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July 2011

The Wisconsin Consumer Protection
Top 10 Complaints


The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) just released its list of top 10 complaints filed by Wisconsin consumers in 2010. There was some change in the types of complaints being filed. At the top of the list with 2,240 written complaints are alleged violations of the state’s “Do Not Call” telemarketer law. This has proven to be a popular law with more than two million home phone and cell numbers on the list. Coming in second with 1,696 written complaints was violations of the state’s landlord/tenant law, including the failure of landlords to return security deposits and disputes about lease provisions.

Telecommunication complaints came in third with 1,423 written complaints filed with DATCP. Complaints primarily fell into the area of contract and billing disputes. Home improvement complaints replaced satellite dish complaints as the fourth highest-rated complaint in 2010. Many consumers are making home repairs rather than buying new homes given the difficult economy, and common complaints in this area include poor workmanship, billing disputes, and failure of the contractor to perform the work when required by the contract.

Satellite dish complaints came in fifth with billing disputes and cost misrepresentations being the primary issues. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 complaints were motor vehicle sales (#6), motor vehicle repair (#7), travel and tourism (#8), mail order sales (#9), and collection agencies (#10). In 2009, credit card and Internet service provider complaints were in the top 10 in place of mail order sales and collection agencies.

DATCP has not yet released its 2010 statistics on the number of court cases filed and money recovered for consumers through penalties, fines, and restitution. However, DATCP noted that it provided fraud-prevention information to more than 150,000 consumers and businesses.

Wisconsin consumers should be pleased Governor Scott Walker appointed Ben Brancel to the position of DATCP secretary. I served as Brancel’s Trade & Consumer Protection administrator from 1997 to 1999. Secretary Brancel was a strong and consistent supporter of our important consumer-protection mission and understood that the division’s role was to take action against the very few bad businesses that were giving a poor reputation to the vast majority of honest businesses. Brancel in turn has appointed Sandy Chalmers as the new DATCP administrator for Trade & Consumer Protection. I believe she will work hard to ensure fair business practices between consumers and businesses. Sandy and I worked together at DATCP from 1997 to 2001 and Sandy was a strong advocate of educating consumers about potential frauds.

Finally, I was quite relieved when Governor Walker recently announced that his administration had made an “inadvertent” mistake in seeking the transfer of landlord/tenant and home repair complaints from DATCP to a new department being created out of the former Department of Regulation and Licensing and parts of the Department of Commerce that would be called the Department of Safety and Professional Services. DATCP has long had responsibility for protecting consumers from these types of fraud and there seemed to be no compelling reason for making this significant policy change. This is the time to rebuild the state’s consumer protection program back into a premier national program, a status lost due to the severe staffing and budget cuts of the past several years. 

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