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January 26, 2022

Consumer complaints return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021

Home improvement complaints rise; Miller proposes contractor bond bill

DES MOINES — Following a record year of complaints in 2020 tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and derecho, the number of complaints received by the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division returned to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021. 

Overall complaints totaled 3,536, a 12.6% decrease from the 4,011 received in 2020. However, the number of complaints received last year is still an increase of 9.6% from the 3,225 complaints filed prior to the pandemic in 2019.  

“Iowans continue to face a myriad of issues in the consumer world, from imposter scams to contractors trying to take advantage of homeowners. Our Consumer Protection Division works tirelessly to address these complaints and help make consumers’ lives better,” Attorney General Tom Miller said.  

Pandemic, home repairs continue to be focus 

Home Improvement complaints increased 4.5% percent in 2021, even though disaster repair complaints declined sharply a year after the derecho. Complaints related to roofing, windows, siding and other services made up the majority of the 363 complaints the category received last year.  

Miller has proposed 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 before starting a home improvement project. Consumers could file a claim against the bond.  

Contractors who violate the requirement to obtain a bond would be guilty of a simple misdemeanor and in violation of Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act. In addition, the Iowa Division of Labor would cancel their contractor registration. 

“We’ve sued many contractors who have cheated dozens of customers, and in some cases have gotten them banned from doing business in Iowa,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, many of the defendants in these lawsuits are unwilling or unable to pay and have no assets that can be seized to pay a judgment, so the consumers are still out of their money.”  

Homeowners facing repairs can avoid problems by following the office’s contractor checklist

As Iowans and the world settled into a new normal amid the second year of the pandemic, healthcare complaints, which ranked as the second most complained about category in 2020, fell to the seventh-most complained about category.  

Previous healthcare complaints largely centered on products and supplies, which would have included issues like price gouging of health care products such as toilet paper, disinfectant, and masks, and personal goods, including food. While that subcategory continued to be the highest for healthcare complaints, it received 243 fewer complaints in 2021.  

Still, most complaints received by the office remained typical of previous years. For the fourth year in a row, auto-related issues reigned supreme, ranking as the top category of complaints reported to the office, while imposter complaints also remained high on the list.  

A focus on outreach, education  

Miller acknowledged the dedication of the attorneys, investigators, and other staffers of the Consumer Protection Division to address and, in many cases, resolve these consumer complaints and inquiries with swift action, at times before a formal written complaint is made.  

In fact, official complaint numbers do not include the more than 19,000 calls and more than 14,000 e-mails to the Consumer Protection Division’s operators, who provide tips and information on many consumer issues.  

A continued focus on educating Iowans on consumer issues and how to report those to the AG’s office led to the division's ability to quickly identify new twists on old imposter scams, as well as shutting down a door-to-door solicitors falsely claiming to raise funds for charity.  

“While our CPD staff are skilled at addressing Iowans’ consumer-related issues, we also rely on the assistance of the public, including the five Consumer Protection Heroes we honored in November 2021,” Miller said. “These individuals went above and beyond to protect their fellow citizens, just as our staff does each day.”   

Most common Consumer Protection Division complaints in 2021 

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

Category 

Total complaints 

Top subcategories 

Subcategory complaints 

Auto 

516 

  

  

  

  

Parts & Repairs 

142 

  

  

Warranty Plans & Services 

91 

  

  

Financing 

64 

Home Improvement 

363 

  

  

  

  

Other Services 

152 

  

  

Roofing/Windows/Siding 

107 

  

  

Disaster Repair 

39 

Imposter 

334 

  

  

  

  

Business 

156 

  

  

Government 

51 

  

  

Contests & Prizes 

26 

  

  

Romance/Sweetheart Scams 

26 

Home Goods & Services 

270 

  

  

  

  

Appliances 

96 

  

  

Furnishings 

55 

  

  

Electronics 

37 

Personal Services 

268 

  

  

  

  

Travel/Vacation 

165 

  

  

Legal Services 

20 

  

  

Tax Preparers 

18 

Miscellaneous 

186 

  

  

Healthcare 

182 

  

  

  

  

Other Products/Supplies 

64 

  

  

Provider/Insurance Billing 

49 

  

  

Other Medical Treatments 

45 

Media 

162 

  

  

  

  

Bundled Media Services 

59 

  

  

Magazines 

27 

  

  

Satellite Television 

15 

Housing & Realty 

147 

  

  

  

  

Timeshare Sales 

47 

  

  

Rental Housing 

33 

  

  

Real Estate Sales 

25 

Internet 

144 

  

  

  

  

Access Services 

51 

  

  

Social Networking Service 

30 

  

  

Tech Support Scams 

26 

Insurance 

138 

  

  

  

  

General 

134 

  

  

Water/Sewer Line 

  

  

Medicare Part D 

Telecom 

125 

  

  

  

  

Mobile Carrier Rates/Plans 

45 

  

  

Mobile (Other) 

39 

  

  

Landline 

20 

Personal Goods 

121 

  

  

  

  

Clothing & Accessories 

47 

  

  

Food 

35 

  

  

Gift Cards 

16 

Debt 

105 

  

  

  

  

Collections 

86 

  

  

Management/Settlement 

16 

  

  

Credit Counseling Services 

Lending (non-mortgage) 

92 

  

  

  

  

Credit Cards 

33 

  

  

Other Institutions 

14 

  

  

Student Loans 

11 

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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