win or make money easily if you pay a fee in advance; and any situation in which someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return.
6. Get all promises in writing. Verbal agreements are hard to prove. Carefully read contracts or finance agreements and make sure you understand them before you sign.
7. Seek help for financial problems from legitimate sources. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, consult your local nonprofit consumer credit counseling service.
8. When in doubt, check it out. If you’re not sure what your rights are or you think something might be fishy, ask your state or local consumer agency for advice.
Georgia consumers who have a complaint against a business can contact the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs at 404-651-8600 or 800-869-1123.