Complaints to the local Better Business Bureau were up 15 percent last year from the year before, with more people taking advantage of filing complaints via the Internet.
In its annual report to its member businesses, the BBB of Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan said it logged nearly 4,800 complaints during 2009. By comparison the agency got just 1,800 complaints nine years ago.
Richard Eppstein, local BBB president, said allowing complaints to be filed online is a primary reason for the increase. But the economy also is playing a significant factor, he added.
"It's easier to complain on the Internet. In the old days you'd call us up and say you want to complain about a company and we'd talk you through it - did you call the company, what did they promise, did you get it in writing," Mr. Eppstein said. "But almost all our complaints now come over the Internet, and while more people do file complaints now, a lot of them are specious.
"They sit at the computer and just type it out and send it to us. They're angry," he said.
Even so, when the economy goes bad there's always a dramatic increase in complaints, said Mr. Eppstein, who has been with the BBB for 38 years.
"In a recession, companies that used to resolve problems don't have the resources to do it anymore. And to a certain extent, customers are more concerned about money," he said. "They used to say, 'I paid $50 for that but it doesn't matter.' Now they are saying, 'I paid $50 for that and I need that money. I can't afford to lose that.'•"
Last year, the local BBB introduced letter grades to characterize its 40,000 member businesses. Previously, the agency specified only that a business operated satisfactorily or not.
In 2009, 70 percent of members got an "A" grade, but just under 3 percent - 306 companies - got an "F" grade.
Mr. Eppstein said bad grades mostly reflect complaints received or failure to address those complaints and providing unsatisfactory answers when investigated by the BBB complaint handler.
"A consumer will prove their case, and the company just stonewalls us," he said.