Consumer Protection Division sees a big increase in complaints in 2018

DES MOINES — The phone at the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office rang a lot more last year.

Attorney General spokesman, Lynn Hicks, says the number of formal complaints went up 18 percent to 3,495. He says that’s a pretty substantial increase — when you consider that complaints only went up five percent the previous year. “This is probably the biggest amount we’ve seen in awhile.”

The leader among complaints continues to be those involving cars and trucks. “And that’s everything from auto repairs to financing, warranty plans, used car practices, all kinds of things,” according to Hicks.

Imposter phone calls or emails are something that Hicks says has been generating more complaints. “Which are the ones where people will call or through social media or email pretend to be somebody and they’re trying fish for either information or try to get you to give up money,” Hicks says. “So, those have seen big increases over the last couple of years. And then the other big categories are home improvement. We still get a lot of complaints about home improvement, home remodeling contractors, that sort of thing.”

Those complaints are just the ones that move forward into a formal process. “Sometimes we can work it out over the phone or tell them what’s possible,” Hicks explains. “But these are ones where we encourage them to actually fill out forms. They’ve made complaints, an investigator has looked into it and we go from there — whether it’s informally resolving something between say a consumer — or going all the way to legal action.”

Hicks says the law involving contractors has some gray areas when it comes to paying in advance for work. He says the Attorney General’s Office is proposing a change that would strengthen it. “The contractor would have to file with the state a surety bond of $75,000. And so, if a consumer believes that they have been damaged under that contract — whether it is a fraud or breech of contract — the can recover costs from that bond,” Hicks says.

If you have a complaint you can contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website, by email or by phone.  You can email at: [email protected], or call 515-281-5926. Outside the Des Moines area, call toll-free: 888-777-4590.