Hoosiers filed more than 15,400 complaints with the Indiana Attorney Generals Office last year and auto-related gripes topped the list again.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller said that complaints against retail stores and home contractors were among the fastest-growing categories, and landed in the Nos. 2 and 3 spots respectively. The informations release comes during National Consumer Protection Week, which started Sunday.
The more you are informed, the better your chances to avoid becoming a victim of a fraud, scam or bad business transaction, Zoeller said. Thats why National Consumer Protection Week and the states list of top complaints are so important. Our hope is to educate consumers so that they know what to watch out for and how to protect themselves. Complaints also provide my office with insight as to what types of issues Hoosiers are experiencing and where the state can target its resources to help.
As part of the week, Zoeller will host a roundtable discussion Thursday with consumer protection groups and law enforcement agencies. Participants will discuss ways to crackdown on scams and deceptive practices seen across Indiana. Invited guests include representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, Indiana TRIAD, FBI and US Postal Inspection Service, among others.
Here is the top complaint categories for 2013:
1. Used auto sales and service (1,002 complaints). Complaints ranged from deceptive advertising and non-title delivery to faulty repairs and excessive document fee charges. Always review a vehicles history and have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle before you make the purchase. Before agreeing to a repair on your vehicle, seek multiple estimates and opinions. Be careful with service contracts or extended warranties, as the cost of covered repairs rarely exceeds the cost of the warranty.
2. Retail sales (999 complaints). Several retail business closures may account for why this category jumped from the No. 8 spot in 2012. Businesses that abruptly close their doors often leave customers without products, services or refunds. Always check reviews of a business and read the fine print on store return policies, layaway programs and warranties. If you feel like you have been ripped off, file a complaint at www.IndianaConsumer.com.
3. Home repair and construction (923 complaints). Formerly at No. 5, this category moved up the list as consumers cited a number of contractor issues including poor workmanship, failure to complete or even start a project, and misrepresenting the need for repairs. Research the contractor, obtain a written contract for projects exceeding $150 and tie payments to completion of work. If a contractor knocks on your door and pressures you to make a quick decision, consider taking the contractor up on their offer and just say no.
4. Debt collection (787 complaints). Illegal or unfair debt collection practices are a source of frustration for consumers especially when the debt isnt legitimate. Complaints allege harassing calls from phony creditors who threaten arrest and jail time. If you receive a debt collection notice, make sure you determine whether you are being contacted for a legitimate debt. Its important to know your rights and how to recognize abusive collection practices. Keep track of phone conversations and other interactions. File a complaint with the attorney generals office if you suspect the agency is not legitimate, if you are being harassed or if the collector refuses to supply verification of the debt.
5. Fraud and scams (616 complaints). Its clear scammers are still targeting Hoosiers as the grandparent scam, phony computer tech support calls, secret shopper and foreign lottery scams are commonly reported. Dont send money to someone you dont know especially since money wires, Money Grams and Green Dot Cards are rarely recoverable. Never send money to get money. A legitimate contest or sweepstakes will not require you send money to claim a prize. Be skeptical of your caller ID because scammers can manipulate the name and number that appear on your phone to appear legitimate.
6. Internet sales and service (571 complaints). Consumers reported issues with receiving products, deceptive advertising and refunds. Research the online business you plan to purchase from and confirm their physical address and phone number in case you need to contact them. Consider using an online payment service, such as PayPal, or your credit card, which protects your transaction under the Fair Credit Billing Act. To protect yourself from ID theft, never respond to requests for personal or financial information and dont click on any links when you receive an unsolicited e-mail..
7. Consumer lending (449 complaints). Advertisements for payday loans, cash advance loans and check advance loans are everywhere, but these opportunities for fast cash may take you deeper in debt. While these lenders may hand over the money now, extremely high interest rates associated with short-term loans can build quickly leaving already struggling consumers with unaffordable, high monthly payments. Borrowers should consider alternatives like obtaining a small loan from a credit union or small loan company and shop around for the lowest interest rates.
8. Identity theft (445 complaints). The majority of identity theft complaints involve victims whose financial information was stolen and abused. The source of the theft can range from a lost wallet to making online purchases via an unsecure internet connection. Monitoring your financial statements regularly and checking your credit report at least once a year can help you detect errors, accounts you never opened, and/or bills sent to the wrong address all signs that someone else is using and ruining, your name and credit. Victims of identity theft can file a complaint with the attorney generals office. Protect your personal and financial information by visiting www.IndianaConsumer.com to use the identity theft toolkit.
9. Health services (392 complaints). Take the time to read the contract and understand the terms before joining a health or fitness club. You have three days to cancel after signing the contract. You also have rights to cancel if the club moves more than five miles from the original location, the club closes and your contract is not transferred to a similar facility within five miles, or you become disabled for the life of the contract.
10. Telephone TV service providers (371 complaints). Compare several different providers to determine the plan that best fits your needs and budget. In addition to your plans monthly charge, make sure you research the quality of service and the coverage area, the monthly usage limits, and whether any additional fees will be added to your monthly bill.