Car Issues, Debt Collections, Scams Highlight Top Consumer Issues of 2010, According to Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Attorney General's Office, Better Business Bureau, and Federal Trade Commission
During a press conference in Boston today highlighting National Consumer Protection Week, which runs from March 6-12, agency officials were joined by consumers who discussed the problems they have encountered.
"Whether it is dealing with an insurance issue, questioning a debt collector, or learning about a possible scam, consumers are often left with difficult and confusing questions in the marketplace," said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "This event helps educate and alert consumers to these issues, and give guidance for where to turn for help and information."
The top issue for consumers contacting the Office of Consumer Affairs and its agencies in 2010 was auto insurance-related questions and complaints. Over 7,000 people contacted the Office and the Division of Insurance with questions about denial of claims, adjusters, claim delays, and more.
Over 6,000 people called the Office of Consumer Affairs and Division of Insurance about health insurance issues, the second-highest number of 2010. Coordination of benefits and COBRA issues were the two most predominant reasons for complaints in the area of health insurance.
Linda Finnegan, who spoke at today's press conference, had trouble getting her claim paid after she took the trash out one morning and found her car stolen. Finnegan enlisted the help of the Division of Insurance, which intervened and helped Finnegan receive $5,800 from her insurer.
Consumers can find out more about auto insurance and other types of insurance by calling the Office of Consumer Affairs Hotline at (888) 283-3757, or the Division of Insurance at (617) 521-7794, or visiting www.mass.gov/consumer.
The Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley continues to focus significant resources on mortgage lending issues and foreclosure prevention. Through settlements and injunctions against subprime lenders and securitizers, the Attorney General has recovered more than $195 million in consumer relief and payments to Massachusetts, and provided direct relief for 15,700 consumers.
The Attorney General's Office also warns against several practices designed to take advantage of consumers in financial straits - including foreclosure rescue schemes and phony investment, lending, and employment opportunities. The hallmarks of these scams are unsolicited offers, through emails or telephone calls. Fraudulent foreclosure rescuers will promise results, and guarantee to lower your monthly mortgage payment by one-half or more. The law prohibits upfront fees for attempting to help a homeowner obtain a mortgage loan modification, so if you are asked to pay an upfront fee, that is a sign that you are not dealing with a reputable provider. Fraudulent solicitors ask for money for "can't miss" investments, ask for application fees for guaranteed loans, or send fake checks to enlist consumers as "mystery shoppers," who are asked to wire funds back to the scammer.
The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office also assists consumers who are having problems with insurance companies. Last year the Attorney General's Office received over 5,400 calls from consumers relating to insurance, with auto insurance calls topping the list. In 2010, the Attorney General's Office recovered over $33 million for auto insurance policyholders.
"In these tough economic times, with consumers watching their budgets more than ever, there is no shortage of unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of others," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "A consumer must always do their homework, shop around, make sure that they are dealing with a reputable entity, and consider all of the terms before entering into any contract."
The Attorney General Office's hotline number is (617) 727-8400. Consumers who are having a problem with an insurance company are encouraged to call the Attorney General's Insurance Hotline at 1-888-830-6277.
The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Massachusetts has car-related issues as its top three consumer complaints of 2010. Consumers called most often about new-car dealers, used-car dealers, and automobile repair and service.
"Rounding out the top of BBB's list includes auto misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, faulty repairs and service disputes," said Paula Fleming, the Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Better Business Bureau. "BBB recommends taking the time to do your research up front and check out a business before making a purchase at boston.bbb.org."
The BBB of Eastern Massachusetts can be reached by calling (508) 652-4800.
The Federal Trade Commission keeps track annually of the number of consumer calls received, and creates state-by-state data of the complaints it receives. According to complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010, Massachusetts consumers complained most frequently about identity theft, abusive debt collection practices, Internet services and auctions, fraudulent sweepstakes and lotteries, and shop-at-home and catalog sales. The FTC is the nation's consumer protection agency and works to stop these types of problems through vigorous law enforcement and consumer education.
"It is essential for consumers to know their rights to protect themselves against identity theft, unscrupulous debt collectors, Internet fraud, and those who dangle the prospect of lottery winnings to steal from consumers," said Leonard Gordon, the FTC's Northeast Regional Director. " www.ftc.gov offers important tips about how to stop abusive debt collectors; protect oneself online; and stop fraudsters from taking consumers' hard-earned money. Some steps consumers can take to protect themselves from identity theft and fraud include: Don't send money to someone you don't know; don't respond to email or phone messages that ask for your personal or financial information; don't agree to deposit a check from someone you don't know and then wire money back; keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash: once it's gone, you can't get it back. It's also important to read your bills and monthly statements regularly."
Consumers can obtain information about how to educate themselves by going to the FTC's website, www.ftc.gov. Complaints about consumer issues can be filed with the FTC by visiting www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Here are the Top 5 consumer issues for each of the four agencies attending today's press conference:
Office of Consumer Affairs
- Auto Insurance
- Health Insurance
- Home Improvement Contractors
- Lemon Law
Better Business Bureau
- Automobile Dealers - New Cars
- Automobile Dealers - Used Cars
- Automobile Repairing and Service
- Collection Agencies
Federal Trade Commission
- Debt Collection
- Internet Services
- Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries
- Internet Auction
- Shop-at-Home and Catalogue Sales
Massachusetts Attorney General
- Foreclosure Rescue/Loan Modification Schemes
- Phony investment, lending and employment opportunities
- Identity Theft
- Deceptive Practices in New and Used Car Sales
- Unexpected Cell Phone and Text Message Fees
For more information on these issues and others, visit the agencies at their websites, and follow them on Twitter:
Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation: www.mass.gov/consumer (and on
Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov