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State AG: COVID-19 scams among top consumer complaints

New York State Attorney General Letitia James in

New York State Attorney General Letitia James in Manhattan on Jan. 7, 2020. Credit: Charles Eckert

Data breaches, price gouging, landlord-tenant disputes and a host of assorted scams linked to the COVID-19 pandemic were among the top consumer complaints last year in New York, State Attorney General Letitia James announced Monday.

Kicking off National Consumer Protection Week, James said the types of complaints reported to the Office of the Attorney General in 2020 "reflected great consumer harm" caused by the pandemic — and the willingness of scammers to prey on the vulnerable.

"The havoc unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the numerous other ways consumers were defrauded in 2020, sadly resulted in my office receiving a record number of consumer fraud complaints in 2020," James said in a statement, who called consumers who have reported such scams "invaluable partners" in officials efforts to stop them.

James said there were 9,832 internet-related complaints filed, including those addressing security and data breaches, internet-based frauds, privacy issues and disputes with service providers, while there were more than 7,700 complaints involving pandemic price-gouging, both online and at stores, related to markups on hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, bathroom tissue and food.

Landlord-tenant disputes, health club fee and membership disputes, auto sales, service and financing scams and consumer service scams all accounted for more than 2,500 complaints each, while retail sales complaints, credit-related disputes and scams, issues dealing with utilities such as wireless, cable, satellite and energy suppliers and travel reservation disputes rounded out the Top 10, James said.

Consumers are also being warned about ongoing vaccine and coronavirus-cure scams, with the attorney general's Office reminding New Yorkers the COVID-19 vaccine is still only available to those eligible.

Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, in a release, also warned consumers, saying: "We are highlighting that in today’s amplified digital world, consumers must take precautions to protect themselves from nefarious actors preying on the vulnerable."

Scammers have been known to "impersonate public health officials" — including claiming to be calling from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, among other groups, to perpetrate frauds.

James said her office not only sent cease-and-desist letters to a number of suspect cure-peddlers, but also reminded consumers that instances of price gouging, health club membership disputes and even so-called puppy scams involving come-on calls from scammers claiming to be breeders should all be reported.

Officials caution never to disclose personal information to unsolicited callers and if you believe you are the victim of a scam to contact the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau at 1-800-771-7755. You can also submit a complaint online.

For more information about ongoing scams, visit the Office of the Attorney General website at ag.ny.gov/coronavirus.

Consumers are being warned against scams involving COVID-19. Some of them include:

— Scammers who impersonate public health officials with fake offers of access to vaccine trials or vaccine appointments

— Offers of fake coronavirus cures or treatments

— Phony offers to deliver COVID-19 vaccine to your home

— Phony offers of cold storage units for keeping vaccines viable.

— Phony vaccine cards that supposedly allow people to travel

Source: New York state attorney general's office

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