DES MOINES — Vehicle issues top the list for consumer complaints filed by Iowa residents in 2019, according to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
Complaints regarding the automotive industry grew nearly 15 percent, up to 535 reports. Reports from Iowans increased regarding fraudulent auto warranty plans and services, particularly as scammers call and promise renewals on a policy.
It’s often difficult to determine if a call is fake or real. Scammers typically know information about a consumer’s particular car or warranty and use that information to make a call seem legitimate, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Other complaints regarding vehicles include auto parts and repairs, which made up about 30 percent of auto-related reports.
Beyond vehicles, imposter scam complaints in general are also growing in Iowa as these crimes increase nationwide, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In 2019, reports of Social Security scammers “skyrocketed.” In these scams, callers pretend to work at the Internal Revenue Service, according to the FTC. Between April 2018 to April 2019, the FTC received 76,000 reports about imposters and losses around $19 million nationwide. While only 3.6 percent of complainants said they lost money, the median dollar amount was around $1,500 and both older and younger adults reported similar losses.
Iowans’ complaints about imposter scams in general rose 11 percent to about 375 reports in 2019. That number may be low because not everyone filed formal complaints, according to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
The scams are conducted through the phone, social media or email and criminals often request immediate payment to resolve an issue like collecting overdue tax payments or pretending to be a company.
“Don’t respond to messages without verifying phone numbers or social media accounts,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said in a news release.
While certain fraud reports are increasing, the Attorney General’s Office reported the total number of complaints it received decreased 7.7 percent.
Consumer protection bills proposed
This legislative session, the Attorney General’s Office is supporting five different bills aimed at protecting consumers:
Requiring contractors file a $75,000 surety bond with the state, which homeowners can recover if they’re a victim of home improvement fraud or a breach of contract.
Adding motorcycles to Iowa’s Lemon Law, which protects vehicle buyers who purchase a defective car.
Increasing penalties for elder abuse, particularly for theft and fraud.
Requiring student debt loan companies to get a license from the Iowa Division of Banking and give disclosures and protections for loan borrowers.