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May 2009

Top 10 Complaints for 2008

The Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection just released its “Top 10” list of consumer complaints for 2008. Leading the list are complaints about telemarketers violating the state’s “Do Not Call” law. Unfortunately, “Do Not Call” complaints have led the Top 10 list since 2003, the date the law came into effect. Recently more than 500,000 cell phone numbers have joined the more than 1.1 million telephone numbers on the list.

Occupying the dubious honor of runners-up are complaints by tenants against landlords, followed closely by telecommunications complaints. According to Consumer Protection Bureau staff, tenants are unhappy about withheld security deposits and impermissible lease provisions. Consumers are complaining about telecommunications companies because of incorrect charges on the phone bill.

Home improvement complaints and complaints against satellite television companies came in at number four and number five, respectively. Home improvement complaints have long been in the top five and, with more homeowners remodeling rather than building new dwellings during this economic recession, will probably remain in the top five for 2009. Satellite television moved into the top five for the first time because subscribers are unhappy about incorrect bills and cost misrepresentations.

Coming in at the sixth are complaints about Internet service providers. Here too, consumers are concerned about incorrect bills and cost misrepresentations. Credit cards are the seventh highest rated complaint in 2008. Cardholders are unhappy about increasing interest rates, shortened billing periods, other new provisions favoring credit card companies over consumers, and identity theft.

Rising to eighth, and the first time in the Top 10, are complaints against oil companies. According to the bureau, citizens complained about high gas prices, differences between the posted price and the price at the gas pump, and short delivery of fuel. Scoring a ninth-place finish were complaints about motor vehicle repair. This too is not a surprise since more people are repairing their automobiles these days rather than buying new cars. Here, consumers chiefly complained about expensive unnecessary repairs being made.

Rounding out the Top 10 list were complaints about travel companies going out of business after the consumer had already paid for the trip.

Remember, you may call Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128 if you have similar problems in 2009.  


Governor’s Budget Proposes Major Cuts to Consumer Protection

Wisconsin is certainly in a tough financial position with a projected budget deficit nearing $5.9 billion. Governor Doyle and the Legislature have difficult work to do to eliminate the deficit as required by the Wisconsin Constitution. However, not all proposed cuts are equal and the proposed elimination of 10 Consumer Protection Bureau positions, out of the present staff of 39, would hurt the state and its consumers far more than the cut would help eliminate the deficit. Overall, the program costs the state about $2.35 million per year. In 2008, the program returned nearly $2.1 million to the state in fines and forfeitures, nearly $2.3 million in mediated refunds to consumers, and $181,504 in court-ordered restitution to citizens.

This $4.5 million return on the state’s $2.34 million investment is impressive even though recoveries are down significantly from earlier this decade when Consumer Protection had more investigators and consumer specialists. Call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-362-9472 if you think this cut is wrong for our state.

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