From buying a lemon to having faulty repairs, new research shows U.S. consumers complain more about automobiles than anything else.
The study by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators examined data from nearly 40 state and local consumer protection agencies to determine the most common, fastest-growing, and worst complaints they received in 2011.
"State and local agencies are essential components of the consumer protection system in the United States," said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America. "Their services save consumers and businesses money, relieve the burden on courts, foster confidence in government, keep the public safe, and help ensure fairness in the marketplace."
The top 10 complaints for 2011 were:
1. Auto:Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
2. 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
3. Home Improvement/Construction:Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job
4. Retail Sales:False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver
5. Utilities: Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service
6. Services:Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
7. (Tie) Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practice, failure to deliver online purchases; Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics
8. Fraud:Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-homeschemes, grant offers, fake check scams, the grandparent scam and other common frauds
9. Real Estate:Timeshare sales and resales, retirement communities and assisted living facilities, real estate fraud
10. (Tie) Household Goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances; Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations
The research revealed that fraud, debt collection abuses, Do Not Call violations, mortgage-related problems, and home improvement woes were the fastest growing complaints.
“The information compiled in the survey helps us as consumer protection agencies follow trends in consumer fraud, educate the public, and share information with each other, which will ultimately assist us in our investigations against fraud,” said Tonya Hetzler, interim president of the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.
The agencies surveyed offered a number of ways for strengthening consumer protection, including prohibiting mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts, assessing stiffer penalties for operating without required licenses or registration and providing consumers with greater legal protection from unwanted online tracking and other invasions of their privacy.
In addition, they suggest requiring all businesses, including online companies, to provide their names and other information to make it easier to identify and contact them, regulating business such as Internet cafes and dating services, and creating a special foreign agency to help U.S. law enforcement take action against scammers located in other countries.