Car Sales, Household Goods Top U.S. Complaint List

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Buying a new car, a washing machine or a sofa? Beware, auto sales and household goods are at the top of an annual list of consumer complaints released Monday.

Internet complaints have also crept for the first time into a top 10 list of consumer complaints compiled by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA) and the Consumer Federation of America.

"The message is, you have to be careful. If you see something that is too good to be true, then it probably is," said Wendy Weinberg, executive director of the NACAA, whose members comprise consumer protection agencies nationwide.

Household goods and auto sales tied for first place in the list of consumer horror stories from 2000. Most gripes about household items -- which include costly goods like computers and washing machines -- involved defective products, failure to honor warranties, refunds and deceptive advertising.

Many grievances about car sales, which have consistently been near the top of the list, involved suspect finance deals where consumers were promised special financing rates only to be denied them later when they had taken the vehicle home.

Home improvement came in third and this sector was named by agencies canvassed for the survey as the most likely to include firms that go out of business and reopen under another name.

Other sectors listed as being at the greatest risk of going out of business were furniture stores and health studios, travel agencies and Internet Service Providers.

Other categories included in the list of leading consumer complaints were auto repair, credit/lending, debt collection, utilities, Internet, landlord/tenant problems, mail order and telemarketing.

The largest rise in complaints was for Internet purchases, with an average increase of 128 percent in the number of complaints since 1999.

"While there are many benefits to shopping over the Internet, consumers need to be aware of the risks and take some simple precautions," Weinberg told a news conference.

Predicting Internet complaints would continue to creep up the list, Weinberg urged people shopping over the Internet to check the location of the company, pay by credit card and to print copies of web pages and details about purchases.

The most common type of Internet complaints involved goods that did not arrive or were damaged. Other Internet problems involved online auctions and disputes with Internet Service Providers.

The worst scams for 2000 were in home improvement and credit with some auto financing companies highlighted.

On average, NACAA members said they had handled 8 percent more complaints in 2000 than in the previous year and Weinberg predicted the number of gripes would rise as the economy weakened further.