Guidance on Coronavirus Resources and Warnings about Consumer Scams

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Guidance on Coronavirus Resources and
Warnings about Consumer Scams

As New York continues to experience an outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), it is imperative that individuals are prepared and informed during this time. In addition to health information, New Yorkers must know about the resources available to them and warnings about potential consumer scams related to COVID-19. Scammers commonly exploit real public health concerns and use heightened public fear to prey on consumers and profit from frauds related to those health fears. While all New Yorkers should remain vigilant and ensure they are informed, there is no cause for great concern or panic.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is actively monitoring retailers for potential incidents of price gouging of necessary goods and entities selling bogus medical treatments that purport to effectively treat or cure COVID-19. Since mid-March, Attorney General James has issued several "cease and desist" orders to companies making phony health claims, including to entities marketing products as treatments for the coronavirus even though there is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent the disease or treatment to cure it.

In order to effectively educate and prepare consumers, Attorney General James offers the following tips. If you believe that you have been the victim of a scam, price gouging, or sold a fake medical product, please report those incidents to the OAG.

Consumer Protection Tips

Bogus Medical Treatments

Charitable Donations and Investments

Beware of Phishing Attempts Purporting Emergency COVID-19 Information

For Healthcare Workers and Providers

Bogus Medical Treatments

  • Beware of scammers selling bogus medical treatments and learn the facts about the coronavirus. There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent the disease, so ignore offers promising otherwise. Stay informed about the disease by visiting the websites of the:
  • Report retailers that appear to take unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to the health, safety, or welfare of consumers for an unconscionably excessive price. Report such incidents to the OAG.

Charitable Donations and Investments

  • Use caution when making charitable donations. You should never feel rushed or pressured to donate, and never make donations in cash, by gift card, or by money wire. If you receive a charitable solicitation, do some research to determine whether the charity is legitimate, here are some helpful resources that provide lists of reputable charities and those that adhere to accountability standards:
  • Beware of Coronavirus-related investment scams. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently warned investors about coronavirus investment frauds. If investors are aware of or suspect securities fraud or wrongdoing, they can contact the OAG's Investor Protection Bureau.

Beware of Phishing Attempts Purporting Emergency COVID-19 Information

There are multiple reports of scammers attempting to use concern about the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity for phishing (e.g. an attempt to get an individual to click a link in order to steal passwords, install malware, or otherwise gain access to sensitive information). Individuals should remain vigilant when receiving emails or text messages received claiming to have information about COVID-19 – especially from organizations which they did not sign up to receive alerts from. Some phishing attempts may purport to be from a health authority like the World Health Organization, from someone that makes promises about miracle cures, or asks for donations or other actions. These types of emails may be phishing attempts, where an attacker sends you a message that looks innocent but may contain malware or a link designed to steal an account password. Please review the OAG page regarding phishing for more guidance.

For Healthcare Workers and Providers

If you work for a healthcare provider, hospital, or other organization within the health supply chain, you may see more advanced phishing attempts. Apply the same suggestions described in the link above to any outside emails received. Be mindful that you may be at higher risk for phishing attempts. Some scams that have been seen in the wild include:

  • Emails purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control providing information on treating COVID-19 that contain booby trapped PDFs.
  • An email received by hospital staff saying that important deliveries have been stalled to that hospital and requiring the user click on a link that actually executes malicious code.

Below is an example of a COVID 19 specific phishing email you may receive.

Example of Below is an example of a COVID 19 specific phishing email you may receive.

Suspension of Medical and Student Debt Collection

In response to growing financial impairments resulting from the spread of COVID-19, the OAG will temporarily halt the collection of medical and student debts that are owed to the State of New York and that have been referred to the OAG for collection, for at least a 30-day period, from March 16, 2020 through April 15, 2020. After this 30-day period, the OAG will reassess the needs of state residents for a possible extension.

The temporary policy will also automatically suspend the accrual of interest and collection of fees on all outstanding state medical and student debt referred to the OAG for collection, so New Yorkers are not penalized for taking advantage of this program.

Other Types of State Debt - Application for Discretionary Suspension of OAG Collection

New Yorkers with non-medical or non-student debt owed to the State of New York and referred to the OAG, may also apply to temporarily halt the collection of state debt. Individuals seeking to apply for this temporary relief can fill out the OAG’s "COVID-19 Application for Suspension of Debt Collection Activity." If an individual is unable to fill out the online form, they can also call the OAG hotline at 1-800-771-7755 to learn more.

