DES MOINES, IOWA (January 26, 2022) — Following a record year of complaints in 2020 tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and derecho, the number of complaints received by the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division returned to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

Overall complaints totaled 3,536, a 12.6% decrease from the 4,011 received in 2020. However, the number of complaints received last year is still an increase of 9.6% from the 3,225 complaints filed prior to the pandemic in 2019.

“Iowans continue to face a myriad of issues in the consumer world, from imposter scams to contractors trying to take advantage of homeowners. Our Consumer Protection Division works tirelessly to address these complaints and help make consumers’ lives better,” Attorney General Tom Miller said.

Pandemic, home repairs continue to be focus

Home-improvement complaints increased 4.5% percent in 2021, even though disaster-repair complaints declined sharply a year after the derecho. Complaints related to roofing, windows, siding, and other services made up the majority of the 363 complaints the category received last year.

AG Miller has proposed a bill with the Legislature to strengthen the law involving home-improvement contracts. Under the bill, a contractor must file with the state a $75,000 surety bond before starting a home-improvement project. Consumers could file a claim against the bond.

Contractors who violate the requirement to obtain a bond would be guilty of a simple misdemeanor and in violation of Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act. In addition, the Iowa Division of Labor would cancel their contractor registration.

“We’ve sued many contractors who have cheated dozens of customers, and in some cases have gotten them banned from doing business in Iowa,” AG Miller said. “Unfortunately, many of the defendants in these lawsuits are unwilling or unable to pay and have no assets that can be seized to pay a judgment, so the consumers are still out of their money.”

Homeowners facing repairs can avoid problems by following the office’s contractor checklist.

As Iowans and the world settled into a new normal amid the second year of the pandemic, healthcare complaints, which ranked as the second most complained about category in 2020, fell to the seventh-most complained about category.

Previous health-care complaints largely centered on products and supplies, which would have included issues like price-gouging of health-care products such as toilet paper, disinfectant, and masks, and personal goods, including food. While that subcategory continued to be the highest for health-care complaints, it received 243 fewer complaints in 2021.

Still, most complaints received by the office remained typical of previous years. For the fourth year in a row, auto-related issues reigned supreme, ranking as the top category of complaints reported to the office, while imposter complaints also remained high on the list.

A focus on outreach, education

AG Miller acknowledged the dedication of the attorneys, investigators, and other staffers of the Consumer Protection Division to address and, in many cases, resolve these consumer complaints and inquiries with swift action, at times before a formal written complaint is made.

In fact, official complaint numbers do not include the more than 19,000 calls and more than 14,000 e-mails to the Consumer Protection Division’s operators, who provide tips and information on many consumer issues.

A continued focus on educating Iowans on consumer issues and how to report those to the AG’s office led to the division's ability to quickly identify new twists on old imposter scams, as well as shutting down a door-to-door solicitors falsely claiming to raise funds for charity.

“While our CPD staff are skilled at addressing Iowans’ consumer-related issues, we also rely on the assistance of the public, including the five Consumer Protection Heroes we honored in November 2021,” AG Miller said. “These individuals went above and beyond to protect their fellow citizens, just as our staff does each day.

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