Division of Consumer Protection helped nearly 20,000 New Yorkers with consumer complaints in 2022
√ Division of Consumer Protection is sharing the top 5 categories of consumer complaints received in 2022, with tips to protect consumers
To kick off National Consumer Protection Week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the New York Department of State's Division of Consumer Protection assisted 19,752 New Yorkers with a variety of consumer protection matters in 2022, resulting in nearly $2.4 million being returned to consumers.
National Consumer Protection Week is celebrated during the first full week of March every year to help individuals understand their rights as consumers and to share resources available to help protect them. This year, National Consumer Protection week falls on March 5-11, and the Division of Consumer Protection is sharing the top five categories of consumer complaints received in 2022 with tips to educate, inform and protect consumers on these topics.
"My administration has worked diligently to return millions of dollars to consumers that fraudulent businesses stole out of the pockets of hard-working New Yorkers," Hochul said. "With tips and tools available to stay safe in this fast-changing economy, we will continue to protect consumers, ensure New Yorkers are informed of their rights, and hold dishonest businesses accountable."
Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said, "Over the last year, our Division of Consumer Protection has worked tirelessly to help thousands of New Yorkers recover their hard-earned money from unscrupulous businesses. We will continue this important work to help ensure consumers are informed of their rights and have the tools they need to protect themselves and their families from fraud."
Top 5 Categories of Consumer Complaints Received in 2022 // Tips to Protect Consumers
The DCP shared:
•Orders/deliveries: Complaints 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 from Westchester County ordered bedroom furniture from a large retailer in Brooklyn. At the time of sale, the shipping date was scheduled for Feb. 3, but it was later moved to April 3. Upon learning of the new date, the consumer contacted the furniture store to cancel the order; however, they were told they would incur a 15% restocking fee. The consumer filed a complaint with DCP, and DCP was able to arrange for a full refund to the consumer.
√ Remember to always shop on trusted sites when online shopping. Consumers should shop from sites known to them, and exercise caution when shopping from 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 generally 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.
√ Be careful when shopping through social media. Social media commerce is gaining ground among shoppers, and according to experts it's growing three times faster than more traditional ecommerce economies. As more consumers browse and shop directly or through links found on social media platforms, we urge consumers to pay attention to brand imposters and fake retailers with fake consumer reviews. Research and verify vendors to avoid placing orders on copycat sites for products that will never arrive.
√ Keep track of your packages. Review the tracking information for your package and report any issues to the retailer and shipping company immediately.
√ Consumers should be aware that an unsolicited text message or email about an unfamiliar shipment or delivery may be a sign of a package tracking and delivery scam, and they should exercise caution if one is received.
•Refunds/store policy: Complaints related to refunds and store policies, including return policies, restocking fees and refunds for damaged goods.
For example, a consumer from Bronx County purchased cookware from a direct salesman. She received the cookware four days later and decided she no longer thought it was worth the cost. The consumer contacted the cookware company and was told that, pursuant to the "Cooling Off Rule," she only had three days from the date of purchase to initiate a return. However, the consumer noted that the company website advertised a return policy of 10 days after a consumer receives the merchandise. The consumer shipped everything back to the company three days after receiving it, however, the company refused to issue a refund. DCP reached out to the company on behalf of the consumer and arranged for the consumer to receive a full refund of $2,000.
√ Know your rights. In New York, 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). You must provide a receipt or other confirmation provided by the vendor that shows that 30 days has not elapsed from the date of purchase, and the merchandise must not have been used or damaged.
√ Ask about refund policies. Before making an expensive purchase, ask the store to provide information on any conditions or costs, such as restocking fees, relating to the return of merchandise.
√ Save all receipts for purchases to allow for ease of returns.
•Merchandise/product: Complaints related to merchandise or products that did not meet consumers' expectations.
For example, a consumer in Nassau County purchased a new range from an appliance store. Immediately after installation, the range would intermittently shut off during cooking. The consumer contacted the retailer, who directed her to the manufacturer. After numerous phone calls and attempts to resolve the issue with the manufacturer, the consumer reached out to DCP. After contacting the manufacturer, DCP was able to arrange for the consumer to receive a full refund of $7,303 and removal of the range.
√ Shop on trusted sites 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 you will receive. Make sure that 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 (CPSC) updates consumers regularly on product recalls, a great tool to shop safely.
√ Review store return policies and keep receipts for ease of returns.
•Home improvement: Complaints related to home improvement, repair services and contractors.
For example, a consumer in Niagara County hired a franchise painting company to repair holes in a few walls and repaint the interior of their home. The work done was covered by warranty, so when some of the tape used to patch the holes began to peel, the consumer tried to contact the company for repair. Unfortunately, the franchise company had since gone out of business. The consumer tried contacting the parent company multiple times, but did not receive a reply. DCP reached out to the parent company on behalf of the consumer and was able to arrange to have the repair work completed under warranty and at no cost to the consumer.
√ Get at least three estimates from reputable, insured contractors that include a list of the materials, price and services to be provided for the job.
√ Request and check references from the contractor. Look up the contractor through the Better Business Bureau and other websites and speak to local suppliers and friends to see if they have information that may be helpful. If you live in New York City, Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, Orange, Putnam or Rockland counties, check your local consumer affairs office. If you live in another county, check with your local municipality to see if they license home improvement contractors.
√ If the contract price is more than $500, New York state law requires a written contract that includes the contractor contact information (including phone number), price, payment schedule, start and end dates, and a thorough description of the work to be done.
√ Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front, and try to limit the amount of any deposit made prior to the commencement of work.
√ Ensure you receive and save copies of all warranties, including those on the materials used.
√ Know your rights. Consumers have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.
•Credit cards: Complaints related to erroneous charges, billing, card benefits and illegal surcharges.
For example, a consumer in Cayuga County purchased a trip through her travel credit card, which included several travel benefits and services such as trip cancellation insurance. Four days before the scheduled trip, the consumer's husband suffered a medical emergency that qualified for trip cancellation. The consumer filed a claim with her credit card company, submitted the required supporting documentation, and then repeatedly contacted them over the next four months for an update. She was promised a call back by a claims examiner numerous times, but never received one. Once the consumer filed a complaint with DCP, DCP contacted the credit card company and arranged for the consumer to receive a full refund totaling over $15,000.
√ Review your bills carefully. Examine all charges and ensure they are for services you requested and are receiving.
√ Be aware of charges for automatic contract renewals. It is illegal in New York state to continue charging someone for an online service without offering an easy way to also cancel the service online.
√ Always read the fine print. Make sure you review the terms and conditions of service and understand the provisions of contracts.
Assembly member Nily Rozic said, "From price gouging and price hikes to fraud and identity theft, New York consumers are constantly at risk of being scammed. Here in New York, we are hard at work fighting for consumers, and I'm thankful to work with Gov. Hochul to ensure New Yorkers have the necessary protections and assistance."
The Federal Trade Commission leads several public events during National Consumer Protection Week that promote consumer protection awareness. All events are free to join and can be found here.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection's mission is to assist, protect, educate and represent consumers in an ever-changing economy. The DCP works 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 DCP at https://dos.ny.gov/file-consumer-complaint. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP helpline at 800-697-1220 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, or visit www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. For regular consumer protection tips and recall information, follow DCP via Twitter @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer. Sign up to receive consumer alerts directly to an email or phone here.