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July 2010

Do Not Call Violations Once Again Lead
Consumer Protection Top 10 Complaint List

The Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection has released its Top 10 Consumer Complaint List for 2009. Leading the list for the third straight year are consumer complaints about telemarketers violating the state’s “Do-Not-Call” law. Your calls and letters make clear that many of you are seriously annoyed when telemarketers call you, particularly if you are on that list.

Coming in at #2 are complaints against landlords for violations of the state’s landlord/tenant code that works to ensure fair treatment of tenants by landlords.

Telecommunications comes in at #3 followed closely by complaints against satellite dish companies. Satellite dish complaints have increased dramatically over the past three years and weren’t even in the Top 10 List as recently as 2007. Billing disputes and misleading advertising tend to be the primary areas of complaint against both telecommunications and satellite dish companies.

Home improvement complaints continue to rank high, coming in at #5. These complaints tend to focus on the contractor either not performing the work where payment has been made or for “poor workmanship.”

Motor vehicle sales complaints come in at #6 and are increasing rapidly. Many of these complaints are made against dealers and are mediated by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. However, a number of the complaints involve sales over the Internet where the “buyer” scams the seller by sending a cashier’s check that turns out to be false.

Coming in at a consistent #7 are credit card complaints followed by motor vehicle repair. The credit card complaints often are about disputed interest charges or unauthorized charges. Complaints against motor vehicle repairs focus mostly on poorly made repairs or charges for unnecessary repairs.

Rounding out the Top 10 List are complaints against travel companies coming in at #9 and against Internet service providers coming in at #10.

The Consumer Protection Bureau handled a total of 397,257 consumer contacts in 2009, either by phone, mail, or over the Internet, and the bureau’s Weight and Measures staff checked 178,844 scales and packages.

Bureau staff returned a total of $9,585,014.49 to consumers and the State School Fund through restitution to consumers, money returned to consumers through mediation, as fines or forfeitures to the state, or through other settlements. This is up considerably from 2008 and is more consistent with prior years.

Finally, Dane County led the state in complaints, followed by Milwaukee, Waukesha, Brown, and Outagamie counties. It will be interesting to see how the complaint totals change following the closing the of the Wauwatosa, Green Bay, and Eau Claire consumer protection offices late last year. 

Consumer Protection Loses Many Years of Experience:
Will Hurt Consumers in the Long Run

As noted above, the state recently closed three of its four regional Consumer Protection offices and 21 staff members were asked to move to the Madison headquarters. Unfortunately, only one employee made the move, and the state’s consumers lost many hundreds of years of experience. The bureau has been given approval by the Wisconsin Department of Administration to hire some replacements, but it seems increasingly clear the state will use this as an opportunity to cut staff. These are difficult budget times, but it doesn’t seem wise to cut investigators and consumer specialists who actually return far more dollars to the state than they cost. 

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