Top 10 consumer complaints
The FTC received more than 2 million complaints last year, a new report says. Once again, identity theft topped the list.
This post comes from Jeffrey Trull at partner site Money Talks News.
The Federal Trade Commission received 2.06 million complaints in 2012 , the first time the agency's count has topped 2 million in a single year. Nine of the top 10 complaints also appeared on the previous year's top 10 list.
While record numbers and consistent complaints might seem discouraging, here is some good news: There are effective strategies to protect yourself from these common offenses.
Here's are the FTC's top 10 consumer complaints of 2012, along with tips to prevent becoming a victim:
1. Identity theft. Identity theft tops the list for the 13th consecutive year, with 369,000 complaints in 2012 -- about 18% of the total. More than 43% of the complaints dealt with tax- and wage-related ID fraud.
How to avoid: File your return early, use a trusted tax preparer, and send returns electronically. Also, be careful with your Social Security number. Shred documents with sensitive information before throwing them out.
2. Debt collection. Debt collectors have earned a reputation for being ruthless -- sometimes using illegal tactics to get you to pay. They were the subject of 10% of consumer complaints last year.
How to avoid: Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors. They can't harass you, lie, or do anything else on this list of illegal practices.
3. Banks and other lenders. Banks and other lenders were the subject of 132,340 complaints last year. Many dealt with deceptive or predatory mortgage practices, and customer service issues, overdraft charges and other fees.
How to avoid: Read and understand all of the documents before signing. Before you open an account, request a list of all potential bank charges and fees.
4. Shop-at-home and catalog sales. Shopping from home saves a trip to the store, but 115,184 consumers complained about these transactions last year. Primary problems? Not getting what you expected, or not getting anything at all.
How to avoid: Before you buy, investigate the retailer. Check with the Better Business Bureau and do a search for the business name and "complaint." When in doubt, stick to merchants you trust. Check return policies before you buy, and always use a credit card. If merchandise isn't delivered, try to resolve the problem with the retailer. If that fails, contact your card company.
5. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. If you get an email or postcard telling you to "claim your prize!" there's a good chance it's a scam. Five percent of consumer complaints fall into this category.
How to avoid: If you're asked to pay taxes or fees before you collect the prize, it's not legitimate. Also, scammers might try to conceal the name of the prize sponsor or use a name that's similar to that of a reputable businesses.
6. Impostor scams. Scammers prey on consumers by posing as your bank, the IRS, and even friends and family. Almost 83,000 complaints about impostors were fielded by the FTC in 2012.
How to avoid: The FTC offers advice for spotting imposters. Don't assume calls, emails and letters are from trusted sources. Don't share confidential personal and financial information when a caller or email asks for it. If in doubt, verify the source by using the contact information on the company's bill or website.
7. Internet services. Ever had computer problems with spyware, malware and antivirus software you can't uninstall? About 81,000 people complained about similar issues last year.
How to avoid: Make sure you understand what you're installing before you click, as it could be a scam to harm your computer and steal information.
8. Car-related complaints. These stemmed from deceptive claims about auto warranties, repair issues with newly purchased used or new cars, and concerns about price fixing by gas stations and oil companies. The 78,062 FTC complaints last year account for 4% of the total.
How to avoid: Don't buy a car warranty (or anything else for that matter) based on a high-pressure pitch. Take your time, shop around, and do some digging. When it comes to used cars, have a mechanic of your choice check it out before you buy.
9. Telephone and mobile services. Almost 77,000 consumers filed complaints about phone-related issues. These include charges for calls to "toll-free" numbers, charges for calls not made, a switched provider without the consumer's permission, misleading prepaid phone card offers, unwanted texts and problem apps.
How to avoid: Use the Internet to search area codes before you dial to make sure they're toll-free. Check your phone bill carefully and challenge suspicious charges. Read the fine print on prepaid card offers. Also, check your cellphone: It probably has a way to screen spam texts.
10. Credit cards. Credit cards round out the top 10 with 51,500 complaints in 2012. This category includes a wide range of disputes, from billing problems to interest rates and phishing attempts.
How to avoid: Always look over your statement and challenge suspicious charges. Watch for sneaky credit card fees buried in the fine print.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
Those shackled with student loan debt are increasingly being targeted by scams and shady companies promising relief.