The Consumer Federation of America (www.consumerfed.org) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (www.nacpi.org) have released the top consumer complaints of 2011. The list was compiled from information collected from 38 state and local consumer protection agencies across the United States. The top consumer complaints are:
1. Automobile: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, and leasing and towing disputes.
2. Credit/Debit: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection practices.
3. Home Improvement/Construction: Substandard work, failure to start or complete the job.
4. Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, and failure to deliver the items purchased.
5. Utilities: Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, internet, electric, and gas service.
6. Services: Misrepresentations, poor workmanship, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform or complete the job.
7. Internet Sales and Landlord-Tenant Sales: With respect to internet sales, misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, and failure to deliver online purchases; in the context of landlord-tenant issues, unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposits and rent disputes, and illegal eviction tactics.
8. Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, and other common frauds.
9. Real Estate: Timeshare sales and re-sales, retirement communities and assisted living facilities, and real estate fraud generally.
10. Household Goods and Home Solicitations: In the context of the sale or repair of household goods, misrepresentations, failure to deliver the promised goods or services, faulty repairs in connection with appliances or furniture; in connection with home solicitations, misrepresentations or failure to deliver the promised goods or services in door-to-door, telemarketing, or mail solicitations, and do-not-call violations.
The top two complaints, relating to automobile sales, leasing, and repairs, and credit and debit services, are old standbys on the top ten list, while complaints regarding real estate fraud made their first appearance in the top ten. A new type of complaint involves timeshare reselling. A company charges a fee to resell a timeshare, but then keeps the fee without selling the timeshare. To add insult to injury, companies have sprung up that offer to recover such fees from the timeshare resellers but fail to do so, again pocketing the fee collected from the consumer.
Many of the schemes listed above are the products of individual scammers or fly-by-night entities that are extremely difficult to trace. Even if found, these crooks often have little or no meaningful assets to recover for the benefit of their victims. In some instances, however, such schemes are carried out by well-established business entities. Such cases may be appropriate for a civil lawsuit on behalf of an individual victim or a class of victims.
Class action treatment is often appropriate where the widespread scheme employs a fairly common method to claim a large number of victims, especially in situations where the monetary damages would be too small to provide any incentive for an individual victim to file suit. Classes can encompass as few as 30 victims, or many thousands. As one court has noted, “Class actions are often the most suitable method for resolving suits to enforce compliance with consumer protection laws because the awards in an individual case are usually too small to encourage the lone consumer to file suit.” Carr v. Trans Union Corp., 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 567 (E.D. Pa. 1995).
Lawyers in our firm investigate and pursue class action claims in state and federal courts across the United States and its territories. If you are a victim of consumer fraud, or you, as a lawyer, represent a victim of consumer fraud, you can contact Michelle Fulmer, Section Head Administrator in our Consumer Fraud Section, at 800-898-2034 or Michelle.Fulmer@beasleyallen.com to discuss whether you may have a potential class action case. Michelle will have a lawyer in our Consumer Fraud section contact you.
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