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January 20, 2021

COVID, derecho help boost consumer complaints 24.4%  

Reports top 4,000; autos remain top category   

DES MOINES — Scammers took advantage of a confusing and chaotic 2020, as complaints to the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division soared amid the pandemic. 

Overall complaints totaled 4,011, a 24.4% increase over the 3,225 reports in 2019. 

Complaints related to COVID-19 and the derecho that hit Iowa on Aug. 10 played a big role in the increase. The division received more than 600 complaints about price gouging of health care products such as toilet paper, disinfectant, and masks; personal goods, including food; and disaster repair services, such as tree-trimming and electrical services. Complaints over travel, such as canceled trips and accommodations, also soared. 

The disasters didn’t consume all of the office’s attention, however. Even though sectors of the economy closed for portions of 2020, typical consumer complaints remained high. For the third year in a row, auto-related problems topped all categories of complaints reported to the office. 
 
“Consumers still came to us with concerns about imposter scams, robocalls, car repairs, housing problems, and other run-of-the-mill complaints,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “Bad actors hope they can hide while our attention is focused on other areas. They're wrong.” 

Miller noted that the attorneys, investigators, and other staffers of the Consumer Protection Division responded quickly to the influx of complaints — all while primarily working remotely. The division streamlined its processes and shifted resources to react quickly, and sought to prevent complaints by warning Iowans about the potential for storm chasers and COVID scammers. Investigators reached out to online retailers and individual sellers to stop predatory pricing, and staffers created a new price-gouging complaint form to help investigators get all the unique information relevant  to those types of complaints. 

Overall, the number of complaints are down from a decade ago, as the division has improved efforts to assist consumers before they file a formal written complaint. The complaint numbers do not include the more than 20,000 calls and nearly 16,000 e-mails to the Consumer Protection Division’s operators. 

“We have a strong intake team, and if we cannot help consumers through the Consumer Fraud Act or other laws, we’ll guide them to other resources or educate them on how to avoid further problems,” Miller said.    

“I'm proud of our great Consumer Protection Division, and their tireless efforts to help Iowans,” Miller said. “We use the law to help make consumers’ lives better.” 

MOST COMMON CONSUMER PROTECTION DIVISION COMPLAINTS IN 2020

Here are the top 15 categories, with the most common subcategories under each:

 
Category Total complaints Top subcategories Subcategory complaints
Auto 514    
    Auto repairs 136
    Warranty plans & services 86
    Financing  67
Health care 436    
    Other products & supplies 307
    Other medical treatments 48
Home improvement 347    
    Disaster repair 122
     Other services 90
     Roofing/windows/siding  88
 Imposter 340    
    Business 144
    Government 62
Personal services 324  

 

 

 

    Travel/vacation 239
 Personal goods 258    
    Food 179
    Clothing & accessories 43
Home goods & services 226     
    Appliances

 75

Miscellaneous 226    
Media 170    
     Satellite TV

43

    Bundled media services 38
Housing & Realty 154    
    Rental housing 50
    Real estate sales 35
Internet 130    
    Access services 63
    Tech support scams 27
Telecom 114  

 

    Various mobile phone issues 82
Business-to-business 109    
    Supplies & Service 90
Lending (non-mortgage) 108  

 

    Credit cards 30
Debt 103    
    Collections 89

 

To file a complaint

Consumers with questions or complaints can contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website, by email or by phone:

Website: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov

Email: consumer@ag.iowa.gov

Phone: 515-281-5926 (outside the Des Moines area, call toll-free: 888-777-4590)

 

 

 

 

 

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