Consumer complaints in the state soared last year, with problems related to retail sales practices, home repairs and professional services dominating while unemployment insurance and other pandemic-related frauds faded from the scene, according to an annual update from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
Consumers filed 17,941 complaints and inquiries with the Consumer Protection Section in the Colorado Department of Law, which represents a 28% increase from the number filed in 2021.
About one in 11 complaints or 1,676 centered on questionable retail practices such as unauthorized subscriptions, product and delivery issues and difficulties in obtaining a cancellation or termination. Home repairs and services problems, such as prepayment scams and incomplete or shoddy work, accounted for 958 complaints. Another big source of complaints, at 919, involved product and service warranties, business support and legal services.
“We often preach the mantra – constant vigilance. It is harder than ever to be a consumer, there are so many ways you can be scammed. So many businesses are looking for ways to put the onus on you, to leave you in the lurch if you don’t advocate for yourself,” Weiser said during a news call for National Consumer Protection Week.
Unemployment insurance-related fraud, No. 2 on the 2021 list and a huge headache for thousands of people in the state, didn’t register last year, due in part to federal unemployment benefits ending and the Colorado Department of Labor tightening identity verification procedures. But other forms of identity fraud remain a bane.
Health care and medical services crossed into the bottom of the top 10 last year with 485 complaints, drawing the attention of consumer advocates. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, debt collectors have become much more aggressive in collecting medical debts, including on bills that aren’t legitimate or are being contested, Weiser said.
“I don’t know quite why it has risen so much, but it is now in the Top 10 and on our radar screen,” Weiser said.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission also track consumer complaints, with the CFPB receiving 6,880 complaints out of Colorado while the FTC received 39,926, said Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG, a consumer advocacy group.
The CFPB complaints centered around incorrect information on credit reports and difficulties in correcting those errors, debt collection practices and problems with bank accounts. The FTC complaints centered more on imposter scams, online shopping fraud and identity theft, which garnered over 10,000 complaints.
The FTC estimates Colorado consumers who filed complaints lost $138.2 million, with a median loss of $600 last year, Katz said.
Katz urged consumers to be more proactive and stand up for themselves if they believed they have been wronged. Any scams, fraud, price gouging or other questionable practices can be reported to Stop Fraud Colorado at 800-222-4444 or online at StopFraudColorado.gov.
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