Want to know which businesses REALLY make people mad? Every year, the Federal Trade Commission releases a list of the types of businesses and scams that drew the most consumer complaints. May sound dry, but it's actually an opportunity for the rest of us to learn from others' bad experiences and maybe dodge a headache ourselves.For the ninth year in a row, identity theft was by far the largest source of consumer complaints to the FTC, the nation's consumer watchdog. 26% of complaints were about identity theft, so even though it's old news that we've been hearing about for years, we should all take steps to protect ourselves. You don't have to pay for some fancy monitoring service. Recently lawmakers started requiring the big 3 credit bureaus –Equifax, Experian and TransUnion [DOT COM: PLEASE MAKE THE NAMES OF THE CREDIT BUREAUS HYPERLINKS TO THEIR SITES] –to start allowing any consumer to "lock" their credit for a one-time fee of about $10. You can start the process at the bureaus' websites, but 2 of the 3 annoyingly make you send your request in writing.
By locking your credit reports, nobody can look at your credit record without your permission. Banks review your credit record before issuing you credit cards and other loans, so if identity thieves try to open credit in your name, they won't be able to. Keep in mind that if you yourself want to apply for new credit, you will have to unlock your credit file in order to do so. This can be accomplished by calling an 800 number at each bureau and following automated prompts.
Debt collectors get the dubious honor of being number two on the FTC's complaint list, with 9% of the total consumer complaints. If you are the target of debt collectors, as many more people are in this tough economy, you don't have to put up with harassing phone calls. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, all you have to do is ask the collector for the name and address of their company and write them a letter asking that they not contact you anymore. The debt doesn't go away but the phone calls do.
The rest of the complaints were in smaller of increments of 3 to 4% and below. But they're worth a glance, so you'll know when to be on guard as you go about your business as a consumer. Here are the categories that round out the Top 15:
3. Shop at home and Catalog sales
4. Internet services
5. Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams
6. Credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users
7. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries
8. Television and electronic media
9. Banks and lenders
10. Telecon equipment and mobile services
11. Computer equipment and software
12. Business opportunities, employment agencies and work-at-home offers
13. Internet auctions
14. Advance fee loans and credit protection/repair