Attorney General's News Release
January 31, 2012
AG Koster announces top ten scams for 2011 -- No-Call violations lead consumer complaints
Jefferson City, Mo. -– Attorney General Chris Koster has released a list of the top ten most common consumer complaints and scams reported to his office in 2011.
Violations of Missouri’s No-Call Law topped the annual list with more than 22,000 complaints, more than twice the number of all other complaints combined. Many of those complaints involved calls to cell phones, which are not currently covered by the law. “I have asked the Missouri General Assembly to allow consumers to add their cell phone numbers to the no-call list,” Koster said. “Missourians deserve their privacy. Our No-Call law has been incredibly successful in preventing unwanted calls going into consumers’ homes. Now it is time to take the next step and extend that privacy to cell phones.”
Complaints about debt collectors came in second this year. “Federal laws limit how far debt collectors can go to pursue debt,” Koster said. “Your best protection against harassing and abusive calls from debt collectors is to know your rights. The Federal Trade Commission provides a debt collection guide for Consumers on their website.” The FTC Consumer Guide is available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm.
Koster encourages all consumers to file their complaints with his office so that he can investigate scams, mediate complaints when possible, and take legal action when necessary to protect Missouri citizens. Consumers can register complaints by telephone at 800-392-8222, online at http://www.ago.mo.gov/, or by mail at P.O. Box 899, Jefferson City, MO 65102.
Below are the top ten scams reported to the Attorney General’s Office in 2011:
- NO-CALL COMPLAINTS (22,225 complaints) – On average, consumers file approximately 89 complaints against telemarketers each working day. Koster warns consumers to be wary of giving any financial information over the telephone and to do so only when the consumer initiates the call.
- DEBT COLLECTORS (1873 complaints) – The Attorney General’s Office experienced an increase in the number of complaints filed against debt collectors in the last year. Many consumers indicate they are being harassed for debts they may not even owe. Others claim the debt collection agencies are abusive, threatening, and include repeated calls when attempting to collect a debt. Koster encourages consumers to be aware of their rights and to file complaints with his office if they believe they are being illegally harassed by debt collectors.
- TELEPHONE CRAMMING and BILLING (1281 complaints) – “Cramming” is when a consumer receives a charge on his phone bill for services he did not order. Consumers should thoroughly review their telephone bill each month for evidence of cramming, which can include charges as small as $1 or $2. The Attorney General’s Office also received many complaints regarding unauthorized fees from third parties on their telephone bills. Koster advises consumers who notice unwarranted charges to contact their carrier and request that the charge be removed and a refund issued.
- CREDIT AND DEBIT CARD (1126 complaints) – A fourth major category of complaints by consumers in 2011 was unauthorized charges on credit and debit cards. Scams such as these can occur by telephone, email, or text messaging. The Attorney General recommends that consumers never authorize direct bank account debits or reveal their bank account number over the phone. Federal law grants consumers the right to challenge some unauthorized charges, but the challenge must be made in writing within 60 days of the charge appearing on the consumer’s monthly statement. Koster encourages consumers to provide credit card information only to familiar merchants and only when the consumer initiates the call.
- HOME REPAIR AND REMODELING (926 complaints) – Complaints against home improvements/home repair contractors are common every year. The typical scammer will go door-to-door asking for money up front from vulnerable consumers, often offering discounts for “left-over” product. Common door-to-door schemes involve driveway asphalting, roof and chimney repairs, and remodeling work inside the home. The scam artists are often not licensed with the local municipality, are not from the area, do not provide a detailed contract, and usually demand cash payments. Consumers are advised to do business with local, reputable businesses; to require identification of the supervisor and a written estimate of all proposed work and final price; and, finally, to consult with a trusted friend or family member before authorizing any work.
- MORTGAGE/FORECLOSURE/LOAN MODIFICATIONS (862 complaints) – Many struggling homeowners have filed complaints concerning foreclosure on their homes and the loan modification process. Common complaints include relentless requests for paperwork already provided by the borrower. The Attorney General’s Office has also received complaints from consumers who actually get temporary loan modifications but fail to get permanent solutions.
- CABLE/SATELLITE SERVICES (762 complaints) – Many consumer filed complaints that cable and satellite companies lured them into contracts over the telephone with low promotional price quotes and then charged them three times as much as their monthly bills because of additional services that were not disclosed over the phone. Consumers also frequently complained about termination fees that were not clearly disclosed when the service was purchased.
- LOTTERIES AND SWEEPSTAKES (751 complaints) – “Congratulations, you have just won $10,000!” The Missouri Attorney General warns consumers to be leery of telephone calls, emails, or letters with statements like this. 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. Fake foreign lottery promotions are the most common of these scams nationwide. Koster warns consumers never to pay to collect their winnings.
- AUTOMOBILE REPAIR (604 complaints) – While most repair shops are honest, it is very easy for an unethical mechanic to convince the average person, who does not know much about his or her car, that unnecessary repairs are needed. People often have no idea that they have been ripped off. The Attorney General advises consumers to get a written estimate before repairs are made, to have repairs made by a certified mechanic who honors the existing warranty, and make sure repairs are guaranteed.
- BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY SCAMS (556 complaints) – Lured by deceptive promises of easy income, many would-be entrepreneurs jump into the arms of con artists who claim “we are not just selling you a business, we put you IN business.” The Attorney General warns consumers that these types of scams can inflict major economic hardship. When promises of profits seem exceptionally attractive or when there is a hard sell to sign up immediately or risk losing the opportunity, the consumer should meticulously research the company and individuals involved before investing.