How about 289,732 of them?
In a recent report, the Consumer Federation of America studied 289,732 consumer complaints from 37 state and local consumer protection agencies across the country. These agencies work to “preven[t] scams and rip-offs,” and, when possible, “track the culprits down and retrieve victims’ money.”
The Federation wanted to know: What did Americans complain about last year?
The top complaints of 2011 were auto-related. Americans complained about faulty car advertisements, insufficient car repairs, and towing and leasing controversies. Most common were complaints about misrepresented used cars.
Auto-related complaints were followed shortly by credit and debit disputes, construction and renovation disputes, retail sales disputes and utilities disputes (including internet, phone and gas).
And there were newcomers to the 2011 complaint list, including bedbug and mold complaints, health services complaints and computer sales complaints. These ranked among the worst in two categories: fastest growing since 2010 and worst of the year.
And while you may think these complaints to be much like bedbugs—pesky and (luckily) someone else’s problem—some of them indicate illicit or illegal activity. Consider a health services complaint from a patient in California, who reported that a doctor named Carlos Guzmangarza “had the patient hold the IV during her liposuction while he smoked a cigar.” As it turns out, Guzmangarza had stolen a professional’s identity and had no liposuction or medical experience whatsoever. Consumer agencies handed the case over to the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and the California Medical Board.
Many consumer agencies say that they cannot respond to complaints with sufficient care or energy. They simply don’t have the cash. The Federation explains, “Unfortunately, in an era of austerity in which state and local governments are tightening their belts, consumer services are often viewed as non-essential.”
Luckily, consumer protection agencies are working to protect us in other ways. They’ve proposed a list of laws that will increase awareness of scams so that consumers have more information before paying for services. Potential laws include requiring businesses to post all their information online (phone numbers and street addresses) and requiring telemarketers to record entire phone calls with their customers.
And they’ve got one big tip for all consumers: When in doubt, contact an agency. (Here’s a list of consumer agencies nationwide.) Others could share your complaint, and you may be eligible for a return on any money you’ve lost.