People are still cautious about their money, and a new survey out Tuesday finds they're not afraid to speak up when they're unhappy. The Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection investigators looked at almost 290,000 of last year's complaints to 38 consumer agencies for a top 10 list.
"They're the kinds of transactions that consumers either make every day, like problems with retail stores, or they're problems involving enough money that it's worth complaining," said Susan Grant with Consumer Federation of America.
The most common category of complaint is autos, including lemons and faulty repairs. Disputes over credit and debt came in second, followed by home improvement and construction, retail sales, and utilities.
Misrepresentation of services was sixth. And it was a tie between internet sales and landlord tenant disputes in seventh, fraud, then real estate. And a tie to round out the top 10 -- complaints about household goods, and home solicitations.
New concerns included complaints about bed bugs in apartments, penny auctions on the internet, and gold-buying companies.
To protect consumers from scams and rip-offs, the CFA a offers a few tips:
* Pay by credit card for added protections and don't pay in full upfront.
* Get promises in writing.
* And for help with financial problems like debt and mortgages, use legitimate, verified sources.
There is some good news about all these complaints: The survey says agencies recovered or saved almost $147 million for consumers in 2011.
If you have a complaint about a business or service that you feel treated you unfairly in some way, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, attorney general's office, Federal Trade Commission or other consumer protection agency.
There's no guarantee your individual problem will get resolved, but this is how consumer watchdogs figure out where the problems are, who to sue, and who to go after. They need complaints, so it's worth the effort.