Consumer Survey Highlights Auto Repairs, Insurance Crimes

A survey of 38 consumer protection agencies released last week showed that auto- and crime-related complaints rank among the top 10 types of complaints those agencies received last year.

The report was released by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI) and contained highlights and anecdotes from 2011 about efforts from agencies across the U.S. that aid consumers reporting complaints.

In one anecdote, the report stated that the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency in Florida faced its “biggest challenge” when the agency was tasked with licensing and managing clinics where motorists with crash-related injuries sought treatment.

The challenge was further compounded by the state’s ongoing problem with staged accidents, fake injury claims and similar insurance-related crimes, a perfect example of the troubles lawmakers who pushed reform through earlier this year say are common in the Sunshine State.

Agency workload increased, according to the report, as employees tracked clinics’ records and enforced documentation rules. The agency eventually acquired a “county-marked vehicle” for work use including clinic inspections, “enhancing its visibility and professional image,” the report stated.

And while insurance-related crimes like staged accidents are prominent in places like Florida, the “evolving nature” of such swindles has seen them go global. Criminals behind such schemes are increasingly located outside of the U.S., according to the report.

“There should be the equivalent of Interpol to help U.S. law enforcement agencies take action against scammers located in other countries,” stated the report, which also included a listing of ways consumers can protect themselves against such crimes.

Auto Repairs Are ‘Common Subject’ of Complaint

Auto-related complaints led all other types of complaints in the survey, including auto repairs that are among the types of complaints that “continue to be the most common subjects of complaint to state and local consumer protection agencies,” according to the report.

The report highlighted the Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services’ awareness campaign in which the Virginia agency enforced signage requirements about the repair process. In 587 field visits, agency officials made sure businesses were abiding by state law that requires shops to post signage explaining consumers’ right to a written estimate and pre-authorization of additional repairs charging 10 percent more than the estimate.

A July study from J.D. Power and Associates on consumers’ satisfaction with auto repair claims found that satisfaction levels in every category of the repair process—including the appraisal, repair process and settlement—rose this quarter compared with the last.

The consulting firm’s previous study on repair-related claims satisfaction found a dip in consumers’ happiness, including service interaction and the repair process. The study also found that repairs were taking longer, in part because consumers were waiting longer to bring their car to repair shops.

Although the report mostly leaves them out, insurance regulators across the U.S. also deal with consumer complaints and aggregate data on which insurers cause the most trouble for consumers. The top-rated auto insurance companies typically score well with regulators because of several factors like claims and customer service, and consumers can rely on that complaint data to form their own take on a prospective insurer.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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