Health Insurance Questions

  • If you have questions or concerns about health insurance costs related to COVID-19 tests or care, please call the OAG’s Health Care hotline: 1-800-428-9071.

Employment Protections

Obligation to go into Work

Emergency Paid Sick and Family Leave

Sick Leave and Family Leave Generally

Unemployment Insurance

Workers’ Compensation for Essential Employees Continuing to Work

Protections Against Discrimination and Harassment Based on National Origin

Protections Against Discrimination for those Recovering from COVID-19

Health and Safety

Retaliation

Additional Protection from Retaliation for Healthcare Workers

Obligation to go into Work

Governor Cuomo has instructed non-essential employees not to go into work. The Governor ordered on March 20, 2020, that businesses are required to keep 100% of their employees at home after Sunday, March 22, 2020.

Certain businesses or entities providing essential services, including those in the healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing, retail, essential public services, news media, finance, charities, construction, defense, sanitation, and technology vending sectors, are exempt from the Executive Order’s in-person work restrictions. To find the full list of essential businesses and services, please visit the Empire State Development essential business guidance page.

Under the Governor’s order, however, entities providing essential service continue to be under obligation to utilize, to the maximum extent possible, any telecommuting or work from home procedures. For entities that provide both essential and non-essential services, only those business operations that are necessary to support the essential services are exempt.

You can submit a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office if you believe your employer is doing any of the following:

  • Requiring employees to come to work even if the employer is not an essential business;
  • Requiring employees to come to work even if they are performing business operations that are not necessary to support essential services; or
  • Not permitting employees to telecommute or work from home whose job responsibilities would permit them to do so.

Please contact the Attorney General’s Office, preferably by e-mail at Labor.Bureau@ag.ny.gov, or by phone at (212) 416-8700.

Emergency Paid Sick and Family Leave

New federal and state emergency sick and family leave laws offer specific protections for people diagnosed with, have symptoms of, or quarantined for COVID-19, people caring for those with COVID-19, or people caring for children whose schools have closed due to COVID-19.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act takes effect on April 2, 2020, and the state law is currently in effect.

Employees who are diagnosed with or displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay, with a maximum of $5,110 total, if they are working for employers of 499 employees or less, with limited exceptions, under federal law.

Both federal and state law provide protections for those under quarantine or isolation. The state paid leave provisions only apply if they are more protective than the federal leave provisions. The state law protections do not apply to those who are not sick and able to work remotely but under quarantine or self-isolation at home. Whether state or federal protections govern depends on employer size. This means that in general:

For employers with 100 or more employees

  • Employees are entitled to 14 days of paid sick leave at full pay under state law.

For employers with between 50 and 99 employees

  • Employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay, with a maximum of $5,110 total, under federal law.

For employers with between 11 and 49 employees or with 10 or fewer employees with net income over $1 million

  • Under federal law, employers with fewer than 50 employees are obligated to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay, with a maximum of $ 5,110 total, with limited exceptions.
  • If the employer is not able to provide leave under federal law, employees are still entitled to take sick leave for the duration of their quarantine, with at least five days of sick leave at full pay, under state law. Employees may apply for state paid family leave and temporary disability benefits to cover the rest of the quarantine period. For state family leave benefits, the maximum weekly allowance is $840.70. For emergency temporary disability benefits, the maximum weekly allowance is $2,043.92.
  • For more information on state paid family leave, please call the NYS Paid Family Leave Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the NYS Paid Family Leave resource page.

For employers with 10 or fewer employees with net income under $1 million

  • Under federal law, employers with fewer than 50 employees are obligated to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay, with a maximum of $ 5,110 total, with limited exceptions.
  • If the employer is not able to provide leave under federal law, employees are still entitled to take unpaid sick leave for the duration of their quarantine under state law. Employees may apply for state paid family leave and temporary disability benefits to cover the quarantine period. For state family leave benefits, the maximum weekly allowance is $840.70. For emergency temporary disability benefits, the maximum weekly allowance is $2,043.92.
  • For more information on state paid family leave, please call the NYS Paid Family Leave Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the NYS Paid Family Leave resource page.

Employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of emergency paid family leave, with a maximum of $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate, with limited exceptions, under federal law. Employees are also entitled to use state paid family leave to care for sick family members or for children under mandatory quarantine. For state family leave benefits, employees will be compensated at 60% of their average weekly earnings for 10 weeks with a maximum weekly allowance of $840.70 per week. For more information on state paid family leave, please call the NYS Paid Family Leave Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the NYS Paid Family Leave resource page.

Employees are entitled to use federal emergency sick leave and emergency family medical leave to care for children whose schools have closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks if they work for employers with between 50 and 499 employees. Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from providing family leave if it jeopardizes their business viability. For federal paid sick leave benefits, the maximum is $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate. For federal family leave benefits, employees will be compensated at a maximum of $2,000 total for the first two weeks and at 67% of their regular rate for the following ten weeks, with a maximum of $10,000 total.

Under federal law, individuals who are self-employed are entitled to receive tax credits for the equivalent of 10 days of paid sick leave at the lesser of 100% of their average daily rate or $511 per day. Individuals are also entitled to receive tax credits for the equivalent of 10 days of paid sick leave at the lesser of 67% of their average daily rate or $200 to care for family members or to care for children whose schools have been closed due to COVID-19. Individuals may receive an additional 50 days of paid family leave at the lesser of 67% of their average daily rate or $200 per day to care for children whose schools have closed due to COVID-19.

Sick Leave and Family Leave Generally

In addition to the protections for COVID-19 recovery, New York State and City have generally available paid sick leave and family leave protections for those with, or caring for family members with, other illnesses or medical conditions.

Most employees in New York City and Westchester have up to five days of paid sick leave per year if they work for an employer that has more than five employees or if the employee is a domestic worker.

Employees accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked and most employees can take sick time after they have worked for the employer for 120 days (employees in Westchester can begin taking sick time after 90 days of employment). Employees must be able to carry over at least 40 hours of accrued sick time year to year.

This means that full-time employees will have at least five paid sick days if they have worked for an employer for more than eight months.

Employees should request leave from their employers. An employee may be required to provide reasonable notice (but no more than seven days) only if the use of sick time is foreseeable. Otherwise, for unexpected medical issues, no advance notice is required, but an employer may require that notice be given as soon as practicable.

An employer may not require employees to provide documentation from medical professionals about the necessity of sick leave unless the employee is out for more than three consecutive days.

If you are a resident of New York City and have been unlawfully denied sick leave or want to get more information, please visit the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs or call 311. You can also file a complaint with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.

If you are a resident of Westchester County and have been unlawfully denied sick leave or want to get more information, please visit the Westchester Department of Consumer Protection or call (914) 995-2155.

There is currently no general state paid sick leave law, although the Governor has proposed a bill that provides some paid sick leave that may be passed by the legislature this year.

Employees who become ill or injured off-the-job may be eligible for temporary disability benefits. Disability benefits are paid at 50% of an employee’s average weekly wage with a maximum of $170 per week.

For more information on temporary disability benefits, please visit the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board or contact by phone at (877) 632-4996 or via e-mail at Claims@wcb.ny.gov. You can also file a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board.

Most employees in New York can take 10 weeks of partially paid leave to take care of a family member with a serious health condition. Employees will be compensated at 60% of their average weekly earnings with a maximum weekly allowance of $840.70 per week.

Full-time employees may start taking leave after 26 weeks of starting work and part-time employees may start taking leave after 175 days of work.

Employees should request leave from their employers. An employee may be required to notify the employer 30 days in advance if the leave is foreseeable. If the leave is unexpected, then employees must give their employers notice as soon as practicable.

Please note that employees generally may not use leave for their own medical conditions.

If you have been unlawfully denied family leave or for more information on state paid family leave, please call the NYS Paid Family Leave Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the NYS Paid Family Leave resource page.

Employees are guaranteed 12 weeks of job-protected leave within a 12-month period if they are sick or need to take care of a sick family member if they work for an employer of 50 or more for at least a year, under federal law. Family members include spouses, children, and parents. Employees may take this leave on a part-time or intermittent basis. Your employer must continue your health insurance during the leave of absence, although employees may be asked to make employee contributions.

Employees should request leave from their employers. Employees must give employers 30 days’ notice if leave is foreseeable.

If you have been unlawfully denied FMLA leave, or for more information, please visit the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division or call 1-866-487-9243.

