Shoddy installation of solar panels and leasing lemons vehicles are leading high on the list of complaints to state and local consumer protection agencies last year across the country, according to the annual consumer agency survey conducted by Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).
The report included complaints from 39 state and local consumer protection agencies from 23 states participated in the survey.
The survey asked about the most common complaints they received in 2016; the fast-growing complaints, the worst complaints, new trends in consumer problems and new laws that are needed to better protect consumers.
Complaints about solar energy sales were cited as a new consumer problem that could increase in the future as the green energy industry grows. Despite solar energy being environmentally friendly, and for consumers a sound economical choice, the complaints ranged from ranged from misleading sales practices to inferior installation of the equipment.
"Consumers should check out the company and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement before they sign on the dotted line for solar contracts," said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA.
Another new problem is used car leasing with little to no down payment where state lemon laws may not apply. Grant said the interest rates may be relatively high, however, and state lemon laws and other consumer protections may not apply to these transactions.
"Consumers who lease used cars may be stuck with lemons or be on the hook for costly repairs," Grant said.
In 2015, imposter scams were on the top ten complaints this year -- scams did not make the list but were still widespread, according to the survey.
"Imposter scams are still prevalent," said Amber Capoun, NACPI President and a Legal Assistant in the Office of the State Banking Commission in Kansas.
Some agencies reported a new trend in scammers requesting payment via store gift cards.
"Crooks are looking for ways to get cash fast and avoid being traced," NACPI President Capoun observed. "Gift cards should only be used to buy something for you or someone you know, not to send payments to strangers."
The top complaints were those most frequently cited by the agencies as the most common complaints they received last year:
1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.
2. Home Improvement/Construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.
3. Utilities: Installation issues, service problems, billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, internet, electric and gas service.
4. Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
5. Credit/Debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.
6. Health Products/Services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, medical billing issues.
7. Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.
8. Tie - Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics; household goods misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.
9. Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases.
10. Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations.
The CFA has joined other groups to better protect consumers by showing support for laws can that telephone companies should be required to do more to block illegal robocalls and other scam calls. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules which would allow phone companies to block calls in certain circumstances where the Caller ID appears to be spoofed.