A list of the top ten consumer complaints for 2009 was just released a few days ago by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators. The three major consumer groups jointly conducted a survey of several state, county, and city consumer agencies from a number of states across America, including several from Massachusetts, like the Cambridge Consumers’ Council, the Cape Cod Consumer Assistance Council, and the MASS PIRG Consumer Action Center. The report, entitled 2009 Consumer Complaint Survey Report, was released on July 27, 2010.
Here’s a summary of what they found (it’s really the top 11, because #9 was a tie):
1. Auto: deceptive advertising or misrepresentation in selling or leasing cars, defective vehicles, or inadequate repairs.
2. Credit/Debt: problems with credit card companies, mortgage brokers, bill collectors, or debt relief agencies; predatory lending.
3. Home Improvement/Construction: not doing the contracted job properly, or not doing it at all.
4. Utilities: problems with electric or gas companies or cable, satellite, phone, or internet providers.
5. Retail Sales: deceptive advertising, defective merchandise, or problems with coupons, gift certificates, or rebates.
6. Services: poor performance, misrepresentation, or not being properly licensed.
7. Internet Sales: misrepresentation of products or prices, or nondelivery of merchandise.
8. Household Goods: misrepresentation of products or prices, nondelivery of merchandise, or inadequate repairs
9. (tie) Landlord/Tenant: improper eviction, violations of health or safety codes, refusal to repair, or disputes over rent or deposits.
9. (tie) Home Solicitations: misrepresentation of products or prices, or nondelivery of merchandise in TV or telephone, mail, or door-to-door solicitation; not honoring do-not-call list.
10. Health Products/Services: poor performance, misrepresentation, or not being properly licensed.
All of these reported ways to cheat consumers have one thing in common: they are easy to carry out because they rely on the consumer having no good way to fight them. Most ordinary people don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, and the stakes are too small compared to a lawyer’s fees. Here in Massachusetts, though, we have a powerful weapon against people and businesses that defraud consumers: the Consumer Protection Act. That law provides that consumers who are damaged by unfair or deceptive practices are entitled not only to get their damages back, but sometimes double or even triple their damages to punish the wrongdoer, as well as having all the costs of the suit and their attorney’s fees paid by the defendant. Often just a “Demand Letter” under this statute from a good consumer attorney leads to payment of the damages and attorneys fees without even filing suit.
The Consumer Complaint Survey Report lists six pages of tips about “How Consumers Can Protect Themselves,” which is worth reading. It can help you avoid losing your money in the first place. But if it is too late, and you are the victim of a deceptive or unfair consumer practice, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act can give you the power to fight back, and a good lawyer is not that hard to find.
Continue reading →