FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 file photo, a woman shops at a Nordstrom store in Chicago. U.S. consumer prices were flat last month, the latest sign inflation is in check. That could give the Federal Reserve room to continue its efforts to stimulate growth. The consumer price index has risen 1.6 percent in the 12 months ending in January, the Labor Department said Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. That's down from a 2.9 percent pace a year ago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office received more used car sales and service complaints in 2012 than in any other category. That statement comes from the annual report on the top 10 consumer complaint categories and consumer tips on how Hoosiers can protect themselves from being ripped off.
"Consumer complaints help our office identify, investigate and sometime prosecute businesses that rip off or scam Indiana residents," Zoeller said. "The annual top 10 consumer complaint list aims to help educate consumers and guide our consumer protection efforts to cut down on scams and industry problems."
National Consumer Protection Week began Monday and set off a public awareness effort aimed at educating consumers about the latest scams. As part of the effort, Zoeller's office will host a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, March 6, with consumer protection groups and law enforcement agencies. Participants plan to collaborate and discuss ways to crackdown on many of the top scams and deceptive practices seen across Indiana. Invited guests include representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, Indiana TRIAD, FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, among others.
Here are the top 10 consumer complaints filed with the Indiana Attorney General's Office in 2012 and tips on how to avoid being victimized:
1. Used auto sales and service
Before purchasing a car make sure to research local dealers and check with the Indiana Attorney General's office or Better Business Bureau for complaints. Once you find a vehicle, have the car inspected by an independent mechanic. Take your time to read and understand the entire written purchase agreement before signing. Be sure that the terms of any warranty that come with the car are spelled out in your contract. If you need repairs done on your vehicle, research auto repair shops and request an estimate for parts and labor in writing before any work is done. Before taking your car home, make sure all work completed is described to you and all guarantees are in writing. Also, ask the service representative to show you any major new parts that were installed or replaced.
2. Internet scams and sales
Research the online business you plan to purchase from and confirm their physical address and phone number in case you need to contact them. Consider using an online payment service, such as PayPal, or your credit card, which protects your transaction under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Save any transaction or confirmation numbers from Internet purchases and make a note of the time and contents of the order. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail, never respond to requests for personal or financial information and don't click on any links.
3. Debt collection
If you receive a debt collection notice, make sure you determine whether you are being contacted for legitimate nonpayment by a lawful creditor. It's important to know your rights and how to recognize abusive collection practices. Keep track of phone conversations and other interactions. File a complaint with the Attorney General's office if you suspect the agency is not legitimate, if you are being harassed or if the collector refuses to supply verification of the debt.
4. Lending and mortgage related
The tough economy paired with already struggling homeowners has meant big business for scammers who aim to prey on their victims' desperation to stay in their homes. Illegitimate foreclosure consultants will promise to reduce your monthly mortgage payment or take other steps to save your home - all for an upfront fee. Unfortunately, homeowners find out too late that no work was done and calls to the company go unanswered. If you are facing foreclosure, seek free assistance from a legitimate nonprofit like the Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network at www.877gethope.org.
5. Home repairs and construction
Door-to-door salesman offering home improvement services - especially after damaging storms - may pressure homeowners into making quick decisions. Do your research on the contractor and compare bids with other local and reputable companies. Indiana law requires home improvement contracts exceeding $150 to be in writing. Never pay for the entire project before the work begins and do not pay more than one third of the total cost as a down payment. Remaining payments should be tied to completion of specified amounts of work.
6. Telemarketing calls
Indiana's Do Not Call law protects registered numbers from receiving legitimate telemarketing calls. Unfortunately, illegitimate businesses and scammers skirt the law by not purchasing the list and trying to deceive consumers with phony sales pitches. That's why if you are on the Do Not Call list and receive a sales call or text message you can count on it being a scam. Those on the state's list can file a complaint with the Attorney General's office at www.indianaconsumer.com.
7. Identity theft
Staying alert and being able to spot the signs of identity theft can help you thwart identity thieves. Monitoring your financial statements regularly and checking your credit report at least once a year can help you detect errors, accounts you never opened, and/or bills sent to the wrong address - all signs that someone else is using and ruining, your name and credit. To learn more about protecting yourself or recovering from ID theft visit www.IndianaConsumer.com.
8. Retail stores
Carefully check the store's refund policy before making a purchase to know whether you can expect a cash refund, in-store credit or an exchange. Layaway plans, while often helpful, can contain hidden fees or refund restrictions. That's why it is important to get a copy of the layaway policy in writing before you start making payments.
9. Landlord or tenant related
Tenants have certain rights under Indiana law and it's important to understand them before entering into any lease. Make sure you thoroughly read and understand your lease to determine your obligations as well as the landlord's responsibilities.
10. Wireless phone providers
Before contracting with a wireless service provider make sure you research the company, network and plan. Compare several different providers to determine what plan fits your needs and budget. In addition to your plan's costs, make sure you consider other charges like activation fees, insurance and overages.