COVID-19

FDA warns consumers of hand sanitizer being placed in packaging which looks like food containers:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers that hand sanitizers are being packaged in containers which appear to look like be food or drink containers. This may place an unnecessary risk on the consumer. Ingesting alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause serious injury or death. Examples of containers being used for hand sanitizer packaging include beer cans, children’s food pouches, water bottles, juice bottles and vodka bottles. Some sanitizers also contain food flavors like chocolate or raspberry. 

Hand sanitizer can be toxic when ingested. The FDA continues to see an increasing number of adverse events with hand sanitizer ingestion, including cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system, hospitalizations and death, primarily reported to poison control centers and state departments of health.

The FDA is encouraging health care professionals and consumers to report adverse events and quality problems experienced with the use of hand sanitizers, please use this complaint form.

The FDA is proactively working with manufactures to recall dangerous hand sanitizers and strongly urging retailers to pull them from store shelves or online markets. FDA has a list of hand sanitizer products that consumers are encouraged not to use; the website’s list is being updated regularly.

This information was brought to you by FDA.

 

Contact tracing scam continues with a new twist:

Our office has been notified of a new twist that at least one local consumer has received regarding contact tracing. Please be advised that this is not a legitimate call.

You answer the phone only to have the following unfold:

“You are likely to have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This means you now need to self-isolate for 7 days and take a COVID-19 test” 

“OK, Can you tell me who that person was?”

“I’m not able to tell you. That information is confidential.”

“Right. Um…so…”

“But you do need to be tested within the next 72 hours. So can I just get the best mailing address so we can send you a kit?

“OK, gives address”

“Thank you. I just need to take a payment card so we can finalize this and send the kit to you.”

“Sorry, a payment card? I thought this was free?”

“No, I’m afraid not. There is a one-time fee of $50 for the kit and test results. Could you read that long card number for me, please, when you’re ready?”

“No, that’s not right.”

“I’m afraid it is. Can you give me the card number please, this is very important and there are penalties for not complying.”  

Before you get too worried, should you receive a call that sounds like this, hang-up!

Contact tracers will identify themselves as being from the Erie County Department of Health or the New York State Department of Health. Contact tracers will never ask you for money or financial information over the phone. They will always identify themselves and the purpose of their call. And, state and county health departments do not mail COVID-19 test kits to houses.

If you get a call like this report it to our office, call 716-858-6169 or email consumerprotection@erie.gov

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a contact tracer and you aren’t sure that the caller is or something seems off, ask for a call-back number and the name of the person who is calling. Hang up and call Erie County Department of Health COVID-19 Information Line, at 716-858-2929. They will take your name and number and will call you back if you have been identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 cases or if you have had a positive COVID-19 test.

Additional information about the contact tracing process in Erie County is available here.

If you receive a call from an Erie County contact tracer or one from New York State of any other county, it is important to provide complete and candid answers to their questions. This is an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

 

Online shopping complaint on rise during COVID-19 Pandemic:

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) are alerting consumers of a rise in online shopping complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) data shows online shopping complaints continue to increase. More people reported issues with online shopping in April and May of 2020 than ever before. Over half of those complaints advising that products ordered were never received. 

An increasing number of victims are being directed to fraudulent websites via social media platforms and popular online search engines. Many people purchase after viewing ads on social media platforms or while searching via online search engines “shopping” pages. Victims purchased items from the website because prices were consistently lower than those offered by other online retailers. 

Complainants indicated the following:

  • Disposable face masks shipped from China were received regardless of what was ordered.
  • Payment was made using an online money transfer service.
  • The retail websites provided valid but unassociated U.S. addresses and telephone numbers under a “Contact Us” link, misleading victims to believe the retailer was located within the U.S.
  • Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate sites; also, the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers. 

Some victims who complained to the vendor about their shipments were offered partial reimbursement and told to keep the face masks as compensation. Others were told to return the items to China to be reimbursed, which would result in the victim paying high postage fees, or agree to a partial reimbursement of the product ordered without returning the items received. All attempts made by the victims to be fully reimbursed, or receive the actual items ordered, were unsuccessful.