Unemployment Insurance

Employees may be entitled to unemployment insurance payments for 26 weeks if they are laid off on a temporary or permanent basis through no fault of their own. The amount of benefits employees receive depends on their average weekly rate, with a minimum of $104 per week and a maximum of $504 per week. In order to qualify for weekly benefits, employees must continue to look for work.

Employees should apply for unemployment insurance with the New York Department of Labor immediately after they are laid off. To file unemployment insurance claims, please visit the NYS Department of Labor.

You may file a claim online, or you can call the Telephone Claim Center at (888) 209-8124. Once you file a claim for benefits, you must also file a claim for benefits, you must also claim weekly benefits (also known as “certifying for benefits”) for each week you are unemployed and meet the eligibility requirements. You can claim your weekly benefits each week online, or by calling (888) 581-5812.

For more information about the unemployment insurance claim process and eligibility, please visit the NYS Department of Labor claimant handbook, which is available in multiple languages.

**During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of Labor is not requiring applicants to wait one week before receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

Employees may be entitled to partial unemployment insurance benefits if they work fewer than four days a week and do not earn over the maximum rate of $504 per week. Depending on how many days per week you continue to work, you may receive up to three-quarters of your average weekly rate in partial benefits. Employees who receive partial benefits are entitled to receive benefits for a longer period of time than employees who receive full unemployment insurance benefits.

You may be entitled to unemployment insurance even if you are classified as an independent contractor. If an employer has sufficient control over your schedule, pay, and day-to-day work conditions, you may be misclassified as an independent contractor.

Any worker that experiences loss in work may apply for unemployment insurance with the New York Department of Labor. To file unemployment insurance claims, please visit the NYS Department of Labor.

Workers’ Compensation for Essential Employees Continuing to Work

Employees that contract COVID-19 at their place of work may be entitled to workers’ compensation insurance during any treatment or recovery. Employees receive two-thirds of their average weekly rate in weekly benefits with a maximum payment of $934.11 per week. Employees should apply for benefits with the Workers’ Compensation Board. To file a Workers’ Compensation claim please visit the Workers’ Compensation Board or call (877) 632-4996 for questions or assistance

Protections Against Discrimination and Harassment Based on National Origin

Employers are prohibited by federal, state, and city law from treating employees differently based on race or national origin. If you have been fired, demoted, or harassed because your employer believes that you are from a country where there is a high incidence of COVID-19 cases (such as China, Japan, Iran, or Italy), you may file a complaint with the OAG.

Completed forms can be mailed to the Civil Rights Bureau, emailed to civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or faxed to (212) 416-6030. You may also call (212) 416-8250.

Employees may also file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you work at a workplace with more than 15 people. Complaints with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory incident. You may also call (800) 669-4000.

Any employee may file with the NYS Division of Human Rights. Complaints with the NYS Division of Human Rights must be filed within one year. You may also call (888) 392-3644.

New York City employees may file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if your employer has employed more than three people in the past year. You may call (718) 722-3131.

Protections Against Discrimination for those Recovering from COVID-19

Under federal, state, and local law, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for employees if, as a result of a long- or short-term disability, they need an accommodation to perform their jobs. Reasonable accommodations can include telecommuting, staggering your schedule, or taking leave. Short-term disabilities protected under the anti-discrimination laws includes severe but temporary illnesses.

Employees should request an accommodation from their employers.

If you have been unlawfully denied an accommodation, you may file a complaint with the OAG.

Employees may also file a complaint with the federal EEOC if you work at a workplace with more than 15 people. Complaints with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory incident. You may also call (800) 669-4000.

Any employee may file with the NYS Division of Human Rights. Complaints with the SDHR must be filed within one year. You may also call (888) 392-3644.

New York City employees may file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if your employer has employed more than three people in the past year. You may call (718) 722-3131.

Federal, state, and local law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for a disability or a perceived disability. If you have been fired, demoted, or harassed because you are being treated for or recovering from COVID-19, please file a complaint with the OAG.

Completed forms can be mailed to the Civil Rights Bureau, emailed to civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or faxed to (212) 416-6030. You may also call (212) 416-8250.

Employees may also file a complaint with the federal EEOC if you work at a workplace with more than 15 people. Complaints with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory incident. You may also call (800) 669-4000.

Any employee may file with the NYS Division of Human Rights. Complaints with the SDHR must be filed within one year. You may also call (888) 392-3644.

