Miracle vitamins that dont work, mail-order mattresses that dont live up to the testimonials, never-ending magazine subscriptions: These are some of the things people call Miami-Dades Consumer Protection Mediation Center to complain about.
We get every type of complaint you could imagine, said Alejandra Castro-Nunez, public relations specialist with the Miami-Dade County Business Affairs Division.
But for the sixth year in a row, consumers biggest gripe is vehicle repairs, with 696 written complaints filed in 2012, according to a report by the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources consumer protection center.
The next-highest number of complaints came from for-hire transportation, at 394 complaints. About a quarter of those complaints were related to lost-and-found issues.
Other categories high on the list were housing service (175 complaints in 2012), towing (171 complaints) and automotive sales (153 complaints).
Vehicle repair complaints saw a 29 percent decrease from 2011. Castro-Nunez attributes this in part to multiple citations starting to catch up with vehicle repair businesses.
Theyre getting the message, she said.
A big portion of the vehicle repair complaints are about mechanics. Drivers who arent auto experts are susceptible to getting ripped off.
Its very easy to scam someone and tell them somethings wrong thats not wrong. So its an industry thats very high in scams, she said.
Castro-Nunez said the countys consumer advocates can still cite businesses they dont regulate, but if theres a pattern of complaints against such a business, they usually sue for unfair and deceptive business practices.
To file a complaint, a consumer must submit a written claim to the Consumer Protection Mediation Center.
Sometimes, an investigation can get thousands of dollars back.
Once, a tourist from New York called the department after coming to Miami on vacation.
Shed been to a psychic, who she said hypnotized her and later charged her $10,000 for the visit. A consumer advocate was able to get back $8,500.
Last year, the center garnered about $1.2 million in reimbursements.
Castro-Nunez said it depends on the case, but most of the time, the consumer gets some money back.
To prevent that entire process, though, people can call the county o find out if complaints have been filed against a company.
Mainly, she said, we want to protect the businesses that are doing the right thing and we want to protect consumers.
Gabe Cortez, owner of Plaza Tire & Auto Center near midtown in Miami, doesnt receive many complaints from customers.
The key to his success, he said, is strong supervision, guidelines for employees and maintaining communication with customers.
There are procedures, he said. Theres nothing magic about it.
Cortez started his business in 1977 with one mechanic. He now has six, but he said the principles are the same.
Treat the customer with friendliness and professionalism, and thats about it.