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March 2006

No Call and Phone Company Complaints
Lead ’05 Top 10 Complaint List

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection’s Top 10 Consumer Complaint List for 2005 shows complaints about violations of the “Do Not Call” telemarketing law leading the list for the second straight year, followed by complaints against telephone companies, landlords, investment schemes, and home improvement contractors. Also making the list were complaints about gas prices, motor vehicle repair, Internet service providers, health and medical services, and motor vehicle sales.

Consumer Protection officials point out the state has taken 46 enforcement actions against telemarketing companies since 2003 for violating the “Do Not Call” law and are preparing to give telephone companies a much closer look in 2006. Consumer Protection Bureau Director Jim Rabbitt told me in mid-February, “Some of the large Wisconsin telephone companies appear to think that Consumer Protection is the second stop in customer service for their companies,” adding, “For some companies, a pattern of billing errors is clear based on complaints.” He then noted, “The telephone companies must know that consumers typically complain only when the billing amount in dispute exceeds $10.” Therefore, he wondered aloud, “How many telephone companies mis-bill consumers for amounts under $10?” Rabbitt noted that he has not seen similar problems with the state’s 11 telephone cooperatives.

Gas pricing and health services complaints joined the Top 10 list for the first time and investment complaints continued to quickly climb up the list. You are probably not surprised that your fellow consumers are upset about gas prices. No doubt this consumer rebellion of sorts led to Governor Doyle’s well-publicized assault on record oil company profits this past year. I also expect health services complaints will continue to grow as more con artists attempt to market fictitious health care plans to consumers by e-mail or on signs next to the highway. I am not surprised investment complaints continue to climb. We are known nationally as a “victim state” because we tend to trust strangers promoting “business opportunities” through infomercials or by e-mail.

Wisconsin consumers filed 14,172 written complaints with Consumer Protection and an additional 170,440 sought help over the phone or through the Internet. Consumer Protection returned $5,430,774 to the state treasury and consumers in 2005 through fines, forfeitures, mediated consumer refunds, and restitution. This compares to the $2.7 million the program costs state taxpayers.

I will continue to write more about the state’s top consumer complaints in future editions of WECN Magazine. Until then, you may contact Wisconsin Consumer Protection toll free at 1-800-422-7128 or through its website at www.datcp.state.wi.us.

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