“This week, we’re reminding Michigan consumers of the tools and resources our office provides to protect Michiganders from scammers and unscrupulous businesses and organizations,” Nessel said. “Michiganders work hard for their money and, as the state’s chief consumer advocate, it is up to us to help them understand their consumer rights and protect them from bad actors.”
Nessel's list was compiled by analyzing the nearly 9,000 written complaints filed with her office’s Consumer Protection Team in 2018. The department recovered more than $1.6 million in consumer refunds, forgiven debts and state recoveries last year, she said.
Credit and financial concerns again topped the 2018 list with more than 900 complaints. About half of the complaints in this category continued to be about credit reporting and collection. Nearly 15 percent were about credit agencies other than banks.
While the top 10 complaint categories did not change from 2017 to 2018, several of their rankings did. Four of the 10 categories kept their places, half moved up one, and complaints against personal service providers dropped from two to seven in 2018.
Top 10 consumer complaint categories of 2018
(1) Credit and financial concerns: Since 2006, this remains the top consumer complaint category, with 911 in 2018. Complaints in this category cover a variety of areas including debt collection and reporting, credit repair, payday lending, and mortgage brokering.
(2) Telecommunications, cable and satellite TV: moves up from three to two this year. This category includes complaints involving issues like robocalls, telemarketing, wireless communications, and cable and satellite TV services. Despite moving up to the second spot, complaints in these categories were down more than 10 percent in 2018.
(3) Motor vehicle and automobiles: Also moving up a spot, from four to three, the total number of complaints in this category remained relatively steady. Complaints against used car dealers continue to top this category, with other top complaints involving motor vehicles and car bodies, new car dealers, and passenger car rentals.
(4) Internet: Moving up a slot from five to four, the total number of complaints in this computer-based category went down by 5 percent. Almost half of these complaints involved online purchases, and a significant number of complaints were filed against computer communication and internet service providers.
(5) Retail: Up from six last year, retail complaints included those about general merchandise, food and furniture stores, business services, and eating and drinking places.
(6) Contractors: The fifth category to move up a spot from last year's list are complaints about residential building construction services, landscaping services, plumbing, heating and air conditioning services, and special trade contractors. In 2018, consumers filed 20 percent more complaints than 2017.
(7) Personal service providers: Down five slots from last year’s No. 2 spot, complaints in this category went down by 43 percent. (2017’s jump was directly attributable to the large number of complaints against West Michigan-based gym chain Family Fitness.) Complaints in this category additionally range from dating services and beauty shops to home security and tax preparation services.
(8) Landlord and tenant: Holding steady at No. 8, this category had a 15 percent increase with almost 500 complaints. Most of the complaints in this category involved apartment owners and managers. Complaints against mobile home site operators and condominium associations accounted for about 10 percent each of this category.
(9) Health service providers: Staying at No. 9, this category’s total complaints decreased by 7 percent in 2018. The category includes health service providers like doctors, dentists, hospitals and medical clinics.
(10) Gasoline, fuel, energy: This category remains steady at No. 10, with complaints against gasoline service stations and gas and electric services dominating it.
Consumer education key to prevention
Nessel says she is committed to aggressively going after those who take advantage of Michigan residents. The more consumers know about how scams work and the more careful they are in responding to requests for money or personal information, the less likely they are to fall for a scam artist, she said.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit offers several free seminars to learn how to spot and stop scams. In 2018, the department provided almost 700 seminars throughout Michigan.
The attorney general’s team will host two free seminars on phone, mail and e-Scams: March 7 in Lansing and March 8 in Detroit.
Next month, the team will host two free seminars on identity theft: April 4 in Lansing and April 5 in Detroit.
Consumers can submit a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office online at mi.gov/agcomplaints or by calling 877-765-8388.