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Top 10 Consumer Complaints And How to Protect Yourself

by Ryan Guina

You work hard for your money, and you should protect it. The last thing you want to deal with is an unethical company making you spend more than you should, or even worse, stealing from you. The best protection against scams or dealing with unethical businesses is learning where they are and how to avoid them. Every year, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) releases a top 10 list of consumer complaints, which can be found here. The top 10 list includes :

  1. Debt Collection
  2. Auto Sales
  3. Home Repair/Construction
  4. Credit Cards (tie)
  5. Internet Goods and Services (tie)
  6. Predatory Lending/Mortgages
  7. Telemarketing/Do-Not-Call
  8. Auto Repair
  9. Auto Warranties (tie)
  10. Telecom/Slamming/Cramming (tie)

Protect yourself from the top 3 consumer complaints

The top 3 consumer complaints are the same for the second year in a row, so let’s take a look at how we can avoid them. The best way to protect yourself against these scams is to be aware of how they work and educate yourself about the process. This is a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

How to protect yourself from debt collectors.

In the game of debt collection, knowledge of the law is power. Unfortunately, some unethical debt collectors will prey on your ignorance of debt collection laws, often by harassment, false claims, and threats. Not all debt collectors fail to play by the rules, but if you come across one who does, you need to protect yourself. The first thing you need to do is know your rights. Read and understand the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Then use the law to protect yourself against unethical or illegal debt collection practices.

Protect yourself from debt collectors:

  • Read and understand the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
  • Record phone calls/communication.
  • Send correspondence via registered mail or require a signature for delivery.
  • Send a drop dead letter; by law, debt collectors not allowed to contact you once you inform them not to (though you will still owe the debt).

How to protect yourself from shady auto dealers

Customer complaints against auto dealers was number two on the list, and the most common complaint was in regard to used vehicles. Unfortunately, most states don’t have laws that require auto dealerships to reveal a vehicle’s history, even if they have the information. That means it may not be against the law for them to tell a lie regarding vehicle accident history, insurance claims, flood damage, etc. To top it off, in most cases used car sales are final and there is no recourse for the customer.

Protect yourself from shady auto dealers

Your best protection is to inspect the vehicle yourself, take it to an independent mechanic, run a CarFax report on the vehicle, and go beyond the CarFax report for more information about the vehicle’s condition.  If the auto dealership won’t let you take the car to an independent mechanic to have it inspected before purchase, then you can take that as a sign to move on to a different dealership.

How to protect yourself from home repair fraud

The third most common consumer complaint was home repair and construction. There are many great contractors and home repair specialists out there, but there are just as many hacks and fraudsters.

One common scam is when “contractors” drive through neighborhoods and offer unsolicited bids on contracting jobs. They often quote prices well under the average market price and request a large deposit upfront for “material and expenses.” Once they take your check and several other checks in the neighborhood, they disappear and are gone for good. Other complaints center around contractors using inferior materials, delivering less than promised, finishing the project well behind schedule, cost overruns, and more.

Protect yourself from home repair fraud:

  • Get a contract in writing with specifics regarding who, what, how much, timeline, materials, warranties, etc.
  • Get recommendations from family, friends, and neighbors for trusted contractors.
  • Ensure contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured.

The common factor in these customer complaints

Why do these three complaints lead the consumer complaint list two years running? Because they are difficult to police, difficult for the consumer to prove if a promise wasn’t in writing, and there is often very little that can be done after the fact. The most effective way to prevent falling for similar deceptive practices is to educate yourself about the what you are buying, or the process involved. Knowledge is power and protection.

More about consumer complaints

If you have a consumer complaint you should contact your state attorney general’s office or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).


Published or updated March 1, 2011.
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 kenyantykoon

i have never really had any of these said complaints. my complaints are usually of the slow rate that work is done by personell, especially in large malls and businesses where the owner is not constantly supervising the workers. it is really aggravating to watch the workers drag around as if they are being forced to work

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2 Kristen

Another way to protect yourself from the home repair scammers is to find out if your city has an ordinance that requires contractors to have a permit to work within the municipality. If such an ordinance is in place, find out if the company has this type of license too.
Back when I was a reporter I wrote about a guy who scammed people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of money for home repairs that he never did. Mostly it was senior citizens. The state attorney general’s office got involved and everything. The guy went to jail. He got out earlier this year. Guess what? He went right back to doing the same thing. I couldn’t believe it. Even after all of the press about him, people still let him in their house and gave him money.

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3 Craig

Cars are tough and you should be able to get second opinion’s on anything as well like you mention take it to an independent shop. You have to be careful and make sure everything is right and for the best price. Try to seek out advice from those who know to get an idea of what things should cost.

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4 Financial Samurai

Great post! However, isn’t it ironic that complaining against debt collectors is #1? I mean, don’t we owe them money that’s why they are hounding us?

Cheers

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5 Financial Samurai

Just a follow up, I actually don’t think it’s wrong for debt collectors to use “aggressive” tactics to try and collect money, up to a certain point. After all, the person who owes money is the dead beat who isn’t making whole on what they owe!

A debt collector is only called into action generally after at least 60 days of inactivity. If everybody would just pay there debts, there wouldn’t be so many complaints.

Peace

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6 John DeFlumeri Jr

That was a very nice and comprehensive article.

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7 Travis

I think that auto dealers, especially used ones, always represent huge risks. While they may have gotten BETTER, they’ve by no means got safe. I know countless people who have run into that issue…

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8 Ryan

Travis, Sometimes it’s worth buying a certified pre-owned car from a reputable dealer and buy the extended warranty. You’ll still save money vs. buying a new car and you have a little peace of mind to go with it.

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