What there is to know
- According to Attorney General Letitia James, internet-related issues were the top type of consumer fraud complaint received by the New York Attorney General’s office in 2021.
- The revelation comes as James launched National Consumer Protection Week on Monday.
- Internet-related scams accounted for 8,346 complaints statewide. The second most common complaint was landlord-tenant disputes (3,144), followed by retail-related complaints (2,678).
According to Attorney General Letitia James, internet-related issues were the top type of consumer fraud complaint received by the New York Attorney General’s office in 2021.
The revelation comes as James launched National Consumer Protection Week on Monday.
Internet-related scams accounted for 8,346 complaints statewide. The second most common complaint was landlord-tenant disputes (3,144), followed by retail-related complaints (2,678).
Here are the top 10 consumer complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General last year:
|Internet related (internet services and service providers, data privacy and security, digital media, data breaches, internet manipulation fraud).
|2. Owner / Tenant
|Landlord/tenant conflicts (releases of deposit, harassment of tenants).
|3. Retail sales
|Retail related (price gouging, faulty merchandise, poor customer service, pet stores and animal breeders).
|Consumer related services (COVID-19 testing facilities, alarm companies, dry cleaners, restaurants, movers, services for personal household use).
|Car (sales, service, financing, repairs)
|Credit (debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies, identity theft)
|Utilities (cordless and home phones, repairers and energy providers, cable and satellite)
|8. Home Repair/Improvement
|Home repair/improvement (repair problems, misleading contractors)
|9. Health clubs
|health clubs (inability to cancel memberships, inability to access facilities, refunds not provided, no response from clubs)
|Furniture/Appliances (defective merchandise, delivery issues, and service and repair issues).
“Let this list serve as a warning to all New Yorkers to be on their guard against scammers,” James said in a statement. “From inaccurate turnaround times for COVID-19 test results to misleading debt collectors, scam artists have taken advantage of these trying times to mislead and deceive New Yorkers. My office is committed to rooting out fraudsters and protecting all New Yorkers, young and old, from harm.”
James went on to say that New Yorkers should continue to report cases of fraud to his office.
“Consumers have been invaluable in helping my office identify and root out fraud, and I urge them to remain vigilant and follow this advice,” she said in her statement.
In order to protect New Yorkers from scams, James offered some advice:
According to James, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts because cybercriminals use passwords stolen from one company for other online accounts.
Additionally, James recommends never reusing passwords as this practice puts consumers at risk.
According to James’ office, be sure to enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible.
“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 message or email,” James’ office said.
It is also important to regularly check your online accounts for any unauthorized transactions. If you see anything suspicious, immediately contact your online service (or credit card company, if applicable).
James also recommends signing up with a breach notification service that will send you notifications if an account associated with your email address or phone number has been compromised.
James reminds New Yorkers that landlords must return your security deposit within 14 days of checking out. If your landlord takes money from the damage deposit, they must provide an itemized receipt outlining the damage and its cost. Also, if your landlord doesn’t give you this receipt within that time, they must return your entire security deposit to you, whether or not there is damage. If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant may be entitled to up to twice the amount of the security deposit.
James’ office also reminds New Yorkers that if they’re having trouble paying their rent, their local department of social services may be able to help. To find offices, visit https://otda.ny.gov/workingfamilies/dss.asp. New York residents can also call 311 and inquire about rental assistance programs. More resources are available here: https://ag.ny.gov/coronavirus/tenants-rights#pay-rent
New Yorkers who see rising prices for vital goods and necessities should report it to the state attorney general’s office immediately, James said.
Consumer related services
James reminds New Yorkers that COVID-19 testing facilities that announce turnaround times for test results are required to accurately disclose how long it will take for individuals to receive their test results. Additionally, anyone who believes that a lab or other testing facility is misleading consumers about its turnaround time should report it to the OAG.
Beware of misleading sales tactics when buying or leasing a car, warns James’ office.
Never sign any documents or leave the dealership with a car until all documents have been thoroughly reviewed, according to James. Also, never sign blank documents that don’t contain numbers or words.
Consumers should always be sure that what they are signing is consistent with what the seller has said and that they are not being charged for additional accessories or products. Also, ask the seller or finance manager what fees you don’t understand and if they’re required by law.
According to James, debt collectors are required to provide you with key information about the origin and history of your debt within five days of their initial communication with you. You also have the right to dispute the debt. If you do, the collector must stop collection attempts until they provide information to support their debt claim.
Collection agents cannot harass you and must respect limits on how and how often they contact you. You have the right to tell debt collectors not to contact you at all.
As of April 7, creditors can no longer sue you or threaten to sue you for debts older than three years.
Any consumer who thinks they received a high utility bill as a result of a billing error should report it to the OAG immediately, James said.
Also, if a New Yorker is having trouble paying their bill, contact the utility company. Utility companies offer programs and payment plans to help you.
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/.
James recommends that before entering into a contract, shop around for estimates and check with the Better Business Bureau, vendors and neighbors for references.
You should also know that you have three days after signing a renovation contract to terminate it.
The law further prohibits misrepresentation of consumer cancellation rights, James said.
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 interruption of operations or substantial modification of operations,” and requires gym owners to provide monetary refunds, not credits, for cancellations within 15 days, according to James.
Always find out about a furniture or appliance retailer’s return policy before buying it, recommends the attorney general’s office.