Consumer agencies across the country keep track of consumer complaints. Last week, Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators surveyed 31 agencies from 18 states to determine the top complaints of 2010. As in the previous survey, complaints about credit and debt were second only to auto-related complaints in 2010. But you can avoid complaining about these issues in 2011 by following some simple tips.
Complaints about misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes ranked highest amongst complaints about automobiles.
Know before you buy. Visit America Saves to learn whether to buy, what to buy, how to buy, and how to finance for your next vehicle.
Billing and fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics ranked highest amongst complaints about credit and debit cards.
Learn more about how you can manage debt. The America Saves website can help you determine if you are in trouble, explain why too much debt is costly, help you reduce your debts, and show you where to get help.
Tips to Protect Yourself
1. Check the track record. Before you buy from unfamiliar companies, check with your state or local consumer agency, the Better Business Bureau, and online complaint forums to see if other people have reported serious problems.
2. Pay the safest way. When you buy goods or services that will be delivered later, pay with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you were promised.
3. Don’t pay in full upfront. If you are asked for a deposit for home improvement or other services, pay a small amount, never the full price upfront.
4. Recognize the danger signs of fraud. Be suspicious of any requests to wire money; scare tactics or pressure to act immediately; promises that you can borrow, win or make money easily if you pay a fee in advance; unexpected requests for your personal information; and offers to recover money that you’ve lost to scammers, for a fee.
5. Get all promises in writing. Verbal agreements are hard to prove. Carefully read contracts or finance agreements and make sure you understand them before you sign.
6. Seek help for financial problems from legitimate sources. It’s Illegal for companies that offer to reduce or settle your debts or help you avoid foreclosure to charge any fees until they’ve actually done what they promised. If you‘re struggling to pay your bills, try to work out a solution directly with your creditors. If that’s unsuccessful, get real help. A non-profit credit counseling service can advise you about how to deal with your non-mortgage debts and may be able to set up a plan with your creditors to pay your debts off over a set period of time. To find a counseling service near you, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, www.nfcc.org or 800-388-2227. For help getting your mortgage payments adjusted, call 800-569-4287 or go to portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/i_want_to/talk_to_a_housing_counselor. More information about modifications is at www.makinghomeaffordable.gov.
7. Know your debt collection rights. Under federal law you have the right to dispute debts that you don’t owe, and many states prohibit action to collect debts after a certain number of years. Federal and many state laws also prohibit debt collectors from calling with annoying frequency, falsely threatening legal action, and discussing debts with people who aren’t legally responsible for them.
8. When in doubt, check it out. If you’re not sure what your rights are or you think that something might be fishy, ask your state or local consumer agency for advice.
Click here to see the complete list of 2010 consumer complaints.