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2nd Prd 17:50

Insurers, contractors draw Mass. consumers’ ire

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Robert MacKerron got a check from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation after a contractor dispute.

Massachusetts consumers complained a lot last year about banks, insurance companies, identity theft, and home improvement contractors, according to annual lists released by various state and federal organizations Tuesday.

The state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office, and the Better Business Bureau presented individual lists of their top five 2011 consumer issues, during an event at the consumer affairs agency’s Division of Insurance office in Boston.

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The United States Postal Inspection Service and the Northeast regional office of the Federal Trade Commission posted similar lists Tuesday.

The Better Business Bureau, a national organization with local chapters that accredit businesses and offer consumer support, said it was struck by the number of concerns Massachusetts consumers had about two major regional banks, TD Bank and Citizens Bank.

Of the 20,000 complaints received last year by the bureau’s regional branch in Marlborough, about 1,000 were related to those two institutions, it said.

“Those complaints range from processing fees to customer service issues,’’ said Paula Fleming, the bureau’s vice president of communications and marketing. “You have to take into consideration the volume of business that these banks do. The reason they’re at number one is they’re two large businesses in our area and we are filtering all the complaints.’’

In a statement Tuesday, TD Bank said it provides “legendary customer service.’’ The bank said it keeps tracks of complaints registered with the Better Business Bureau, and characterized the number made about it “from Maine to Florida’’ as “limited.’’

The Better Business Bureau’s Marlborough office covers eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont.

Citizens Bank did not respond to requests for comment.

Barbara Anthony, undersecretary of the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, said that of the 80,000 consumer concerns registered last year, the top five issues - which included auto, health, and home insurance - accounted for 23,000.

“Insurance is probably one of the biggest things that people have to deal with,’’ Anthony said. She added that claims related to last year’s damaging tornadoes played a major role in the high number of home insurance issues.

Identity theft topped the FTC’s list and placed second in the rankings from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. David Monahan, deputy chief of the state’s Consumer Protection Division, warned against divulging personal information over the phone or through e-mail.

“Folks are asking for your Social Security number and your Medicare number and your information,’’ he said. “You need to be very wary.’’

For the second consecutive year, the state Consumer Protection Division’s number one complaint was foreclosure-relief scams, mostly related to mortgage loan modifications. Monahan noted that it is illegal in Massachusetts to charge an upfront fee for such services and said borrowers should stay away from companies that guarantee they can secure loans or cut payments in half.

“Who can promise that?’’ he said. “Obviously, they’re disreputable if they’re making promises like that.’’

Both the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division operate hotlines that allow consumers to lodge complaints and learn about what actions they can take to protect themselves and recover any losses.

“We’re here as a resource and a guide,’’ Anthony said.

Consumers can call the attorney general’s Public Inquiry and Assistance Center at 617-727-8400, or the hotline at the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation at 617-973-8787. For online assistance, visit the attorney general’s consumer website, www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources, or the consumer affairs website at www.mass.gov/consumer.

The top five consumer issues reported in 2011

Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

1. Auto insurance

2. Health insurance

3. Home improvement contractors

4. Lemon law

5. Home insurance

Massachusetts Attorney General

1. Foreclosure relief scams

2. Identity theft

3. High pressure sales pitches

4. Home improvement contractors

5. Eye-catching introductory offers

Federal Trade Commission - Northeast Region

1. Identity theft

2. Debt collection

3. Shop-at-home and catalog scams

4. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries

5. Banks and lenders

Better Business Bureau of Boston

1. Banks

2. Clothing

3. Automobile dealers - new cars

4. Collection agencies

5. Automobile dealers - used cars

US Postal Inspection Service

1. Foreign lottery scams

2. Fake checks

3. Work at home scams

4. Telemarketing Fraud

5. Cross-border fraud

Gail Waterhouse can be reached at gail.waterhouse@globe.com.
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