Attorney General James releases list of top consumer complaints to mark National Consumer Protection Week

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Numerous major frauds in New York in 2020 reported to the OAG focused on COVID-19

AG James publishes advice on how to avoid COVID-19 scams,
Urges New Yorkers to Report Fraud Immediately to the OAG

New York – New York Attorney General Letitia James kicked off National Consumer Protection Week today by posting a list of top consumer scams against New Yorkers in 2020 – many of which were linked to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health. crisis – in addition to a variety of tips on how New Yorkers can avoid COVID-19 scams in the future.

“The devastation unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the many other ways consumers were defrauded in 2020, unfortunately led my office to receive a record number of consumer fraud complaints in 2020,” said Attorney General James. “The consumers who have helped identify and report issues to our office have been invaluable partners in our efforts to end deceptive scams and will continue to be critical partners in the future. I urge all New Yorkers to follow these tips to minimize the risk of being a victim of fraud, but, in the event of fraud, my office will continue to fight to protect New York consumers.

The nature of the complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2020 reflected the serious harm caused to consumers by the COVID-19 pandemic. After analyzing consumer complaints received statewide throughout 2020, the following turned out to be the top 10 consumer complaints by category:

Ranking
Category
Number of complaints
1
Internet (internet services and service providers, data privacy and security, digital media, data breaches, internet manipulation fraud)
9 832
2
COVID-19 price gouging (online and brick-and-mortar increase in the prices of items such as hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, toilet paper, food)
7,701
3
Owner / tenant disputes (bail release, tenant harassment)
2 752
4
Health clubs (continuous billing of fees during club closures, inability to cancel memberships, refunds not provided, no response from clubs)
2,621
5
Car (sales, service, financing, repairs)
2,561
6
Consumer services (security systems, technical repairs, immigration services, vocational training)
2,512
7
Retail sales (any sale of goods: food, clothing, hire purchase, online orders)
1,609
8
Credit (debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies, identity theft)
1,436
9
Utilities (cordless and residential telephones, energy services and providers, cable and satellite)
1378
ten
To travel (inability to cancel or no refund for cancellations required by COVID-19 travel restrictions)
1,251

Attorney General James also offered the following tips to consumers that they should practice to minimize the risk of themselves or their family members falling victim to COVID-19-related scams in the future:

Vaccine-related scams: The COVID-19 vaccine is NOT currently available to the general population in New York. A full list of groups eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine is available on the New York State Department of Health website. Consumers are cautioned to be wary of offers promising quick or expedited access to the vaccine for a fee. These offers – which can be delivered by text, phone or email – are NOT legitimate. Con artists can pose as public health officials from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Fraudsters can also offer to ship a COVID-19 vaccine directly to homes, provide special access to vaccines or clinical trials, or sell special cold storage devices to keep vaccines.

New Yorkers are urged to use the following tips to avoid vaccine scams:

  • Beware of anyone calling or emailing vaccine offers, and don’t give out Social Security numbers, personal credit card numbers, or bank account information. No one from a vaccine distributor, healthcare company, or private insurance company will ask for this information.
  • No New Yorker should be charged out of pocket – whether or not they have insurance – for a vaccine as long as the pandemic remains a public health emergency. If a New Yorker has to pay anything, including an administration fee, they have to file a complaint on the OAG website.
  • No one can pay to put their name on a list to get the vaccine or to participate in a vaccine clinical trial.

Fake vaccine cards: Consumers are cautioned to beware of fake vaccination cards sold on social media platforms or other areas of the internet. Vaccination cards usually record the date a vaccine was administered, the vaccine manufacturer and the lot number, and are provided by the vaccination site for the consumer’s own records. The target market for these fake cards may be people who wish to avoid the vaccine or who mistakenly believe the card is necessary for travel or for other purposes. Fake vaccination cards pose a risk to public health and should NOT be purchased for any reason. Information provided by consumers can also be used for identity theft.

Fake COVID-19 remedies: The bad actors have marketed a line 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 fake products sold range from colloidal silver products and toothpaste, to dietary supplements and herbal mixtures. Consumers should make health-related decisions in consultation with their health care providers. Attorney General James has sent numerous cease and desist letters to people and entities peddling these fake and potentially dangerous COVID-19 products, including to Alex jones, The Silver Edge Company and Dr Sherill Sellman, among others.

Abusive prices: Consumers and the general public are cautioned to pay attention to the prices charged on goods and services that are vital to their health, safety or well-being, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper, medical supplies. basic and basic food products. New York’s predatory pricing law prohibits the sale of such goods and services during times of abnormal market disruption at an unreasonably excessive price. In addition to sending over 1,900 cease and desist letters to merchants over the past year demanding an end to price increases, OAG arrested three third-party sellers who used Amazon to raise prices for hand sanitizers and sanitizers. The OAG also sued a major egg distributor for abusing the price of 4 million cartons of eggs..

Health clubs: Consumers are reminded to know their rights. New York Health Club Act Allows Gym Members To Cancel Membership Under Certain Circumstances, including ‘after the services are no longer available or practically available as provided for in the contract due to the [gym’s] permanent cessation of operation or substantial change in operation ‘ and requires gym owners to provide pro-rated monetary refunds (NO credits) for such cancellations within 15 days. In addition, the law further prohibits misrepresentation of consumers’ cancellation rights. The OAG sued the parent company of two major health club chains – New York Sports Clubs and Lucille Roberts – in New York for violations of the health club law.

Puppy Scams: The pandemic has dramatically increased demand for pets as New Yorkers seek companionship during the lockdown. Scammers typically pretend to be ranchers and refuse in-person meetings, using COVID-19 security protocols as an excuse. At the same time, these scammers demand additional fees, such as shipping pets in special “protection” crates or pandemic insurance.

New Yorkers are urged to practice the following tips to avoid puppy scams:

  • Use a credit card to make the purchase and avoid wire transfer, send gift cards, or send money using apps as these transactions cannot be refunded and are not traceable.
  • Do a thorough internet research for the breeder before purchasing a puppy to make sure that the email address used is not the same one used on several websites and that testimonials are not copied from other legitimate websites.
  • Visit the breeder and the puppy in person, respecting social distancing. If a consumer is unable to do so, they should ask the breeder to video chat with them. Consumers are strongly advised not to purchase a puppy without visual confirmation. Consumers should also make sure to get visual confirmation before making any type of deposit. Consumers should insist on seeing where animals are kept and avoid breeders who offer to meet in a “convenient” public place.
  • Keep in mind that shipping young animals long distances, especially as air freight during the hot summer months, comes with many risks. It is strongly recommended that the puppy be picked up in person and brought back under the passenger seat in a carrier. Be careful, scammers usually use a number of shipping-related excuses to get more money from consumers.

In the event that a consumer is the victim of fraud, they must ensure that they keep all records of the sale, including advertising and written communications.

Consumers can learn more about COVID-19 resources and scams on the OAG website. Attorney General James reminds consumers that in addition to being vigilant, they must report fraud cases to his office. Consumers are encouraged to file a complaint by completing and submitting a Office of Fraud and Consumer Protection online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755 if they are unable to submit a form online.


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