The annual report from the
In all, the 40 agencies in 23 states that participated in this year's survey received some 268,000 consumer complaints last year.
In what's known as the tech alert scam -- which many agencies cited as new or the fastest growing problem in 2013 -- con artists call pretending to be from
Victims are directed to a "repair" website, where malware is downloaded onto their computer, enabling thieves to steal passwords, account numbers and other personal information. Sometimes the scammers demand payment to remove the malware.
The consumer federation recommended that consumers visit the
In the case of the medical alert scam, thieves persuade senior citizens to provide
Overall, the agencies said they considered scams against the elderly to be the most egregious.
"These are outrageous situations where scammers may take people's last dimes," the federation's director of consumer protection,
Some local agencies also expressed concern about scammers using increasingly aggressive tactics, especially toward seniors, by threatening to visit their homes or have them arrested if they didn't comply with payment demands.
Thieves increasingly are exploiting cash reload cards used to load funds onto prepaid debit cards, Ms. Grant said. In a typical scenario, the scammer cons someone into paying for something by providing the serial number from the reload card. The number is then used to move the money onto a prepaid card, which is cashed out at an ATM.
Ms. Grant praised one of the leading prepaid card operators,
The top 10 consumer complaints in 2013 were similar to those cited in previous reports, with complaints involving automobiles again topping the list.
Complaints about home improvement/?construction work placed second, followed by credit/?debt complaints (billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications, mortgage fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics).
The survey cited violations of do-not-call rights and other telemarketing abuses as the fastest growing complaint category in 2013. The federation said technology was a major factor in the increase by making calls cheap to place and hard to trace.
The survey also sought to highlight the role of state and local consumer agencies in protecting the public, many of which have been scaling back in recent years or in some cases shutting down because of budget cuts.
Unlike most federal agencies, local agencies usually mediate individual complaints. Figures from 35 agencies in the survey showed they saved or recovered roughly
For the federation's full 51-page report, which includes a section on how consumers can help protect themselves, visit www.consumerfed.org.
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