Four fast-growing frauds, and the top 10 consumer gripes of the year

Click to read my “new scams to watch for” story at Grow.com.

What are the 10 biggest ripoffs Americans complained about last year? And which new, fast-growing ripoffs do you need to know about before they find their way on this dastardly list soon? Read on.

Consumers who feel cheated or abused often turn to local or state authorities – instead of national regulators, like the Federal Trade Commission — for help. Small agencies around the nation with names like the “Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Division of Consumer Affairs” listen, and then try to intervene. Then once each year, the Consumer Federation of America compiles a database of those complaints, analyzing the data for trends – and more importantly, to issue warnings and publish a “top 10” grips list.

Each year, many top 10 entrants are pretty predictable. Home improvement projects gone bad. An unwanted “extended warranty” snuck into a purchase by an auto dealer. Internet sales that vaporize. We’ll get to the top 10 list in a moment.

But scammers evolve, and do so an Internet time. So the CFA and its partner, the North American Consumer Protection Investigators association, is also ringing the alarm bell about a set of new schemes that seem to be popping up at agencies around the country. I wrote about three of them for Grow. They are: Solar energy sales, Used car leasing, and Robocalls. Click here to read the details at Grow.

Also, gift card fraud is rising on the list. I wrote about this problem recently, concluding that retail gift cards just aren’t safe because there is no consumer fraud liability protection.

Gift cards are also used for fraud payments, and the consumer groups issued a warning about that. Fraud in all forms always ends up in the top 10 list, but Internet and phone fraud always require the criminal to somehow trick the victim into sending money – ideally in a form that’s untraceable and irreversible. Increasingly, Net criminals are getting victims to buy gift cards for them. Codes from the card can be sent electronically in moments, and then the criminal can spend the money on items which can be later sold. It’s important to know that gift card funds don’t share the protection that credit and debit card accounts have. (I wrote a warning about Apple store gift cards being used by scammers recently).

.Now, onto the top 10 (by volume) list

  1. Auto. Once again, auto complaints top the list. This category catches everything from car sales to repair shops to towing disputes. Despite all the promise of up-front pricing and Internet-based sales – not to mention price-comparison sites for auto repairs — consumers still have more complaints about car stuff than anything else.
  2. Home Improvement/Construction. Home improvement complaints go far beyond outright crime. There are many ways that companies can scam customers, so be aware. You’ll want to make sure you don’t fall for any of these Common Duct Cleaning Scams too, make sure you use a reliable company to keep your HVAC system working effectively. Plenty of consumers lament that contractors begin jobs, then disappear for days or weeks. Additionally, “Hey, your roof has a leak. I’ll fix it for you,” is one of the oldest scams around. This is why it’s of utmost importance you do your research into the contractors of your area, for instance, consider every roofing company Austin or your residing location has to offer, this way you can find the most reputable contractor services. Others say they’ve been cheated by shoddy work. Whatever the issue, this is important: According to the Urban Institute, young buyers are more likely to stay in their first home – and not ‘trade up’ — than previous generations. That usually means remodeling instead of house shopping. If that’s you, know you’ll have to work hard to avoid becoming a statistic. As well as the large influx of “We buy any houses fast for cash” scams, a fast house sale company is normally too good to be true, you’ll have to do your research!
  3. Utilities. This category covers everything from pay TV to telephone to Internet

cooking gas. So it’s easy to see how complaints about those services pile up fast.

  1. Retail Sales. When consumers buy something, they expect to get it. When it’s not delivered, or what is delivered is disappointing, many consumers don’t know where to turn. Despite ubiquitous no-questions-asked return policies, plenty of consumers still find themselves in disputes with merchants.
  2. Credit/Debt. Debt collector complaints always turn up in lists like this – at the federal level, they often rank first. Consumers go to local and state authorities with debt collection issues, too, but this category also includes mortgage service issues, fee disputes, and complaints about debt relief services.
  3. Health Products/Services. This was the “fastest-rising” category in 2017 – health complaints ranked 9th last year. With all the focus on Obamacare, rising premiums, and billing confusion, that’s no surprise.
  4. Services. Non-retail transactions – payment for services, rather than goods – is an increasingly important part of the economy. Services complaints include everything from wedding photographers, to tax preparers, to passport assistance firms.
  5. Tie: Landlord/Tenant and Household Goods. Landlord indifference remains a big source of trouble for consumers, especially failure to make repairs and deposit disputes. That category was equaled by complaints about misrepresentations when buying everyday household items or paying for appliance repairs.
  6. Internet Sales. Buying things online still involves risks – that the product won’t arrive as promised, or it won’t arrive at all. Net complaints remained steady this year.
  7. Home Solicitations. This is a new entrant into the top 10 list for 2017. Consumers complained about abusive sales practices, do-not-call violations, and failure to deliver products.

About Bob Sullivan 1381 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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