N.D. AG Unveils Top 10 Consumer Complaints

January 5, 2005

North Dakota Attorney General Stenehjem has released the annual list of “Top Ten” consumer complaints. The list includes some of the most serious violations of consumer laws encountered by the general public.

The Consumer Protection Division handled 1,682 consumer complaints in 2004, up from 1,194 in 2003, and recovered more than $605,000 for North Dakota consumers.

Complaints about violations of the state’s Do Not Call laws top the list this year, the first full year since the law took effect, with 170 complaints about pre-recorded messages and calls to numbers registered on the “Do Not Call” list. Of those complaints, there
were 25 violations relating to pre-recorded messages and 108 validated complaints regarding calls to registered numbers. A few complaints related to exempt calls.

The consumer protection division initiated 34 investigations against companies making illegal calls, resulting in settlements from 24 companies and fines totaling $20,000. In some cases, multiple investigations led to the same company.

This year’s top 10 complaint categories:

1. Do Not Call violations 170
2. Telecommunications – complaints in this group include
· Billing disputes (56)
· Cellular telephone complaints, including coverage,
early termination fees, and repair problems (53)
· Internet cramming – customers billed for adult
content website access never authorized or used (26)
· Telephone Cramming – customers billed for phone
services never authorized (26) 165
3. Entertainment (bogus Lil Jon Concert) 163
4. Sweepstakes (victims pay to play but never win) 127
5. Illegal charitable solicitations 103
6. Mail Order complaints (#3 in 2003) 89
7. Discount Buying Clubs (misrepresentation of medical and
prescription coverage – most of which are not accepted in
ND) 78
8. Automobiles (misrepresentation of used cars, warranty
problems) 57
9. Magazine subscriptions 48
10. Directories (sham “yellow pages” or internet directories;
either businesses receive what appears to be a bill, or
they get a check for a small amount which, when cashed,
enrolls them for the listing.) 47.

Although not in the “top ten”, a reported concern for the Consumer Protection Division is the recent rise in the number of consumers who have fallen victim to foreign lottery scams.

“It doesn’t matter how much money the letter or the operator claims you have won, foreign lotteries are always a scam,” cautioned Stenehjem. “They are also illegal in the United States.”

These scams often reportedly hijack the names of real lotteries from Australia or Europe. Scam artists, who often operate outside U.S. jurisdiction, use the telephone, mail and e-mail to trick a consumer into believing to he has won money in a foreign lottery.

Before any prize money can be sent, the consumer is told he must first pay taxes, insurance, or some other bogus fee. Unfortunately, several ND victims have reportedly wired thousands of dollars to scam operators. None of the victims has recovered any money.

Other significant consumer news this year includes the multi-state settlement with music compact disc distributors and retailers.

As a result of the settlement, more than 12,500 North Dakotans received refund checks for $13.46, and 262 libraries and schools across the state benefited from a distribution of approximately 12,900 compact discs, valued at more than $170,000.

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