Attorney General releases top 10 consumer frauds complaints in 2016

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) - Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has released the list of the top ten consumer fraud complaints received by his office in 2016.

For the eleventh year in a row, Internet-related complaints topped the list with nearly 5,000 complaints.

Internet-related complaints were closely followed by complaints about automobile sales, service, financing, and repairs

The following is the list of complaints from most to least common: 

1. Internet: We depend on reliable Internet service. If you are not receiving the speed you are paying for, call your Internet service provider.

2. Automobile: This year the Attorney General celebrated the 30th anniversary of New York’s New and Used Car Lemon Laws, which provide a legal remedy for buyers or lessees of new cars that turn out to be lemons.

The arbitration program was extended to used cars three years after introduced. You may be entitled to a full refund if your car does not conform to the terms of the written warranty and the manufacturer or its authorized dealer is unable to repair the car after a reasonable number of attempts.

The law allows consumers to shop around for the best deal when leasing a car, set limits on early termination, and gives the Attorney General’s Office jurisdiction to resolve excess wear-and-tear disputes.

Click here to file a new or used car "lemon law" complaint.  

3. Consumer-Related 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.

4. Landlord/Tenant Disputes: The Attorney General’s Tenant Harassment Task Force investigates situations where landlords and management companies are suspected of using construction as a means to harass tenants.

Incidents of harassment include: landlords operating without proper permits; construction projects operating in violation of stop work orders; and landlords who openly ignore requirements for tenant protection plans in order to contain the spread of lead and/or asbestos which may be exposed during renovation. 

Tenants may lodge complaints by completing and submitting a Tenant Rights Complaint Form or calling 1-800-771-7755.

5. Utilities/Wireless and Residential Phone Service: A common complaint with long-term wireless service contracts involves the sometimes hefty price for cancellation.

Some contracts charge hundreds of dollars. If you are unsure exactly what plan best fits your calling habits, and want to avoid paying a large termination fee, it might be best to avoid an extended contract.

Regardless of the length of your contract, remember to carefully read and understand all terms before signing it. Click here to learn more. 

6. 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.

Debt collectors cannot sue on debts outside the applicable statute of limitations, the time frame established for the enforcement of legal rights. Consumers have the right to demand verification of the debt. Anyone with credit problems should contact credit counseling agencies licensed by the New York State Department of Financial Services for assistance in managing the situation and avoiding collection scams. 

To learn more, click here. 

7. Retail Sales: Check return and refund policies. The law requires all merchants to post their refund policies. A store that fails to do so must give consumers 30 days to get a refund in the manner that the purchase was made. Be especially vigilant of “final sales” or “cash-only – final sale” notices, as you will have little or no recourse if the merchandise proves to be defective. Some stores require the original packaging and charge a hefty restocking fee for returned items. 

To learn more click here. 

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.

To learn more, click here. 

9. Mortgage: Mortgage rescue scams prey on homeowners in their greatest time of need. Look out for offers that claim to 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. The Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) funds a network of more than 85 trusted partners dedicated to providing homeowners with free, qualified mortgage assistance relief services across New York. To find a nearby HOPP provider, visit or call the Attorney General’s hotline at 1-855-HOME-456.

10. 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. 

Click here to learn more. 

Tips for other common scams:

IRS scams: Beware of scammers posing as government officials via phone calls or emails. The IRS will never demand immediate payment or payment information over the phone. Do not engage this type of caller or provide any personal information and report the call to our office by submitting a complaint here or calling our consumer hotline at 1-800-771-7755. Scams should also be reported to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

Grandparent scam: Be suspicious of anyone who calls claiming to be your grandchild and asking you to immediately wire money or buy large dollar amounts of gift cards and provide the gift card information. Grandparents should verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before wiring money or buying gift cards. 

Student Debt: Beware of phony student debt relief companies that claim to lower or eliminate student loan debt. Do not pay up-front fees. Students should contact their loan servicer themselves to see if any relief is available. For federal student loans such as Stafford or PLUS loans, students should ask if they are eligible for an income-based payment plan or if they qualify for deferment or forbearance.

Health Care Fraud: The Attorney General will soon be releasing a separate report about health care fraud complaints that it received in 2016.  In 2015, the Health Care Bureau Helpline received 5,444 complaints. Of these complaints, the Helpline investigated and resolved 2,836 consumer complaints and provided another 2,608 consumers with information or referrals to the agency most appropriate for the inquiry. 

Attorney General Schneiderman reminds New Yorkers that in addition to being vigilant consumers, they should also report instances of fraud to his office.

Consumers are encouraged to file complaints to the Attorney General’s office by completing and submitting a Consumer Bureau Online Complaint Form or calling 1-800-771-7755.

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