Attorney General James Releases Top 10 Consumer Complaints of 2021
Top Frauds Included Internet, Housing Issues, Retail, Automobile, and Consumer Services
AG James Offers Tips to Avoid Scams, Urges New Yorkers to Report Fraud to Her Office
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James kicked off National Consumer Protection Week by releasing a list of the top 10 consumer fraud complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2021. Attorney General James also provides a variety of tips on how consumers can avoid common scams.
“Let this list serve as a warning to all New Yorkers to keep their guard up against scam artists,” said Attorney General James. “From inaccurate turnaround times for COVID-19 test results to deceitful debt collectors, scammers took advantage of these difficult 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. Consumers have been valuable in helping my office identify and eradicate fraud, and I urge them to remain vigilant and follow these tips.”
The following are the top 10 consumer complaints received by OAG in 2021 by category:
Internet-Related (internet services and service providers, data privacy and security, digital media, data breaches, frauds through internet manipulation).
2. Landlord / Tenant
Landlord/Tenant Disputes (security deposit releases, tenant-harassment).
3. Retail Sales
Retail related (price gouging, defective 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).
Automobile (sales, service, financing, repairs)
Credit (debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and debt relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies, identity theft)
Utilities (wireless and residential phones, energy servicers and suppliers, cable, and satellite)
8. Home Repair/Improvement
Home Repair/Improvement (repair issues, deceitful 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 problems, and service and repair issues).
Attorney General James offers various tips to protect New Yorkers from future scams:
o 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 sweeping investigation by her office had identified more than 1.1 million online accounts compromised in credential stuffing cyberattacks on just 17 well-known companies. New Yorkers can protect themselves with the following safeguards:
o Never reuse passwords. While reusing login information may 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 an app.
o Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): 2FA can provide an extra layer of security by requiring anyone logging in to an account to provide another credential, such as a one-time code sent by SMS or email.
o Check your online accounts regularly for unauthorized transactions and immediately contact your online service (or credit card company, if appropriate) if you see something suspicious.
o Register with a breach notification service, like Have I Been Pwned, that will send a notification if an account associated with your email or phone number has been compromised.
o Your landlord must return your security deposit within 14 days of you moving out. If your landlord takes any money out of the security deposit for damages, they must provide an itemized receipt describing the damage and its cost. If your landlord doesn’t give you this receipt within 14 days of moving out, then they must return your entire security deposit, whether there is damage or not. If your landlord fails to comply, you may be entitled to up to twice the amount of the security deposit.
o If you are having trouble paying your rent, please contact your local Department of Social Services. To find offices across the state, check https://otda.ny.gov/workingfamilies/dss.asp. NYC residents can call 311 and ask about rental assistance programs. More resources are available here: https://ag.ny.gov/coronavirus/tenants-rights#pay-rent
- Retail Sales:
o If you see unconscionably excessive prices for at-home COVID-19 testing kits or other goods vital and necessary for health, safety, and welfare, you are encouraged to report it to my office immediately.
o Free COVID-19 testing kits are available from the U.S. Government at www.covidtests.gov.
- Consumer related services:
o COVID-19 testing facilities that advertise test-result turnaround times are required to accurately convey how long it will take for consumers to receive their test results.
o Any consumer who believes a lab or other testing facility is making misleading statements about their turnaround time for COVID-19 test results should report it to my office immediately.
o Beware of deceptive sales tactics when purchasing or leasing a car. New and used automobile prices keep climbing, due to factors such as high demand and a global semiconductor shortage, which are a critical component of new automobiles. Never sign any documents or leave the dealership with a car until you have reviewed all of your paperwork carefully. Do not sign a blank document that does not have numbers or terms filled in.
o Make sure that what you are signing is consistent with what the salesperson told you and that you are not being charged for any extra accessories or products that you did not ask for, such as warranties, tire and wheel protection, and vin etching. Ask the salesperson or finance manager about any fees or charges you do not understand and whether they are required by law.
o If you have debt in collection, debt collectors are required to provide you with key information about the origin and history of your debt within five days of their first communication with you. You also have a right to dispute the debt, and once you do, the collector must stop all attempts to collect from you until they provide information supporting their claim to the debt.
o Debt collectors cannot harass you, and must follow limits on how, and how often, they contact you. For example, they cannot call you more than seven times in any seven-day period on any individual account and cannot call you between 9 PM and 8 AM. You have the right to tell debt collectors not to contact you by email or text message or any other means of communication, and you may tell them not to contact you at all.
o Starting on April 7, 2022, creditors cannot sue you, or threaten to sue you, on most debts that are older than three years. Prior to April 7, creditors cannot sue you, or threaten to sue you, on debts that are older than six years, or even less, depending where the original company or person you owed the debt to is located.
o Thousands of New Yorkers recently saw considerable and sudden increases in their gas and electric bills. Attorney General James has demanded reforms from Con Edison that include a commitment to providing consumers advance notice of such increases. Any consumer who believes they received a high utility bill as a result of a billing error should report it to OAG immediately.
o If you have trouble paying your energy bill, contact the utility company. Resources are available for consumers who may need help paying their utility bill. Utilities companies offer programs and payment plans to help.
o In addition, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) helps low-income individuals pay the cost of heating their homes. Information on how to apply is available at otda.ny.gov/programs/heap/.
- Home Repair/Improvement:
o Many of our homes have suffered wear and tear due to the pandemic. Before entering into a contract, shop around for estimates, check in with the Better Business Bureau, suppliers and neighbors for references.
o Know your rights: You have three days after signing a home improvement contract to cancel it.
- Health Clubs:
o New York’s Health Club Law authorizes gym members to cancel their membership under certain circumstances, including “after the services are no longer available or substantially available as provided in the contract because of the [gym’s] permanent discontinuance of operation or substantial change in operation,” and requires gym owners to provide prorated monetary refunds (NOT credits) for such cancellations within 15 days. In 2021, Attorney General James resolved a lawsuit against the parent company of New York Sports Club and Lucille Roberts for unlawfully charging monthly dues to members and for partaking in a variety of illegal and fraudulent practices involving consumers’ cancellation rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorney General James obtained the proceeds of a $250,000 bond for restitution to affected consumers.
o Additionally, the law further prohibits misrepresentations about consumers’ cancellation rights.
o Always find out what a furniture or an appliance retailer’s return policy is 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. Attorney General James reminds consumers that in addition to being vigilant, they should report instances of fraud to her office. Consumers are encouraged to file complaints 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 a form online.