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February 2005

No-Call Telemarketing Leads 2004 Top 10 Complaints

   Towards the end of every January, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection publishes its list of the top 10 consumer protection complaints for the prior year. The leading consumer complaint in 2004 was against telemarketers violating the Wisconsin “Do Not Call” law, a law that State Senator Jon Erpenbach and I initiated while I was serving as our state’s top consumer protection official. The state law began on January 1, 2003, and its popularity, along with the popularity of other state “do not call” laws, led to the federal government’s “do not call” list, signed into law on March 11, 2003.

   The Wisconsin law is stricter than the federal law. Unlike the federal law, for instance, the Wisconsin law does not allow a company to telemarket you just because you may have called them to ask a question or because you may have done business with an affiliated company. According to Consumer Protection Bureau Director Jim Rabbitt, the federal law allows telemarketers to place many more telemarketing calls to consumers than are allowed under state law. He added that the Consumer Bankers Association, an association of some of the nation’s largest bank holding companies, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to essentially block the stricter Wisconsin law. If you want to comment on the Bankers’ petition, go to http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/ecfs/Upload/. Once on that page, select the circle marked “Telephone Consumer Protection Act - Docket 02-278” and you will be brought to an online comment page.

   Telecommunications complaints are number two on the Top 10 list, with, cell phone coverage-area problems an rising concern due to the quickly increasing volume of calls.

   Complaints by tenants against landlords for failure to return security deposits or to make necessary repairs rank number three on the top 10 list, followed by complaints against home improvement companies for incomplete or poor-quality work. Travel and tourism complaints come in at number five due to a large number of complaints against timeshare operators. Investment schemes, including those via e-mail from Africa promising you millions if you help them transfer money into the U.S., are ranked six and have increased significantly since 2003.

   Motor vehicle repair complaints (often relating to unnecessary repairs) and complaints about motor vehicles are the seventh and eighth highest ranked complaints, followed by complaints about computers and mail order sales.

   During 2004, consumer protection officials returned just over $8 million to Wisconsin consumers and the state treasury through fines, penalties, and restitution. If you need help, contact Wisconsin Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128.

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