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January 17, 2019

Consumer complaints rise 18 percent in 2018

AG’s office proposes bills to address home improvement complaints and other problems

DES MOINES -- Consumer complaints to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office increased 18 percent in 2018 over the previous year, led by complaints related to vehicles, home improvement projects and imposter scams.

In total, the office’s Consumer Protection Division received 3,495 complaints, up from 2,961 in 2017. This follows a 5 percent increase from 2016 to 2017.

 “It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason for the increase, but we’re seeing more complaints in several categories,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “Our investigators and attorneys attempt to resolve each complaint as fairly and justly as possible. In some cases, we could use the Legislature’s help in strengthening Iowa laws to provide justice to consumers.”

Topping the list was auto complaints at 493, which included complaints over repairs, financing, warranties and sales practices for vehicles including cars, motorcycles, ATVs, and trailers.

The number of complaints over imposter scams more than doubled over the last year, from 161 to 339. The category was again the second-highest category of complaint but likely is only the tip of the iceberg. Many more consumers contacted the Consumer Protection Division to report the scams but did not file complaints.

Imposter scams, which generally occur through phone calls, emails, or social media, involve a scammer who pretends to be someone they’re not, poses an urgent problem and seeks immediate payment to resolve that problem. Imposters engage in a variety of ruses, such as pretending to be a company with whom you’ve done business, an IRS agent collecting overdue tax payments, or relatives who need money for an emergency.

 “Don’t wire money or provide money card or gift card numbers to anyone over the phone who wants you to pay now,” said Miller, who urges Iowans to hang up when receiving such a call. Don’t respond to messages without verifying phone numbers or social media accounts, he said.

Home improvement complaints were again near the top of the list and increased 28 percent over last year.

Miller urges consumers to avoid red flags like unsolicited calls or high-pressure sales tactics, and to check references before you make a down payment and get a contract in writing. Find more tips on the Attorney General’s website.

Too often, homeowners are left in the lurch if they make a down payment on a project and a contractor fails to finish the job. As a result, the Iowa Attorney General’s office has pre-filed a bill with the Legislature to strengthen the law involving home improvement contracts. Under the bill, a contractor must file with the state a $75,000 surety bond, and consumers damaged by a fraud or breach of contract can recover costs from the bond. Contractors who violate the requirement would be guilty of a simple misdemeanor.

Attorney General Miller has also proposed bills that would:

New laws can make a big difference. In 2017, the Consumer Protection Division received 127 written complaints related to payday lending. That shrank to nine in 2018, in part because the 2017 Legislature changed the law to crack down on unlicensed lenders, the majority of which are online payday lenders. The division still gets calls related to payday lending but most are resolved without filing a written complaint.

 

MOST COMMON CONSUMER PROTECTION DIVISION COMPLAINTS IN 2018

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

 
Category Total complaints Top subcategories Subcategory complaints
Auto 493    
    Auto repairs 158
    Financing  80
    Warranty plans & services 58
Imposter 339    
    Business 121
    Government 63
Home improvement 286    
    Miscellaneous remodeling services 144
    Roofing/windows/siding 76
Media 283    
    Satellite TV 76
    Bundled media services 74
Home Goods & Services 182  

 

 

 

    Appliances 42
Telecom 166    
    Mobile 119
Housing & Realty 166    
    Time share sales 67
    Rental housing

40

Internet 164    
    Tech support scams 80
    Access services

46

Lending (non-mortgage) 136  

 

    Credit cards 58
Personal services 131    
    Travel/vacation 53
Health care 120    
    Provider/insurance billing 42
Debt 114  

 

    Collections 106
Business-to-business 101    
    Supplies & Service 67
Insurance 101  

 

    General 98
Mortgage 96    
    Loan servicing  27
    Loss mitigation 17

 

 

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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