Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the list of the top ten consumer fraud complaints received by the Attorney General’s Office in 2010. Marking the start of National Consumer Protection Week, the Attorney General highlighted the scams most reported by New Yorkers and offered tips on how to avoid them in the future. He will announce a series of actions taken to protect New York consumers from scams in the coming days.
“Arming consumers with information is the best defense against frauds and abuses,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The crime scene of the 21st century is the Internet, and it is important for consumers to not only know their rights, but how to fight back. In addition to taking action against those who cheat New Yorkers, this office is an excellent resource that can help stop scams. I encourage New Yorkers to mark National Consumer Protection Week by learning how to recognize, avoid and report consumer frauds.”
The Attorney General’s Office analyzed the consumer complaints received from across the state throughout 2010. The highest number of complaints were Internet-related, closely followed by credit-related complaints that involved debt collection, credit card billing and identity theft. The following is the 2010 list of the top ten consumer complaints by category:
NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS
1. Internet 7,024
(privacy issues; spyware; consumer frauds)
2. Credit 5,455
(debt collection; credit card billing; debt settlement)
3. Consumer-Related Services 3,817
(security systems; restaurant/catering services; tech repairs)
4. Automobile 3,661
(buying, leasing, repair, service contracts, rentals)
5. Landlord/Tenant 2,009
(residential repairs, deposit releases, tenant-harassment)
6. Mortgage 1,927
(mortgage and loan broker fraud, foreclosures)
7. Retail Sales 1,364
(any sale of goods: food, clothing, rent-to-own)
8. Home Repair/Construction 1,299
(home improvement services not delivered or done poorly)
9. Mail Order 1,266
(purchases made online or from a catalog)
10. Telecommunications 1,202
(phone cards, cellular services, pay-per-call)
The Attorney General also provided a list of tips all consumers should use to protect themselves and their families:
- Internet: Always make sure websites are secure before providing any financial information, such as a credit card or bank account number. Secure website addresses start with “https” and have a symbol, such as a lock. These secure sites use encryption to scramble your information as it is transmitted over the Internet to keep it secure. Learn more here.
- Credit: Debt collection is the most common type of credit fraud, and consumers must know their rights. Debt collectors may not harass or abuse consumers, nor provide misleading information – for instance claiming to represent a government agency. Anyone with credit problems should contact credit counseling agencies licensed by the New York State Banking Department for assistance in managing the situation and avoiding collection scams. Learn more here.
- Services: We rely on a range of services in our day-to-day living, from snow-removal to home repair to party planning. Make sure to use a written contract for all services that clearly defined restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and service-provider.
- Automobile: Many automobile complaints relate to leasing and New Yorkers should know that they are protected by the strongest auto-leasing law in the country. The law allows consumers to shop around for the best deal when leasing a car, set limits on early termination, and even gives the Attorney General’s Office jurisdiction to resolve excess wear-and-tear disputes. Learn more here.
- Landlord/Tenant: Landlords are required to keeping records of all notices, inspections and repair matters related to the residence. This is especially important for issues like lead paint – which was prevalent in the 1960s and poses a significant threat to children. Ask your landlord for documentation to ensure that your building is up to code. Learn more here.
- Mortgage: Mortgage rescue scams prey on homeowners in their greatest time of need. Look out for offers that will stop or delay foreclosure payments for an upfront fee or make payments on your behalf. Beware of companies that suggest a government affiliation or claim to be with the government, or those that work with attorneys but do not provide legal services. Turn to the New York State Banking Department for licensed counselors to help to manage the situation. Learn more here.
- Retail Sales: Rent-to-own programs allow consumers who would otherwise be unable to afford some items access to common household goods without a down payment or credit check. However, some consumers may end up spending more to acquire items than if they had just paid for them up front. A new law restricts prices to keep them in line with the costs of goods. Consumers should ensure that all rent-to-own transactions have a written contract. Learn more here.
- Home Repair/Construction: The biggest and most important investment families will make is their homes, and improvements should add value, not hardship. Before entering into a contract, shop around for estimates, check in with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers and neighbors for references, and know your rights: you have three days after signing a home improvement contract to cancel it. Learn more here.
- Mail Order: Whether ordering online or from a catalog, make sure the company has an operating customer service line and lists a real street address. Companies operating on a ‘fly-by-night’ basis often have no working customer service number and list only a P.O. Box. Learn more here.
- Telecommunications: Calling cards remain a popular way not only to get in touch with family and friends, but also to rip-off consumers. Start with one card of a small denomination and test it to ensure that all the charges – including connection fees and rate per minute – are what the provider described.
Attorney General Schneiderman reminded New Yorkers that in addition to being vigilant consumers, they should also report instances of fraud to his office.
“Our top ten list reflects the complaints filed by New Yorkers across the state, which helped our investigators and attorneys stop scam artists in their tracks,” Attorney General Schneiderman added. “It’s critical that frauds are reported to the authorities so that we can hold wrongdoers accountable, limit their damage, and protect consumers.”
Consumers are encouraged to file complaints by visiting the Office’s website: http://www.ag.ny.gov/resource_
center/complaints/complaints. html or calling 1-800-771-7755.