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March 2007

2006 Top Ten Consumer Complaints

The Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection released its Top 10 List of consumer complaints for 2006. More than 364,000 Wisconsin consumers contacted the state agency for help during the year and more than 14,000 consumers sent written complaints to Consumer Protection. The agency returned more than $15 million to the Wisconsin treasury and consumers through fines, forfeitures, and restitution, greatly exceeding its $2.4 million annual budget.

Leading the list for the third straight year were complaints about alleged telemarketer violations of the Telemarketing Do-Not-Call Law, followed by telecommunications service and billing complaints, landlord/tenant failure to repair or billing complaints, home-improvement billing or poor workmanship complaints, and complaints about fraudulent investment schemes. Rounding out the sixth to tenth places on the list were complaints about unnecessary motor vehicle repair and billing, unauthorized credit card billing, deceptive or misleading motor vehicle sales, defective computers and warranties, and unsatisfactory mail order delivery.

You may be interested to know that there are 772 telephone solicitors registered with the state and 1,083,630 telephone numbers on the Wisconsin Do-Not-Call List. An additional 949,052 Wisconsin telephone numbers are registered on the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do-Not-Call List.

Investigations

Among some of the investigations brought by Consumer Protection, eight people were arrested and charged under the Wisconsin Organized Crime Act for fraudulent charitable fundraising operations conducted out of several telemarketing “boiler rooms” in the state. Next, the agency settled an $8.6 million case with U.S. Cellular where the company was required to apologize and waive fees and charges to customers charged with a “substantial monthly non-compliance fee” if the customer did not purchase an “E911 compliant PS capable phone.” The business practices of a Southern Wisconsin residential living facility were also investigated, resulting in the return of more than $75,000 in security deposits to former tenants. Finally, Consumer Protection worked with the Department of Health and Family Services to charge a home improvement contractor for performing lead abatement without a license.

Referrals down, ID protection up

Unfortunately, because of recent significant budget and staffing cuts, the agency’s ability to investigate consumer law violations has decreased sharply over the past several years. The number of cases referred to prosecutors has fallen from 147 in 2002 to 63 in 2006. However, Consumer Protection was able to open the Office of Privacy Protection with new state funding provided by Governor Jim Doyle. The office, as previously reported in the WECN Magazine, is a joint effort with the Department of Financial Institutions to help consumers combat identity theft.

Consumer Protection Weights and Measures and Consumer Product Safety staff inspected more than 197,000 stores and gas stations during the year. As I reported last month, Copps, Elder-Beerman, and Sherwin-Williams and Mautz Paint Stores all paid large penalties to the state for price scanner or weigh scale error violations.

If you need help resolving an issue with a company, you should consider contacting the Division of Trade & Consumer Protection at its toll free 1-800-422-7128 telephone number or on the Internet at: www.datcp.state.wi.us/core/consumerprotection/consumerprotection.jsp. According to a consumer survey conducted by the federal government, the state Consumer Protection agency saved the average consumer calling its toll-free hotline nearly $725. The service is free and could save you a lot of money and frustration.

Copyright ©2006 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News
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