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AG: Health care most common consumer complaint

The state Consumer Protection Division received 22,665 complaints last year, an increase of nearly 19 percent over 2008, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Monday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Consumer Protection Division received 22,665 complaints last year, an increase of nearly 19 percent over 2008, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Monday.

For the fifth year in a row, health care-related complaints topped the list. Almost 4,400 people were upset with their insurance, medical providers or health products and services.

Lending was No. 2 on the list, with 3,357 complaints about high interest rates, charges for late or missed payments and pre-payment penalties. Many consumers also were looking for help dealing with foreclosure or had fallen for a foreclosure assistance or loan modification scam.

Telemarketing fraud increased by more than 2,400 complaints over 2008, to 3,008 last year, and was third on the list. Some of the most popular telemarketing schemes pitch bogus lower credit card rates, international lottery tickets, advance fee loans, government grants, identity theft protection, and phony prizes or sweepstakes.

"Hard times can be boom times for scammers, especially those promising help with debts, loan modifications and lower credit card rates. We’re cracking down on these scams, but consumers have got to keep up their guard,” Cooper said in a statement.

Complaints about Do Not Call Registry violators, collections and credit, health clubs, motor vehicles, home furnishings, telecommunications and home repair rounded out the Top 10. Health club complaints hadn't been on the list since 2005, and officials said the spike in complaints was likely tied to an increase in gyms closing their doors in the soft economy.

Cooper offered the following tips to help North Carolinians avoid scams and bad deals:

  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Say “no” to high-pressure sales pitches. If the offer is “only good today," walk away. 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 you don’t know who calls or e-mails you.
  • North Carolina law makes it illegal to collect advance fees for some types of work, such as foreclosure assistance and debt settlement help. If an advance payment is required for other kinds of transactions, use a credit card if possible. This gives you some protection if your order doesn’t arrive.
  • Do business with companies you know or that are recommended to you. Check companies out with the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau before making major purchases.
  • Join the Do Not Call Registry to cut down on unwanted telemarketing calls. To sign up, call 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register or visit www.donotcall.gov.
  • To protect yourself from identity theft, check your credit report regularly. You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each nationwide credit bureau. To access your free credit reports, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.

“In this tough economy, people really want to make sure every dollar counts,” Cooper said. “If you experience a scam or bad business deal, we want to hear from you. Even better, we’d like to help you avoid problems by learning to watch out for common consumer pitfalls.”

North Carolina consumers who have a problem with a business can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free or submit a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.



Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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