The Star-Ledger

Home Improvement Issues Top List Of N.J. Consumer Complaints

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By Christopher Baxter / Statehouse Bureau

TRENTON — There are reasons for all those horror stories about home contractors. Last year, there were more than 900 of them.

Consumers in New Jersey logged more complaints about faulty, poor or fraudulent home improvement work than anything else in 2011, the state Division of Consumer Affairs announced today, the beginning of National Consumer Protection Week.

The division reported receiving 937 complaints about home improvement work last year, which represented about 7.7 percent of the 12,240 total complaints taken by the state.

The consumer division has made investigating home improvement scams a top priority, holding several undercover operations during the past year to lure and catch wrongdoers.

"Consumer complaints are a key tool that our investigators use to detect violators of the state Consumer Fraud Act and in identifying emerging scams targeted at consumers," said Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, whose office oversees the division.

The 778 complaints about motor vehicles ranked second last year, followed by 243 complaints related to credit card and debt collection, which rose from eighth place last year. Division Director Thomas Calcagni attributed the higher number of debt complaints to the economy.

The total number of complaints fell from prior years, even as the profile of the division has grown under Calcagni. He attributed the lower numbers to the creation of a Consumer Service Center, which helps resolve problems quicker without requiring formal complaints.

"We're finding that many of the consumers' concerns can be resolved immediately and expeditiously without having to invoke the full and often time-consuming investigative process," Calcagni said. "We think it's a smarter way of working — it appears to be making a difference."

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said that despite the lower numbers, more people than ever know they can turn the division for help.

"Our experience since Tom's taken over is that people don't fall into that black hole and the complaints that do go there get dealt with," Salowe-Kaye said.

Nationally last year, complaints relating to identity theft topped the list released last month by the Federal Trade Commission. Debt collection ranked second, followed by prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. Home improvement complaints ranked 23rd.

The top 10 complaints were:

1. Home Improvements — 937
2. Motor Vehicles — 778
3. Credit-Debt Collection — 243
4. Loans —238
5. Professional/Occupational Services — 188
6. Internet Sales/Goods —166
7. Home Furnishings/Furniture — 110
8. Wireless Phone Services — 107
9. Insurance — 89
10. Appliances — 82

The Top 10 list was released by the division today to mark the start of National Consumer Protection Week.

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