Top 10 Consumer Complaints and Tips on Keeping Yourself Safe

By Mitch Lipka, dealnews contributor

Last week, some of the nation's biggest consumer protection and advocacy groups released a list of the top 10 consumer complaints for 2010, and there's some good news for online shoppers — only two even apply to people who buy online. That said, problems resulting from online sales rose to the sixth most complained about category, up from number seven last year.

Consumer advocates promote the idea that knowledge is the best tool for consumers, and releasing lists like this can help them learn how unsavory businesses might take advantage of them. For example, the biggest problem in the online space was consumer deception, or the misrepresentation of items for sale, typically those sold in auctions and second-hand. And that can largely be avoided by dealing with reputable retailers, or by shopping through dealnews, since the site is strict about what vendors it lists. (Click to read the dealnews editorial guarantee.)

So let's learn from the frustration of others! Here are the top complaint categories — the terrible 10, if you will — based on data from more than 250,000 surveys. (Remember, these are broad strokes; be sure to check the original document for finer details.)

  1. Autos: This includes anything from deception in the sales process to disputes over leases or towing.
  2. Credit and debt: Mortgage fraud, credit repair, debt relief, and all issues about billing and fees connected to debt.
  3. Home improvement and construction: Anything from poor work to a contractor pocketing money without showing up is included in this category.Retail Sales: Tied for third, this is another broad category with issues ranging from deceptive advertising and policies to disputes over rebates and gift certificates and failure to provide the product.
  4. Utilities: Disputes and issues of all forms involving phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric, and gas service providers.
  5. Services: Companies the don't properly provide a wide array of contracted services or don't have the proper licenses to do it.
  6. Internet sales: Any problem with online purchases, including failure to deliver the product or deceiving consumers.
  7. Household goods: Issues over delivering or repairing furniture or appliances.
  8. Landlord-tenant disputes: This covers anything from poor living conditions to disagreements over rent and lease terms.
  9. Fraud: This "up-and-coming" category is new to the top 10 and includes phony sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, and scams of all sorts.
  10. Home Solicitations: While this category dropped a ranking since last year, consumers are still complaining about telemarketing and mail solicitations, do-no-call violations, and more.

Tips To Protect Yourself

The same consumer groups that assembled the report above also put together a list of tips so that shoppers can protect themselves and avoid looking like that angry shopper pictured above. Some choice excerpts:

  • Check the track record of anyone you're going to do business with.
  • Always pay with a credit card since you can dispute charges if there's a problem, and you're protected from fraud.
  • Use gift cards, gift certificates, and coupons promptly. Companies make a lot of money from unused gift cards. Don't let them pocket yours.
  • Recognize signs of fraud, including requests to wire money, pressure to buy something right away, promises of loans or winnings involving you paying a fee first, or requests for your personal information that come unexpectedly.

Got a complaint yourself? Consult this guide for ways to get help and sound off.

Mitch Lipka is an investigative journalist for consumer issues who formerly wrote for, Consumer Reports, thePhiladelphia Inquirer and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel,among other places. Follow him on Twitter — @mitchlipka or on Facebook. You can also sign up for an e-mail alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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