Agencies are cautioning residents to watch out for fraud during National Consumer Protection Week.
The state Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection — which marks its 10th anniversary in April — reported it assisted more than 31,600 New Yorkers with consumer protection matters in 2020, resulting in $2.83 million returned to the consumers.
“COVID-19 has brought many changes to the marketplace and the Division of Consumer Protection has worked hard over the past year to help consumers navigate uncharted territory,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “As part of the National Consumer Protection Week, we are highlighting that in today’s amplified digital world, consumers must take precautions to protect themselves from nefarious actors preying on the vulnerable.”
NCPW runs through today.
Officials reported the five types of complaints were the most common in 2020 — and three were tied directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaints — and solutions — include:
• Travel interruptions and cancellations due to COVID-19. DCP received 540 complaints on related issues. Consumers should pay careful attention to cancellation and refund policies, consider trip insurance, and pay for tickets and reservations with a credit card, as card companies offer additional protection.
• Entertainment cancellations and refunds due to COVID-19. DCP received 382 complaints on related issues. Consumers should review contracts carefully, paying specific attention to refund policies. Ticket sellers are required to refund tickets if events are canceled.
• Miscellaneous marketplace problems due to COVID-19. DCP received 662 complaints on related issues such as gym memberships, tuitions and delivery delays. Consumers should expect deliveries within 30 days, and know their rights. State law does not allow health clubs to charge dues or fees if services are not available.
• Internet and Online Services. DCP received 425 complaints on related issues including: erroneous charges, billing, quality of goods/services, and more. Consumers should know that being online is not an excuse — online companies must follow the same laws as physical, “brick-and-mortar” stores. Also, check for automatic contract renewals and be aware of scams.
Consumers can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at (800) 697-1220.
The Department of Motor Vehicles also encouraged caution when dealing with dishonest businesses.
“In addition to keeping our roads safe and providing identity and vehicle registration services, our employees work hard to protect the interests of our customers,” said DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. “If you believe you were wronged during a car sale or repair, our trained experts can help.”
Since 2017, when the DMV began to track recovery data, the agency has helped New Yorkers recover $7.17 million of vehicle titles after the abrupt closing of dealerships left consumers without their proof of ownership. Additionally, since 2016, the DMV’s Vehicle Safety Unit has recovered $4.87 million from auto dealers and repair shops for fraudulent vehicle sales or faulty repairs.
Another common issue has been phishing schemes, where fraudsters send text messages or emails pretending to represent the DMV to obtain personal information from the recipient. DMV also cautions customers to be aware that new, keyless vehicle technology can provide convenience but also can increase risk.
For more information about the DMV, visit dmv.ny.gov.
The Department of Taxation and Finance also offered tips on fraud prevention.
• File promptly. Filing your tax returns as soon as possible can reduce the likelihood that an identity thief will be able to claim a fraudulent tax refund using your stolen information.
• Free File software, available at the Tax Department website, www.tax.ny.gov, is easy, fast, and secure. Taxpayers with income of $72,000 or less in 2020 can electronically complete and submit their federal and New York State income tax returns online at no cost. Nearly 255,000 New York taxpayers used Free File software last year, saving $51 million.
• Take advantage of free tax return filing assistance. You may qualify for free assistance through the Tax Department.
• Choose direct deposit of your tax refund, getting a refund up to two weeks sooner.
• E-filing is safer, faster, and more efficient than sending paper returns through the mail.
• Protect data and documents used to prepare your return. Keep sensitive personal information and documents safe during and after the filing process.
• If you hire a tax preparer, do your research to ensure they’re competent and ethical. Make sure your tax preparer is willing to sign your return as your tax professional.
• Carefully review your tax return. You’re responsible for the tax return’s accuracy.
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)