The COVID-19 pandemic influenced consumer complaints in 2020

Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images

The Consumer Federation of America says automotive complaints topped the list

Consumers were not in a very happy mood last year, but who can blame them? A virus shut down the economy, throwing millions out of work and disrupting just about every aspect of life.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which tracks complaints to consumer agencies around the country, says its Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2020 is heavily impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 generated complaints about everything from appliance repairs to childcare, trash pick-up to towing,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s director of Consumer Protection and Privacy. “Business closings, job lay-offs, supply chain disruptions, social-distancing requirements, and travel restrictions put huge strains on consumers and businesses, as the survey shows.”  

Charges of price-gouging and scams were also among the complaints pouring into 34 state and local consumer agencies that participated in the survey. Here’s the list of top complaints:

  1. Automotive: Complaints ranged from false advertising to deceptive financing. It didn’t help that the entire way cars are sold changed overnight and that there was an immediate shortage of new cars.

  2. Home improvement/construction: Many consumers were unhappy with the work provided and the materials used.

  3. Landlord/tenant: Consumers complained about landlords failing to make repairs and disputes about deposits. Landlords weren’t too thrilled with the eviction moratorium.

  4. Credit/debt: Billing and fee disputes topped this category, along with complaints about predatory lending.

  5. Services: These complaints covered misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licensing or registration, and nonperformance.

  6. Utilities: Electric and gas companies are a constant source of complaints, even when there isn’t a pandemic. Most complaints were about bills.

  7. Retail Sales: Shopping was very different last year, but the complaints weren’t. They ranged from charges of deceptive practices to problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards, and gift certificates. 

  8. Travel: There was less travel last year, but consumers were quick to complain about promised services and amenities that weren’t delivered.

  9. (Tie) Health Products/Services: This category included complaints about misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, and billing issues. (Tie) Internet Sales: Consumers said many internet pitches included misrepresentations or other deceptive practices. Many sellers also failed to deliver online purchases.

  10. (Tie) Pandemic-related issues: Consumers often cited the pandemic when complaining about price-gouging, problems getting repairs, and canceled events. (Tie) Scams: Scams have flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the more popular variants included bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, fake grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams.

Grant said it was very clear from the complaint stories that the usual terms of service and cancellation policies often failed to take into account the unusual circumstances consumers experienced last year. 

At the same time, many consumers were frustrated by circumstances created by the pandemic that were often out of businesses’ control, such as when a surge in online shopping resulted in shipping delays.

“I have been a (Amazon) Prime member for 10 years,” Donna, of New Castle, N.H., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I used to receive my items in 2-3 days. Amazon now delivers my items in 7 or more days from ordering. This is unacceptable.”

Get a health screening near you

Get Peace of Mind or Early Detection with Life Line Screening

Get started