Larger share of consumer complaints lodged with New York State Attorney General are tied to events of the COVID-19 pandemic

Pandemic-related scams skew consumer complaints

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Landlord-tenant disputes ranked a distant third in the tally of consumer complaints lodged with the New York State Attorney General last year. In her annual breakdown of the 10 most common sources of grievance, Attorney General Letitia James reports COVID-19 gave rise to questionable business conduct and opened opportunities for criminal activity in 2020.

“Consumers who have helped identify and report issues to our office have been invaluable partners in our efforts to stop deceptive scams,” she says. “The havoc unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the numerous other ways consumers were defrauded in 2020, sadly resulted in my office receiving a record number of consumer fraud complaints in 2020.”

Internet-related issues, including disputes with service providers, data privacy/security breaches and web-based fraud, sparked more than 9,800 complaints to emerge as the top area of concern for appellants. Next, there were more than 7,700 complaints about price gouging on goods such as hand sanitizer and masks that were in high demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clashes between landlord and tenants, typically related to security deposits or accusations of harassment, engendered 2,750 complaints. That’s just slightly ahead of the 2,620 quests for redress from health clubs that continued to charge fees during COVID-19-triggered shutdowns or refused to reimburse membership fees upon cancellation. Similarly, 1,250 disgruntled consumers sought recompense from transportation and travel enterprises that would not provide refunds for cancellations due to COVID-19 — the 10th most common category of complaint.

In addition to enumerating the top categories of consumer complaints, James cautioned against several frauds COVID-19 is fuelling, including:

  • products falsely presented as cures or vaccines;
  • phony vaccine booking services asking for advance payment;
  • counterfeit proof-of-vaccine cards marketed to those trying to avoid vaccination; and
  • puppy scams.

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