News in Cortland NY

Attorney General Schneiderman Releases Top Ten Consumer Frauds of 2015

Internet, Automobile And Consumer-Related Services Were Top Frauds Reported To His Office

A.G. Provides Tips To New Yorkers To Protect Themselves As Part Of National Consumer Protection Week

NEW YORK– Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released his list of the top ten consumer fraud complaints received by the Attorney General’s Office in 2015 to mark National Consumer Protection Week. In addition, the Attorney General offered tips to New Yorkers on how to avoid being the victim of a scam in the future.

“There are always fraudsters looking to take advantage of vulnerable and unsuspecting New Yorkers,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “It is critical that instances of fraud are reported to my office so we can stop scam artists in their tracks, hold wrongdoers accountable and protect consumers.”

For the tenth year in a row, Internet-related complaints topped the list (5,300).Internet-related complaints were closely followed by complaints about automobile sales, service, financing, and repairs (3,567).  Consumer-related services (2,274), which include complaints covering services such as restaurant and catering services, tech repairs, dry cleaners, and hair and nail salons, ranked third on this year’s list.

Landlord/Tenant complaints (2,265) came in fourth, with a number of complaints alleging tenant harassment.  In February 2015, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of a joint enforcement task force, titled the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, to investigate and bring enforcement actions – including criminal charges – against landlords who harass tenants. The task force is primarily concerned with harassment claims that involve renovation or construction projects that endanger the health and safety of existing occupants.

The Attorney General also provided a list of tips consumers should use to protect themselves and their families:

1) Internet: Always make sure websites are secure before providing any financial information, such as a credit card or bank account number. Secure website addresses start with “https” and have a symbol, such as a lock. These secure sites use encryption to scramble your information as it is transmitted over the Internet to keep it secure.

2) Automobile: The New and Used Car Lemon Laws provide a legal remedy for buyers or lessees of new and used cars that turn out to be lemons. If your car does not conform to the terms of the written warranty and the manufacturer or its authorized dealer is unable to repair the car after a reasonable number of attempts, you may be entitled to a full refund.  Learn more here.  Many automobile complaints relate to leasing and New Yorkers should know that they are protected by the strongest auto-leasing law in the country. The law allows consumers to shop around for the best deal when leasing a car, set limits on early termination, and even gives the Attorney General’s Office jurisdiction to resolve excess wear-and-tear disputes. Learn more here.

3) Consumer-Related Services: We rely on a range of services in our day-to-day living, from snow-removal to home repair to party planning. Make sure to use a written contract for all services that clearly defined restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and service-provider.

4) Landlord/Tenant Disputes:  Some landlords and management companies have used renovation and construction projects as a mean to harass rent-regulated tenants.  This type of harassment may include: landlords operating without proper permits; construction projects operating in violation of stop work orders; landlords who openly ignore requirements for tenant protection plans in order to contain the spread of lead and/or asbestos which may be exposed during renovation; and landlords removing essential systems, such as boilers and venting systems, in order make life unbearable for existing residents.  Tenants should keep copies of all receipts for rent paid and keep copies of all letters sent to the landlord complaining about any improper conditions or renovations. Tenants should keep a log or take photos of these conditions.

5) Credit: Debt collection is the most common type of credit fraud, and consumers must know their rights. Debt collectors may not harass or abuse consumers, nor provide misleading information – for instance claiming to represent a government agency. Warning signs that a debt collection call may be from a scammer include: (1) The debt collector threatens you with arrest; (2) the debt collector refuses to give you information about your debt or is trying to collect a debt you do not recognize; (3) the debt collector refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number; or (4) the debt collector asks you for sensitive financial information.  Anyone with credit problems should contact credit counseling agencies licensed by the New York State Department of Financial Services for assistance in managing the situation and avoiding collection scams. Learn more here.

6) Utilities/Wireless and Residential Phone Service: A common complaint with long term wireless service contracts involves the sometimes hefty price for cancellation. Some contracts charge hundreds of dollars. If you are unsure exactly what plan best fits your calling habits, and want to avoid paying a large termination fee, it might be best to avoid an extended contract. Remember, carefully read and understand all terms of a wireless service contract before signing it. Learn more here.

7) Home Repair/Construction: The biggest and most important investment families will make is their homes, and improvements should add value, not hardship. Before entering into a contract, shop around for estimates, check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers and neighbors for references, and know your rights: you have three days after signing a home improvement contract to cancel it.  Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job.  Learn more here.

8) Retail Sales: Rent-to-own programs allow consumers who would otherwise be unable to afford some items access to common household goods without a down payment or credit check. However, some consumers may end up spending more to acquire items than if they had just paid for them up front. New York law restricts prices to keep them in line with the costs of goods.  Consumers should ensure that all rent-to-own transactions have a written contract. Learn more here.

9) Mortgage: Mortgage rescue scams prey on homeowners in their greatest time of need. Look out for offers that will stop or delay foreclosure payments for an upfront fee or make payments on your behalf. Beware of companies that suggest a government affiliation or claim to be with the government, or those that work with attorneys but do not provide legal services. To learn more about the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which funds a network of more than 85 partners dedicated to providing homeowners with free, qualified mortgage assistance relief services across New York, click here.  Consumers can call the HOPP helpline directly at 1-855-HOME-456.

10) Mail Order: Whether ordering online or from a catalog, make sure the company has an operating customer service line and lists a real street address. Companies operating on a ‘fly-by-night’ basis often have no working customer service number and list only a P.O. Box. Learn more here.

The following is the 2015 list of the top ten consumer complaints by category:

CATEGORY 

                                                               NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS 

1. Internet (privacy issues; spyware; consumer frauds)

 

5,300

2. Automobile (buying, leasing, repair, service contracts, rentals)

 

3,567

3. Consumer-Related Services (security systems; restaurant/catering services; tech repairs)

 

2,274

4. Landlord/Tenant Disputes (Security deposit releases, tenant-harassment)

 

2,265

5. Credit (debt collection; credit card billing;  debt settlement; payday loans; credit repair; credit reporting agencies; identity theft)

 

2,065

6. Utilities (Wireless and Residential Phones; Energy Servicers & Suppliers; Cable and Satellite)

 

2,000

7Home Repair/Construction (home improvement services not delivered or done poorly)

 

1,210

8Retail Sales (any sale of goods: food, clothing, rent-to-own)

 

1,121

9. Mortgage (mortgage modifications; mortgage and loan broker fraud; foreclosures)

 

1,068

10Mail Order (purchases made online or from a catalog)

   612

 Attorney General Schneiderman reminded New Yorkers that in addition to being vigilant consumers, they should also report instances of fraud to his office. Consumers are encouraged to file complaints by completing and submitting a Consumer Bureau Online Complaint Form or calling 1-800-771-7755.