6. Impostor scams. Scammers pretend to be with a government agency or related to the consumer in order to lure them into a scam such as a foreign lottery or a prize/sweepstakes offer. If you didn't catch it the first time: THERE IS STILL NO MONEY FOR YOU IN NIGERIA!
5. Shop-at-home and catalog sales. Consumers reported various problems, such as undisclosed costs, failure to deliver on time, nondelivery, and refusal to honor guarantees. Many of these situations could be avoided with a little online research. Shop somewhere else if you find more than two unresolved complaints with the Better Business Bureau or below a 90 percent rating on Amazon, Yelp! or Bizrate. RipOffReport.com is also a good place to check.
4. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. In this category, the FTC includes "promotions for 'free' prizes for a fee; foreign lotteries and sweepstakes offered through the phone, fax, email or mail; etc." Are you beginning to see a pattern here? This is the third category dealing with what are basically get-something-for-nothing scams. The abbreviation TANSTAAFL first appeared in the 1930s. It stands for "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch." It's as true today as it was then.
3. Internet services. Problems with Internet service providers (ISPs) involve trial offers, account issues, undisclosed charges, spyware, adware, malware and social networking services. In our experience, the biggest problem for consumers dealing with Internet companies is that there is often no storefront or place to go to complain in person. Always, always, always pay with a credit card from a bank with which you have a great customer relationship, so that the bank will be more likely to believe you than the vendor.
2. Debt collection. Consumers reported debt collectors for all kinds of illegal and unethical behavior, including calling continually, misrepresenting the amount or status of debt, failure to send written notice, and even profane language. Kicking a guy when he's down is unkind and, in many cases, illegal. If you're being harassed, get familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and quote it next time you're called. You'll sleep better at night.
And, the most reported consumer complaint to the FTC is (drum roll please):
1. Identity theft. The FTC describes this as "when someone appropriates your personal identifying information (like your Social Security number or credit card account number) to commit fraud or theft. Hey, wait a minute! How is this a consumer problem? After all, identity theft is really your financial institution giving general funds to the wrong person but deducting it from your account. That person might be claiming to be you, but isn't "giving money to the right person" a bank's basic job description? If they can't do that, what good are they? And why does it become your problem to fix if the bank doesn't have a method to make sure they give your money to you? I advise keeping track of all expenses incurred as a result of any "identity theft" incident and demanding compensation from the failing institution. By the way, the FTC reported that your financial institution is more likely to give your money to the wrong person if you live in Florida, Arizona or California.
Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid for.
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