Do Not Call” Complaints Lead Consumer
Protection’s Top 10
Capturing the dubious honor of
first place in the Wisconsin’s Bureau of Consumer Protection’s
roster of the top 10 consumer protection issues for 2003 were
complaints against telemarketers for violating the state’s
new “Do Not Call” law—representing almost
30 percent of total complaints received.
Coming in second were billing
complaints against telecommunications companies, which had topped
the list the previous two years. Moving up fast to number three
were other complaints against telemarketers. Landlord complaints
came in fourth (they ranked second in 2001 and 2002), and grabbing
fifth place were fraud and billing complaints against travel
companies, which in 2001–02 did not make the top 10.
In sixth place were complaints
against home-improvement contractors (fourth in 2002). Internet
auction sales shot up into seventh place. Finally, sitting in
eighth through tenth place were complaints about fraudulent
business investment schemes, unnecessary motor vehicle repair,
and credit card billing disputes.
MCI Leads List.
The top five companies consumers complained about in 2003 were:
MCI Communications (telemarketing and telecommunications billing);
Direct Reservation Center of Florida (travel billing); AT&T
(telecommunications billing); Alyon Technologies of Norcross,
Georgia (Internet pornography billing); and SBC Communications
Few Complaints Against
Co-ops. Consumer Protection Administrator Jim Rabbitt
reports that of the total 18,472 consumer complaints filed in
2003, fewer than 25 were against cooperatives. With more than
860 cooperatives doing business in Wisconsin and their membership
at more than 2.5 million, this is an impressive record.
Penalty Revenue Down, But So Is
Bureau Staffing. The state collected just over $5.2 million
in fines, penalties, and restitution in 2003, significantly
lower than the average $10.7 million collected in 1998–2002.
At the same time, according to consumer protection officials,
investigator and specialist staffing has been reduced 30 percent
and the program’s overall budget has been cut 40 percent
from the prior year. Reduced staffing makes it more difficult
for consumers to get individual assistance, and diminished financial
resources hamper state efforts to put together effective consumer
protection investigations and court cases. It’s unfortunate
my prediction came true: When substantial cuts get made to the
consumer protection program, Wisconsin consumers and the state
treasury end up losing more than could have been “saved.”
Hopefully, 2004 will not bring a similar result.