As online purchasing becomes the norm, scam artists are looking for ways to take advantage of unwitting consumers. The tips below can help protect you from frauds and scams.
Before you click
- If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
- Be wary of email and text message offers or advertisements. Do not click links without making sure they are valid. Phishing attempts are common. Read carefully and look for suspicious typos or wording. Before clicking links, always hover over the link to reveal the website — if something looks wrong, it may not be legitimate. Delete emails and text messages that you believe are scams.
- If you are not familiar with the seller or the website, do some research. Sometimes, through a basic search you may find consumer reviews with complaints about a company's practices. The Better Business Bureau website is a good resource for investigating the complaints about a seller.
- When buying items from a website, make sure the company has an operating customer service number, lists an actual street address of its business, and has a record of satisfactory service. A company trying to scam consumers is more likely than legitimate companies to have no working telephone number or to list only a post office box as its address.
- Be careful of "sound-alike" companies that have fake websites that mimic well-known, reputable sellers. Do a search to double check whether the company you want to buy from has other legitimate sites.
- Be particularly wary of vendors selling "hot" items. Scam artists see demand as an opportunity to take advantage of consumers. For example, the Attorney General recently sued a woman who claimed she was able to sell highly sought-after Playstation 5 gaming systems, but failed to deliver on her promises.
Making the purchase
- Always ensure a website is secure before providing your credit card or debit card number. Secured web sites use encryption to scramble your information as it is transmitted over the internet. You can identify a secured website by its address: It starts with "https." In addition, look for an icon that looks like a closed lock or an unbroken key in your browser’s window. This icon indicates that your information is being securely transmitted.
- When buying online, carefully review all the charges that may apply. Many "bargain" web sites make up the difference with hefty fees (such as delivery, processing, or subscription fees). Some companies increase these fees around the holidays.
- Some online merchants offer "free" trials for products or services that require you to input your credit or debit card information, while promising not to charge you until the trial has ended. However, if you do not cancel your order of the product or service within the trial period, your credit or debit card will automatically be charged the full amount for the product or service. You may even end up enrolled in a monthly membership program and your credit or debit card will be charged each month. Even seemingly small repeated charges add up over time. Set reminders for yourself to cancel free trials several days before they end.
- Before you place your order, online merchants may offer reduced prices, or discounts, rewards, or rebates off future purchases. These offers might be deceptive. Sometimes, by accepting the offer, you may unknowingly agree to enrolled in a fee-based monthly membership program for something you do not want. This can happen even when you do not re-enter your credit or debit card information after your initial purchase.
After you buy
- Save all verifications and receipts from online retailers for future access. If you have not received the product when promised, reach out to the company in a firm but polite inquiry. If the company does not respond to your requests, you can file a complaint with the New York Attorney General here or by phone at 1-800-771-7755.
- Always review your monthly credit card and bank statements carefully for unauthorized charges. Scam artists often take advantage of the increase in purchases during the holidays, expecting that phony charges will go unnoticed or uncorrected for a longer period of time.
- If you believe you have been charged for an item that you did not authorize, or have not received in a reasonable amount of time, report this to your credit card company as soon as possible.
Delivery of furniture and major appliances
- If you’re buying furniture (that isn’t custom-made) or a major household appliance that costs more than $200, the store must give you an estimated delivery date in writing.
- If the store doesn’t deliver your order by the delivery date, it must tell you about the delay and give you the following options:
- cancel and get a full refund
- cancel and get a credit for any deposit you may have made
- agree to a new delivery date or range of delivery dates
- allow you to pick a different piece of furniture or appliance
- If you choose to cancel and get a refund, the store must make the refund within two weeks of your request to cancel.
- If you cause the delay in delivery, these four options are not available.
- If you have experienced problems with retailers of furniture or major appliances, please contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at 1-800-771-7755.
