Republic reporter Rebekah L. Sanders is here with #HereToHelpAZ to help you with any consumer-protection issues you may have. Isabel Greenblatt/azcentral.com
One of the newest ways for scammers and dishonest businesses to take advantage of customers is through digital document signatures, a new report on the top 10 consumer complaints nationwide has found.
When customers sign contracts electronically — whether on a tablet, a laptop or email — they may not be given time to read the fine print and may not receive copies for their records, according to a survey of consumer complaints in 23 states by the Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit advocacy coalition.
In one case, home-security company employees went door to door, claiming false crime statistics and pressuring homeowners to purchase alarm systems.
The salespeople required consumers to sign agreements on handheld electronic devices but didn’t allow them to scroll through the terms.
In some instances, people who were elderly or disabled did not receive copies of the contracts because they did not have email addresses or computers, the report said.
Businesses also have been known to copy and paste electronic signatures from one document to another without the customer’s consent.
The Arizona Republic discovered a Peoria mold-removal company admitted in court documents that it had faked a digital signature to escape responsibility in a dispute with a homeowner.
“Using electronic devices to obtain consumers’ signatures on contracts … may generate an increasing number of complaints in the future,” the report concluded.
If a salesperson pressures you to sign a contract immediately, say you will not sign until you’ve received a written offer and reviewed it thoroughly.Also insist on receiving copies of the contract before the salesperson leaves.
In addition, beware of buying services from door-to-door salespeople. Instead, research companies ahead of time through the Better Business Bureau, online review sites or a state licensing agency to look for records of complaints.
Remember that you have three days to cancel between signing a contract during a sales presentation at your home and any work beginning, according to federal law.
While digital signatures are an emerging tool for fraudsters, there are more common problems that consumers face.
The Arizona Republic has investigated every category on the national Top 10 list and helped people across Arizona fight bad businesses and get money back through our #HereToHelpAZ campaign.
Top 10 consumer complaints of 2017
- Auto sales, leases and rentals: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, auto leasing, and towing disputes.
Saban’s Rent-A-Car, now doing business as Phoenix Car Rental, was prosecuted by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for ripping off thousands of customers. One family driving to Disneyland was overcharged by $400 for a van with a broken speedometer and wobbly wheels.
- Home repairs and construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.
Goodyear snowbirds sued ServiceMaster All Care Restoration, alleging the company contaminated their home with mold by not following proper cleanup procedures, The Republic found.
- Retail products: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, and failure to deliver.
A Republic investigation revealed programs around the country that label foods locally grown are often deceptive and unregulated.
- Credit and debt services: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.
A first-time Phoenix home buyer was duped out of $73,000 in a real-estate scam that was almost impossible to detect.
- Landlord and tenant disputes: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, and illegal eviction tactics.
A feisty 83-year-old with purple-streaked hair was able to stay in her home after The Republic wrote about an eviction process that didn’t follow the rules.
- Telephone and internet services: Misleading offers, installation issues, service problems, and billing disputes with phone and internet services.
Help The Republic identify internet providers that deliver lower-than-promised speeds by taking a quick speed test at http://static.azcentral.com/speedtest.
- Health products and medical services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, and medical billing issues.
One family hit by a $47,000 medical helicopter bill saw the amount they owed slashed after The Republic intervened.
- Household appliances: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, and faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.
It’s hot outside. Here’s how not to get stuck with a bad contractor or replacement unit if your air-conditioning breaks.
- Robocalls, internet marketing and door-to-door sales: Misrepresentations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations, and failure to deliver online purchases.
Adobe Carpet Cleaning in Phoenix was banned from telemarketing for six years and fined $1 million for harassing people on the federal “Do Not Call” list.
- Travel and time shares: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, cancellation and billing disputes.
The Republic exposed a Louisiana riverboat company that strung along a Mesa couple by canceling and rescheduling their $10,000 cruise four times and refusing to refund them after months of requests.
- BONUS: Home solar installation: Misrepresenting savings on electric bills, not explaining contract terms, failing to disclose monthly fees and damaging roofs.
Here are 10 things to consider before buying solar panels for your house.
Reporters Rebekah Sanders and Ryan Randazzo sit down and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of installing solar panels on your home.
Noah Lau, Arizona Republic
Do you have a consumer complaint? Contact investigative reporter Rebekah L. Sanders by email at [email protected], text “HereToHelpAZ” to 51555, or fill out our online form.
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