Friday, July 31, 2009

Our top 10 consumer complaints, plus one from the watchdogs

The good news - none of the minor consumer hassles I've had recently are among the horror stories in the Consumer Federation of America's latest list of top 10 consumer complaints for 2008.

The bad news...while complaints are up - thanks to recession-fueled jumps in beefs about debt collectors, bogus loan and job opportunity scams, and sudden business closings - resources to help consumers are down.

Sixty two percent of the public agencies that helped CFA pull together its annual list reported complaints were on the increase, said Susan Grant, the federation's consumer protection director. Forty seven percent of the same agencies also reported budget cuts.

"It's ironic that at the same time more people are asking state and local consumer agencies for help, their budgets are shrinking," said Grant.

Hassles over cars, home repairs and credit again generated the most complaints that consumers filed last year. Gripes about cable and utility companies, retailers and retail service providers, both online and in real life, and landlord/tenant problems also put in their perennial appearances. Complaints about misleading health products and services made the list too. They didn't last year.

The federation's suggested best defenses against potential ripoffs looks familiar too. Check the Better Business Bureau or online complaint forums for potential problems. (But don't believe everything you find. BBB reports often seem bland and earth-scorching online forums don't have time or resources to separate legitimate complaints from screaming rants.) Look deeper and wider if something smells. Get terms in writing and don't pay all your money upfront.

And if you still have problems, here are some places that might be able to help.

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