Rent to own
Many consumers cannot afford to pay cash for expensive consumer goods, like furniture or major appliances. Some have trouble qualifying for a loan because they have low credit scores or no credit history. The rent-to-own industry was created to provide these low-income consumers with a way to obtain consumer goods. However, New York consumers who enter into rent-to-own transactions usually end up spending much more than they would have if they had used cash or a loan to purchase the item.
In a rent-to-own transaction, merchants rent goods to consumers for their personal use for a period of time. At the beginning of the transaction, the consumer does not own the goods. Instead, the company providing the lease owns the property until the consumer purchases it. Typically, a consumer can purchase an item in a rent-to-own transaction by either making all of the rental payments in the contract over a period of time, or by exercising an early-purchase option to pay a lump sum during the term of the rental. Again, for New York consumers, using either of these purchase options under a rent-to-own contract is usually much more expensive than purchasing an item in cash or using a loan.
Traditionally, to enter a rent-to-own transaction, consumers go to specific stores that offer all goods in the store for rent-to-own transactions. But, in recent years, several rent-to-own companies now offer their rent-to-own services online. They partner with all types of retailers to allow consumers to rent-to-own a lot of different items from a variety of stores that sell products under traditional as well as rent-to-own arrangements.
Due to identified abuses by rent-to-own merchants, New York law was changed in 2011 to try to protect consumers. These protections include restrictions on the prices that rent-to-own merchants can charge and requirements to tell consumers key information about rent-to-own transactions. Read the law’s full text at: Laws Of New York-Personal Property Law.
Highlights of law
Consumers must sign a written rental-purchase agreement to enter into a rent-to-own transaction. The goods covered by rent-to-own transactions (merchandise) must be used for primarily personal, family, or household purposes,. The first rental period must be for no more than four months.
The law sets specific limits on how much rent-to-own merchants can charge for new and used merchandise.
The "cash price" means the price the merchant charges for merchandise (e.g., furniture, appliances, home electronics, jewelry, and so forth) when selling to consumers who do not enter into a rental-purchase agreement. The “total of payments” is what the consumer would pay for the merchandise under the rental-purchase agreement.
The total of payments cannot be more than 2.25 times the cash price.
For example, if a merchant charges a cash price of $600 for a television, then the maximum the merchant can charge under a rental-purchase agreement is $1,350 (the $600 cash price times 2.25). As this example shows, a consumer who enters into a rental-purchase agreement ends up paying much more for the same television compared to a consumer who paid for the television up front. This additional cost of buying merchandise under a rental-purchase agreement is referred to as the “cost of rental.”
The consumer has the right to exercise an early-purchase option and acquire the merchandise before the term of the rental-purchase agreement expires. The consumer may do this by making all past-due payments and paying a percentage of the new cash price, which is calculated based on the remaining number of payments left under the rental-purchase agreement. Merchants are required to provide consumers with receipts after each payment and this receipt must state what the early-purchase amount is at that time.
The law requires rental-purchase agreements to include the following information:
- name, address and telephone number of the merchant
- description of the merchandise, including whether it is new or used
- duration of the rental term and the minimum period for which the consumer is obligated
- amount of each periodic payment, total of payments, and total number of payments required to acquire ownership
- cash price and the cost of rental
- amount and purpose of any additional fees
- liability of the consumer for the loss or damage to the merchandise
- statement that ownership does not transfer to the consumer until all payments are made or the consumer exercises the early payment option, accompanied by a chart indicating the amounts required to exercise the early payment option after each periodic payment
- statement of the right of repossession by the merchant for failure to make a payment and a description of the consumer's right to reinstatement upon payment of balance owed
- description of the consumer's right to lower periodic payments under specified conditions
- description of the merchant's obligation to maintain the merchandise and the warranty coverage for such merchandise
- statement that the consumer is entitled to review a fully completed rental-purchase agreement for up to 48 hours prior to signing and that the consumer must be given a fully completed copy of the signed agreement
- statement that the consumer may cancel without penalty, if the consumer has not yet taken possession of the merchandise