Spending

3 Increasingly Common Scams to Watch Out For

Bob Sullivan

How are you most likely to get ripped off right now? The Consumer Federation of America—which analyzes complaints filed with dozens of state and local consumer protection agencies—just published its latest top 10 list.

The top category? Autos—everything from car sales to repair shops to towing disputes. You can probably guess a few other common offenders, too, like shoddy or incomplete construction work on home renos and false advertising by retailers. But scammers evolve quickly.

So, what should you watch out for next? The CFA and its partner, North American Consumer Protection Investigators, say complaints about these three are increasingly common.

1. Solar Energy Sales

Complaints of deceiving solar sales pitches are nothing new. But now that these installations have gone mainstream, even more bad actors have rushed into the space.

“Solar energy is good for the environment and for consumers’ pocketbooks, but there are starting to be complaints over misleading sales practices, confusing contracts and shoddy installation,” Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at CFA said in a press release. “Consumers should check out the company and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement before they sign on the dotted line.” (You can look up company ratings with the Better Business Bureau. Getting bids from competitors is a good idea, too.)

2. Used Car Leasing

Leasing used to be reserved for new cars, but dealers have started offering used or “certified pre-owned” cars to buyers under lease contracts, as well. The monthly payments can seem attractively inexpensive, but these contracts have two potential pitfalls: Interest rates can be high, and state lemon laws—which offer recourse to purchasers of products that repeatedly fall short of quality and performance standards—might not apply.

This year’s report includes the story of a Massachusetts buyer who learned her recently leased used car had a serious electrical issue. The dealer said it’d cost $4,000 to fix, and refused to let her out of the lease. “Unfortunately, none of the auto-related laws in the state—the New Car Lemon Law, the New Leased Car Lemon Law, the Used Vehicle Warranty Law or the Lemon Aid Law (which covers cars that fail inspection)—apply to the lease of a used car,” the report said.

3. Robocalls

Consumers are increasingly complaining about continuous robocall solicitations to their mobile (and sometimes, home) phones. The FCC recently convened a task force on the issue, which said it will implement new rules to ease the problem soon.

Though probably not soon enough. Fortunately, the calls are generally more annoying than dangerous, but plenty of scams—like the incredibly pervasive IRS tax collection scam—begin as robocalls. For now, hang up on them.

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