These were America's biggest consumer complaints of 2020

·5-min read

Fake COVID-19 cures and other pandemic-related fraud joined this year's list of top complaints along with the usual suspects, according to a new report by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

The annual report — which is a collection of 280,413 complaints from 34 state and local consumer agencies in 18 states — identified the most common, fastest-growing, and newest types of complaints brought forward by consumers throughout 2020. (Those agencies helped consumers recover or save more than $262 million over the course of the year.)

"Pandemic complaints were among the top 10 complaints reported to state and local consumer agencies last year, but their actual ranking is probably higher because not all agencies created a separate category for them," Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at CFA, said on a conference call.

Complaints about auto sales — from defective vehicles and towing disputes to sales of new and used cars — topped the list for 2020. (Auto-related problems were also the top complaints for 2019.)

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: Justice Department U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito holds up a face mask as he speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine COVID-19 fraud, focusing on law enforcement's response to those exploiting the pandemic, on Capitol Hill on June 9, 2020 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images)
Justice Department U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito holds up a face mask as he speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine COVID-19 fraud on June 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

Second on the list were complaints about home improvement and construction, followed by landlord/tenant problems. 

Fourth on the list were complaints about credit or debt problems. Consumers were annoyed by billing and fee disputes, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics, and more.

Rounding out the top five were complaints about bad service — including shoddy work, non-performance, and misrepresentation.

Fastest-growing

COVID-19 quickly became a major theme for consumers in 2020, the CFA noted. 

Eleven agencies listed issues related to COVID-19 in their top 10 complaints.

"Pandemic-related complaints topped the lists of worst, fastest-growing, and new complaints last year," the report stated. "Price gouging was the most commonly-cited problem, but COVID-19 generated complaints about everything from appliance repairs to child care, trash pick-up to towing."

Consumers were also peeved about problems like not getting refunds for canceled events and travel.

Status boards display numerous cancelled flights as travel has cutback amid concerns of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Status boards display cancelled flights as travel has cutback amid concerns of the COVID at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

The "usual terms of service and cancellation policies do not take into account the unusual circumstances in which consumers found themselves last year," the report noted. "Weddings and other events had to be canceled because of limits to how many people could gather, vacation rentals were curtailed in some places ... Consumers felt that it was unfair for businesses to invoke their usual cancellation and refund policies in these situations."

For instance, a man who had purchased tickets for three suites at Yankee Stadium for three games during the 2020 season spent $11,600, but the season was canceled. The Yankees initially only made a partial refund of $3,920 for one game, but the New York State Division of Consumer Protection helped him get the rest of his money back.

Agencies told CFA that many were able to help consumers obtain refunds for canceled events or trips, but "not always." 

Fake COVID cures

The Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs also unearthed a very strange scheme involving COVID-19. 

After investigating a local company called Insan Healing, the agency found that it had been allegedly advertising and selling radish paste as a must-have product to prevent COVID-19. 

"And many people paid for this radish paste," Rafael Carbajal, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, said on the conference call. "We worked with our partners ... to win $20,000 worth of restitution for a few consumers, and we shut down the business successfully."

A woman wearing a protective face mask and earmuffs crosses the street during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A woman wearing a protective face mask and earmuffs crosses the street in Beverly Hills, California, November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

In other parts of the country, one company in Florida said they'd provide fogging services to allegedly "kill Coronavirus." The company wasn't even properly licensed to provide fogging services.

Another company in New Mexico falsely claimed it could install an air purification system with UVA lighting to kill COVID. "The matter is till pending," the New Mexico Attorney General's Office said in the CFA report.

Fresh scams to keep watch for

In addition to other common complaints, the Arkansas Attorney General's Office also noted an increased availability of "Fintech financing" offered at the point of sale, which has caused some consternation among those who didn't understand the terms of the contract.

For instance, a consumer may be offered a "no credit needed" option, where a salesperson at a kiosk would enter the buyer's information, but not being upfront and clear about the contract and terms.

Other horror stories include a grandfather who booked a family trip for himself and his eleven children and grandchildren for $70,000 in April 2020. 

When the trip was canceled, the travel company didn't give him a refund. After 10 months of struggling, he filed a complaint to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office and got a full refund within a week.

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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