Autos, homes and credit are big topics for consumer complaints

Posted Friday, Aug. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Fast-growing complaints in 2012: • Towing disputes • Landlord/Tenant problems • Abusive debt collection practices • Telephone service billing • Unlicensed contractors Source: Consumer Federation of America

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Consumers complained the most last year about autos and houses, according to an annual survey of state and local consumer protection agencies released this week by Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

Problems related to purchases of both big-ticket items have been among the top three complaints for years, along with credit and debt issues, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at Consumer Federation.

“If something goes wrong with a car you bought or had repaired, it impacts on you directly, generally with a fair amount of money,” she said. “People tend to complain to an agency about that rather than just chalking it up to experience.”

In the same way, home and credit problems can be expensive, and consumers reach out to agencies for help if they feel they have been wronged, Grant said.

The survey included complaint records from 40 agencies in 20 states. The organizations did not survey federal agencies or state agencies that focus only on one area, such as insurance or banking.

The 40 agencies received 360,538 complaints last year, and $97.8 million was saved or recovered for consumers as a result of mediation, administrative procedures or enforcement.

Texas does not have a single consumer agency that will take and resolve complaints, but there are numerous resources consumers can use to address these problems.

Here are the top five complaints and where consumers in the state can go for help:

Auto: Complaints include misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles administers the state’s lemon law for new and leased vehicles. For more information or to file a complaint under the law, go to www.txdmv.gov and look for the agency’s page on the Texas lemon law.

If you are buying a used car, check out its title at Title Check, a program provided by the DMV. Get the VIN number of the vehicle and search the Title Check data base at the DMV website to see if the vehicle has been reported as salvage, manufacturer buyback, flood damaged or other branding remarks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will take complaints and provide information on recalls as well as let you search complaints from other individuals with the same problem. Go to the agency’s website, www.nhtsa.gov, or call 800-424-9153.

Home Improvement/Construction: Complaints include shoddy work and failure to start or complete the job.

Most of the home construction and improvement industry is not required to have a license in Texas anymore, but some professionals such as electricians and air conditioning technicians are. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation provides an online form to complain about unlicensed construction companies as well as violations of licensed companies at www.tdlr.texas.gov/complaints or call 800-803-9202.

This is one area where complaining to the Texas Attorney General’s office and the local Better Business Bureau are about your only choices for complaining, short of going to court.

The Texas Attorney General’s office will take complaints on a wide variety of issues, but it does not handle individual cases. Instead, the office will look for trends and act on them through prosecution. To file a complaint with the AG, go to the website at www.oag.state.tx.us or call 800-621-0508. 

Also, consumers can complain to the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau, which will take action on individual complaints. Contact them at www.fortworthbbb.org or by calling 817-332-7585.

Credit/Debt: Among the complaints are billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.

The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) handles consumer complaints in Texas for a variety of lenders including mortgage companies, auto financers, pawn shops and payday lenders. To write a formal complaint to the OCCC or check out the status of a lender’s license, go to www.occc.state.tx.us or call (800) 538-1579.

For complaints against first- and second-lien mortgage companies and mortgage bankers in the state, consumers can go to the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending. The department will investigate complaints and can be reached at 877-276-5550 or by going online to www.sml.texas.gov

Utilities: Complaints include service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service companies.

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas has a department that will take and investigate complaints for several issues relating to utilities, including electric retailers, land-line telephone companies and violations of the state’s Do-Not-Call list. Online complaint forms can be found at the PUC’s website, www.puc.texas.gov or by calling 888-782-8477.

The Federal Communications Commission will take complaints on a variety of issues including cellphone service, the federal Do-Not-Call list, and broadcast, cable and satellite issues by calling 888-225-5322 or online at www.fcc.gov/complaints. The agency has an informal and formal complaint process. The informal process has no charge, but the formal complaint is similar to court proceedings and costs $200.

Retail Sales: Complaints include false advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, and failure to deliver.

Consumers again can turn to the Texas attorney general’s office and the BBB to file complaints against retailers.

Finally, another resource for complaints is the Texas Consumer Complaint Center at the University of Houston Law Center, which will offer free information on your legal rights under state and federal law. To contact the center, call 877-839-8422 and leave a message or go to its website at www.TexasCCC.com

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net 

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