JEFFERSON CITY – Attorney General Chris Koster released the list of top 10 complaints reported to his Consumer Protection Hotline in 2014.
Attorney General Koster’s Consumer Protection Division processed more than 125,000 consumer complaints in 2014. The Division recovered or courts ordered more than $57 million for consumers in the form of refunds, restitution, and penalties from 102 filed lawsuits and more than 23,000 individual mediations.
Below are the top 10 complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office in 2014 (including the number of complaints received):
1. NO CALL & ILLEGAL TELEMARKETING COMPLAINTS (52,514) – The Missouri Attorney General received 52,514 complaints from consumers regarding no call violations and illegal telemarketing calls in 2014—an 8.5 percent drop from the prior year. Koster’s office aggressively pursued those who violated the No Call law, filing 20 lawsuits, collecting more than $270,000 in fines and penalties and obtaining court orders banning 28 telemarketers from making any further telemarketing calls into Missouri.
2. DEBT COLLECTORS (1,217) – Under Missouri law, debt collectors may not threaten or harass, call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., or continue to call after being asked in writing to stop. Most consumers who file complaints about debt collection reported receiving abusive, threatening, and repeated calls to collect an debt. Some consumers indicated they were being harassed for debts they didn’t even owe. In addition to filing complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, consumers can also file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which also enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. For additional information contact the FTC at www.consumer.ftc.gov.
3. MAIL AND PHONE SOLICITATIONS (1,208) – Many unwanted mail and phone solicitations are scams, often aimed at the elderly. A common scam is a solicitation that looks like an invoice or bill. Consumers should never give out personal information such as social security number, bank and credit information, or pay money to individuals you do not know in response to mail and phone solicitations.
4. FINANCIAL FRAUD (1,148) –Scam artists often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice consumers to send money, buy overpriced products or services, or contribute to bogus charities. Typically, scammers will ask the victim to pay fees by wire transfer or money order, which is difficult to get back even if the scammer is caught. Consumers should always be suspicious of cold calls claiming that, in order to collect a prize, fees or other personal information must be provided.
5. HOME REPAIR AND REMODELING (687) –Many complaints to the Attorney General’s Office involve storm chasers operating door-to-door, asking consumers to make up-front payments after damaging weather. After making payments, consumers receive no service, or shoddy or incomplete service. Other complaints involve asphalt driveway scams with similar outcomes. The Attorney General’s Office recommends consumers get multiple bids before signing a contract, check references, and never pay in-full until the work is completed.
6. CREDIT AND DEBIT CARD (686) –Complaints related to credit and debit cards often involved charges that the consumer never authorized or double-billing on the card or account after making a purchase. The Attorney General’s Office recommends that consumers be wary of authorizing direct debits from their bank accounts and not to provide bank account numbers over the phone. Using a credit card does provide some protection under federal law, granting consumers the right to challenge unauthorized charges, but this must generally be done in writing within 60 days of the charge appearing on the consumer’s monthly statement. Even so, consumers are encouraged to provide credit card information only to familiar merchants contacted by the consumer.
7. TELEPHONE CRAMMING AND BILLING (674) - Cramming happens when a consumer receives charges on phone bills for services not ordered; often the charges are by third parties. Consumers should thoroughly review their phone bills for unfamiliar charges. The Missouri Attorney General advises consumers who notice unwarranted charges to contact their carrier and request the charge be removed and a refund. In 2014, Koster obtained more than $300,000 in penalties and refunds from a national $105 million settlement with AT&T Mobility over allegations of cramming.
8. CABLE/SATELLITE SERVICES (598) – Complaints range from installations to billing disputes and package offerings. Interruptions in service for specific channels over carriage disputes are an increasing source of complaints. Consumers should be cautious when ordering a new service and should always read the fine print.
9. MORTGAGE/FORECLOSURE/LOAN MODIFICATIONS (561) – Distressed homeowners continue to file complaints concerning foreclosures and difficulties with the loan modification process. The Attorney General’s office works closely with banks and consumers in the foreclosure process to ensure homeowners are treated fairly. Beware of companies that advise homeowners to stop making payments, or to pay through the company rather than directly to the lender. Contact the Attorney General’s Office to verify if a loan modification program is legitimate before signing documents.
10. ENERGY AND UTILITY COMPLAINTS (552) –In 2014, the office worked closely with consumers who had complaints concerning energy supplies and costs, particularly for propane. Other complaints involved scam artists posing as representatives from a utility company and demanding immediate payment to avoid a service cut-off. Also beware of fake invoices that indicate a past due amount and calls from scammers asking for immediate payment over the phone. Consumers should check with their actual utility before paying over the phone on a call they did not initiate.
Koster reminds Missourians to contact his Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or file a complaint online at ago.mo.gov if they are the target of consumer fraud.