That is according to a survey of 39 state and local consumer protection agencies in 23 states, who told the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI) about the most common complaints they received last year.
Shoddy home improvement or construction ranked second, followed by complaints about utilities, particularly with regard to installation issues, service problems and billing disputes.
Consumers also complained about their retail sales experiences, including false advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates and failure to deliver.
Finance, such as billing and fee disputes, was the fifth biggest issue for consumers last year, followed by health products/services and then poor quality services.
Landlord/tenant disputes, internet sales and home solicitations, such as telemarketing and mail, rounded out the top ten complaints.
While these issues most exercised consumers last year, the report also went on to identify a number of emerging problems, such as car leasing and solar panel sales.
Car leasing can attract some consumers because little or no down payment is required and the monthly payments are relatively low, yet interest rates can be high and these leases do not carry the same protection regulations as for new cars.
With solar panel sales, the report warned of a growing number of complaints about misleading sales practices, confusing contracts and shoddy installation.
And fraud – although not in the top ten complaints reported last year – still topped the list of both the fastest-growing and worst complaints.
“Imposter scams are still prevalent,” said Amber Capoun, NACPI President and a legal assistant at the Office of the Kansas State Bank Commissioner.
“As a state employee, I’m particularly perturbed about fraudsters who pretend to be from the government and use scare tactics, or promises of grants or unclaimed funds, to get people to send them money,” she added.
Some agencies also reported a new trend in scammers requesting payment via store gift cards. “Gift cards should only be used to buy something for you or someone you know, not to send payments to strangers,” Capoun warned.
Data sourced from CFA, NACPI; additional content by WARC staff