Consumer complaints about Internet scams rose 39% in 1998 -- up from 23% a year earlier, according to the eighth annual survey by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA) and the Consumer Federation of America.
Although Internet problems didn't make the NACAA's top 10 list of complaint categories (auto sales scams took the first spot), some member agencies reported a tenfold increase in the amount of online scams reported last year, officials said.
The most common types of Internet complaints involved Internet service providers, merchandise ordered over the Internet and online auctions, officials said. Other complaints included securities/investment fraud, lotteries/sweepstakes, credit cards/credit repair, business opportunities and loans.
Among Internet service provider complaints, consumer agencies received reports of a variety of refund and billing disputes with providers. One agency said a service provider connected a number of consumers to a toll line instead of a local line. The consumers received phone bills for hundreds of dollars for what they thought were local calls. Other agencies reported complaints about Dulles, Va.-based America Online Inc.'s lack of service availability because too many users were flooding too few lines.
In making purchases over the Internet, consumers said they had problems with fraudulent offers to sell nonexistent goods and with generally misleading claims.
At auction sites, consumers received nothing in return for their successful bids and payments for items, while others complained they received something other than what they thought they were getting. In one Beanie Baby auction scam under investigation by the San Francisco district attorney's consumer protection unit, a company defrauded 60 people out of some $30,000 by not supplying the items that were bid on.
Other common complaints about Internet transactions concerned spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail), traditional cons such as scholarship scams and attempts to obtain personal identification or credit information from consumers.