Telemarketers once again tops in consumer Hall of Shame
For the second year in a row, the Oregon Department of Justice received more consumer complaints about telemarketers last year than any other industry, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced today.
The Department received 1,828 written complaints about telemarketers in 2012, about 15 percent of the total.
The Department of Justice on Tuesday released its top 10 consumer complaint list (included in this press release,) part of its National Consumer Protection Week activities. Joining telemarketers on the list were debt collectors, international money transfer scams and, for the first time, timeshare resellers.
In 2012 the Department received more than 12,000 written complaints from consumers. Employees from the Department’s Financial Fraud and Consumer Protection section helped consumers recover $3.7 million in that time. It also recovered $15.8 million in settlements and judgments stemming from civil actions against mortgage companies, pharmaceutical providers and others.
Most of the telemarketing complaints came from consumers claiming they’d received telemarketing calls despite the fact they were on the Federal Do Not Call list. These calls were referred to the Federal Trade Commission, which tracks and enforces Do Not Call violations.
The majority of complaints stem from just two groups – Card Services and Pacific Telecom Communications Group. Card Services uses a prerecorded message claiming it can help reduce credit card interest rates. In addition to violating the law against prerecorded messages, Card Services neither displays the true number from which it is calling nor adheres to the national Do Not Call law, routinely contacting registered Oregonians.
Debt collectors moved into second spot on the top 10 list. Complaints against the industry surged 42 percent over the year before, when debt collectors ranked 6th on the list.
The increase is largely due to complaints filed by former customers of Hollywood Video, the defunct video rental chain. Consumers complained they were contacted by debt collectors claiming they owed money for overdue movie rentals.
If you are contacted by a debt collector about a debt you don’t owe, or don’t think you owe, visit https://www.doj.state.or.us/consumer/Pages/debt_collection.aspx to learn more about fair debt collection laws and how to dispute a debt.
Complaints actually decreased 30 percent against the telecommunications industry, long a stalwart of the top 10 list. The typical complaint against this group of telephone, cell phone and cable television companies allege routine bill miscalculation, inaccurate representations of services and products, and illegitimate bill collection attempts.
Though still widespread, there is evidence that the long-lived international money transfer scam is capturing fewer victims. Oregonians reported losing $825,224 in 2012, a 25 percent drop from the year before.
Unfortunately, experts believe most Oregonians who fall victim to these scams do not report it. It is likely that the 515 complaints received are only a small fraction of a much larger problem.
For the first time, timeshare resellers made the top ten list and for the first time in ten years, magazine sales agents also made the list. The Department received more than 200 written complaints against each in 2012.
The bulk of the complaints about magazine sales agents were about one company – Orbital Publishing Group. Unscrupulous magazine sales agents often trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for multi-year subscriptions by sending phony bills and invoices. The Oregon Department of Justice advises consumers and businesses to be alert for solicitations disguised as bills.
The typical timeshare scam works like this:
A timeshare reseller calls a timeshare owner saying he’s got a buyer for their property.
The owner is asked to sign a contract and pay a transaction fee — usually with a credit or debit card — before the alleged sale can proceed.
But after signing the contract and paying the fee, the owner rarely hears again from the reseller. In most cases, the buyer never existed, and the contract was for advertising services only.
More information and resources for consumers are available from the Oregon Department of Justice, including:
- oregonconsumer.gov is an informative Oregon DOJ website where consumers can file a complaint or learn how to protect themselves from fraud and scams. Of the 12,823 written complaints received by the Oregon DOJ in 2012, 35 percent came via the agency’s website.
- Be InfORmed, an online database online at oregonconsumer.gov allows users to research businesses before they buy. More than 41, 380 searches were performed on the database in 2012.
- A toll-free consumer hotline, at 1-877-877-9392, staffed by a team of volunteers from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Pacific five days a week. In 2012, the volunteers fielded more than 40,000 calls.
- Direct notification of emerging scams, fraud and other consumer threats through the Scam Alert Network. These alerts are also tweeted to followers of @oregonscamalert. The network is free and anyone can sign up online at oregonconsumer.gov.
- Written materials, including the recently published brochure, “Top Ten Consumer Tips to Protect You and Your Family” available online at oregonconsumer.gov.
Jeff D. Manning, email@example.com, 503-378-6002