Governor Kathy Hochul announced today the New York State Division of Consumer Protection assisted 21,855 New Yorkers with a variety of consumer protection matters in 2021, resulting in a record $2,918,025 being returned to consumers’ wallets. The announcement comes on the final day of National Consumer Protection Week.
“When bad actors try to rip off New Yorkers, our Division of Consumer Protection has your back," Governor Hochul said. "I'm proud that New York State has helped tens of thousands of consumers recover nearly $3 million of their hard-earned money. Working together, we'll make sure all New Yorkers are protected from scams and deceptive practices."
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection, a division of the Department of State, works to educate New Yorkers about consumer protection issues and recover money from common unfair and deceptive practices. In 2021, nearly $3 million was recovered for 21,855 New Yorkers with consumer complaints; the top five areas for complaints relate to errors in delivery, insufficient refunds, defective products, online scams, and COVID cancellations. In response, the Division of Consumer Protection is unveiling important tips across these five categories so consumers are armed with the tools to stay safe.
Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said, “Each and every day, the Division of Consumer Protection is hard at work helping New York’s consumers better understand their rights and representing their interests. As part of the National Consumer Protection Week, we are highlighting that the most common complaints facing consumers in today’s digital world and providing helpful tips to protect their personal information and hard-earned money.”
Senator Kevin Thomas said, “New York State is a national leader in protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices, and holding companies that break the law accountable. During National Consumer Protection Week, we are making sure all New Yorkers have the resources they need to protect themselves from fraud and make smart financial decisions. I thank Governor Hochul for her ongoing efforts to protect and empower the over 19 million consumers who call New York State home.”
Assemblymember Nily Rozic said, “New York consumers have faced unprecedented issues during the past few years — from price gouging and price hikes to fraud and identity theft. As Chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection I’m hard at work fighting for our consumers and ensuring they have the protections and assistance necessary.”
This announcement follows Governor Hochul’s announcement from March 7, which announced the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles helped New Yorkers recover over $1.65M million in goods and services from faulty or fraudulent auto dealers and repair shops.
Top Five Categories of Consumer Complaints in 2021 and Tips to Protect Consumers:
- Orders/Deliveries: Complaint issues related to the order and delivery of goods purchased, including missing items, incorrect items received, late or delayed delivery, or items never shipped.
For example, a consumer in Queens County ordered five articles of clothing from an online retailer, but only one item arrived. The consumer contacted the retailer and was told the other items were shipped separately, but the consumer never received any additional shipments. The consumer tried contacting the retailer again, but the company was unresponsive. DCP reached out to the company on behalf of the consumer and arranged for a full refund for the four items not received.
- Remember to always shop on trusted sites when shopping online. Consumers should shop from sites known to them and exercise caution with unfamiliar sites or those that host items for third-party sellers.
- Learn about the Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule of 1975, which requires retailers to deliver products ordered by mail, phone, or online within 30 days unless otherwise stated at the time of purchase. If there is a delay, you must be notified. If the company cannot reach you to obtain your consent to the delay, they must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money you paid for the unshipped merchandise.
- Keep track of your packages. Review the tracking information for your package and report any issues to the retailer and shipping company immediately. Package tracking and delivery scams are becoming common, and consumers should be especially cautious of unsolicited text messages or emails about an unfamiliar shipment or delivery.
- Refunds/Store Policy: Complaint issues related to refunds and store policies, including return policies, restocking fees, and refunds for damaged goods.
For example, a consumer in Rockland County purchased a sofa from a furniture store. Upon delivery, the consumer saw that the sofa was defective, and the consumer contacted the store immediately. The store picked up the defective sofa but didn’t refund the consumer in full. DCP contacted the company and through mediation was able to arrange for a full refund to be issued.
- Know your rights. In NYS, stores must clearly post their refund policies. When no refund policy is posted, consumers have 30 days from the purchase date to receive a full refund or a credit (at the consumer’s option), with receipt or any other confirmation given to show that 30 days has not elapsed and as long as the merchandise has not been used or damaged.
- Ask about refund policies. Ask whether the store imposes a restocking fee for returned merchandise or if the merchandise must be in a certain condition for the return to be accepted.
- Save all receipts for purchases to allow for ease of returns.
- Merchandise/Product: Complaint issues related to merchandise or products that did not meet consumers’ expectations.
For example, a consumer in Kings County purchased a convection microwave, but once it was installed, the convection bake feature didn’t work. The company sent a service technician to the consumer’s home four times in effort to repair the microwave, but the problem was never fixed. Through DCP’s mediation process, the consumer was provided a full refund of the value of the microwave.
- Shop on trusted sites or in trusted stores to avoid fraud. Be aware that if a website leads to a third-party to order merchandise, the first website is not liable for the orders made on the third-party site. Always read verified customer reviews before placing an order on a new website.
- Always read product specifications to be sure of the product they expect to receive. Make sure what is being pictured is the product that you expect to receive.
- When shopping for children, check that products are age-appropriate for their safety—manufacturers are required to provide this information on the packaging. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission updates consumers regularly on product recalls, a great tool to use to shop safely.
- Review store return policies and keep receipts for ease of returns.
- Internet/Online Services: Complaint issues related to erroneous charges, billing, and quality of goods or services.
For example, a consumer in New York County noticed they were being billed by their internet provider for the rental of a Wi-Fi router. However, the consumer wasn’t using a provider-issued router. DCP contacted the company, and the consumer was refunded for all nine months of erroneous charges.
- Review your bills carefully. Examine all charges and ensure they are for services you requested and are receiving.
- Check on automatic contract renewals. It is illegal in New York State to continue charging someone for an online service without offering an easy way to cancel the service online as well.
- Always read the fine print. Make sure you review the terms and conditions of the service and understand the provisions of the contract if there is one.
- COVID-19 Related Travel/Entertainment: Complaints due to COVID-19 related cancellations or interruptions of events and travel, including canceled travel and tour reservations, and canceled shows, sporting events, and concerts.
For example, a consumer in St. Lawrence County booked airline tickets through an online travel site. The trip was later cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline was offering a full refund to affected travelers, but the online travel site from where the tickets were purchased refused to issue the refund. DCP reached out to the travel site and was able to arrange for the consumer to receive a full refund.
- Review contracts carefully, especially cancellation and refund policies. When booking a reception or event space, make sure the contract is clear about what happens to your deposit and any money paid if the event must be cancelled or rescheduled, including provisions for cancellations by the vendor or forces out of your control.
- Know your rights. In NYS, ticket sellers are required to refund the cost of the ticket if the event is cancelled. These policies do not apply in the case of postponement; consumers should review the terms of a postponement with the vendor.
- Consider purchasing trip insurance to protect your losses, but be sure to review the terms and conditions to see what the policy does and does not cover. Some travel insurance policies only cover limited circumstances or have long look-back periods.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) leads several public events during NCPW that promote consumer protection awareness. All events are free to join and can be found at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/national-consumer-protection-week.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection’s mission is to assist, protect, educate, and represent consumers in an ever-changing economy. The Division of Consumer Protection works hard to assist individuals aggrieved in the marketplace through its complaint mediation efforts, along with educating the public on marketplace scams, and advocating consumers’ interest before legislative and regulatory bodies. Consumers can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection at https://dos.ny.gov/file-consumer-complaint.
For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm, or visit www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. For regular consumer protection tips and recall information, follow DCP via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.