6 Tips to Avoid Common Consumer Pitfalls and Complaints

Each year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives millions of consumer complaints. In many cases, these unfortunate experiences could have been avoided — or at least mitigated — if consumers just knew their rights.

Following are some common pitfalls that dog U.S. consumers — as well as some advice about your rights that might help you avoid becoming a victim, or at least help you pick up the pieces afterward.

1. Identity theft

There are many ways thieves can steal your identity, but tax- and wage-related fraud are among the most common forms of this type of crime.

To help avoid tax scams, file early, use a trusted tax preparer and send returns electronically.

Also, federal law gives you the right to request free copies of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. If someone’s opened an account in your name, examining your report is how you’ll catch it.

Other tips for preventing identity theft include:

  • Protect your Social Security number by not giving it out freely.
  • Shred documents with sensitive information before throwing them out.

Make sure you understand your rights if you are a victim of identity theft. TransUnion — one of the big three credit-reporting agencies — says:

You have the right to ask the major credit reporting companies to place a Fraud Alert on your credit report. This will let potential creditors and others know that you may be a victim of identity theft.

TransUnion outlines several other rights you have in its post “Fraud Victim Bill of Rights.”

2. Debt collection harassment

Debt collectors have earned a reputation for being ruthless. They call, send messages and sometimes use illegal tactics to get you to pay.

Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors. They can’t harass you, lie or do many other types of things. The FTC details a list of illegal debt-collector practices at its website.

For more, check out: “What to Do If Debt Collectors Come Calling — Even When You Don’t Owe Money.”

3. Banks and lenders who charge high fees

When dealing with banks and other lenders, you have the right to carefully read over everything before signing on the dotted line. If you’re not willing or able to do so, ask a friend who is.

Before you open an account with a bank or lender, make sure you understand what the fees will be. After you open an account, read your mail: If terms change, the bank or lender typically is required to notify you.

If you’re charged a fee you believe is unfair, call customer service. If it’s still unresolved, you have the right to submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

And of course, you always have the right to take your business to a bank or lender who will give you more favorable terms. Visit the Money Talks News Solutions Center to search for:

4. Products that do not deliver

When you shop from home, it saves you a trip to the store. However, you might not always get what you wanted. In some cases, you might not get anything at all.

Before you buy, investigate the retailer. Check with the Better Business Bureau or do a search for the business name and “complaint.” When in doubt, stick to merchants you trust.

Always use a credit card — which offers you some “rights” in the form of protections should you have a bad retail experience. Usually, you can file a complaint with your credit card company if you believe a retailer has treated you unfairly.

Also, before you buy, know your rights in terms of the return policy. Find out how long you have to send items back and how return shipping works.

5. Unwanted phone calls

Robocalls and other unwanted phone calls have exploded in recent years. You have the right to stop at least some of these inbound queries by requesting that your phone number be added to the federal Do Not Call Registry.

For more on blocking robocalls, check out:

6. Hassles with credit card companies

Consumers have a wide range of disputes with credit card issuers, from billing problems to interest rate hikes.

Stay up to date on the latest credit card scams, and always look over your statement and challenge suspicious charges.

Watch for sneaky credit card fees buried in the fine print.

What consumer rights do you know about that others typically overlook? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Chris Kissell contributed to this report.

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