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Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2011

Retirement and assisted living rip-offs help put real estate category on the list

A $1,900 tombstone that was never delivered. Pricey phone services that customers never ordered, but were immediately billed for. An assisted living facility that refused to honor its promise to refund most of a $170,100 entry fee after a resident moved out.

Those are just some of the rip-offs victimizing older Americans that are highlighted in the Consumer Federation of America's 2011 annual report on the nation's top consumer complaints. About 290,000 complaints by citizens of all ages were filed to 38 consumer protection agencies in 22 states.

For the first time, time-share reseller scams and rip-offs by retirement and assisted living facilities propelled "real estate" into the top 10.

Trending upward among complaints that consumer agencies were hearing: Gripes about bedbugs in rental apartments, online penny auctions, gold-buying companies and offers for "free energy audits" that are really a ruse to market other types of home improvements.

The complete list:

1. Auto. Sales, leasing, repairs and towing disputes.

2. Credit/Debt. Billing and fee disputes, fraud related to mortgages, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending and abusive debt collection.

3. Home Improvement/Construction. Complaints of shoddy work and/or failure to start or complete the job.

Real Estate Fraud is one of the top ten consumer complaints - Collapsing house made of cards

Photo by C.J. Burton/Corbis

Real Estate fraud is one of the top ten consumer complaints.

4. Retail Sales. Complaints about false advertising; defective and non-delivered merchandise; and problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates.

5. Utilities. Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas providers.

6. Services. Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses or perform as promised.

7. (tie) Internet Sales. Misrepresentations, failure to deliver merchandise and other deceptive practices. Landlord/Tenant Issues. Failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal evictions and unhealthy or unsafe conditions.

8. Fraud. Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, offers of grants, fake check scams and the grandparent scam.

9. Real Estate. Time-share sales and resales, retirement communities and assisted living facilities, and real estate fraud.

10. (tie) Household Goods. Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances. Home Solicitations. Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.