New York (WKBW release) -- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Monday released the list of the top ten consumer fraud complaints received by the Attorney General’s Office in 2011.
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.
“Arming consumers with information is the best defense against frauds and abuses,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a news release. “The crime scene of the 21st century is the Internet, and it is important for consumers to not only know their rights online, but how to seek justice. In addition to taking action against those who cheat New Yorkers, our office is always a resource to stop scams before they start. I encourage New Yorkers to mark National Consumer Protection Week by learning how to recognize, avoid and report consumer frauds wherever they exist.”
The Attorney General’s Office analyzed the consumer complaints received from across the state throughout 2011. For the second year in a row, 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 2011 list of the top ten consumer complaints by category:
CATEGORY NUMBER OF COMPLAINTS
(privacy issues; spyware; consumer frauds) 4,006
(debt collection; credit card billing; debt settlement) 3,838
(buying, leasing, repair, service contracts, rentals) 3,279
4 Consumer-Related Services
(security systems; restaurant/catering services; tech repairs) 3,661
(residential repairs, deposit releases, tenant-harassment) 2,711
(mortgage and loan broker fraud, foreclosures) 1,597
7. Retail Sales
(any sale of goods: gift cards, clothing, rent-to-own) 1,219
8. Home Repair/Construction
(home improvement services not delivered or done poorly) 1,211
9. Mail Order
(purchases made online or from a catalog) 1,064
(phone cards, cellular services, pay-per-call) 1,017
The Attorney General also provided a list of tips all consumers should use to protect themselves and their families:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 defines restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and service-provider.
5. Landlord/Tenant: Landlords are required to keep 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.
6. 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.
7. Retail Sales: Retail gift cards have become increasingly popular. However, consumers should be careful to buy only from retailers they know and trust. If you buy a card from a company that files for bankruptcy or goes out of business, the card may be worth less than you what they paid. Consumers should also read the rules on the card to know what fees and conditions apply. New rules now provide that money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased, or from the last date any additional money was added to the card. Inactivity fees can also only be charged if the card hasn’t been used for at least one year.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 when they are detected so that our office hold wrongdoers accountable, limit their damage, and protect consumers.”