March 2, 2009 -- Want to know which businesses really make people mad?
Every year, the Federal Trade Commission releases a list of the kinds of businesses and scams that drew the most consumer complaints. It may sound dry, but it's actually an opportunity for the rest of us to learn from others' bad experiences and maybe dodge a headache ourselves.
For the ninth year in a row, identity theft was, by far, the largest source of consumer complaints to the FTC, the nation's consumer watchdog. Twenty-six percent of complaints were about identity theft, so even though it's old news that we've been hearing about for years, we should all take steps to protect ourselves.
You don't have to pay for some fancy monitoring service. Recently, lawmakers started requiring the big three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- to start allowing any consumer to "lock" their credit for a one-time fee of about $10. You can start the process at the bureaus' Web sites, but two of the three, annoyingly, make you send your request in writing.
By locking your credit reports, nobody can look at your credit record without your permission. Banks review your credit record before issuing you credit cards and other loans, so if identity thieves try to open credit in your name, they won't be able to. Keep in mind that if you yourself want to apply for new credit, you will have to unlock your credit file in order to do so. This can be accomplished by calling an 800 number at each bureau and following automated prompts.
Debt collectors get the dubious honor of being No. 2 on the FTC's complaint list, with 9 percent of the total consumer complaints. If you are the target of debt collectors, as many more people are in this tough economy, you don't have to put up with harassing phone calls.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, all you have to do is ask the collector for the name and address of their company and write them a letter asking that they not contact you anymore. The debt doesn't go away but the phone calls do.
Catalog Sales to Internet Auctions, Beware
The rest of the complaints were in smaller of increments of 3 to 4 percent and below. But they're worth a glance, so you'll know when to be on guard as you go about your business as a consumer. Here are the categories that round out the top 15:
Shop at home and catalog sales
Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams
Credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users
Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries
Television and electronic media
Banks and lenders
Telecom equipment and mobile services
Computer equipment and software
Business opportunities, employment agencies and work-at-home offers
Advance fee loans and credit protection/repair