Local News

Health care complaints top reports to attorney general

Posted March 31, 2009 12:28 p.m. EDT

— Complaints about health care topped the list of reasons consumers contacted the North Carolina Attorney General's office in 2008, according to a list published Tuesday.

It is the fifth year in a row that health care complaints ranked first. Other common complaints were about telemarketers, lenders, credit and motor vehicles.

Attorney General Roy Cooper used the imminent April Fools' Day to remind consumers that scams happen year-round.

"Protect yourself by learning about common consumer problems and how you can avoid them,” he said. He offered a combination of standard tips, common sense and healthy skepticism to avoid just about any bad deal.

  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Say “no” to high-pressure sales pitches.
  • Always read contracts carefully and never sign a document that you don’t understand or that has blanks to be filled in later.
  • Be wary of unsolicited offers.
  • Never give out your Social Security Number, credit card or bank account number or other personal information to anyone who calls or e-mails you.
  • If payment is required in advance, use a credit card if possible. This gives you some protection if your order doesn’t arrive or the business closes unexpectedly.
  • Never pay an upfront fee for help with foreclosure, fixing your credit or settling your debts. It’s against the law to charge an upfront fee for these services in North Carolina.
  • Before you make a major purchase, check out the company with the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau.

The list released Tuesday outlines the type and number of complaints during 2008 and offered contact information for help with resolving each.

1. Health Care: In 2008, a total of 4,202 North Carolinians filed complaints about health insurance, health care providers, health products and services. Consumers often have problems with medical billing practices or have trouble getting copies of their medical records.

For help with health insurance issues, consumers can contact the Managed Care Patient Assistance Program at 919-733-MCPA or 866-867-MCPA, or by e-mailing MCPA@ncdoj.gov

2. Do Not Call/Unwanted Telemarketing Calls: 2,441 consumers filed complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls in 2008. Many of these pitches are made using illegal robo calls.

More than five million North Carolina telephone numbers are currently listed on the Do Not Call Registry. To sign up, go to www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register. To report telemarketers that break the law, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

3. Lending: 2,304 people complained about high interest rates, loan payment charges due to late or missed payments, adjustable rate mortgages, prepayment penalties and loan fees. Many consumers are looking for help dealing with foreclosure, or have fallen victim to a foreclosure assistance or loan modification scam. It’s against North Carolina law to charge an upfront fee for foreclosure help.

4. Credit: 1,692 filed complaints about credit repair scams, debt collectors and identity theft. Under North Carolina law, it’s illegal to charge an upfront fee for credit repair or debt settlement help.

5. Motor Vehicles: 1,293 consumers complained about car repair, towing and new and used car purchases. The most common complaints are pricing, improper diagnosis, unauthorized repairs, failure to honor warranties and slow repair jobs.

6. Home Furnishings: 1,065 consumers complained about furniture sales. Most of those consumers had ordered furniture by phone or online and said they got the wrong item of furniture, a damaged or defective item or never received their item at all.

7. Telecommunications: 954 people filed complaints about their telephone or cell phone service, including reports of poor service or billing problems.

8. Internet: 840 consumers complained about Internet service and computers last year. Those complaints included reports of unexpected charges for access and report of Internet based scams.

9. Home Repair: 757 people filed complaints about home construction and repair work that was never performed, was poor or cost more than agreed upon.

10. Telemarketing Fraud: 576 consumers filed complaints about telemarketing fraud last year. Some of the most prevalent telemarketing schemes involve bogus international lottery tickets, advance fee loans and credit cards, government grants, credit card or identity theft protection and phony prizes or sweepstakes.

For help in preventing and combating identity theft or what to do if you may be a victim, go to www.ncdoj.gov.

North Carolina consumers can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or via a form on the state Department of Justice Web site.