Reported indicators of the fake websites included the following:

  • Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet top-level domains (TLD) “.club” and “.top.”
  • Websites offered merchandise at significantly discounted prices.
  • Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or web addresses were registered recently (within the last six months).
  • Websites used content copied from legitimate sites and often shared the same contact information.
  • The websites were advertised on social media.
  • Criminal actors utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Whois Public Internet Directory.

Tips to avoid being victimized:

  • Do your homework on the retailer to ensure it is legitimate.
  • Check the Whois Public Internet Directory for the retailer’s domain registration information.
  • Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer on the Better Business Bureau’s website.
  • Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
  • Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
  • Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
  • Don’t judge a company by its website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.

What to do if you are a victim:

If you are a victim of an online shopping scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:

  • Report a complaint to our office, here.
  • Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center or your local FBI field office.
  • Report the activity to the online payment service used for the financial transaction.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions.
  • Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.

How to spot an online shopping scam site: 

Based on information collected from victims' reports, the FBI says that these fraudulent shopping sites have several things in common including:

  • Disposable face masks shipped from China regardless of what was ordered.
  • Payment was made using an online money transfer service
  • The retail websites provided valid but unassociated U.S. addresses and telephone numbers under a “Contact Us” link, misleading victims to believe the retailer was located within the U.S.
  • Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate sites; also, the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers.

The U.S. domestic intelligence and security service also shared an additional set of indicators that could allow others to detect shopping sites used to run similar scams, including but not limited to:

  • Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet top-level domains (TLD) “.club” and “.top.”
  • Websites offered merchandise at significantly discounted prices.
  • Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or web addresses were registered recently (within the last six months).
  • Websites used content copied from legitimate sites and often shared the same contact information.
  • The websites were advertised on social media.
  • Criminal actors utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Whois Public Internet Directory.

To make things even worse, the operators behind the online shopping scam also injected their fraudulent sites with malicious Magecart scripts that they used to steal the shoppers' credit card information.

The FBI recommends online shoppers to be wary of any online retailers that use free email services as a business contact and that offer significantly discounted prices when compared to other online vendors. Online shoppers are also advised to search for complaints and reviews from other shoppers regarding any suspicious online shopping portal, as well as the contact info pages to ensure that the online retailer is a legitimate commercial entity.

Know Your Rights:

The Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (the Mail Order Rule) of 1975, updated in 2014 to include online orders, applies to merchandise sold to consumers online, by mail or by phone. It states that your order must be delivered within 30 days unless otherwise stated. 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.

Knowing and applying the following tips can help to keep you safe when making online purchases.

Savvy Online Shopping Tips:

  • Shop trusted sites, with retailers you know. Use caution on trusted sites that host items for third-party sellers.
  • Beware of third-party vendors. If you are redirected to a third-party vendor read all seller's policies, review ratings, read consumer comments, and most importantly do a broad internet search before making your purchase. 
  • Do your research; this will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong. 
  • Read the product specifications. Make sure you are getting the item you want to purchase. 
  • Comparison shop. Search other websites to compare price, quality, return policies, delivery cost, and speed. Buying the "cheapest" advertised price may cost you more after factoring in delivery charges or return policies. 
  • Protect your privacy. Make sure to take precautions and limit the personal data you share. 
  • File a complaint if you are not satisfied with your shopping experience, here.

Tips for Using Credit Cards Online:

  • Check the website’s encryption; it’s easier than you think. Before entering your credit card information, make sure that the website’s address begins with “https” and that there is a closed lock or unbroken key symbol in the lower portion of your window or on the website address bar. 
  • Don’t keep the credit card on file for future purchases. Provide your credit card number each time you make a purchase.
  • Designate one credit card and one email address for online shopping. This will allow for easy review of purchases and protect in case of a dispute.

 

Online Privacy Protection Tips:

  • Protect your passwords. The key to safe passwords is to update them regularly and make them unique. If it’s difficult to remember so many passwords, try a password manager with two-step authentication to manage your passwords. 
  • Avoid autofill. Saving usernames, passwords, and credit card information on your device saves time. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for thieves to get access to that information if they access your account or device. Re-entering important information each time – as opposed to autofill – is an extra step to safeguard personal information.
  • Check social media logins. Many apps allow you to use your social media credential to create a new account on their platform, but when you stop using those apps, your social media accounts still have access to the information. Once a year, check the list of apps that you access through your social media account and delete any you do not recognize or no longer use.
  • Secure your connections. Do your shopping while connected to a secure network, rather than public WiFi or an unknown WiFi server. Public WiFi does not mask any information, even if a website or app seems secure. Usernames, passwords, credit card and account information can be easily seen by hackers who are logged into the same network. On home networks, keep operating systems and antivirus software up to date with the latest security patches and ensure the network has a strong password.
  • Don’t become the product. Everything you do on your computer or device creates a digital imprint. That information is often compiled, tracked and sold to interested parties to better market products directly to you. This is called “behavioral advertising”. 

