Questionable auto leasing arrangements and deceptive practices targeted at Latinos have emerged as major new sources of consumer fraud complaints, according to a survey released Tuesday by consumer protection agencies.
Although auto lease and Spanish-language scams have not yet displaced the big three complaint generators - used car sales and repair, home improvement and construction, and telephone solicitation - they represent the fastest-growing problem areas, enforcement officials said.
“The Spanish-speaking component of our society has become easy prey solely because of a language difference,” said Joseph K. Goldberg, president of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrations, which conducted the survey in tandem with the Consumer Federation of America.
Stephen Brobeck, the federation’s executive director, added that auto leasing complaints doubled in the past year at the 17 local agencies that kept records.
The survey, the fifth issued by the two groups, asked 46 state and local consumer agencies to list the five subjects that generated the most complaints. The result: used car sales (in the top five of 79 percent of the agencies); auto repair (74 percent); home improvement and construction (71 percent); new car sales (58 percent), and marketing, including telemarketing and mail solicitation (45 percent).
Consumer fraud and deception are conservatively estimated to cost consumers billions of dollars annually according to the Consumer Federation.
Brobeck said the No. 1 complaint associated with auto leasing is that “consumers did not understand the complicated contract. Some consumers thought that they were purchasing an automobile. Others were unaware of substantial charges for early termination or excessive wear and tear.”
Almost one-third of all new cars are now leased rather than purchased.
Addressing the problem of consumer fraud directed at the Spanish-speaking populations, Goldberg said consumer agencies must make an extra effort to reach the Latino population.
Goldberg predicted that consumer agencies would see a rise in complaints related to the Internet, the newly deregulated public utility field and home improvement.