CHICAGO — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released her list of the top 10 consumer complaints for 2011, revealing consumer debt was the upmost concern among Illinoisans.
For the fourth consecutive year, consumer debt complaints in 2011 ranked No. 1 on the Attorney General’s annual top 10 list of complaints. Of the nearly 5,900 debt-related complaints, more than 1,100 were filed against debt collectors who illegally threatened and harassed consumers.
Madigan said the complaints and calls to her office demonstrate the extent to which consumers are struggling to pay off debt and are being targeted by abusive, aggressive debt collectors.
Abusive debt collection is a growing problem nationally, Madigan noted, with the Federal Trade Commission reporting in 2010 its top complaint was abusive debt-collection practices.
While unveiling the list of top consumer complaints, Madigan also took action against a Skokie-based debt collector, PN Financial Inc., filing suit in Cook County Circuit Court. Madigan said PN Financial emerged last year as one of the most egregious cases of illegal debt collection during her tenure as Attorney General.
“As this difficult economy persists, honest, hard-working families are increasingly targets for debt collectors that operate outside the law,” Madigan said. “Though consumers may be struggling under the weight of debt, they still have the right to be protected against illegal harassment and fraud.”
Madigan’s lawsuit against PN Financial and owner, Nelson Macwan, of Skokie, Ill., alleges numerous violations of state and federal laws that protect Illinois consumers from off-limits debt collection tactics. Madigan alleged PN Financial acted illegally by:
• Revealing information about debts to people other than the consumer, including employers or family members;
• Fronting as a law firm and intimidating consumers with fake court case numbers on letters sent to consumers to falsely represent they had been sued for failure to pay a debt;
• Debiting more money from consumers’ bank accounts than consumers authorized, causing some to incur overdraft fees; and
• Accessing consumers’ credit reports without authorization to intimidate them to pay alleged debts.
Additionally, Madigan said in some instances PN Financial attempted to collect debts it was not authorized to collect. As a result, some consumers paid PN Financial, without realizing they didn’t owe any outstanding balances to the collection company, and reported losing at least $9,000. PN Financial also contacted other consumers over debts that had already been paid off.
Fifty-two consumers have filed complaints with Madigan’s office against PN Financial. The Chicago Better Business Bureau (BBB) has received 82 complaints against the company.
“The BBB has received numerous complaints from consumers who allege a troubling trend in the debt collection industry,” said Steve Bernas, BBB of Chicago president and CEO. “According to these consumers, certain debt collection companies are attempting to collect debts that these consumers don’t owe or have previously paid off. We support the efforts of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to protect consumers. Currently, PN Financial Inc., against which Attorney General Madigan filed suit, has the BBB’s lowest rating — an ‘F’.”
Madigan’s lawsuit seeks to shut down PN Financial, permanently bar it from debt collection in Illinois, provide restitution to affected consumers and assess an array of civil penalties.
In addition to consumer debt, Madigan said other categories that topped her list of complaints involved identity theft and home repair. In 2011, more than 200,000 consumers contacted Madigan’s office for assistance and a total of 24,516 formal complaints were filed.
The top 10 consumer complaints, with the number of complaints, for 2011 were as follow:
1. Consumer Debt (mortgage lending, debt collections, credit cards) — 5,878
2. Identity Theft (fraudulent credit cards and utility accounts, bank fraud) — 3,207
3. Construction Home Improvement (remodeling, roofs/gutters) — 2,263
4. Telecommunications (wireless service, local phone service, cable/satellite) — 1,903
5. Motor Vehicles/Used Auto Sales (as-is sales, financing, warranties) — 1,160
6. Promotions and Schemes (sweepstakes, pyramid, work-at-home schemes) — 953
7. Mail Order (Internet purchases, catalog ordering, television/radio) — 944
8. Fraud Against Business (consulting, directories/publications) — 843
9. Motor Vehicle/Non-Warranty Repair (collision/body, engines) — 737
10. Utilities (electric, water, natural gas/propane, waste removal) — 574
For more information, visit Madigan’s website, www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov, or contact her following range of hotlines about issues ranging from home foreclosure to identity theft:
• Chicago Consumer Fraud Hotline: 1-800-386-5438
• Springfield Consumer Fraud Hotline: 1-800-243-0618
• Carbondale Consumer Fraud Hotline: 1-800-243-0607
• Spanish Language Hotline: 1-866-310-8398
• Identity Theft Hotline: 1-866-999-5630
• Homeowner Helpline: 1-866-544-7151
From the Jan. 18-24, 2012, issue