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BBB logs big rise in consumer complaints

Consumer complaints against businesses in the Charlotte region are up 8 percent from a year ago and on pace for a record high, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The bureau released its mid-year “Dirty Half Dozen” list Monday, a tabulation of the companies with the most unanswered complaints in the area, according to the bureau’s records.

As of June 30, consumers filed 6,930 complaints against businesses in the region, according to the bureau. The top complaints were auto repair and mortgage-related, said Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont.

Consumer complaints are expected to rise to nearly 14,000 by year’s end, Bartholomy said. The bureau’s previous high was 13,142 complaints in 2012.

Nationally, the 160 bureau offices received a record number of complaints in 2012, according to the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Katherine Hutt, a spokesperson for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said that she expects numbers to continue to rise across the country.

“In general, people are using business-review services a lot more,” she said.

Bartholomy said he thinks the jump in consumer complaints is a function of a soft economy, where consumers are vigilant with every dollar.

“We’re seeing people making complaints on $5 to $10 purchases,” Bartholomy said. “We just didn’t see that before (the recession.)”

A watchdog group, the Southern Piedmont bureau, works to resolve consumer complaints and keeps tabs on business practices in the Charlotte region.

There are more than 4,000 businesses accredited with the bureau in the area, Bartholomy said. The bureau also maintains a database on 34,000 businesses in the region.

With its sixth-annual “Dirty Half Dozen” list, Bartholomy said he was surprised by the range of industries represented.

“We’ve got a web-based company, we’ve got door-to-door, we’ve got an appliance repair firm,” he said. “The bottom line is that it’s difficult in the internet age to sustain a business if you keep ticking off customers.”

Before publishing the list, Bartholomy said the bureau makes at least four attempts to contact the businesses. So far the bureau has received no response from any of the businesses on the list, he said.

Halfway through 2013, here are the top six businesses with the most unanswered consumer complaints in the Charlotte area:

•  Senior Safe Alert: Operating with what the bureau said was a fake Huntersville address, this company has 14 unanswered complaints in 2013 and 15 total complaints in the previous 36 months. Complainants from 10 states and Canada allege that Senior Safe Alert is using robo-calls to persuade older adults to buy a personal alarm in case they are injured or can’t reach the telephone.

“They’re making it sound like Life Alert,” Bartholomy said. “But they’re not affiliated. We believe they’re just out attempting to steal credit card information.”

•  www.mobile360network.com: A Charlotte-based web company that sells pre-paid wireless cell phone service online. Complainants allege that they did not receive the products advertised and have not been able to obtain a refund. The company has eight unanswered complaints this year, and 11 total complaints in the past 36 months.

Luchey & Mitchell Recovery Solutions, LLC: A collection agency that specializes in recouping payday loans taken out online. Complainants allege that the agency’s collectors threatened them and their families, and called their employers. Six people have filed complaints against the Charlotte-based firm this year.

•  Generations Making Differences, LLC: This Charlotte-based company sells magazines door-to-door. Complainants from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida allege that they have not received the magazines they ordered and cannot get refunds. There have been five unanswered complaints in 2013 and 20 total complaints against the company in the previous 36 months.

•  Mino Construction, LLC: Customers allege that the Charlotte-based firm took their insurance checks to replace damaged roofs, but then failed to fulfill the contracts for the roofs. The firm has five unanswered complaints so far in 2013, and seven in the past 36 months.

Home Appliance Repair: A repeat offender. The Gastonia-based company is on the list for the fourth time, with four unanswered complaints in 2013, and 30 total complaints in the past 36 months. Complainants from eight counties in North Carolina and South Carolina paid between $150 to $927 to Michael David Henderson for appliance repairs that they allege were not done properly, if at all.

“According to complainants, Henderson determines that the broken appliance needs a part, collects the money for the part, and then doesn’t return to install the part,” Bartholomy said.

Henderson has changed his name, phone number and company address 11 times, Bartholomy said.

Last week, Statesville police issued warrants for Henderson’s arrest. He is charged with obtaining money by false pretenses, police said. So far, authorities have been unable to find him, Bartholomy said.

Bartholomy says having a repeat offender on the list is rare.

“Businesses usually either change their ways or they disappear,” he said.

Dan Burley: 704-358-5085 or dburley@charlotteobserver.com
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