Tips To Avoid Common Consumer Scams

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman marked National Consumer Protection Week by releasing New York’s top ten frauds of 2010 on Sunday. The following is a list from the AG’s Office of tips all consumers should use to protect themselves and their families:

Internet: Always make sure websites are secure before providing any financial information, such as a credit card or bank account number. Secure website addresses start with “https” and have a symbol, such as a lock. These secure sites use encryption to scramble your information as it is transmitted over the Internet to keep it secure.

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. Anyone with credit problems should contact credit counseling agencies licensed by the New York State Banking Department for assistance in managing the situation and avoiding collection scams.

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 defined restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and service-provider.

Automobile: Many automobile complaints relate to leasing and New Yorkers should know that they are protected by the strongest auto-leasing law in the country. The law allows consumers to shop around for the best deal when leasing a car, set limits on early termination, and even gives the Attorney General’s Office jurisdiction to resolve excess wear-and-tear disputes.

Landlord/Tenant: Landlords are required to keeping records of all notices, inspections and repair matters related to the residence. This is especially important for issues like lead paint – which was prevalent in the 1960s and poses a significant threat to children. Ask your landlord for documentation to ensure that your building is up to code.

Mortgage: Mortgage rescue scams prey on homeowners in their greatest time of need. Look out for offers that will 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. Turn to the New York State Banking Department for licensed counselors to help to manage the situation.

Retail Sales: Rent-to-own programs allow consumers who would otherwise be unable to afford some items access to common household goods without a down payment or credit check. However, some consumers may end up spending more to acquire items than if they had just paid for them up front. A new law restricts prices to keep them in line with the costs of goods. Consumers should ensure that all rent-to-own transactions have a written contract.

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.

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.

Telecommunications: Calling cards remain a popular way not only to get in touch with family and friends, but also to rip-off consumers. Start with one card of a small denomination and test it to ensure that all the charges – including connection fees and rate per minute – are what the provider described.