Top 10 consumer complaints

July 27, 2011: 2:05 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- With the economy still in shambles and many Americans still struggling to emerge from debt, find jobs and support their families, there's plenty to complain about. Add fraud and predatory lending to the mix and the list of complaints gets even longer.

Shady auto dealers yet again took the number one spot on the Consumer Federation of America's list for the highest number of complaints in 2010, followed by credit card issuers and debt relief companies. The CFA compiles its list by surveying 31 consumer groups from 18 states across the United States about the complaints they received.

Altogether, the agencies surveyed received more than 252,000 complaints last year and rounded up more than $208 million in restitution and savings for consumers.

No. 1: Autos: Consumers shopping for cars or requiring auto repairs reported that they were duped by false advertising, sold lemons, or received faulty auto repairs. Autos has ranked as the top consumer complaint over the past three years.

The report cited an example of a man who complained that four out of six of the tires he purchased from a tire store had ruptured explosively and caused a serious accident.

No. 2: Credit/debt: Consumers complained about credit card billing and fees, fraudulent mortgages, credit repair and debt relief services, predatory lending and harassing debt collection agencies. This category was also number two in 2009.

A disabled man from Massachusetts reported being harassed by debt collectors several times a day -- even after sending a letter telling the company to cease communication, the CFA report cited.

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No. 3: Home improvement/construction & retail sales: These two types of complaints tied for third place on the list.

Consumers complained that home improvement and construction companies wouldn't finish jobs they started and performed shoddy work when they did.

In the report, the CFA cited an example of a Florida man who had paid a contractor in advance to lay a concrete driveway. But the contractor never paid the company that supplied the concrete, so that company put a lien on his home.

When it came to retail sales, some of the top complaints included false advertising, fraud, defective merchandise, rebate issues, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates.

No. 4: Utilities: Consumer complaints included service problems and billing disputes about phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services.

Last year, the Georgia Governor's Office of Consumer Protection received complaints from many consumers about DirectTV failing to clearly disclose the cost and commitment terms of its satellite TV service. They said the company enrolled them in additional contracts and had promised cash back but only gave credits instead.

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No. 5: Services: Inadequate work, misrepresentations about services and lack of licenses were some of the complaints lodged by consumers last year.

One complaint a consumer agency received was for a tree trimmer who left in the middle of a job, saying his saw broke -- and never returned, taking the consumer's money with him.

No. 6: Internet sales: Consumers complained that Internet retailers didn't deliver products that they ordered or misrepresented the items consumers purchased.

One of many Internet sales scams consumers reported was a San Francisco company selling "high-end" watches ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 that ended up being scratched or counterfeit.

No. 7: Household goods: Faulty furniture or appliance repairs were among the complaints agencies received about household goods. Other complaints included household goods companies failing to deliver products or misrepresenting the items they sold.

Two companies in New York had their licenses revoked last year after selling unsanitary mattresses to consumers.

No. 8: Landlord/tenant: Renters complained about unhealthy and unsafe conditions last year, landlords who didn't make requested repairs or provide amenities they had promised tenants. Deposit and rent disputes and illegal eviction tactics were also issues that were cited.

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In one case, an agency found out that a landlord had been collecting rent checks from tenants but never paid the mortgage on the building or the maintenance.

No. 9: Fraud: Fraud is new to the Top Ten list, with many consumers complaining about a range of scams including work-at-home schemes and fraudulent sweepstakes and lotteries.

One man from Ohio reported being thrilled when someone called to tell him he'd won $850,000 in a sweepstakes. All he had to do to claim the prize was transfer $220 to someone in Jamaica to pay the fees on his winnings. After he transferred that money, they asked him for another $650. It was after that the Ohio man discovered that the person was not really from a sweepstakes company and he was not really a winner.

"Fraud is an especially challenging problem because scammers often target U.S. consumers from foreign countries, making law enforcement difficult," said Anna Huddleston-Aycock, President of North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

No. 10: Home solicitations: Telemarketers and mail solicitations that misrepresent or fail to deliver their services or violate do-not-call rules are among the most-complained about items under home solicitations.

One consumer agency received complaints about salespeople for a vacuum cleaner company who refused to leave consumers' homes, sold used vacuums as new, preyed on older people and ruined carpets during vacuuming demonstrations.

New laws needed to help:

Consumer agencies have suggested that a series of new laws be implemented to help protect consumers from fraud and abusive practices. They have recommended laws to regulate home improvement contractors, prevent abusive debt collection practices, ban up front fees for any service, examine criminal penalties for Internet fraud, protect consumers who buy cars with serious repair problems and require businesses to keep records of complaints. To top of page

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