The Consumer Federation of America has released its annual report summarizing the complaints made by consumers with state and local officials, and while it does mention debt collections, the real value is in reading some of the crazy things that businesses do to try and take advantage of individuals.
The 38 agencies that provided complaint information handled more than 900,000 complaints in 2017, according to the report. The most common complaint was related to automobiles — including repairs, buying, selling, and financing — and home improvements. The types of complaints received and handled by these organizations provide an interesting resource to companies in the collections industry. There are many benefits to knowing the types of scams that consumers are facing and how other industries attempt to get one over on individuals. For example, phony utility collections and medical billing disputes were cited as new problems faced by consumers in 2017. Here is a snapshot of some of the complaints included in the report:
The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection received a novel complaint last year from a couple who, while on a cruise, visited a jewelry shop the cruise line had recommended to them at a port of call. They were warmly greeted and plied with free island cocktails as they perused the merchandise. The clerk offered to clean the wife’s jewelry as a complimentary service, and the drinks continued to flow. By now thoroughly intoxicated and under pressure to return to the boat before it set sail, the couple bought a ring for $16,400. The clerk assured them if they did not like the ring they could return it at their next stop, where the business had another store. The next day, under the light of sobriety, they realized the ring was of poor quality and when they got to the next stop they went to the store to ask for a refund. The store refused, citing a restrictive return policy that had not been disclosed to them. Once back in New York, the couple filed a complaint, but since the transaction had occurred in a foreign country, which did not have a law concerning returns, there was nothing the agency could do to help them.
In one case, a woman left her 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser at a garage in June of 2016 to fix a malfunctioning power window. Weeks went by and the shop owner had all sorts of excuses for the delay in getting the job done – he couldn’t find the right parts, the vehicle wouldn’t start, the keys were misplaced. Then the shop flooded on September 30th and the vehicle took on several inches of water. The woman was assured that the car was fine and the parts were coming, but time continued to pass. She filed a complaint, and the agency called the shop owner repeatedly. His response was always that the parts were on back order. In May 2017, however, the woman discovered that the shop owner was selling parts off of her vehicle to replace parts on other cars because there were no parts available for 2005 PT Cruisers. Confronted with this information, the shop owner agreed to pay the woman the value of the car, $2,125, plus the $751 she spent for insurance while it was in the shop.
A man’s phone and internet was knocked out when Verizon accidentally cut the line while working on a neighbor’s system. Not only was he unable to make or receive any phone calls, but he had to temporarily close his home business because he had no internet service. He called Verizon for twelve days straight but no one showed up to fix the line. In despair, he complained to the New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection. The agency contacted the company’s Customer Service Escalation Team and was able to get his line repaired within 24 hours.
A woman contacted the Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services about a call that she’d received from the electric company saying that her bill was overdue and her service would be disconnected if she didn’t pay it right away. Since the woman had already paid the bill, on time, she wanted to complain about the company’s poor recordkeeping. But when the agency investigated, it found that the company doesn’t make calls on Saturdays, when this occurred, or from the number that it came from. It was probably the variation of imposter scams in which callers pretend to be from a utility company and try to scare people into sending money to avoid termination.