New York City employees may file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if your employer has employed more than three people in the past year. You may call (718) 722-3131.

Health and Safety

Your employer has an obligation to maintain a safe workplace, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. If you are concerned about safety and health conditions in your workplace, you may file a complaint at your local Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office. You may also call (800) 321-6742 for more information.

Retaliation

Retaliation is prohibited for exercising your right to paid or unpaid sick or family leave, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, complaining about national origin or race discrimination, or requesting an accommodation for a disability. If you have been retaliated against for exercising any of your rights above, you should contact the Attorney General’s Office. You may also email labor.bureau@ag.ny.gov or call (212) 416-8700.

Retaliation is also prohibited for complaining about health and safety conditions at work. If you experience retaliation, you have thirty days to file a complaint. To file a complaint, you may call the local OSHA office or submit a written complaint by mail, email, or fax. You may do so online, and you may do so in any language. No particular form is required. Contact your local OSHA office. You may also call (800) 321-6742 for more information.

Additional Protection from Retaliation for Healthcare Workers

Healthcare services providers who disclose or threaten to disclose information to their supervisors or to the public about the quality of care patients receive are protected from retaliation.

Healthcare employees with concerns about patient care during the COVID-19 outbreak should contact the NYS Department of Health.

Healthcare employees with concerns about retaliation for reporting patient care issues should contact the OAG.

Reporting Hate Crimes

The OAG has launched a hotline for New Yorkers to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents. The hotline, which will continue indefinitely, comes in the wake of rising reports of harassment and assaults, as well as rhetoric against Asian Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The OAG urges anyone experiencing hate crimes and bias incidences to report them by emailing the OAG’s Civil Rights Bureau at civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or by calling 1-800-771-7755.

Guidelines for Funerals

New York is facing a unique state of crisis with this pandemic, and that impacts every aspect of peoples’ lives. While we all want to celebrate our loved ones’ lives and memorialize them after they have passed, at this time, we must continue to practice social distancing and limit large public gatherings, including at funeral services. The NYS Department of Health has released recommendations for funeral firms and families planning funerals while New Yorkers continue to battle the COVID-19.

Guidance for Federal Student Loan Borrowers

New Options Available for Federal Student Loan Borrowers

In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Act provides important new options for many federal student loan borrowers.

The CARES Act:

  • Automatically suspends principal and interest payments on federally-held student loans through September 30, 2020.
  • Waives all interest on eligible loans during the suspension.
  • Permits eligible borrowers who are on track for loan forgiveness or loan rehabilitation to count the months of suspension as eligible payments for the purpose of the loan forgiveness or rehabilitation program.
  • Ensures that no negative credit information will be provided to Credit Reporting Agencies during the suspension in connection with eligible loans.
  • Suspends collection actions for eligible federal loans, including wage garnishment and reduction of tax refunds and other government benefits, until September 30, 2020.

Not all federal student loan borrowers are eligible for these benefits. See below for details on eligibility.

Who is eligible for the benefits available under the CARES Act?

The CARES Act only applies to federal student loans that are held by the federal government. This includes all Direct Loans and those Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans that are held by the federal government. The CARES Act benefits are not available to borrowers with FFEL loans that are owned by commercial lenders. The benefits are also not available in connection with Perkins loans that are held by the education institution or private student loans.

How do I know if my loans are eligible for the benefits of the CARES Act?

If you are not sure what type of loan you have, you can contact your student loan servicer to find out. If you don’t know who your servicer is, for federal student loans, you can find your servicer by visiting the U.S. Department of Education. For private student loans, look at your latest billing statement or check your credit report.

Do I have to pay a fee to have my loan payments suspended?

No. You do not have to pay anything to suspend your payments. If someone asks for money to obtain a suspension of payments, it is a scam and you should report them to the Office of the Attorney General and submit a complaint. For more information on debt relief scams, please visit the Office of the Attorney General's scams resource page.

I can’t afford my student loan payments, what should I do?

If your loans are Direct Loans or federally-held FFEL loans, you don’t have to do anything to have your payments suspended until September 30, 2020.

For all other loans, you have several options:

  • Federal Student Loans Held by Commercial Lenders
  • Private Student Loans
    • If you are struggling to repay your private student loans, contact your servicer to find out what options are available.
    • Some private lenders offer their own reduced payment options and may offer ways to postpone your payments.