For Immediate Release - March 09, 2010

Top 5 Consumer Issues and Complaints Outlined by Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Attorney General's Office, Better Business Bureau, and Federal Trade Commission

Consumers share stories on the issues of home contractors, new car dealers; education and resources offered to consumers at National Consumer Protection Week event

BOSTON - March 9, 2010 - Today, the Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation joined with the Attorney General's Office, Federal Trade Commission, and Better Business Bureau to announce each agency's Top 5 consumer issues and complaints of 2009 - and offer tips to consumers to ensure they are not tripped up by the same issues in 2010.

At a press conference held today in Boston, officials from each agency talked about the five top issues and complaints they have heard from Massachusetts consumers. Consumers who had to deal with these issues told their personal stories involving home improvement contractors and car dealers.

"As consumers navigate through the economic recovery, it is critical that they be savvy, informed and aware of marketplace pitfalls," said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "This event is intended to alert and educate consumers and to give the public guidance on where people can turn to for help and information."

The top complaint category from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation concerned over 5,000 calls on home improvement contractors - and, this was only for half the year after Consumer Affairs took over contractor regulation on July 1, 2009. Consumers' top complaints about home improvement contractors were project abandonment, deposit disputes, and permit issues.

"Home improvement projects are important to families for both financial and lifestyle reasons. It is important that consumers know they are using a reliable, licensed, responsible contractor," said Undersecretary Anthony. "Consumers need to research local contractors, make sure they are licensed and have favorable recommendations, and create a contract that protects their interests throughout the project."

Consumers can obtain registration information about contractors and reach the Consumer Affairs hotline about any issue by calling (888) 283-3757.

Raymond DiCiaccio of Attleboro encountered issues with a contractor adding a second floor to his house. After starting much of the work, the contractor took an advance payment for materials and then did not return. DiCiaccio won $10,000 from the state Guaranty Fund to reimburse some of his lost costs.

"The project started off well, but after a while things weren't getting completed. We trusted the contractor to do the work and paid some money when we didn't have to, and then he abandoned us," DiCiaccio said. "We learned some lessons the hard way about sticking to contracts and making sure we didn't pay for things until they were done."

Patricia Gordon of Peabody discussed her issues in dealing with a used car she bought last year. Gordon could not get repairs done by the dealer, and eventually took the dealer to Lemon Law arbitration. Gordon won her case and was to receive a refund on the vehicle, but decided instead to keep the car and get repairs made.

Consumers can obtain registration information about contractors and reach the Consumer Affairs hotline about any issue by calling (888) 283-3757.

The top complaint category for the Attorney General's Office in 2009 was complaints against individuals or entities purportedly offering timeshare resale services. The hallmark of this scam is unsolicited offers, usually through telephone calls, to consumers to re-sell their timeshare. The perpetrators of this scam often claim they have already received an offer for the consumer's timeshare interest that reflects a price substantially more than actual market value. Scammers promise a quick sale and request the consumer sign a purchase and sale agreement and forward money to cover closing costs and fees associated with the transaction. In reality, there is no buyer and the transaction is just a scam to get the consumer to send the money.

In May of 2009, the Attorney General's Office issued an advisory warning consumers to beware of these scam artists and that if they did receive an unsolicited offer to resell their time-share, to fully look into the background of the person contacting them.

"In the past year, we have seen an uptick in scam artists seeking to take advantage of people who are struggling financially in this economy," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "In particular, our office has received numerous complaints about scams that take advantage of consumers who are attempting to sell their timeshare for extra money. We urge consumers to be aware that these scams are quite prevalent, and encourage them to carefully review any offer to sell a timeshare before getting involved."

The Attorney General Office's hotline number is (617) 727-8400.

BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts saw an increase in complaints in 2009, as well as an increase in requests for information. The top industry for complaints in 2009 was new car dealerships. Consumers faced many issues with this industry, led by problems with auto service and warranty fulfillment.

"Consumers encountered a number of issues in 2009, led by problems experienced when purchasing new automobiles," said Paula Fleming, BBB spokesperson. "Consumers need to check out these businesses prior to making a purchase. As we continue to build a better marketplace, the gap will only widen between businesses you can trust and those you can't."

Consumers can reach the BBB by calling (508) 652-4800.

The Federal Trade Commission annually tabulates the number of consumer calls received, creating state-by-state breakdowns of the complaints is receives. In 2009, Massachusetts consumers called the agency most often about identity theft, particularly credit card fraud, and phone and utility fraud.

"Although many parts of the economy slowed dramatically in the last year, fraud has not. To slow fraud down, consumers should check their credit card and bank statement every month for unauthorized charges and check any ad that offers 'free products' with a shipping fee very carefully," said Leonard Gordon, Northeast Regional Director of the FTC. "They should also not respond to any employment opportunity that requires a payment. Legitimate companies offering employment will not require you to pay money to work for them."
Consumers can obtain information about how to protect themselves from Identity Theft by going to the FTC website, www.ftc.gov. Complaints about consumer issues can be filed with the FTC by visiting https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

Here are the Top 5 consumer complaints for each of the four agencies attending today's press conference.


Office of Consumer Affairs
1. Home Improvement Contractors
2. Auto Insurance
3. Health Insurance
4. Lemon Law
5. Foreclosure assistance

Attorney General's Office
1. Time Share Resellers
2. Loan Modification Fee Schemes
3. Deceptive Advertising and Solicitations
4. Deceptive Lending Schemes
5. Fake Check Scams

Better Business Bureau
1. New Car Dealers
2. Retail Furniture Dealers
3. Collection Agencies
4. Used Car Dealers
5. Movers

Federal Trade Commission
1. Identity Theft
2. Third Party/Creditor Debt Collection
3. Foreign Money Orders/Check Scams
4. Internet Services
5. Shop-at-Home and Catalogue Sales

For more information on these issues and others, visit the agencies at the following websites:

Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (and on Twitter @Mass_Consumer)
Attorney General's Office (and on Twitter @MassAGO)
Federal Trade Commission
Better Business Bureau (and on Twitter @BostonBBB)