Besides a volatile U.S. economy and an unpredictable stock market, consumers now face an increasing number of other ways that they may be parted from their money, according to a new survey.
Fraud and debt collection abuses ranked among the fastest growing consumer complaints made to state and local protection agencies last year, according to a survey released today by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.
Consumer protection agencies estimated the combined dollar value of money lost through consumer scams and schemes last year at $1.5 billion.
Also cited in the list of fast-growing consumer crimes for 2011: "Do Not Call" violations, mortgage-related problems, and home improvement fraud.
The complaints most often cited as the worst last year involved mortgage related problems, home improvement, timeshare sales and re-sales, Internet sales, and fraud. Some agencies also reported that scammers are using prepaid card products to steal money from consumers.
Thirty-eight agencies from across the U.S. provided information about the complaints they received in 2011. The 37 agencies that provided complaint numbers received a total of 289,732 complaints last year.
"State and local agencies are essential components of the consumer protection system in the United States," said Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection at CFA. "Their services save consumers and businesses money, relieve the burden on courts, foster confidence in government, keep the public safe, and help ensure fairness in the marketplace."
Problems involving cars, credit and home repair and construction once again topped the list of complaints made to consumer protection agencies. Like last year, complaints about credit and debt were second only to auto-related complaints in the top 10.
New to the list were real estate problems related to timeshare sales and re-sales, and retirement communities and assisted living facilities.
Consumer also complained about bedbugs in apartments, penny auctions on the Internet and gold-buying companies, according to the survey.
Consumer advocates noted that resolving consumer complaints has become more difficult because U.S. consumers are increasingly buying from foreign businesses over the Internet.