Most Common, Fastest-Growing Consumer Complaints Revealed in Annual Survey
Complaints about phony IRS agents were the fastest-growing category in 2015
Issues with vehicles, home improvement, and utilities ranked as the most aggravating for Americans this past year, according to the 2015 Consumer Complaint Survey Report.
Conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI), the annual report uses data collected from 33 consumer agencies in 21 states to determine the most common complaints they received in 2015. The top ten complaints are:
- Auto. Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.
- Home Improvement/Construction. Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.
- Utilities. Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service.
- 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.
- Retail Sales. False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
- Services. Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.
- Landlord/Tenant. Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.
- Household Goods. Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.
- Health Products/Services. Misleading claims; unlicensed practitioners.
- (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.
In addition, the report reveals that phony Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents were the fastest-growing complaint last year.
"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," said Susan Grant in a written statement. Grant is the Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA. "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."
Scams of all types were cited as among the worst complaints reported to state and local consumer protection agencies.
"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 Amber Capoun, NACPI President and a Legal Assistant in the Office of the State Banking Commission in Kansas. "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."
Agencies noted that a new problem is the use of iTunes gift cards as a method of payment. Once the scammers get the codes on the gift cards from the victims, they can use those cards to make purchases or sell them on gift-card resale websites.
The survey features a polling of agencies to determine what new laws are needed to better protect consumers. The most frequently made suggestion was to ban forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts. 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.
Other new law suggestions include enacting used car lemon laws, protecting consumers from abusive debt collection practices, enacting stricter laws against caller ID spoofing, and capping the fees that dating services can charge.