Filing an Online Complaint About a Credit Card Phone Scam
Federal Reserve Board Takes Action Against Wells Fargo Including $85 Million Fine

Analysis: Several States' Online Consumer Forms For Filing Phone Scams Complaints

[Editor's note: this is part three of a three-part series about telemarketing or phone scams.]

Yesterday, I described my experience with filing online complaints with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and with the Attorney General office in the state where I live. Today, I want to share my findings about how well several states' Attorney General websites allow consumers to file online complaints about phone scams.

Remember, the the FTC Phone Fraud website instructs consumers to file complaints at both the FTC Complaint Assist website and at their state Attorney General website. After having difficult at the Massachusetts AG website, I reviewed several states' AG websites. I wanted to know if other states presented online complaint forms that made it easy (or difficult) to file complaints about phone scams.

I reviewed and compared the online complaints form for six (6) states. I chose four states (California, Florida, New York, and Texas) with large populations since that would include the probable online experience for a large percentage of the US population. I also included my home state (Massachusetts), and one state (Alabama) that does not have any laws requiring the notification of consumers affected by data breaches:

# State AG Website Online Complaint Form
1 Massachusetts
2 California
3 Florida
4 Alabama
5 New York
6 Texas

Remember, the FTC website linked to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) website, which lists all Attorney General websites in the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. So, many consumers will arrive at their state's AG website with the goal to complete this specific task: file a complaint online about a phone scam. Given this specific task, I used three criteria to evaluate the AG websites:

  1. Did the AG website main page present a link or button for consumers to file a complaint online, that was prominent and easy to find?
  2. Did the AG website allow consumers to actually file a complaint online?
  3. Did the state's online form allow for the submission of phone scams?

There are many other criteria one could use to evaluate AG websites. I chose these three criteria because they directly relate to the specific task. I looked for variations of the "File a Complaint" phrase and not necessarily the same words. My findings:

1. Many AG websites made it difficult for consumers to file complaints. 50% (3 of 6) of the websites reviewed contain a link or button on the home page that was prominent and easy-to-find. Prominent and easy means that the link/button is immediately displayed when the page loads. So, half of the websites (e.g., Florida, New York, and Texas) evaluated didn't provide a link/button.

AG websites typically present information about news releases and the services available to consumers and businesses -- all very valuable information. The lack of a "File a Complaint" link or button on the home page makes the website needlessly more difficult to use. This forces consumers to hunt for the complaint form page.

Several example highlight this forced hunt. First, the online complaint form is buried in the Florida AG website under the Consumer Protection website section. That fom location may be a logical place for frequent website visitors, attorneys, and AG office staff, but not necessarily for first-time visitors or consumers. Second, the Texas AG website has a "Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse" link on its main page, but that link is narrowly focused on complaints about state government agencies. Consumers looking to file a complaint about a non-government organization still have to hunt for the online complaint form.

Third, the New York AG website locates its complaint forms under the Consumer Frauds Bureau and Identity Theft sections. Again, frequent visitors, attorneys, and AG office staff may know to look there, but first-time visitors won't.

When hunting for a form, there are several time-consuming strategies that consumers may use: site-search mechanism, click on various navigation links, and/or read the page content.

2. Most AG websites present interactive online complaint forms. 83% (5 of 6) of the websites reviewed present online complaint forms. The only website that didn't -- New York -- presented static forms in Adobe PDF format, which consumers must download, complete offline, and submit via surface mail.

3. Not all AG websites allow consumers to submit complaints about telemarketing/phone fraud. 60% (3 of 5) of the websites with interactive, online complaint forms allow consumers to file complaints about phone scams. (Remember, the New York AG website had PDF forms instead of interactive forms.) That is, the complaint forms are flexible enough to allow consumers to enter the data elements they may have.

In my online experience, the form in the Massachusetts AG website requires consumers to submit all of the following data elements about the phone-scammer: company name, address, city, state, ZIP Code, and phone number. With phone scams, consumers won't necessarily have all of these data elements. I didn't. The complaint form at the Texas AG website also contained the same usability problems as  the Massachusetts AG website form.

While it is a fairly simple task to add a "File a Complaint" link on the home page and to edit an online complaint forms to make more company data elements optional rather than required, there probably are backend database considerations. The online databases must contains sufficient categorization and tagging to identify phone fraud complaints as such, and not as partially completed complaints.

If you have submitted complaints at your state's AG website, what was your experience?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The comments to this entry are closed.