Hassles with vehicles and home improvement lead the way in the latest annual survey from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).
Thirty-one agencies from 19 states were part of the research mix. Each was asked to report the most common, fastest-growing, and worst complaints they received in 2019. In addition, the survey dug a little deeper into areas like new consumer problems and new laws enacted in an agency’s jurisdictions to protect consumers.
The Top 10 complaints
The CFA reports that the top problems reported to state and local consumer agencies last year were:
Auto: Exaggerations or falsifications in advertising or sales of both new and used cars, shady financing practices, defective vehicles, faulty repairs, car leasing and rentals, and towing disputes.
Home Improvement/Construction:Second-rate work, failure to start or finish the job, and neglecting to have required licensing or registration.
Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, faulty merchandise, failure to deliver, and problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards, and gift certificates.
Landlord/Tenant: Unsafe or unhealthy living conditions, failure to make repairs or provide amenities promised to the renter, deposit and rent disagreements, and illegal eviction tactics.
(Tie) Communications: Misleading come-ons, installation issues, service problems, billing disputes with telephone and internet services. Services: Misrepresentations, poor workmanship, failure to have required licensing or registration, and neglect.
Health Products/Services:Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, and billing issues.
Utilities: Complaints about everything that powers a consumer’s life -- gas, electric, water and cable billing and service.
(Tie) Fraud: Sweepstakes and lottery shams, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, as well as imposter scams and other common frauds; Household Goods: Misrepresentations, failure to follow-thru, and repairs issues in connection with furniture and major appliances.
Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver purchases made online.
While many of these scams continue to be a huge problem for consumers today, experts want to remind consumers that there are ways to address and settle these issues.
“Many complaints can be resolved through mediation, and some consumer agencies can also take formal legal action when that is warranted,” wrote Susan Grant, CFA Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “But when it comes to fraud, prevention is the key since the money and the culprits often disappear without a trace.”
New scam wrinkle
Grant said that the CFA’s survey also uncovered a new scam new trend that fraudsters are trying to capitalize on. When pulling off some sort of phone fraud on consumers, scammers are now trying to get a willing target to carry their phone with them to the bank to withdraw funds or to stores to buy gift cards in order to make payments.
“This enables the crooks to essentially hold the victims captive and tell them how to respond if a bank teller or cashier becomes suspicious and starts asking questions,” said Grant. “The public education that state and local consumer agencies provide is crucial for preventing fraud and abuse.”
One important note about the survey: since the data is derived from 2019, there’s no coronavirus-related results. Given the pickle consumers are in thanks to the pandemic, it’s a sure shot that next year’s survey results will be, at least, a little different.