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January 27, 2020

Autos, imposter scams top list of complaints to AG’s office  

Miller supports bills to improve consumer protections 

DES MOINES — For the second year in a row, auto-related problems topped all categories of complaints reported to the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division in 2019.  

Other top categories were imposter scams and complaints over media services, home improvement projects and home goods and services. 

Overall complaints totaled 3,225, a 7.7% decrease from 2018. That’s the first decrease since at least 2014.  

Attorney General Tom Miller attributed the decrease, in part, to improved efforts to help consumers before they file a formal written complaint. 

“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. 

Despite last year’s dip, complaints to the Consumer Protection Division are up 17.5% over the last five years. 

 Auto complaints grow 

The auto category had 565 complaints, up 14.6% over 2018. Auto parts and repairs made up about 30% of those complaints. The category also includes complaints over financing; title issues; repossession; advertising; and RVs, motorcycles and other vehicles. 

“We advise consumers to research auto repair shops by checking the Better Business Bureau or other review sites, and to get recommendations from friends,” Miller said.  

He also recommends that Iowans understand their insurance coverage and get estimates in writing. For more tips on avoiding problems, see the Attorney General’s Consumer Focus newsletter.   

Helping drive the increase were complaints over auto warranty plans and services, which increased from 58 in 2018 to 83 in 2019. Miller warns consumers to watch out for mailers that dupe them into calling a number to “activate your vehicle protection program.” Such scams can leave consumers vulnerable to losing money or personal information. 

 Watch out for postcards like these.

Watch out for postcards like these.

Imposter scams rise again 

Imposter scams were again the second-highest complaint category, increasing 11% over a year ago to 375 complaints. That number is probably low, as many more consumers contacted the Consumer Protection Division to report the scams but did not file formal 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 respond to messages without verifying phone numbers or social media accounts,” Miller said. He urged Iowans not to wire money or provide money card or gift card numbers to anyone over the phone who wants payment now. 

Proposed law changes 

Miller said his office could use the Legislature’s help in strengthening Iowa laws to provide justice to consumers. 

For example, Miller has advocated strengthening Iowa’s manufactured-home laws after consumers have complained about high increases in rents and fees and other problems.  

In addition, the AG’s office urges lawmakers to strengthen the law involving home improvement contracts, which are among the office’s top complaints.  

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. Under the Attorney General’s 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: 

 

 

MOST COMMON CONSUMER PROTECTION DIVISION COMPLAINTS IN 2019

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

 
Category Total complaints Top subcategories Subcategory complaints
Auto 565    
    Auto repairs 167
    Financing  92
    Warranty plans & services 83
Imposter 375    
    Business 152
    Government 71
    Foreign money offers 42
Media 242    
     Satellite TV 74
     Magazines 51
Home improvement  231    
    Miscellaneous services 116
    Roofing/windows/siding 73
Home Goods & Services 208  

 

 

 

    Furnishings 44
 Housing & Realty 175    
    Time share sales 57
Health care 163    
    Miscellaneous products and supplies 54
    Provider/insurance billing

48

Personal Services 144    
    Travel/vacation 55
Lending (non-mortgage) 134  

 

    Credit cards 62
Internet 126    
    Tech support scams 49
    Access services 47
Telecom 124    
    Miscellaneous mobile 46
    Mobile carrier rates/plans 44
Business-to-business 122  

 

    Supplies & Service 91
Mortgage 112    
    Loan servicing 39
Debt 112  

 

    Collections 104
Insurance 111    
    General 109

 

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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