This information was brought to you by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. 

 

Non-Filers Claiming a Stimulus Check: 

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, referred to by many Americans as the stimulus program, is known as and referred to as “Economic Impact Payment.” No IRS personnel would reach out calling it anything else.

Watch out for anyone contacting you via email or social media attempting to obtain your personal information. IRS sends a letter about the payment they are not calling, texting, or emailing people.   

IRS has Non-Filers: Enter payment info here tool, to register for the $500 per child and the $1,200 Economic Impact Payment. "This new tool is designed for people eligible for the Economic Impact Payment who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and who don't receive Social Security retirement, disability (SSDI), survivor benefits, supplemental security income (SSI), Railroad Retirement benefits, or Veterans Affairs Compensation and Pension (C&P) benefits. If you received these benefits, don't have a qualifying child under age 17 and your spouse, if any, also received these benefits, you don’t need to use the tool. However, you can use the tool to claim the $500 for each qualifying child under age 17 or claim $2,400 as a married couple even if you receive these benefits. You have until noon on May 5, 2020, to register to receive the additional amounts with your automatic payment. These additional amounts will be paid this year if the IRS receives your information before the deadline. If you do not register this information before the deadline, you can file a tax return next year to claim the additional amount." Further details can be found on the IRS's website

This information was brought to you by the IRS.


Unmarked Stimulus Payments, What to do if you threw yours away!:

Many Americans are receiving or may have received and discarded their stimulus payment, thinking it to be junk mail. The stimulus prepaid debit cards were mailed out in plain envelopes from “Money Network Cardholder Services.” Inside is a Visa debit card issued by MetaBank, with instructions on how to use it. This might be an efficient way to get more Americans the stimulus payments but the envelopes appear to be "junk mail". 

Those who have inadvertently discarded their stimulus debit card may request a new one from the federal government, which waives the $7.50 replacement fee the first time someone replaces a card. Help is available at the customer service number for the debit cards, (800) 240-8100.

Call 800-240-8100 for a lost, tossed, or stolen card. Press through the automated options until you reach a customer representative if you don’t have the card number.

If the card has more than one name, only the primary cardholder — the person listed first on the card — can request a replacement. In an acknowledgment that names have been mismatched, MetaBank says the payee with the first name on the first line should make the call. A card that is reported lost or stolen will be deactivated to prevent anyone else from using it.


Is that additional COVID-19 surcharge permissible?:

As WNY continues to open and is currently preparing to enter Phase III of reopening June 16th, which will permit in-person dining and personal services, consumers should be prepared they may face additional fees. 

Can a business legally impose a surcharge fee for COVID-19? The business experienced additional costs to continue operating or to reopen after months of being closed. It can be expected those costs will likely pass along to consumers. “Caveat Emptor: Let the buyer beware.” Consumers need to pay attention and be vigilant to ensure they are aware of the costs for products and services they are seeking.

Consumers should be attentive when entering a business. Be on the lookout for additional signs posted explaining any additional charges, such as a temporary increase or COVID-19 surcharge. This could be a restaurant charging an additional fee due to the increased food costs or a salon imposing a flat surcharge (i.e. $3- $10) for all services rendered, to cover the additional PPE costs, which they required to reopen. If you aren’t sure if there is an additional fee, ask before you receive any services. 

This surcharge is not a new concept; restaurants across the country have been applying the surcharge to orders, as they reopened or continued operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses faced social media scrutiny for these surcharges. Resulting in the removal of the temporary surcharge and implementing increased prices across the board

As businesses reopen if they plan to charge any additional fee they need to make sure such is clearly posted and consumers are made aware of such before services are rendered to help ensure that the surcharges imposed are done so legally. Businesses need to give the consumer the choice to either pay the additional surcharge or go elsewhere to receive the products or services. 

