Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday October 21st, 2016, 4:39pm

Auto Problems Top American Consumer Complaint List; Groups Warn Of Fast-Growing Imposter Scams

Problems with auto sales and repairs continue to be the most griped-about issue to consumer protection agencies across the country.

That's according to the top 10 consumer complaint list for 2015, compiled by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).

For a second year straight, complaints against car dealers and mechanics topped the annual list, which is based on the groups' survey of 33 state and local consumer protection agencies.

Faulty home construction complaints were the second most reported, followed by grievances over utility services.

When it comes to the fastest-growing complaints, phony IRS agents and other imposter scams landed at No. 1.

The consumer groups say a new type of imposter scam has emerged in which "crooks infiltrate the emails systems of companies or organizations and send messages purporting to be from the CEOs to employees with urgent instructions to wire money somewhere."

Susan Grant is CFA's director of consumer protection and privacy.

"If someone calls or emails you unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS, your utility company, a tech support company, or even your employer, don't assume that it's true," she stressed. "Be especially wary if you're asked to send money immediately or provide personal information that the person should already have - these are danger signs of fraud."

Tax ID theft and issues with energy services were also among the fastest-growing complaints last year.

Overall, scams of all kinds were considered to be the worst reported complaints to consumer protection agencies in 2015.

"The consumer agencies we survey are ones that handle complaints about a broad range of problems, from auto sales and service to timeshares and towing, but fraud is especially difficult because scammers aren't interested in resolving the problems," said NACPI President Amber Capoun. "By the time consumers complain, the fraudsters have their money, and they intentionally use tactics such as spoofing their Caller ID and email addresses and asking for payment via money transfer services or prepaid cards to make it hard to track them down."

Here is the top 10 list of consumer complaints for 2015:

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. Utilities. Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service.

4. Credit/Debt. Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.

5. Retail Sales. False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.

6. Services. Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.

7. Landlord/Tenant. Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.

8. Household Goods. Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.

9. Health Products/Services. Misleading claims; unlicensed practitioners.

10. (Tie) Internet Sales. Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases; Fraud. Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams and other common frauds.

Banning the use of forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts is the key policy recommendation cited in the report.

"The purpose of these clauses is to prevent consumers from being able to take legal action, individually or collectively, to enforce their rights and change company behavior," the report reads. "Studies have shown that consumers do not fare as well in private arbitration hearings as they do in court, and the outcomes of those types of proceedings have no legal effect on companies' future behavior. Several federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, are considering restricting these clauses. An overarching law banning these clauses for all consumer contracts would ensure that people have the access to justice to which they are entitled."

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