North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Top Ten Consumer Complaints of 2006

2/7/2007

By Attorney General Roy Cooper

In 2006, 20,257 consumers who were victims of frauds, scams, bad deals, or disputes filed written complaints with my office. With the help of my consumer protection team, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten consumer complaints of 2006. By learning about the most common consumer pitfalls, you may be able to make sure you don’t become a victim yourself.


1. Health Care: In 2006, a total of 5,035 consumers filed complaints about health insurance, doctors, dentists, hospitals, pharmacies, opticians, nursing homes, health products and services. Consumers often have problems with medical billing practices or have trouble getting copies of their medical records. [Services provided by MCPA have been transferred to the Health Insurance Smart NC Program.]
 
2. Do Not Call/Telemarketing: 2,025 consumers filed complaints with our office about unwanted telemarketing calls and unsolicited faxes. Consumers complain about unwanted faxes offering vacation deals and investment tips. Among the types of telemarketing calls generating the most complaints are those pitching satellite television, debt consolidation, mortgage loans and business opportunities. Since the Do Not Call Registry began in 2004, nearly 4 million North Carolina numbers have been placed on the list. Consumers can continue to sign up for the Registry by going to www.donotcall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number they wish to register. To report telemarketers that break the law, consumers can call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or fill out a Do Not Call complaint form.

3. Lending/Credit: 1,985 consumers complained to us about lenders and creditors. Complaints about credit vary greatly and include problems with mortgage lenders, banks, loan brokers, payday lenders, check cashing services, credit unions, refund anticipation loans, savings and loans, and pawn brokers. Consumers’ complaints usually involve high interest rates, loan payment changes due to late or missed payments, adjustable rate mortgages, prepayment penalties and loan fees.

4. Debt Collection and Identity Theft: 1,599 consumers filed complaints about debt collectors or identity theft. Consumers often complain about threatening calls from debt collectors or how frequently they were contacted about a debt. In some cases, consumers get calls about debts that aren’t even theirs. Identity thieves are striking more and more consumers across our state, stealing personal financial information and using it to run up debts and commit fraud in someone else’s name. Some consumers don’t find out that their identity has been stolen and their credit ruined until the debt collectors start calling. For tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft or what to do if you may be an identity theft victim, go to www.ncdoj.gov .
 
5. Home Furnishings: 1,342 consumers complained about furniture sales practices. The majority of complaints come from out-of-state consumers who placed orders with certain North Carolina retailers by telephone. Consumers often complain that they received the wrong item of furniture, a damaged or defective item, or never received their item at all. Many problems stem from companies closing shop without filling orders.

6. Motor Vehicles: We received 1,282 complaints from consumers who had problems with car repair, towing and new and used car purchases. The most common complaints are pricing, improper diagnosis, unauthorized repairs, failure to honor warranties, and slow repair jobs. Consumers also complain about harassment from towing companies, and we receive numerous lemon law complaints from consumers who are dissatisfied with their new car.
 
7. Telecommunications: 1,199 consumers complained about their telephone, pager or cell phone service. The majority have problems with wireless telephone service. Other common complaints include slamming, when a consumer’s telephone carrier is changed without their consent, and cramming, when a company tries to sneak unauthorized charges onto a consumer’s phone bill.

8. Telemarketing Fraud: A total of 1,175 consumers filed complaints concerning telemarketing fraud last year. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that fraudulent telemarketers scam as much as $40 billion a year from unsuspecting U.S. consumers. Some of the most prevalent telemarketing schemes involve bogus international lottery tickets, advance fee loans, government grants, credit card or identity theft protection, and phony prizes or sweepstakes.   

9. Home Repair and Construction: 853 consumers filed complaints about home construction and repair work that was never performed, contractors who abandoned the job after getting paid, shoddy work, missed deadlines, and cost overruns. We also hear about scam artists who target seniors, attempting to sucker homeowners into a series of unnecessary and expensive home repairs.
 
10. Internet Service and Sales: We received 779 Internet-related complaints from consumers in 2006.   In many cases, consumers are dissatisfied with their service or are surprised to see their long distance telephone bills rise sharply because of Internet dial-up charges. We also see complaints from consumers who ordered products via the web or participated in online auctions but never received their promised merchandise.
 
Where to go for help: If any of these problems sound familiar, or if you have a problem that didn’t make the top ten, contact my Consumer Protection office toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. Consumers can get advice from our specialists over the phone or from consumer tip sheets available at www.ncdoj.com. Consumers can also file a written complaint so that we can try to help resolve the situation through mediation. In cases where there is a pattern of illegal business practices, we may also take action to enforce the law on behalf of all consumers.
 
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are on the lookout for scams that seek to rob unsuspecting North Carolinians. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.