Complaints about unwanted sales calls, telemarketing fraud, and lending lead the list of consumer complaints to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.
“Thousands of North Carolina consumers let us know when they don’t get what they’ve paid for, suspect a rip off or the run around, or spot a potential scam,” Cooper said. “We use the information they share to win refunds, stop unfair practices, and help others avoid problems.”
Over the past decade, Cooper and his consumer protection experts have helped consumers get more than $200 million of their money back. Last year, 21,305 consumers filed complaints with the Consumer Protection Division of Cooper’s office, up from 19,865 complaints in 2013.
Consumers can prevent future problems by learning about common sources of complaints, Cooper urged.
Number 1: Do Not Call violations
For the third year in a row, complaints about Do Not Call violations by telemarketers topped the list with 5,254 complaints. Some consumers continue to get unwanted telemarketing calls even after placing their number on the Do Not Call Registry. Many of the complaints are about illegal robocalls, which begin with a recorded message that asks consumers to press a number to speak with a representative. Common robocalls include pitches for lower interest rates on credit cards, medical alert systems, and home alarm systems.
North Carolina law makes it illegal for a business to call you using a recorded message, and the Consumer Protection Division has been able to use consumers’ complaints to identify the culprits behind some robocalls and take action against them. For example, Cooper recently partnered with the Federal Trade Commission and other states to win fines from Caribbean Cruise Lines for using illegal robocalls to pitch cruises and other travel packages. Cooper’s office is scheduled to go to trial against DISH Network in July over millions of telemarketing calls made on the satellite TV company’s behalf.
To prevent more unwanted calls, Cooper recommends that consumers hang up on robocalls and report them to his office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a consumer complaint online at ncdoj.gov. Pressing a number to get more information or try to stop the calls is actually likely to result in more calls.
Number 2: Telemarketing fraud
Complaints about telemarketing fraud come in at number two, up from third place the previous year. In 2014, Cooper’s office received 4,460 complaints about fraudulent phone calls seeking money or personal information. Criminals and con artists usually located in other countries make the calls and pose as IRS agents, law enforcement, tech support and utility companiesto try to rob victims. Other common telemarketing scams include sweepstakes, lotteries, sweetheart scams and grandparent scams.
Experts with Cooper’s office work with telemarketing fraud victims to try to reduce their losses and prevent them from falling for follow up scams. Once someone has fallen victim to a telemarketing scam they are likely to become targets since criminals often sell and trade lists of victims and their telephone numbers
Complaints indicate that most telemarketing scams continue to ask victims to send money via reloadable debit cards such asGreen Dot MoneyPaks instead of via wire service. Once the victim loads the card with money and gives the scammer the information needed to access the account, funds can be withdrawn from anywhere in the world.
Cooper’s office partners with other states as well as local, federal and international law enforcement to try to locate and stop telemarketing fraud rings. Technology makes it easier for criminals to make the calls and harder for law enforcement to track them down. Telemarketing fraud rings frequently use Voice Over Internet Protocol (V.O.I.P) to make their calls difficult to trace. They also manipulate (or “spoof”) Caller ID so that it looks like their calls are coming from a legitimate business, a local phone number, or even the IRS or police. This means consumers can’t rely on Caller ID to help decide whether or not a call is legitimate.
Number 3: Lending
Complaints about lending were number three on the list for 2014, with 3,678 complaints total. Common sources of complaints include high interest rates, charges for late or missed payments, foreclosure relief and loan modification scams,adjustable rate mortgages, prepayment penalties and loan fees.
To help struggling homeowners and foreclosure victims, Cooper continues to win based on the national mortgage settlement he helped negotiate in 2012, which included more than $338 million in help for North Carolina consumers. Recent settlements have meant an additional $47 million in relief for North Carolina consumers such as loan modifications and money back fromOcwen and SunTrust.
Online payday loans are another source of lending related complaints. Payday loans are illegal in North Carolina, and Cooper and the NC Commissioner of Banks forced the last storefront payday lenders out of the state in 2006. But lenders outside the state continue to try to reach North Carolina consumers through the Internet. Cooper is cracking down on out-of-state, online lenders with a lawsuit filed against CashCall and Western Sky for charging interest rates of up to 342 percent in violation of state law. He asked the NC Business Court last week to ban CashCall and Western Sky from making any loans to North Carolina consumers that violate state limits on interest rates and from collecting money from any North Carolina borrowers.
Other top sources of complaints
Complaints about motor vehicles, home repair, credit and collections, Internet and computers, health care, television services, and telecommunications round out the list of top ten consumer complaints for 2014. See the complete list of top ten consumer complaints of 2014 at www.ncdoj.gov, as well as our top ten consumer tips.
The top ten list is based on written complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Tens of thousands of North Carolina consumers also get help from consumer protection experts from the office over the phone and by email as well as at educational events across the state.
North Carolina consumers who want to check out a business, get tips or file a complaint can contact the Attorney General’sConsumer Protection Division. Call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or submit a complaint online. Once a consumer files a written complaint, our office can try to help resolve the situation. In case where there is a pattern of illegal business practices, the Attorney General may also take action to enforce the law on behalf of all North Carolina consumers.