We're complaining more but help is harder to find

Consumers have more to complain about, but the agencies they are complaining to have fewer resources with which to help them, a national survey found. A lot of problems people are having, the survey said, were directly related to the country's sour economy.

"It's ironic that at the same time that more people are asking state and local consumer agencies for help, their budgets are shrinking," said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

"They deserve public support so they can continue to protect consumers from losing their hard-earned cash and ensure that the marketplace is fair for legitimate businesses."

Grant said that 62% of the consumer agencies surveyed reported an increase in complaints in 2008. The average increase was 10%, she said, with some seeing increases by as much as 47%. At the same time, officials reported staff and service cuts due to shrinking state and county budgets.

According to the survey compiled by the Consumer Federation, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators, the top 10 complaint categories in 2008 were:
  1. Auto: Involving everything from misleading advertising to towing problems to lemons.
  2. Home improvement/construction: Which includes shoddy work and failure to start or complete the job.
  3. Credit/debt collection: Including billing disputes, mortgage fraud, predatory lending and collection tactics.
  4. Utilities: Involving service problems and billing disputes with phone, cable, Internet and energy providers.
  5. Retail sales: From false advertising and defective merchandise to problems with rebates and gift cards.
  6. Services: Including misrepresentations, shoddy work and failure to perform.
  7. Household goods: Including major appliances and furniture and problems with delivery, repairs and ads.
  8. Landlord/tenant: Which includes everything from rent disputes to unsafe living conditions.
  9. (tie) Internet sales: Which includes misrepresentations and failure to deliver purchases.
  10. Home solicitations: Including misrepresentations, violations of do-not-call laws and failure to deliver.
Agencies interviewed for the survey reported that they fielded numerous complaints related to the down economy -- from problems with foreclosure prevention scams to aggressive debt collection tactics to phony work from home offers.

"During economic hard times, consumers are even more vulnerable to phony promises to loan them money, save their homes from foreclosure, or help them make money," said Anna Huddleston-Aycock, of the Pinellas County ( Florida) Department of Justice and Consumer Services and president of the North American Consumer Protection Investigators NACPI. You can read the full results of the survey, the agencies that participated and consumer protection tips here.
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