In case you were wondering what fellow consumers were complaining about last year, here are the top five areas that irked Americans in 2011, according to a list just released by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators:
Car related issues. They are traditionally at the top of the list and they topped this list. Among other things, people are unhappy about misleading ads, problems getting vehicles fixed, and disputes over leases and towing.
Credit and debt. Consumers complained about problems with billing, shady credit repair and debt relief operations, abusive debt collectors, and predatory lenders.
Construction and home improvement. Consumers complained about contractors whose workmanship was poor or who failed to either start a job or finish it.
Shopping. It may be therapy for some, but it was a royal pain for a lot of consumers who complained about deceptive ads and difficulties with rebates, coupons, and gift cards.
Utilities. Who doesn’t get mad at these guys? Whether telephone, cable, Internet, gas or electric, problems with service and bills ensured this group would be high on the list.
Other issues that made the list included online purchases, disputes with landlords, scams, real estate-related issues (from timeshares to home sales), and problems with movers. The fastest growing complaint categories: violations of the Do Not Call list, debt collection, and home improvement.
In many of these problem areas, consumers could have avoided headaches by doing a better job of helping themselves. Being sure you’re dealing with a registered contractor, for instance, and researching the reputation of a business (before you use it) can go a long way toward heading off complaints. There is an abundance of options when it comes to checking out a business, from asking around to online reviews to state and local consumer agencies to the Better Business Bureau.
But some problems will still find you. It might be an issue with a gift card or a poorly trained customer service rep who won’t accept your return. In those situations, you can join the army of complaining consumers. Remember, a well-executed complaint can right a wrong.
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About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com