Some things never change. In the fast-paced world of Internet shopping, the major consumer complaints still involve auto sales, car repair and home improvement.
According to a survey released yesterday by two consumer organizations, complaints about the Internet itself were on the rise, up an average 39 percent over the previous year. But they weren't a significant enough concern to make the top-10 list put together by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America.
In the eighth annual survey of consumer complaints handled by city, county or state consumer agencies in 1998--the latest figures available--the area sparking the biggest increase in complaints involved home-improvement issues. In some cases, homeowners paid for work that was not done; in others, contractors used scare tactics to sell unnecessary and overpriced heating equipment.
Problems involving auto leasing appeared for the first time on the latest list of top 10 consumer complaints. Consumer agencies reported that consumers had problems terminating car leases for mechanical difficulties or other reasons and problems with dealers putting addendums on leasing contracts that allowed the dealer to reposses a car if the dealer was unable to obtain the promised financing of the vehicle.
Also new to the top 10 were complaints about travel and tourism and utilities. Complaints about telemarketing and cable TV declined and didn't make the list.
Consumer agencies reporting complaints about the Internet said that most of the problems involved the providers--over refund and billing disputes--and merchandise that was ordered. Many consumers complained of problems with fraudulent offers to sell nonexistent goods and with generally misleading claims. Also cited as a problem area were auctions, with some consumers complaining of receiving nothing in return for their successful bid and payment and others saying they received something other than what they thought they were getting.
The top 10, in order of most complaints to least: auto sales, auto repair, home improvement, household goods, credit/lending, mail order, auto leasing, landlord/tenant, utilities and travel/tourism.