Unwanted Calls, Prize for Blocking Tech

State Shares Top 10 Consumer Complaints for 2012

Unwanted Calls, Prize for Blocking TechA total of 23,205 consumers filed complaints with the consumer protection division of the state attorney general’s office in 2012, a news release said.

Attorney General Roy Cooper encouraged consumers to learn about the top sources of complaints as a way to avoid costly problems.

“If you think you’ve been ripped off or just didn’t get what you paid for, let my office know about it,” he said in the news release. “Even better, we’d like to help you avoid trouble in the first place by helping you learn to avoid common problems.”

Complaints were up 25 percent from 2011, when 18,483 written consumer complaints were filed with Cooper’s office.

Complaints about Do Not Call violations topped the list for 2012, with 6,126 complaints total. Many consumers complained about continuing to get unwanted telemarketing calls after they’d placed their number on the Do Not Call Registry, while others complained about illegal prerecorded robocalls pitching things like lower interest rate credit cards and home alarm systems.

Cooper said he would like to see stronger penalties for telemarketers who violate Do Not Call and related laws. Cooper’s office has been fighting a case in federal court for three years that is expected to have a major impact on Do Not Call enforcement. The case, against satellite television provider DISH, involves several million calls to consumers made by DISH, its dealers and representatives, the news release said.

North Carolina law makes it illegal for a business to call you using a recorded message, and the Consumer Protection Division been able to use consumers’ complaints to identify the culprits behind some illegal robocalls and take action to shut them down. Cooper has also warned consumers to simply hang up on robocalls, since pressing a number to get more information or try to stop the calls is actually likely to result in more calls.

The Federal Trade Commission is currently offering a $50,000 prize to encourage people to develop new technology to block robocalls.

Also included in complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls are complaints about political robocalls, which Cooper said he has long pushed to ban to numbers listed on the Do Not Call Registry. He said he would also like political robocallers to be required to provide a contact name and number to stop the calls at the beginning of each recorded message instead of at the end of the call.

Complaints about lending were second on the list for 2012, with 4,314 complaints filed about issues such as interest rate hikes, charges for late payments, foreclosure relief scams and other lending-related matters. Last year, Cooper won a landmark national settlement to reform mortgages and prevent foreclosure abuses, winning more than $338 million in help for North Carolina homeowners, according to the news release.

Cooper is fighting a proposal to bring payday lending back to North Carolina, which would likely lead to more complaints about lending. Cooper said in the release that he fought in court for years to chase payday lenders out of North Carolina, and the last storefront payday lenders operating in the state closed their doors in 2006.

Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Tillman, whose district includes Moore County, would allow payday lenders to open up shop again, charging interest rates of more than 300 percent on loans that must be paid back in two weeks, according to Cooper.

Complaints about telemarketing fraud came in at No. 3 on the list, with 3,418 filed in 2012. Popular telemarketing fraud schemes include phony sweepstakes and lotteries, sweetheart scams, fake government grants and counterfeit check scams.

Fraud artists usually operate from outside the country and try to trick victims into sending them money overseas, through wire transfers, reloadable debit cards, or even by bringing or sending them large amounts of cash. Victims reported $8.5 million in losses to telemarketing fraud last year, with victims losing on average $10,000 each.

Cooper’s telemarketing fraud experts work with federal and international law enforcement to try to unravel the schemes, and they’ve also negotiated agreements with Western Union and Moneygram to make it harder for telemarketing fraud rings to use their services, the release said.

They also help families deal with the often difficult process of convincing senior loved ones that they’re being scammed, and work to keep victims from being ripped off repeatedly.

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