DES MOINES, Iowa – Scammers took advantage of a confusing and chaotic 2020, as complaints to the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division soared amid the pandemic.
Overall complaints totaled 4,011, a 24.4 percent increase over the 3,225 reports in 2019.
Complaints related to COVID-19 and the derecho that hit Iowa on Aug. 10 played a big role in the increase. The division received more than 600 complaints about price gouging of health care products such as toilet paper, disinfectant, and masks; personal goods, including food; and disaster repair services, such as tree-trimming and electrical services. Complaints over travel, such as canceled trips and accommodations, also soared.
The disasters didn’t consume all of the office’s attention, however. Even though sectors of the economy closed for portions of 2020, typical consumer complaints remained high. For the third year in a row, auto-related problems topped all categories of complaints reported to the office.
“Consumers still came to us with concerns about imposter scams, robocalls, car repairs, housing problems, and other run-of-the-mill complaints,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “Bad actors hope they can hide while our attention is focused on other areas. They’re wrong.”
Miller noted that the attorneys, investigators, and other staffers of the Consumer Protection Division responded quickly to the influx of complaints — all while primarily working remotely. The division streamlined its processes and shifted resources to react quickly, and sought to prevent complaints by warning Iowans about the potential for storm chasers and COVID scammers. Investigators reached out to online retailers and individual sellers to stop predatory pricing, and staffers created a new price-gouging complaint form to help investigators get all the unique information relevant to those types of complaints.
Overall, the number of complaints are down from a decade ago, as the division has improved efforts to assist consumers before they file a formal written complaint. The complaint numbers do not include the more than 20,000 calls and nearly 16,000 e-mails to the Consumer Protection Division’s operators.
“We have a strong intake team, and if we cannot help consumers through the Consumer Fraud Act or other laws, we’ll guide them to other resources or educate them on how to avoid further problems,” Miller said.
“I’m proud of our great Consumer Protection Division, and their tireless efforts to help Iowans,” Miller said. “We use the law to help make consumers’ lives better.”
Top 15 types of complaints:
- Auto – 514
- Health care – 436
- Home improvement – 347
- Imposter – 340
- Personal services – 324
- Personal goods – 258
- Home goods and services – 226
- Miscellaneous – 226
- Media – 170
- Housing & Realty – 154
- Internet – 130
- Telecom – 114
- Business to business – 109
- Lending (non-mortgage) – 108
- Debt – 103