Utah’s top 10 consumer scams of the past year

Scamming via the Internet, one of the many ways scammers find and hook unsuspecting victims | Image compiled Brett Barrett, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Division of Consumer Protection released its list of the top 10 consumer complaints for 2012. The list is being released in connection with the 15th annual National Consumer Protection Week which runs from March 3-9.

“Consumers of all ages remain the prime target for fraudsters who seek new ways to profit by deception,” said Francine A. Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. “Our Division hopes that by sharing this list, Utahns will be aware of the scams circling our state and be able to protect their families against fraud.”

According to the 2012 Federal Trade Commission state-by-state “Consumer Sentinel” report, Utah consumers reported 9,907 complaints to the federal agency between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012

Top 10 consumer complaints

1 – Coaching Services:  These are the services that come with those “businesses opportunities” a person can join and do from home. The set-up fee may not be much at first, but “coaching services” that promise to teach an individual how to work the business can cost many thousands of dollars.  Some of the deceptive practices common to this type of complaint are the misrepresentation of potential earnings and the qualifications or experience of the coaches.  These companies often obligate consumers for services from which they will receive little if any benefit.

“Coaching services offering big profit promises remain an attractive pitch for consumers who end up losing thousands of dollars while chasing an offer that never delivers,“ Division of  Consumer Protection Director Traci Gundersen said

2. – Deposits/Refunds:  The deceptive practices that are common to this category of complaints include the failure to make refunds when required and the failure to disclose refund policies.

3 – Retail Sales:  Common to this category of complaints are:  failure to deliver products during the time frame represented – or if no time frame is represented, within 30-days; providing a product or service that is only similar to the product or service purchased but does not have the same qualities, or is of a different model or type of product or service;  failure to honor warranties;  failure to deliver products in the time represented; and, again, failure to make refunds when required and failure to disclose refund policies.

4 – E-Commerce/Internet Offers:  The Internet has become a prevalent playground for scammers. Con artists are able to use the Internet to exploit the consumer’s vulnerability.  There are several reasons for this.  The pitch is made in the privacy of the consumer’s home where the consumer is less guarded.  Consumers tend to believe what they read.  The method of payment is quick and easy.  Finally, consumers have little recourse if they find themselves victims of deceptive practices.  Some of the more common tactics used are the unauthorized debiting of a consumer’s bank account, the automatic billing of a monthly fee until notice of cancellation is received (negative option), and the failure to provide any applicable right of rescission.

And who out there hasn’t received an email from Nigeria offering a small fortune in return for that small exchange of money upfront?

5 – Model/Talent/Acting Offers: Consumers are led to believe that their child is special and would make a great actor.  The victim’s love of their children coupled with the flattery being presented to the victim by the con artist make this type of scam easy to work. Consumers are pressured into purchasing costly classes and enter into contracts where fees are paid to the agency before any work is secured for the client.

6 – Telemarketing: Scams involve telemarketers making misrepresentations to get consumer to sign up for a product or service.

Recently Rocky Mountain Power and Questar Gas warned of a phone-based scam targeting their customers.

7 – Personal Services:  Complaints reflect scams involving lawn care, television subscriber services, etc.

8 – Alarm Systems:  Alarm systems are often sold door-to-door with aggressive sales tactics.  In many instances, the company sells a new service as if it were an upgrade to an existing service resulting in the consumer being obligated to pay on two separate contracts.

9.   Auto Repairs/Sales:  Repairs: Failure to disclose refund policies, failure to obtain consumer’s express authorization prior to repair, unnecessary repairs.  Sales:  Misrepresentations in advertising or sales, aggressive sales practices, contracts with incapacitated or vulnerable purchaser.

10. Home Improvement/Repair:   The deceptive practices include the failure of the contractor to provide the service after receiving the consumer’s deposit, the failure of the contractor to honor its warranties, the misrepresentation of the work of another as being the work of the contractor, and the refusal by the contractor to continue working until the consumer agrees to a higher price.

For more information on the 15th annual National Consumer Protection Week, log on to www.ncpw.gov

Reporting scams

Have a possible scam to report or a consumer complaint to file? Visit the Utah Division of Consumer Protection’s website.

 

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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