 

COVID-19 SCAMS:

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently stated, “Scammers have no shame, and nothing – not even a global health crisis – is off-limits. They’re pitching fake Coronavirus vaccines, unproven cures, and bogus at-home testing kits. So, it’s not surprising that scammers are exploiting confusion about economic impact payments too. But it’s still shameful.”

Know the signs and don’t become another victim of the many COVID-19 scams currently circulating. Some of the current COVID-19 scams include:

Stimulus Checks:

Scammers are calling, texting, or emailing individuals claiming to be from the Treasury Department and offering expedited COVID-19 stimulus payments or assistance with obtaining a stimulus payment. You do not need to pay taxes or processing fees in order to obtain the COVID-19 relief stimulus payment. If you receive a call asking for personal information or for money to obtain a stimulus payment, hang up. Do not provide anyone personal information or send money to anyone in exchange for a stimulus check. Also be on the lookout for email phishing scams, where scammers pretend to be from the government and ask for your information as part of the “sign-up” process for the checks. No one has early access to this money. Anyone that claims to is a scammer.

Phishing Emails: 

During this trying time, we need to remain vigilant to safeguard ourselves from unscrupulous individuals. With all the emails many consumers are receiving from businesses daily there are a few things to watch for, don’t let fear drop your guard and cause you to overlook something you normally wouldn’t.

How Phishing Emails work: You get an email or text that appears to be from someone you know that has a clickable link. When you click on the link it asks you to provide sensitive information. The site will look real. There will appear to be urgency in the need to act or respond. By clicking on the link you will install ransomware or other compromising data on your network. FTC offers the following tips for protection: backup your data, keep all security up to date, alert anyone using the network, and deploy a safety net. 

Bitcoin Scam: 

Recently the FTC alerted consumers of Bitcoin scams. Based on the trends FTC is alerting that Bitcoin blackmail scams have increased recently. The emails claim “they hacked into your computer and recorded you visiting adult websites. They threaten to distribute the video to your friends and family within hours, unless you pay into their Bitcoin account. Stop. Don’t pay anything. Delete the message. It’s a scam.” If you receive one of these emails update your passwords and report it to the FTC.  

The FTC gives tips on how you can secure your personal information here

SBA Loans: 

The funding offered through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) programs are another avenue scammers are targeting to trick businesses into providing them sensitive information. FTC provided the following list of “dos” and “don’ts” to assist in preventing a business from falling victim to such scams:

DO: 

DON’T: 

  • Don’t pay in advance for information. All the information from the SBA is free at sba.gov/coronavirus. https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources
  • Don’t pay in advance for a government loan. You don’t have to pay upfront to get an SBA loan.
  • Don’t give your information to someone who calls, emails, or texts you out of the blue. The SBA won’t call unsolicited to find out information about you or your business, or to ask you to apply for a loan. The SBA is not going to send you emails or text messages asking for sensitive information. If you get an email or text like this, delete it. It’s a scam.  
  • Don’t apply for a loan without verifying the lender. Only SBA-authorized lenders can provide PPP loans, and other loans may be available through SBA directly. To find an SBA-authorized lender in your area, use this SBA tool.
  • Don’t click on links or reply to emails or text messages from someone you don’t know. If you click on the links, you could download malware to your computer or device or be connected to a scammer or hacker. 

Additionally, there have been phishing emails for SBA loans. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is currently tracking an unknown malicious cyber actor who is spooking the Small Business Administration (SBA) COVID-19 loan relief website via phishing emails. Phishing emails contact a malicious link to the spoofed SBA Website allowing one credentials to be stolen.

Phishing emails are going to various Federal Civilian Executive Branch and state, local, tribal and territorial government recipients.

  • The phishing email contains a subject: A subject line, SBA Application – Review and Proceed
  • A sender, marked as disastercustomerservice@sba[.]gov
  • Text in the email body urging the recipient to click on a hyperlink to address:
    hxxps://leanproconsulting[.]com.br/gov/covid19relief/sba.gov
  • The domain resolves to IP address: 162.214.104[.]246

Figure 1 is a screenshot of the webpage arrived at by clicking on the hyperlink.


