Consumer Federation of America Survey Report Reveals Top Consumer Complaints
By Lindsay Frankel
The recently released 2018 Consumer Federation of America Consumer Complaint Survey Report highlights the scams and disreputable practices that adversely affected consumers last year. Like years past, predatory auto sales and home improvement scams topped the list.
Home repair scams were the most costly to consumers, reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Fraud, medical billing problems, and retail service complaints are complaint categories that are growing quickly, according to the report.
CFA Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy, Susan Grant, noted several key takeaways from the report. With increasing efforts to prevent fraud, scammers’ techniques are evolving. The CFA heard complaints about scammers requesting cash money in the pages of magazines this year.
The CFA also warned about rent-to-own schemes, which are costly ways of purchasing goods, even if they seem more affordable in the short-term. Other types of predatory lending, particularly in used car sales, also caught the attention of the CFA, because the victims were often vulnerable populations such as the elderly and people with disabilities.
Examples include a Massachusetts man with a cognitive disorder who was deceptively sold two cars instead of one, a Maryland woman who was conned into repurchasing her deceased husband’s vehicle for an additional $10,000, and a car salesperson who convinced a Florida man to make a double payment and then pocketed the money.
The top complaints from the 2018 report were as follows:
- Auto: Deceptive advertising, faulty repairs, problems with leasing and rental agreements, and disputes over towing
- Home Improvement/Construction: Poor quality work or failure to complete projects
- Retail Sales: False advertising, damaged merchandise, issues with coupons/rebates/gift cards
- Services: Low-quality work, unlicensed providers, failure to perform
- Landlord/Tenant and Utility Complaints (tied): Unsafe living conditions, maintenance failures, arguments over deposits/rent, and utility service complaints
- Health Products/Services: Medical billing problems, deceptive claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to provide services
- Credit/Debt and Communications (tied): Mortgage fraud, credit repair schemes, debt relief scams, predatory lending such as payday loans, aggressive debt collection, and installation/service issues with communications service providers
- Internet Sales: Misleading practices and failure to deliver merchandise
- Home Solicitations: Violations of do-not-call requests, abusive sales techniques, and failure to provide services solicited
- Household Goods and Fraud (tie): Faulty repairs or failure to provide services, along with common scams like fake sweepstakes and grant offers.
“Over the years our rankings for the top complaints haven’t changed that much,” said Susan Grant. “That’s not surprising, since these are the problems consumers complain about to the agencies we survey. But they always require a combination of expertise and creativity to solve.”
The CFA also made several policy recommendations, including the establishment of a Senior Scams Prevention Advisory Council and improved laws governing used car sales.