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February 2003
The 2002 Top 10 Consumer Problems

2002 was a very busy year once again for the Wisconsin Division of Trade & Consumer Protection. Division investigators and consumer specialists handled nearly 16,000 written complaints from consumers and responded to more than 180,000 consumer contacts and inquiries by telephone, mail, or over the Internet.
There can be little doubt the primary consumer protection issue for 2002 was the state’s new “Do Not Call” telemarketer registry that I have previously written about in this column. An amazing 1 million Wisconsin households have registered to block telemarketing calls. The law took effect on January 1, 2003, and in the first week, more than 2,500 consumers called to complain that telemarketers were already violating the new law. Consumer protection officials, and indeed our new governor, promised quick enforcement action.
What were the top 10 consumer problems in 2002? Once again, complaints about telephone companies came in first. Consumers continue to be unhappy about unauthorized charges on their phone bills, misrepresented rates, and poor service. Coming in a not-so-close second were problems with landlords who failed to properly maintain their apartments or failed to return security deposits at the end of the lease. Coming in third were investment schemes—a rapidly increasing problem that was not in the top 10 as recently as 2000. Complaints against home improvement contractors not beginning or completing their work came in fourth followed by complaints about not receiving mail order items on time or in unacceptable condition.
Motor vehicle repair complaints came in sixth due to problems consumers said they experienced with repair shops recommending unnecessary repairs, followed by complaints against telemarketers making illegal calls before 8 a.m., after 9 p.m., or after the consumer already asked to be removed from the telemarketing list. Am I going far out on the limb by predicting that complaints against telemarketers will be the number one complaint in 2003?
The eighth highest complaint in 2002 was against Internet service providers (whom consumers said were unable to provide acceptable Internet service) followed by complaints about computers and software. Finally, the 10th highest-rated consumer complaint in 2002 was the unauthorized charging of consumer credit cards or billing problems with the credit card companies. This is the first time credit card companies have entered the top 10 and I expect they will be in the top 10 for some years to come.
I will break down some of the top 10 consumer problems in greater detail in future columns. Did you experience any of these problems in 2002?

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