JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) - Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says debt collectors topped his office's list of the top 10 consumer complaints and scams in 2010.

Koster, in a statement released Friday, said his office received more than 2,200 calls from consumers about problems with debt collectors.

"Even though you may be responsible for the debt the collectors are calling about, there are federal laws governing just how far the debt collector can go," he said. "Your best protection against harassing and abusive calls from debt collectors is to know your rights."

Koster pointed to the Federal Trade Commission's Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers, which can be found on the FTC's website.

The No. 2 scam, he said, involved telemarketers convincing consumers to provide their debit card or credit card numbers and then using those numbers fraudulently.

The attorney general reminded consumers never to provide personal information to someone they don't know unless they have initiated the call themselves.

The other complaints included:

- Telephone cramming, 1,477 complaints -- Cramming, Koster explained, happens when you receive a charge to your phone bill for services you did not order. Cramming charges can be as small as $1 or $2 and consumers often don't pay attention to such a small amount;

- Mortgage foreclosure/loan modifications, 1,204 complaints -- Homeowners complained about the relentless requests for paperwork already provided and/or lost by the lender;

- Home repair and remodeling, 1,083 complaints -- The typical scammer, Koster said, will go door to door asking for money up front from vulnerable consumers. Most door-to-door schemes involve asphalt driveway scams, roof and chimney repairs, and remodeling work inside the home. These types of complaints involve scam artists that are not licensed, are not from the area, do not provide a detailed contract, and usually demand cash payments;

- Lotteries and sweepstakes, 933 complaints -- "Congratulations, you have just won $10,000!" The Attorney General's Office warns consumers to be leery of telephone calls, e-mails, or letters with statements like this. Scam artist often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice consumers to send money, buy overpriced products or services, or contribute to bogus charities;

- Pre-need burial plans/funeral home/cemetaries, 887 complaints -- The Attorney General's Office said it actively pursues companies that do not properly handle money paid to them by consumers for pre-need services. Under Missouri law, the funeral home is required to put 80 percent of the purchase price into a trust fund accessible only to cover funeral expenses. Consumers have a right to see a record of all transactions on their behalf in the trust account;

- Cable/satellite services, 864 complaints -- In addition to faulty installations and price discrepancies, many consumers filed complaints with regard to cable and satellite companies ceasing free programming or channels in which consumers purchased specific packages, such as NFL;

- Automobile repair, 644 complaints -- While most repair shops are honest, it is very easy for an unethical mechanic to convince car owners that unnecessary repairs are needed because the average person does not know much about their car. The Attorney General's Office advises consumers to make sure they get a written estimate before repairs are made, have repairs made by a certified mechanic who honors the existing warranty, and make sure repairs are guaranteed; and

- Automobile warranty/service contracts, 624 complaints -- Koster said his office continues to receive complaints from consumers who purchased automobile extended service contracts. Complaints vary from misleading purchases through the telemarketers selling the product, refunds and undisclosed limitations on coverage.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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