Tuesday, November 20, 2001

More people are finding fault with the Internet as more individuals flock to it.
Consumer complaints related to the Internet, including gripes about providers, online auctions and e-commerce transactions, rose 62 percent last year, according to an annual survey released yesterday by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA) and the Consumer Federation of America.
For the first time, the Internet is among the top 10 things about which consumers complain, ranking eighth behind such mainstays as auto sales, home-improvement products and household goods. Fifteen percent of agencies reported the Internet to be a major complaint category.
The NACAA and Consumer Federation, both nonprofit organizations based in the District, collected the data from last year’s reports from the local and state agencies overseen by the agency administrators association. Forty-five of the NACAA’s 165 state, county and municipal consumer agencies responded to the survey, which has been conducted each year since 1996.
“We see that people do not always get what they want over the Internet,” said Wendy Weinberg, executive director of the NACAA. “Sometimes, they get nothing at all.”
Indeed, problems with merchandise ordered online was the top complaint about the Internet, with 83 percent of agencies reporting it to be common. Problems with online auctions were reported to be common by 80 percent of agencies, and complaints related to Internet-service providers were deemed common by 69 percent of agencies. Internet-service providers ranked fifth among industries “most likely to go out of business,” trailing only home-repair contractors, furniture stores, health studios and travel agencies.
The survey did not report whether high-speed Internet services were more or less susceptible to complaints than dial-up providers. However, utility companies including the Baby Bells that offer certain types of high-speed service saw the number of complaints increase an average of 52 percent during the year. Miss Weinberg said that many agencies chose to place complaints about Internet service from the Baby Bells in the “utilities” category rather than the “Internet” category when responding to the survey.
The Consumer Federation and other consumer groups have long been critical of the high-speed Internet service provided by the Baby Bells, and have been particularly vocal on the issue of whether the Bells have opened their networks for competitors. Delays in opening these networks, the consumer groups argue, has indirectly led to complaints against competitive providers because consumers have had to wait as much as several weeks or even months for service.
Also released in yesterday’s survey were the “worst scams of 2000.” On the list were two Maryland complaints:
Rosenthal Automotive, which, according to the Montgomery County Department of Consumer Affairs, charged consumers an unlawful “acquisition fee” when they tried to buy vehicles at the end of their lease terms. Rosenthal, which runs 15 new- and used-car dealerships in the Washington area, made refunds totaling about $22,000 to 44 consumers and paid $10,000 to the county’s consumer-education fund.
T-Up Inc., formerly based in Baltimore and now based in Brooklyn, N.Y., was ordered by a judge to pay $3.7 million in penalties and stop selling its aloe vera products, which were promoted by the company as cures for AIDS, cancer and other diseases. T-Up broke the law by “misleading consumers with unsubstantiated claims concerning their products’ safety and effectiveness,” the Maryland Attorney General’s Office reported. T-Up has appealed.

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