BURLINGTON – In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced the top 10 consumer complaints received by the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) in 2021. CAP, a partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and the University of Vermont, offers a free mediation service for Vermont consumers, including small businesses. In 2021, CAP received 1,173 complaints and recovered more than $240,000 for Vermont consumers. Claiming the list’s top spots are complaints involving vehicles, retail, and home improvement, respectively – representing approximately 44 percent of all complaints filed.
The following are the top 10 consumer complaints received by CAP in 2021:
Consumer Complaint Issue
Number of Complaints
Motorized Vehicles Common issues included defective merchandise; failure of state inspection; misrepresentation; and unsatisfactory service/repair.
Retail Common issues included failure to deliver; refund policy/refund disputes; defective merchandise; and unsatisfactory service.
Home Improvements Common issues included unsatisfactory service/repair; criminal home improvement fraud concerns; failure to perform; improper installation; and deposit refund dispute.
Health/Medical Common issues included unauthorized billing; excessive estimate/charge; and defective merchandise.
Fuel Common issues included pricing complaints; refund delays; propane tank removal delays; billing disputes; contract disputes; and safety concerns.
Housing and Real Estate Common issues included landlord-tenant issues; security deposit disputes; and warranty of habitability disputes.
Banking, Credit and Finance Common issues included debt collection; credit reporting disputes; and financing/loan issues.
Home Furnishings Common issue included defective merchandise, often involving new appliances.
Athletics Common issues included refund policy disputes for seasonal passes, and failure to deliver services.
Delivery, Moving and Storage Common issue included delayed deliveries.
CAP’s Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2021
Though not represented in the list of consumer complaints, scams continue to be of concern to Vermonters. Earlier this year, Attorney General Donovan released the top 10 scams reported to CAP. In 2021, CAP received 5,154 scam reports, up slightly from the previous year. New twists on old scams involving computer tech support and fraudulent online listings represented nearly a quarter of all reports filed by Vermonters. More information on stopping scams is available at ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams/.
CAP offers a free mediation service to all Vermont consumers, including small businesses. If you are a consumer in need of assistance, please contact CAP by calling 1-800-649-2424 or visiting ago.vermont.gov/cap.
A National Consumer Protection Week feature. “National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a time to help people understand their consumer rights and avoid frauds and scams” (FTC).
Improving your home can be an overwhelming process to complete on your own. Turning to a contractor can help relieve the stress, but homeowners should be aware of the existence of home improvement fraud.
Home improvement fraud happens when a contractor promises to improve your home, but leaves the project incomplete or your home in an uninhabitable condition.
Before hiring a contractor for a home improvement project, do your research:
Start by reviewing the Vermont Attorney General’s Home Improvement Fraud Registry where you’ll find the names of individuals who have been criminally convicted of committing home improvement fraud in Vermont.
Review complaint history posted on websites like BBB.org.
Contact the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) and ask if any complaints have been filed against the contract you are considering.
Ask your friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers about their home improvement experiences. These individuals are more than just connections; they are resources that can provide contractor references and warnings.
Tips for avoiding home improvement fraud:
Ask the contractor for references. Then, call the references and ask detailed questions about the work done, satisfaction, price, the time it took to complete, and how they found the contractor.
Find your contractor through trusted family or friends or trusted websites.
Pay in increments rather than a large sum/total payment upfront.
Once you’ve chosen who you want to hire, determine the exact timeframe and the estimated price for the job. Compare this price to makeups for similar projects (get at least three estimates).
Get all agreements in a written contract. Verbal statements are difficult to prove.
Keep your down payment to a minimum.
If possible, make your payment upon completion of the work; or at least make payments as the equivalent portion of the work is completed. That way, if the contractor walks off the job, you haven’t lost any money.
Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work.
Always request proof of insurance.
Warning signs of less than reputable contractors:
Claims that the contractor was passing by and noticed a problem with your home.
Discounts for finding other customers or to use your home as a demo model.
Offers a good price for materials left over from a previous job.
Only accept cash payments.
Uses high-pressure sales tactics and demands a decision on the spot.
Asks you to pay for the entire job or a substantial portion of the job up front.
Suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows.
Refuses to provide proof of insurance or legitimate contact info.
Before hiring a contractor, you should know that while Vermont law does not require home improvement contracts to be in writing, you can request a written contract outlining the terms of the agreement. If there isn’t a written contract, the contractor may disclaim liability for complications, or dispute the agreed-upon terms. When considering a contract, it’s best to read each page and verify acceptance before you sign it. Fraudulent contractors could conceal important documents underneath the agreement that could have dire consequences, including the loss of your home.
If you have a problem with a home improvement project or want to research a contractor before hiring them, contact CAP for assistance by visiting ago.vermont.gov/cap or by calling 1-800-649-2424.
As a state, we learned about the importance of storm preparedness in the wake of Irene. We are fortunate not to experience such disaster regularly. We express heartfelt concern for those devastated by the effects of Tropical Depression Florence. Though miles away from our homes in Vermont, such storms can still impact us indirectly. Vermonters may want to donate to charitable storm relief efforts, for example.
For National Preparedness Month, and in the wake of an unfortunate disaster, we’re reminding folks to include the following scam tips in your disaster preparedness toolbox:
Fake Charity Calls. Scammers prey on the vulnerability of people who want to help after a terrible disaster. Such scammers will pretend to be a charity, asking for donations. They may look legitimate, having a website or social media page (Facebook, Go Fund Me, etc.), or have instructions to text donations to a certain number.
Fake Clean-up/Repair Crew. After a storm hits, some illegitimate salespeople may knock on doors and offer to provide cleanup or repair services.
Tip: Always check out a business before engaging their services. Ask for references and ask your friends for referrals. Get contracts in writing. Never offer upfront payment!
Fake Relief. FEMA scams may make rounds, where callers or door-to-door “inspectors” claim they are from the agency, offering help. They may phish for your personal information or require payment from you to log your information.
Tip: Don’t pay anyone claiming to be from a disaster relief agency! Don’t give out your information to unknown callers. If you are seeking governmental assistance, go directly to the source.
We hope your friends and loved ones are safe and well. If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program ago.vermont/gov/cap.