Make us your home page

Complaints about group coupons appear to be on the rise

As group coupon purveyors grow in popularity on the Internet and granddaddy Groupon prepares to go public, consumer complaints about these types of daily-discount offers are also on the rise, a new survey suggests.

Complaints about group coupons, which typically are activated when a certain number of people sign up, were among a handful of new types of complaints encountered by state and local consumer protection bureaus last year, according to a survey of 31 agencies in 18 states by the Consumer Federation of America.

Complaints generally involved misleading or unclear terms, the federation said.

In one reported case, a consumer who purchased a coupon for a discounted 90-day pass to a fitness club said that because terms printed on the coupon were unclear, she mistakenly believed that as long as she started using it before the expiration date, it would be good for a full 90 days. Instead, the coupon was not valid past the expiration date.

A local consumer agency was able to help get the $119 purchase price refunded, the CFA said.

Consumers who believe that coupon disclosures aren't adequate and who can't resolve their issues alone should contact their state or local consumer protection agency, the consumer group said.

Other new types of complaints cited in the survey involved medical billing, wireless television services and car-buying companies.

Problems with time-share resale recovery services also emerged in the new-complaint category in 2010.

"Companies that promise to resell consumers' time-shares have long been a problem. Now, another kind of complaint involves recovery services," which offer to get consumers' money back from time-share resellers who haven't done their job, said Susan Grant, CFA's director of consumer protection.

Overall, the top category for consumer complaints last year involved automobiles, which also was No. 1 the previous year. Complaints included misleading advertising, faulty repairs and sales, leasing and towing disputes.

Complaints about credit and debt services came in second. Problems included billing and fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt-relief services, predatory lending and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.

Retailers tied for third with home-improvement and construction firms in frequency of complaints.

Complaints about utilities, such as service problems or billing disputes, ranked fourth, followed by services at No. 5.

Rounding out the top 10 were Internet sales, household goods, landlord/tenant disputes, fraud (bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes and other scams) and home solicitations, including failure to deliver and do-not-call violations.

Protect yourself

The Consumer Federation of America says the best way to avoid a scam or ripoff is to do some homework. Here are some tips for protecting yourself:

Before buying from unfamiliar companies, check with state or local consumer agencies, the Better Business Bureau and online complaint forums to see if other people have reported serious problems.

Pay with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if you don't get what you were promised.

Use gift cards, gift certificates and coupons promptly. Even established businesses can go belly-up, leaving you with worthless vouchers.

Recognize the danger signs of fraud, such as requests to wire money, pressure to act immediately, promises that you can win or make money easily if you pay a fee in advance and offers to recover money that you've lost to scammers, for a fee.

Get all promises in writing. Oral agreements are hard to prove.

If you aren't sure what your rights are or you think that something sounds fishy, ask your state or local consumer agency for advice.

Complaints about group coupons appear to be on the rise 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 10:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater attorney accused of condo foreclosure trickery fights back

    Real Estate

    The Clearwater lawyer accused of tricking a bidder into paying $458,100 for a gulf-front condo now plans to contest a judge's order tossing out the sale.

    John Houde, left, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground, in August during a hearing Sixth Judicial Circuit court Judge Jack St. Arnold at the Pinellas County Courthouse. The judge agreed with Houde's allegation that he was duped by Skelton in thinking he bought a Redington Beach condo for $458,100 out of a foreclosure auction. Now Skelton is fighting back. 
  2. How a group of Florida tomato growers could help derail NAFTA


    Tony DiMare, a third-generation Florida tomato grower, has spent two decades contending with cheap Mexican imports, watching his neighbors abandon crops in their fields and sell off their farms when they couldn't match the price of incoming produce.

    Workers fill a trailer with tomatoes as they harvest them in the fields of DiMare Farms in Florida City. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images(2013)]
  3. Pinellas deputies go door-to-door at dawn to arrest unlicensed contractors


    Pinellas deputies began pounding on doors at 5 a.m. Tuesday, part of a widespread roundup of contractors accused of working without licences and workers compensation.

    Pinellas Sheriff deputies J. Short, left, and T. Festa, right, arrest suspect Randy Ronchi, center, in Largo early Tuesday, as part of a joint roundup of unlicensed contractors. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  4. HQ2 watch: As deadline looms for Amazon headquarters pitch, one metro bows out


    If there's one national business saga to keep up on these days, it's the frenzy by metropolitan areas — including Tampa Bay — to make their best pitches to Amazon in the hope of being chosen as the new location for the giant online retailer's second massive headquarters. HQ2, as it is called, would create …

    Cities across the country are trying to land Amazon's second headquarters, known as HQ2. In Birmingham, Ala., giant Amazon boxes were constructed and placed around the city as part of its "Bring A to B" campaign. [Ali Clark/Bring A to B Campaign]
  5. Shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations rebound from stronger earnings report


    TAMPA — After a sharp drop in its stock price in August and September, Health Insurance Innovations on Monday announced strong revenue and net income gains in preliminary numbers for its third quarter of the year. The company also announced a $50 million stock buyback over the next two years meant to bolster its …

    After losing more than half its market value between August and September, shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations are rebounding."The new share repurchase program underscores our confidence in our business strategy, financial performance, and the long-term prospects of our company while also allowing us the financial flexibility to continue to invest in our business," company CEO Gavin Southwell announced Monday. [Courtesy of LinkedIn]