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Post date: October 23 2015

A.G. Schneiderman And D.A. Mollen Issue Consumer Alert For Cold Weather Scams

New Yorkers Can Protect Themselves By Following A Few Basic Guidelines

Schneiderman: Now Is The Time To Plan And Prepare For The Possibility Of Cold Weather Scams

BINGHAMTON—Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen today issued a consumer alert advising consumers how to avoid potential scams that may occur with the onset of colder weather. Many consumers, especially older adults, are not able to shovel snow off sidewalks, driveways and roofs, or make necessary repairs to their homes themselves when a snowstorm hits.

“While responses to storms and other cold weather events are often overwhelmingly positive, a small handful of shady businesses exploit these crises to make a quick buck,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Few things are more reprehensible than exploiting an emergency to prey on your neighbors. Now is the time to plan and prepare for the possibility of cold weather scams.”

“My office has no tolerance for fraud, especially during weather emergencies,” said District Attorney Gerald Mollen. “Before the snow really begins to fall, New Yorkers can take a few precautions to protect themselves from being scammed.”

“Awareness is the most important line of defense against becoming a victim of a scam,” said New York State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “I’m urging all Southern Tier residents to be especially vigilant this winter season to make sure they stay safe."

“Most businesses in this community play by the rules, but unfortunately there always some wiling to prey on others for financial gain,” said Binghamton Mayor Richard C. David. “These basic guidelines can help keep Binghamton residents, and all New Yorkers, safe from scams.”

Consumers should protect themselves when hiring contractors to perform storm-related services by considering the following:

  • Shop around. Get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.
  • Get it in writing. Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.
  • Don't pay unreasonable advance sums. Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front.
  • Get references. Check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors. Always contact references provided to you.
  • Know your rights. You have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.

In addition, consumers should investigate the options they have for heating their homes during the cold winter months. Fuel oil and propane prices can vary significantly from supplier to supplier. Prices can also fluctuate dramatically throughout the heating season. Consumers considering entering into fuel oil and propane contracts for the season should make sure they understand all of the terms and conditions in the agreement, including any fees or charges for deliveries, minimum purchase requirements or other conditions.

If you believe you are the victim of a scam, you should contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds Bureau by calling 1-800-771-7755 or clicking here.

The Office of the Attorney General has a robust record of investigating and prosecuting cold weather scams.

Last month, OAG obtained a consent order and judgment against a contractor for taking thousands of dollars from consumers in five New York counties for seasonal snow removal services that he failed to provide in the 2014-2015 winter season. At least 51 consumers pre-paid the contractor amounts ranging from $150-$400 for snow removal services they did not receive.

The consent order and judgment prohibit the contractor from owning or operating any business in New York State, including snow removal services, that requires receipt of advance payments from consumers, and requires that he pay restitution to victims, as well as civil penalties and costs totaling $4,000 to the State of New York.

In March 2015, OAG announced the filing of two lawsuits and a settlement against Buffalo-area contractors who price-gouged consumers for snow removal services in the aftermath of last November’s blizzard. The settlement, which was reached with a contractor that charged at least double what other competitors were asking for the same snow removal service, delivered restitution to each consumer in the amount they paid in excess of $300, and a fine in the amount of $150 per occurrence.

In September 2013, OAG announced a lawsuit against an unlicensed Westchester heating oil company for allegedly engaging in persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct. The company allegedly took pre-payments for heating oil and oil-burner service that were supposed to be provided to consumers throughout the 2012-2013 heating season. However, instead of filling customers' oil tanks, the company delivered the oil in amounts—sometimes as little as 15 gallons per delivery—which constituted only a small fraction of the oil the customers paid for in advance. The lawsuit seeks more than $80,000 in restitution for over 70 consumers.