Consumer Complaints and Fraud

Visit the Better Business Bureau

I occasionally like to look at consumer fraud complaints to see if I can learn any lessons for corporate compliance.On the consumer side there is tremendous volume of complaints and many parties trying to help.

It caught my eye when four different organizations got together to identify the top consumer complaints for 2009. Here are their lists:

Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs

1. Home Improvement Contractors
2. Auto Insurance
3. Health Insurance
4. Lemon Law
5. Foreclosure assistance

Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office

1. Time Share Resellers
2. Loan Modification Fee Schemes
3. Deceptive Advertising and Solicitations
4. Deceptive Lending Schemes
5. Fake Check Scams

Better Business Bureau of Eastern Massachusetts

1. New Car Dealers
2. Retail Furniture Dealers
3. Collection Agencies
4. Used Car Dealers
5. Movers

Federal Trade Commission

1. Identity Theft
2. Third Party/Creditor Debt Collection
3. Foreign Money Orders/Check Scams
4. Internet Services
5. Shop-at-Home and Catalogue Sales

Differences in the Lists of Complaints

I’m sure each agency has a different taxonomy for categorizing complaints so it’s not fair to compare across agencies. I will anyhow.

It seems really strange that the lists are so different. You would think that there would be some common themes.

I see “Lemon Law” on the Office of Consumer Affairs, with “New Car Dealers” and “Used Car Dealers” on the Better Business Bureau list. So they both have cars, but no sense of the consumer complaint from the BBB list.

The Office of Consumer Affairs has “foreclosure assistance” and the Attorney General has “Loan Modification Fee Schemes” on its list. I sense those entries are a sign of the times and each agency is trying to focus on those related issues.

How you intake complaints will affect how you classify complaints and how you report on complaints. So I thought it would be a useful exercise to see how these agencies intake complaints to see if you can see a relationship to their top complaints.

Federal Trade Commission

Why does the FTC have a category for “Internet Services”? That seems way too broad. I guess it is just the “internet is scary” category. So I tried out the FTC Complaint Assistant.

Its no surprise that “Identify theft” is the top category. That the first question asked. So with the FTC complaint everything is either an identify theft complaint or something else.

The something else is then divided into “Debt collectors or debt collection practices”, “Credit Reports” or something else. So its no surprise what the second item is on the FTC list. It does leave me surprised that “Credit Reports” did not make their top five. The “internet” is one of the categories in other, but the other two on the top five are no obvious from the input taxonomy.

Better Business Bureau

Next I went to the Better Business Bureau’s online complaint form.  Their form’s taxonomy is

  • my vehicle
  • My cell phone or wireless carrier
  • a product or service (other than a vehicle or a cell phone)
  • a charity
  • children’s advertising

So its no surprise that New Car Dealers and Used Car Dealers are in their top five list.

Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs

I thought it was strange to see this agency in the mix because it has a limited mandate when it comes to consumer complaints. If you go to their How to Resolve a Consumer Problem webpage they make it hard to even find how to file a complaint with this agency.

They really just have jursdiction on Lemon Law disputes and home improvement arbitration. So what’s odd is that lemon law was only in the number four position in their top five.

(In the interest of disclosure, I worked as a intern at this agency working on consumer complaints.)

Massachusetts Attorney General

This consumer complaint form has the broadest taxonomy, with two dozen categories to choose among.  I would put the most faith its listing of the top consumer complaints because you are not forcing them into a box.

But that leaves me wondering how “time share resellers” are above “loan modification fee schemes”? Maybe there are just lots of people trying to unload their time shares in this bad economy so they can avoid having to modify their loan.


  • Press Release: Top 5 Consumer Issues and Complaints Outlined by Patrick-Murray Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Attorney General’s Office, Better Business Bureau, and Federal Trade Commission
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