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AG: For 12th straight year, internet scams top consumer complaints

For the 12th year in a row, fraud complaints about internet services and providers lead the list of the top 10 consumer grievances in New York, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Thursday.

The complaints refer to data security, privacy, spam and spyware, Schneiderman said in a release.

The list for 2017 includes tips to help people avoid falling for scammers. Other categories in the top 10 include fraud complaints on automobile sales and repair, landlord-tenant disputes and credit debt collection and billing.

“The best weapon against fraud is an informed consumer,” Schneiderman said. “Fraudsters will always look for new ways to line their pockets at the expense of unsuspecting consumers. I encourage New Yorkers to educate themselves — and to continue reporting scams to my office, so that we can continue to crack down on scammers seeking to take advantage of New York consumers.”

The list did not include stats on health care fraud complaints, which actually registered more than any other category with 5,565 grievances in 2017.

The 2017 list sparked some sharp responses from at least one category that appears on it — landlords. Landlord/tenant disputes ranked fourth on the list with 1,961 complaints.

Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel for a group of landlords in New York City, noted that the list is a register of complaints, not findings. He said findings of harassment against landlords are “few and far between.”

He added, “In every industry there will always be a bad actor,” said Posilkin, who represents the Rent Stabilization Association. “The vast, vast, vast majority of owners are good, honest, reputable individuals.”

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association declined to discuss the complaints in the report.

Here is the list and some tips.

1. Internet — data privacy and security problems: The state received 5,153 complaints in 2017.

Tip: Refrain from conducting transactions that involve personal, financial, or credit card information while using an open and unsecured Wi-Fi connection.

2. Automobile — buying, leasing, repair, service contracts, rentals: 3,188 complaints.

Tip: New York’s new and used car “Lemon Laws” provide a legal remedy for buyers or lessees of new cars that turn out to be lemons.

3. Consumer-related services — security systems, restaurantcatering services: 2,463 complaints.

Tip: Have a written contract for all services that clearly defines restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and service provider.

4. Landlord/tenant disputes — security deposit releases, tenant harassment: 1,961 complaints.

Tip: Tenants may lodge complaints by calling 800-771-7755.

5. Utilities — wireless and residential phones, energy services and suppliers, cable and satellite: 1,827 complaints.

Tip: A common complaint with long-term wireless service contracts involves the sometimes-hefty price for cancellation. If you are unsure exactly what plan best fits your calling habits, it might be best to avoid an extended contract.

6. Credit — debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement, credit repair, identity theft: 1,436 complaints.

Tip: Debt collection is the most common type of credit fraud. Debt collectors may not harass or abuse consumers, nor provide misleading information — for instance, claiming to represent a government agency.

7. Retail sales — food, clothing, rent-to-own merchandise: 1,285 complaints.

Tip: Check return and refund policies. Be vigilant of “final sales” notices, as you will have little or no recourse if the merchandise proves to be defective.

8. Home repair/construction — home improvement services not delivered or done poorly: 982 complaints.

Tip: Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed. Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the jobs. Never pay the full price upfront.

9. Mail order — purchases made online or from a catalog: 850 complaints.

Tip: 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 post office box.

10. Mortgage — mortgage modifications, mortgage and loan broker fraud; foreclosures: 799 complaints.

Tip: Beware of offers that claim to stop or delay foreclosure payments for an upfront fee or make payments on your behalf. For free mortgage assistance relief services, call the attorney general’s hotline at 1-855-HOME-456.

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