It’s time to review the top 10 list of consumer complaints for 2011. It will likely surprise no one that real estate issues have made the list for the first time.
Consumers across the country cited problems with retirement communities and assisted living facilities, real estate fraud and timeshare sales and resales. While this last category has been the focus of many complaints — especially regarding high-pressure tactics — the timeshare category stands out for other reasons.
The high-pressure complaints surround lengthy sales pitches — some as long as six hours have been reported. Prospects are lured to these sessions with promises of “free” cruises or other goodies, many of which include high fees or are offered at inconvenient times.
Some consumer agencies reported complaints for the first time involving “timeshare resellers.” The purchase of a timeshare is often subject to buyer’s remorse, so a promise to help a buyer resell is attractive. Agencies found some of these companies were taking fees upfront with promises to unload unwanted timeshares, and then failing to deliver. Others offered to recover fees consumers had paid to timeshare resellers and gotten no results; those scammers take the fee and the consumers never hear from them again.
The top 10 complaints were compiled by North American Consumer Protection Investigators and the Consumer Federation of America. As we round out the top 10, note chapters in parentheses and see the Maine attorney general’s Consumer Law Guide for details — http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/consumer_law_guide.shtml; for timeshare and miscellaneous matters, see Chapter 29.
No. 1: Autos (Chapters 6-11) — Misrepresentations in ads or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs and leasing and towing disputes.
No. 2: Credit and debit (Chapter 26) — Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending practices and illegal or abusive debt collection.
No. 3: Home improvement and construction (Chapter 17) — Substandard work and failure to start or complete a job.
No. 4: Retail sales (Chapters 3-5) — False advertising or other deception, defective merchandise, failure to deliver and disputes over rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates.
No. 5: Utilities — Service problems and billing disputes.
No. 6: Services — Misrepresentations, shoddy work, not having required licenses and failure to perform.
No. 7 (tie): Internet sales, Landlord/tenant (Chapters 14-16): Misrepresentations or other deception and failure to deliver; Unhealthy and unsafe living conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, disputes over deposit and rent and illegal eviction tactics.
No. 9: Fraud — Phony sweepstakes, lotteries, work-at-home schemes, fake check scams or grant offers, grandparent scam and other common forms of fraud.
No. 10 (Tie): Household goods (Chapter 24), Home solicitations (Chapter 13) — Misrepresentation, failure to deliver and faulty repair of furniture or appliances; Misrepresentation or failure to deliver and do-not-call violations.
Agencies dealt with several new categories of problems last year. Bedbugs in apartments, penny auctions on the Internet, gold buying companies and solicitations for home improvements in the guise of “free” energy audits were most often mentioned. Agencies also reported that some scam artists are using a new kind of payment — prepaid card products — to get cash from victims.
To read the full report, visit consumerfed.org and find Nation’s Top Ten Consumer Complaints in the Latest News column.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.