Complaints about auto sales, home improvements and car repairs top the list of consumer fraud in a new survey, but charges involving the Internet are among the fastest growing.
The National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America said Tuesday a survey of 42 state and local consumer agencies found complaints about new and used auto sales represented 20 percent of the 161,884 cases handled. Auto sales also were among the fastest growing complaints, averaging increases of 25 percent.
“Auto sales have been at the top of the list forever,” Joseph K. Goldberg, NACAA president and director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, told reporters at a news conference.
Complaints involving home improvement businesses accounted for 18 percent of the complaints, followed by auto repairs with 17 percent. Others at the top of the list involved retail sales, 11 percent; and mail orders and telemarketing, credit and debt collections, 5 percent each.
Although Internet complaints did not show as one of the top five complaint areas, the survey revealed the number of agencies handling such charges tripled from 1995 to 1996. Problems involved both service providers and sales.
“We expect the problem to continue to grow as the Internet continues to grow,” Goldberg said.
While total fraud accusations increased by 31 percent in 1996, consumer agency budgets fell 2 percent, meaning more consumer complaints are going unchecked, Goldberg said.
Goldberg said businesses that deceive or defraud consumers and then go out of business, often changing their names and reopening later, represent the greatest challenge faced by state and local consumer agencies.
“Buy only from reputable businesses who have effectively served people you know or who have been rated highly by independent agencies,” urged Stephen Brobeck, consumer federation executive director. “It is especially important not to buy from telemarketers unless you’ve checked them out.”