NEW YORK (WWNY) -NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James has released a list of the top 10 consumer fraud complaints her office received in 2021.
This is in recognition of National Consumer Protection Week.
“Let this list serve as a warning to all New Yorkers to be on their guard against scammers,” James said. “From inaccurate turnaround times for COVID-19 test results to misleading debt collectors, scammers have taken advantage of these trying times to mislead and deceive New Yorkers.”
Here are the top 10 types of consumer complaints. Below are James’ tips for avoiding fraud.
1. Internet Related (8346) – Internet services and service providers, data privacy and security, digital media, data breaches and Internet manipulation fraud.
2. Landlord/tenant disputes (3,144) – Release of security deposits and harassment of tenants.
3. Retail Sales (2,678) – Price gouging, faulty merchandise, poor customer service, pet stores and animal breeders.
4. Consumer-related services (2,610) – COVID-19 testing facilities, alarm companies, dry cleaners, restaurants, movers and services for personal household use.
5. Automotive (2,283) – Sales, maintenance, financing and repairs.
6. Credit (1,539)_ – Debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies and identity theft.
7. Utilities (1,145) – Wireless and home phones, energy services and providers, and cable and satellite providers.
8. Home repairs and improvements (1,034) – Repair problems, misleading contractors.
9. Health Clubs (778) – Inability to cancel memberships, inability to access facilities, refunds not provided, no response from clubs.
10. Furniture/Appliances (611) – Defective merchandise, delivery issues, and service and repair issues.
Tips to avoid scams and fraud
- Do not use the same password for multiple accounts. Cybercriminals use passwords stolen from one company for other online accounts. Earlier this year, Attorney General James announced that a thorough investigation by his office had identified more than 1.1 million online accounts compromised in cyber-credential stuffing attacks on just 17 well-known companies. . New Yorkers can protect themselves with the following safeguards:
- Never reuse passwords. While reusing login credentials can be convenient, it also puts consumers at risk. A password manager on a phone or computer can keep track of passwords, automatically filling them in when they log in to a website or app.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): 2FA can provide an additional layer of security by requiring anyone logging into an account to provide another identifier, such as a one-time code sent via text or email .
- Regularly check your online accounts for unauthorized transactions and immediately contact your online service (or credit card company, if applicable) if you see anything suspicious.
- Sign up for a breach notification service, like Have I Been Pwned, which will send a notification if an account associated with your email address or phone number has been compromised.
- Your landlord must return your security deposit within 14 days of your departure. If your landlord takes money from the damage deposit, they must provide an itemized receipt outlining the damage and its cost. If your landlord doesn’t give you this receipt within 14 days of moving out, they must return your entire security deposit to you, whether or not there is damage. If your landlord fails to comply, you may be entitled to up to twice the amount of the security deposit.
- If you are having difficulty paying your rent, please contact your local Department of Social Services. To find offices statewide, see https://otda.ny.gov/workingfamilies/dss.asp. New York residents can call 311 and inquire about rental assistance programs. More resources are available here: https://ag.ny.gov/coronavirus/tenants-rights#pay-rent
- If you see unreasonably excessive prices for COVID-19 home testing kits or other vital and necessary health, safety and well-being goods, we encourage you to report it to my office immediately.
- Free COVID-19 test kits are available from the US government at www.covidtests.gov.
Consumer related services:
- COVID-19 testing facilities that advertise turnaround times for test results are required to accurately state how long it will take consumers to receive their test results.
- Any consumer who believes that a laboratory or other testing facility is making misleading claims about their timeline for obtaining COVID-19 test results should report it to my office immediately.
- Attorney General James has recovered more than $400,000 in refunds for consumers who did not receive their COVID-19 test results within the promised time frame.
- Beware of deceptive sales tactics when buying or leasing a car. Prices for new and used automobiles continue to climb, driven by factors such as strong demand and global shortages of semiconductors, which are an essential component of new automobiles. Do not sign any documents and never leave the dealership with a car until you have carefully reviewed all of your documents. Don’t sign a blank document that doesn’t have numbers or words filled in.
- Make sure what you sign is what the seller told you and that you are not being charged for accessories or additional products you did not request, such as warranties, tire protection and wheels and wine engraving. Ask the seller or finance manager what fees or charges you don’t understand and if they’re required by law.
- If you have a collection debt, debt collectors are required to provide you with key information about the origin and history of your debt within five days of their first contact with you. You also have the right to dispute the debt, and once you have done so, the collector must stop all attempts to collect from you until they provide information to support their claim to the debt.
- Collection agents cannot harass you and must respect limits on how and how often they contact you. For example, they cannot call you more than seven times in a seven-day period and cannot call you between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. You have the right to tell debt collectors not to contact you by email, text or any other means of communication, and you can tell them not to contact you at all.
- As of April 7, 2022, creditors can no longer sue or threaten to sue you for debts older than three years. Before April 7, creditors cannot sue you or threaten to sue you for debts that are more than six years old, or even less, depending on where the company or person you owed the debt is located.
- Thousands of New Yorkers have recently seen their gas and electric bills rise dramatically and suddenly. Attorney General James has demanded reforms from Con Edison that include a commitment to provide consumers advance notice of such increases. Any consumer who believes they have received a high utility bill as a result of a billing error should report it to OAG immediately.
- If you are having difficulty paying your energy bill, contact the utility company. Resources are available for consumers who may need help paying their utility bill. Utility companies offer programs and payment plans to help you.
- In addition, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) helps low-income people with the cost of heating their homes. Information on how to apply is available at otda.ny.gov/programs/heap/.
- Many of our homes have suffered wear and tear from the pandemic. Before entering into a contract, shop around for estimates, check with the Better Business Bureau, vendors and neighbors for references.
- Know your rights: You have three days after signing a renovation contract to terminate it.
- New York Health Clubs Law allows gym members to cancel their membership under certain circumstances, including “after the services are no longer available or substantially available as contracted due to the [gym’s] permanent discontinuance of operations or substantial change in operations,” and requires gym owners to provide pro-rated monetary refunds (NOT credits) for such cancellations within 15 days. In 2021, Attorney General James resolved a lawsuit against the parent company of the New York Sports Club and Lucille Roberts for illegally charging monthly dues to members and for participating in various illegal and fraudulent practices involving cancellation rights consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. . Attorney General James obtained the proceeds of a $250,000 bond for restitution to affected consumers.
- In addition, the law further prohibits misrepresentation regarding consumer cancellation rights.
- Always ask about a furniture or appliance retailer’s return policy before making a purchase. Some online retailers require customers to pay for return shipping, which can make it cost prohibitive for people to return bulky furniture or appliances.
Consumers can learn more about COVID-19 resources and consumer scams on the OAG website.
James reminds consumers that in addition to being vigilant, they should report cases of fraud to his office. Consumers are encouraged to file a complaint by completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755 if they are unable to submit an online form.
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