COLUMBIA — The volume of consumer complaints filed with state regulators in South Carolina dropped significantly in 2013.
“The decrease in complaints is attributed to the economy rebounding and a more thorough vetting process implemented by complaint analysts at the front end,” according to a news release from the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. Officials said the agency’s new online complaint system, launched in January, should make the complaint process more efficient.
The consumer affairs agency received more than 4,100 complaints in 2013. Figures from the previous year show the agency received 5,500 complaints. In each year, regulators won back about $1.3 million that was wrongly collected from consumers. The amounts came in the form of refunds, credit and adjustments.
In 2013, the largest complaint category was debt collection, at 13 percent, nearly tied with complaints against utility companies, which made up at 12.9 percent, according to the agency.
Figures show that consumer angst toward their utilities rose last year. In 2012, utilities were the source of only 9 percent of consumer grievances.
Vehicle complaints made up 12 percent, while retail stores trailed far behind with 7 percent, and real estate sector grievances were only 5 percent of complaints last year.
Debt collection complaints have placed atop all others since 2010.
The top five consumer refunds were related to debt collection businesses that targeted someone who did not possess the debt in question. The agency recovered $440,912 for consumers in that category.
Contract problems involving a mortgage resulted in the government regulators’ returning $160,000 to consumers. Additionally, regulators helped consumers get back $54,620 after a credit reporting agency processed inaccurate items on credit reports.
Problems with lemon vehicles and new vehicles resulted in the government agency’s recovery of $30,000 for wronged consumers. The smallest recovery area was for contract conflicts over mortgages, for a total of $29,642 that was returned to consumers.
Though complaint numbers are down in comparison to previous years, the department still mediated a similar number of refunds, credits and adjustments compared to 2012.
Consumers may register a complaint at www.consumer.sc.gov. Click FILE A COMPLAINT. Consumers may also use the public information tool, by researching complaints against businesses before deciding to patronize them. Consumers create an online profile and communicate with their complaint analyst through the portal.