In preparation for National Consumer Protection Week, which is recognized March 1-7, Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus and District Attorney David Hoovler remind consumers to stay up to date on the latest scams and to learn about resources that can help keep them aware and informed.
“We encourage all consumers to spend some time this week learning about the tools they can use to better protect themselves when they engage in any transaction,” Neuhaus said. “Scammers target consumers of all ages, but prey especially on our older residents. There are steps residents can and should take to prevent themselves or a loved one from becoming a victim.”
Each day, we are all faced with a seemingly endless stream of sales pitches, get rich quick schemes, financial advice, and can’t miss opportunities via phone, mail, television, email, and social media.
Many of them sound too good to be true, and if that’s the case, they probably are, according to Hoovler. He shared some of the most common scams as identified by his office.
Credit: Know your rights when it comes to debt collection. Debt collectors may not harass consumers, nor provide misleading information, such as claiming to represent a government agency. Anyone with credit problems should contact a non-profit credit counseling agency, licensed by the New York State Department of Financial Services, for assistance.
Consumer-related services: From snow removal and debris clean up, to home maintenance projects and party planning, residents frequently rely on assistance from contractors. Be sure to use a written contract for all services that clearly defines a cost estimate and payment expectations, as well as restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and the service provider.
Internet: Make sure websites are secure before providing any personal financial information. Secure website addresses start with “https” and have a symbol, such as a lock. Never respond to emails requesting personal financial information without checking that your bank, credit card company, etc. is requesting the information. Double check by calling the branch you usually do business with; you never know who’s on the other end of an email.
Online shopping: Avoid companies with poor customer service. There are two easy ways to investigate this and consumers should use both. Review a company’s Better Business Bureau rating and history (bbb.org) and conduct a web search of the company or product name using words such as “complaint” or “return.” Use credit cards instead of debit cards when shopping at sites new to you. Credit cards provide fraud protections that debit cards do not. Using your debit card can give criminals access to your entire bank account.
Retail sales: While gift cards have become very popular, be careful to buy only from retailers you know and trust. If the company you buy from files for bankruptcy or goes out of business, the card may be worth less than what you paid. Read the rules on the card to know what fees and conditions apply. New rules now provide that money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased, or from the last date any additional money was added to the card. Inactivity fees can also be charged only if the card has not been used for at least one year.
Telecommunications: Check your landline and wireless phone bills for unauthorized third-party charges for non-call related services like email, website hosting, discount buying programs or voicemail services. “Cramming,” as this practice is called, can occur when companies trick consumers into allowing such charges through sweepstake entries, surveys, websites, and contests. If you see unauthorized charges on your bill, contact your telephone company to dispute the charges and have them removed. The best way to protect yourself is to keep a tight hold on your personal financial information and stay informed and alert about product recalls and scams.
If you become aware of a scam or feel you have been scammed, call the District Attorney’s Office at 845-291-2050 or the County’s Consumer Affairs Office at 845-291-360-6700.