This week is National Consumer Protection Week. Attorney General Chris Koster has released the list of top 10 complaints reported to his Consumer Protection Hotline by Missourians in 2012. Unwanted telemarketing calls top the list.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office says it has obtained more than $1.4 million in judgments against telemarketers in 2012, up about $1 million in 2011.
“Complaints about unwanted calls have increased dramatically in the past few years,” Koster said in a press release sent to Missourinet. “While Missouri’s No-Call list provides protection against unwanted calls from many in-state and national businesses, unfortunately, new technology is allowing callers from around the world to place literally millions of calls each day, anonymously, over the internet.”
Koster said these calls over the internet cost virtually nothing for the caller to place. He said these callers also utilize “spoofing,” or fake caller ID information, to make it harder to trace where the calls are originating. The callers often are random-dialing millions of numbers, looking for working phone numbers so they can try to sell a product or perpetrate a scam against the person answering the phone.
Koster’s office works with the Federal Trade Commission and other states to try to track down the illegitimate calls. Missouri also provides information to the Federal Trade Commission for cases in which our state does not have jurisdiction. As a result, the commission was recently able to shut down Pacific Telecom, a telemarketer operating out of Belize that Koster says preyed on people in Missouri and other states.
Complaints about telemarketers targeting cell phone numbers have also increased, Koster’s office reports. Consumers are now able to register cell phones on Missouri’s No-Call list due to a 2012 change in the law.
Below are the top 10 complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office in 2012:
- NO-CALL COMPLAINTS (39,990) – On average, consumers filed 212 complaints each working day, double the amount from two years ago. The Attorney General’s Office asks consumers to report unwanted calls to the No-Call complaint hotline at 1-866-buzzoff (1-866-289-9633).
- DEBT COLLECTORS (1,769) – State and federal laws protect consumers from harassment. Consumers who believe they are being harassed should report the behavior to the Attorney General’s Office.
- MORTGAGE/FORECLOSURE/LOAN MODIFICATIONS (1,648) – Many struggling homeowners have filed complaints concerning foreclosures and difficulties with the loan modification process. The National Mortgage Settlement provides $25 billion in relief to homeowners whose loans are with the five settling banks: Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial. Consumers should report any concerns that the terms of the settlement are not being met to the Attorney General’s Office.
- MAIL AND PHONE SOLICITATIONS (1,432) – Consumers continue to be inundated with mail, emails and telephone calls offering them “valuable prizes.” Often, the mail looks official, as if it is from a government agency. Instead, these are scams designed to entice consumers to give out their financial information or to send money. Foreign lottery promotions are the largest type of sweepstakes scams that affect consumers nationwide. Consumers should not give financial information to people they do not know or wire money to strangers. Any consumer who is not sure whether an offer is legitimate should call the Attorney General’s Office before taking action.
- TELPHONE CRAMMING and BILLING (1,165) – Cramming happens when a consumer receives charges on phone bills for services not ordered; often the charges are by third parties. To detect cramming, consumers should thoroughly review their phone bills. Consumers who notice unwarranted charges should contact their phone service carrier to request that unauthorized charges be removed and that they receive a refund.
- CREDIT AND DEBIT CARD (1,165) – Complaints involved both charges that the consumer never authorized and double-billing on the card or account after making a purchase. The Attorney General recommends that consumers be wary of authorizing direct bank account debiting and not to provide bank account numbers over the phone. Using a credit card does provide some protection under federal law granting consumers the right to challenge unauthorized charges, but this must generally be done in writing within 60 days of the charge appearing on the consumer’s monthly statement. Even so, consumers are encouraged to provide credit card information only to familiar merchants contacted by the consumer.
- HOME REPAIR AND REMODELING (928) – Typical home-repair scammers go door-to-door, offering to do work but asking for money up-front. The majority of door-to-door schemes involved asphalt driveway scams, roof and chimney repairs, and remodeling work inside the home, often following storms. Many home-repair scam artists are not licensed, are not from the area, do not provide a detailed contract, and usually demand cash payments.
- PUBLICATIONS AND MAGAZINE SALES (823) – In 2012, the Attorney General’s Office saw an increase in this category of consumer complaints. In some complaints, telemarketing companies offered new subscriptions or renewals at discounted rates, or with the promise of a prize, but once the telemarketer had the consumer’s credit card information it charged inflated rates or failed to provide the magazines. Other complaints involved door-to-door sales people who claimed to be raising money for college, camp, or charity, but then never received the publication. Concerned consumers should check directly with the school or charity to see if sales are being conducted in the area at that time.
- CABLE/SATELLITE SERVICES (670) – Complaints to the Attorney General’s Office ranged from complaints about installation and price discrepancies to channel selections. Consumers should be cautious when ordering a new service, and should always read the fine print.
- AUTOMOBILE REPAIR (641) – While most repair shops are honest, it is very easy for an unethical mechanic to convince car owners that unnecessary repairs are needed. The Attorney General advises consumers to get a written estimate before repairs are made, have repairs made by a certified mechanic, and verify that the business honors existing warranties and guarantees repairs.