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Post date: November 1 2000

Spitzer Announces Top 10 Consumer Complaints

Attorney General Spitzer today released the most common consumer complaints to his office for 1999, and for the first time, Internet-related problems have cracked the state's top ten list.

As was the case in 1998, problems with cars, health care, and credit were the most frequent consumer complaints to the Attorney General's office last year, but Internet-related problems made their debut in the top ten, appearing at number eight overall. (See attached list)

The most common problems consumers had with dealings over the Web involved complaints about Internet Service Providers, online purchases, and Web auctions.

"The Internet is revolutionizing the world around us, whether it's the way we shop, invest, or communicate," said Spitzer.

"For the most part, the 'Net' has been a tremendous force for good, but consumers should be aware that the 'Information Superhighway' can be filled with potholes for the uninformed or unsuspecting. Consumers should take the same precautions when making transactions on line as they do off line."

Spitzer's office received a total of 58,098 complaints last year. Car-related problems led the way as usual, with complaints including repair/warranty issues, financing, and false or misleading advertising. Second on the list were complaints to the A.G.'s Health Care Bureau. These typically involved disputes with H.M.O.'s and insurance companies over coverage and billing issues. Number three on the list were credit problems, including unauthorized charges, late fees, and inaccurate information on credit reports.

Spitzer noted that his office has had a number of recent successes on the consumer protection front including:

  • A major $18 million nationwide settlement with Publishers Clearing House that requires the sweepstakes company to fundamentally change the way it does business. Spitzer also settled a similar case with Time Life;
  • A settlement with Chase Manhattan which prohibits the bank from sharing or selling the credit card information of its customers with telemarketers;
  • Settlements with two Internet retailers concerning misleading advertising. One of the companies promised significant discounts on a wide-range of consumer products, but failed to deliver rebate checks on time; the other offered computers for sale at a cut-rate price, but without disclosing additional costs that consumers might incur in order to get the computers for the advertised price.
  • Anti-fraud lawsuits against several Internet merchants, including an online electronics seller and a gallery selling fake works of art over the Internet.
  • A statewide sweep of home improvement contractors for shoddy or incomplete work;
  • Agreements with a number of cell phone service providers concerning misleading advertising and privacy issues.

Although car problems topped the list overall, the number one problem varied from region to region. For example, the most frequent complaints to the A.G.'s regional offices in Buffalo, Albany, and Brooklyn were about credit, while in Harlem they were about landlords, and in Plattsburgh, mail order firms topped the list. (See attached)

"Whether you have a car that's a lemon, a credit card with unauthorized charges, or complaints over health care coverage, our office is here to help," said Spitzer. "Last year, we handled over 50,000 complaints and helped recover almost $6 million for consumers."

Spitzer urged anyone with a problem to contact his consumer hotline at 1-800-77l-7755.

The Attorney General's Consumer Frauds Bureau is headed by Tom Conway; the Internet Bureau is headed by Caitlin Halligan; and the Health Care Bureau chief is Pamela Jarvis.

The Ten Industry Groups Receiving The Most Complaints In 1998 & 1999

1998 Industry# of Complaints1999 Industry# of Complaints
1. Cars70981. Cars7315
2. Health68542. Health5841
3. Credit39983. Credit4843
4. Mail Order38874. Mail Order3515
5. Utilities29945. Telecommunications2837
6. Landlord/Tenant22246. Home Repair2140
7. Retail Sales20637. Landlord/Tenant2133
8. Home Repair19808. Internet1794
9. Contests/Sweepstakes19319. Retail Sales1403
10. Furniture/Appliances169010. Contests/Sweepstakes1616

1999 Complaints By Region:

Buffalo - 1. Credit 2. Cars 3.Telecommunications

Brooklyn - 1. Credit 2. Cars 3. Landlord/Tenant

Binghamton - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Telecommunications

Albany - 1. Credit 2. Mail Order 3. Cars

Harlem - 1. Landlord/Tenant 2. Cars 3. Credit

Nassau - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Mail Order

NYC - 1. Mail Order 2. Cars 3. Credit

Poughkeepsie - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Mail Order

Plattsburgh - 1. Mail Order 2. Cars 3. Credit

Rochester - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Telecommunications

Suffolk - 1. Cars 2. Mail Order 3. Credit

Syracuse -1. Cars 2. Home Improvement 3. Credit

Utica - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Mail Order

Watertown - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Telecommunications

Westchester - 1. Cars 2. Credit 3. Telecommunications