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Auto, home improvement and construction, and retail sales issues were the top three categories of consumer complaints nationwide for 2018, according to a recent report from the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, which compiles information from 35 state and local agencies.
Consumers made 1.1 million complaints in 2018 to the agencies, which recovered or saved consumers $106.8 million.
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While there are no statistics about those 50 and older, there are numerous examples of their complaints in the report:
- An elderly Arkansas man who was coerced, according to the report, into signing a financial contract for a new $50,000 vehicle, traded in his old car though he could not afford the new one. He complained to the Arkansas Attorney General's Office and got results: The AG's office persuaded the dealer to release the purchaser from the contract and return his old car to him.
- A Maryland woman paid a $232,570 “entrance fee” when she moved into a senior living facility with a promise of certain amenities. When the facility reneged on its promises, she moved out. Because she didn't follow the rules for terminating her agreement, the facility told her she would have to wait until someone else moved into her unit to get her money back. With the help of the Howard County (Maryland) Office of Consumer Protection, she got a full refund.
- A retired couple in Pinellas County, Fla., whose only income is Social Security, bought solar panels from a salesperson who told them that the panels would not only produce enough energy to cover their needs but said the excess energy would be purchased by their electric company, providing $30 to $40 in income every month. “They were misled and saddled with a financial burden they couldn't handle,” the report says. They wanted to cancel, but the cancellation period had expired. Pinellas County Consumer Protection negotiated with the solar company to remove the panels and repair the roof. The finance company released them from the financial agreement; the salesman had failed to provide them with a copy of the contract or notice of their right to cancel.
Agencies at the state and local level ensure that consumers are treated fairly, the report says. “Most federal agencies don't attempt to mediate individual complaints,” says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the CFA. Consumers should “contact a local or state consumer protection agency to see if they can help resolve their individual problem or refer them to another agency."