Iowa AG Office says pandemic and derecho increased consumer complaints in 2020

Iowa AG blames pandemic and derecho for rise in consumer complaints in 2020
Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 5:50 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) -The Iowa Attorney General’s Office says scammer took advantage of the pandemic and the derecho in 2020, which increased consumer complaints by 24.4%.

Overall complaints totaled 4,011, compared to the the 3,225 reports in 2019. According to a release, complaints related to COVID-19 and the derecho that hit Iowa on August 10th played a big role in the increase.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection 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, according to reports.

But the disasters didn’t consume all of the office’s attention. The Office says 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,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in a statement. “Bad actors hope they can hide while our attention is focused on other areas. They’re wrong.”

Miller also said 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 says they 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, according to the Office.

Overall, the number of complaints are down from a decade ago, according to the statement. The Division says they’ve 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 emails 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.”

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