New technologies and devices can be a double-edged sword for consumers. These innovations can provide quick and easy access to products and markets, but can also make the buying public more vulnerable to scams and abuses.
And those abuses can come right into the consumers' homes, unbidden. A just-released annual survey of state and local consumer protection groups says ignored do-not-call laws and other telemarketing violations were among the top consumer complaints last year.
The poll, conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI), involved 40 organizations from 23 states, who answered questions about consumer complaints they had received over the past year.
Here are the top ten subjects of consumer complaints in 2013, as per the CFA/NACPI survey:
1. Auto: Bad repair work, disputes over towing and leasing, "lemon" cars, misleading advertising for new and used vehicles.
2. Home Improvement/Construction: Poor workmanship, inability to begin or finish the promised work.
3. Credit/Debt: Disputes over fees and billing, mortgage-related fraud and modifications, predatory lending practices, unfulfilled promises of credit repair and debt relief, abusing and/or illegal debt collection practices
4. Retail Sales: Deceptive practices, false advertising, shoddy merchandise, delivery problems, issues with gift certificates, rebates, coupons and gift cards
5. Services: Shoddy work, deceptive practices, failure to perform, lack of required licenses
6. Utilities: Disputes over bills or service from phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas companies
7. Landlord/Tenant: Deposit and rent issues, illegal eviction practices, failing to make promised repairs or supply promised amenities, unsafe and/or unhealthy conditions
8. (tie) Home Solicitations: "Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations"
8. (tie) Internet Sales: "Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases"
9. Health Products/Services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver
"Internet phone service, Caller ID spoofing software, prepaid cell phones that scammers buy anonymously and discard, auto-dialers and other technology make it easy and inexpensive for crooks to contact U.S. consumers from anywhere in the world," noted NACPI president Amber Capoun.
"Despite the national do-not-call registry, strict rules concerning robocalls, and other protections, unwanted and fraudulent phone calls are still plaguing American consumers," Susan Grant, CFA's director of consumer protection, said in a press statement.
While consumers can do more to protect themselves against such abuses, the CFA and NACPI also called on government agencies to step up their enforcement efforts -- especially when it comes to people from other countries who are using the new technologies to target U.S. consumers, while concealing their own identities and locations.
"Payment processors and others whose services crooks exploit should exercise due diligence and be alert for signs of fraud," said Grant. "If they knowingly facilitate telemarketing fraud, or willfully ignore it, they should be held responsible."