AG James releases list of top consumer complaints
New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday kicked off National Consumer Protection Week by releasing a list of the top consumer scams perpetrated against New Yorkers in 2020 — many of which had to do with the coronavirus public health crisis — in addition to a variety of tips on how New Yorkers can avoid COVID-19 scams in the future.
“The havoc unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the numerous other ways consumers were defrauded in 2020, sadly resulted in my office receiving a record number of consumer fraud complaints in 2020,” said Attorney General James. “Consumers who have helped identify and report issues to our office have been invaluable partners in our efforts to stop deceptive scams and will continue to be vital partners going forward. I urge all New Yorkers to follow these tips to minimize the risk of falling victim to fraud.”
The nature of complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2020 reflected great consumer harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After analyzing consumer complaints received statewide throughout 2020, the following were found to be the top 10 consumer complaints by category:
1: Internet-related (internet services and service providers, data privacy and security, digital media, data breaches, internet fraud.
2: COVID-19 price gouging (overcharging for items such as hand sanitizer, masks, gloves).
3: Landlord-tenant disputes (security deposit releases, tenant harassment).
4: Health clubs (charging of fees while clubs were closed, inability to get refunds).
5: Automobile sales, service, financing, repairs.
6: Consumer services (security systems, tech repairs, employment training, immigration services).
7: Retail services (online orders, any sales of goods).
8: Credit: Credit (debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and debt relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies, identity theft)
9: Utilities (wireless and residential phones, energy services and suppliers, cable and satellite).
10: Travel (inability to cancel or lack of refunds for cancellations required by COVID-19 travel restrictions)
Attorney General James also offered consumers the following tips they should practice to minimize the risk of themselves or their family members becoming victims of COVID-19 related scams going forward:
New Yorkers are urged to practice the following tips to avoid vaccine-related scams:
- Be wary of anyone calling or emailing with offers of a vaccine and do not give out Social Security numbers, personal credit card numbers, or bank account information. No one from a vaccine distributor, a health care company, or a private insurance company will ask for this information.
- No New Yorker should be charged any amount out of pocket — regardless of whether they have insurance or not — to get the vaccine while the pandemic remains a public health emergency. If a New Yorker is charged anything, including an administration fee, they should file a complaint on the OAG’s website.
- No one can pay to put their name on a list to get the vaccine or to get into a vaccine clinical trial.
Fake Vaccine Cards: Consumers are warned to beware of phony vaccine cards sold on social media platforms or other areas of the Internet. Vaccine cards typically record the date a vaccine is administered, the vaccine manufacturer, and the batch number, and are provided by the vaccination site for a consumer’s own records. The target market for these phony cards may be people who want to avoid the vaccine or who mistakenly believe the card is required to travel or for some other purpose.
Phony COVID-19 Cures: Bad actors have marketed a range of products with false claims that they can prevent, cure, or treat COVID-19. Consumers should not spend their money on these products, which do not work. The phony products sold range from colloidal silver products, to toothpastes, to dietary supplements, and herbal blends.
Price Gouging: Consumers and the general public are warned to pay attention to the prices charged on goods and services that are vital to their health, safety, or welfare, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper, basic medical supplies, and basic food items. New York’s price gouging statute prohibits selling these goods and services during periods of abnormal market disruption for an unconscionably excessive price.
Health Clubs: Consumers are reminded to know their rights. 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. The OAG sued the parent company of two health club chains, Lucille Roberts and New York Sports Club, for violations.
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