This information was brought to you by the FTC and the CISA.

 

Work-From-Home:

The FBI advises, "People who are at home and out of work are vulnerable to work-from-home scams. If someone you don’t know contacts you and wants you to urgently pay them in return for a “job,” you are dealing with a criminal. Legitimate jobs will not ask you to pay them.

If you’re in a role like this where you’re being asked to send or move money, you’re acting as a money mule, which is a federal crime."   

If you spot a scam, report it! If it is not reported it cannot be investigated. Consumers have a number of options to report scams, depending on the type of scam.

Any type of scam can be reported to BBB just use, BBB Scam Tracker.  

FBI’s IC3 can take complaints if an online internet crime complaint has occurred, file a complaint here. An online internet crime can be described as stemming from any online transmission, an email, website, or a call that refers you to a website. FBI’s IC3 asks consumers to have the following information to file a complaint: Victim's name, address, telephone, and email, Financial transaction information (e.g., account information, transaction date and amount, who received the money), Subject's name, address, telephone, email, website, and IP address, Specific details on how you were victimized, Email header(s), Any other relevant information you believe is necessary to support your complaint.

FTC complaints can be filed for: Rip-offs and imposters scams, mobile devices or telephones, internet services, online shopping or computers, education, jobs, and making money, credit and debt, robocalls, unwanted telemarketing, text or SPAM, and a section for COVID-19 issues.

IRS, handles concerns with stimulus payments.

Puppy Scams:

With so many people being in self-isolation at home, an increase of puppy scams are occurring. 

“Free puppy” for adoption, the scammer will typically send information including irresistible photos, so the consumer falls in love with the puppy. After, hooking a consumer to adopt the “free puppy,” the consumer is sent instructions for wiring money for the shipping costs.

Scammers use wire transfer requests as wire transfers are untraceable. Once the scammer receives a successful wire transfer, the scammer attempts to charge additional fees, scammers may claim the fees are for insurance or health coverage. Scammers tell consumers to send gift cards such as Google Play or Steam cards. This is a red flag! Upon receipt of the gift card information, scammers drain the gift card of funds. The funds from the gift card are than untraceable. 

Experts advise you should not buy puppy or dog without seeing the animal in person, do not wire funds, and never pay in gift cards. Researching prices and considering adopting a dog from an animal shelter.

Most puppy sale frauds occur over the internet because online animal sales are not currently under regulations. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working on regulating this is through its Retail Pet Store Rule, but it is yet to be enacted. 

FTC offers the following tips to keep you from getting dogged by scammers selling phantom pets:

  • Don’t use a money transfer service. 
  • Do your research. 
  • Try doing a reverse image search of the photo to see if it appears in older ads. To do this, right-click on the photo and select “copy image location,” “copy image address,” or go to “properties” to copy the image’s location on the internet. Paste the link into a search engine and select the option that allows you to search by image. If the same picture shows up in an older listing, it’s probably a scam. Sometimes, the photos are from social media sites or old listings; the scammer simply re-posts them with a new, bogus online classified ad. But keep in mind: even if you don’t find anything wrong it doesn’t mean that everything’s alright.
  • Consider adoption from a local animal shelter. Pets of all types are in shelters across the U.S. waiting for loving homes. Many can be adopted for a small fee.

If you have additional questions, please reach out to our office for further guidance (716)858-6169.

This information was brought to you by the FTC. 


Bogus treatment or cures for COVID-19: 

Currently there is no approved treatment, prevention, or vaccines for COVID-19.

The best recommendations being offered by the CDC to help protect you from obtaining the virus is to: wash your hands, don't touch your face, maintain social distancing (of at least six feet), wear a face mask when you cannot maintain social distancing, cover your face when coughing or sneezing and clean and disinfect frequently touched services.

Governor Cuomo issued executive orders 202.17 and 202.18 requiring all people in New York to wear masks or face coverings in public, including when taking public or private transportation or riding in for-hire vehicles. If you are heading to a local store be sure to wear your mask to protect yourself and those around you.

If you see a business or product making a prevention claim for COVID-19; it is not factual and you should file a complaint with the FTC and the State Attorney General where the business making the false claim operates.

This information was brought to you by the CDC and the FTC.

 

Contact tracing are those text messages legit or scams?

The FTC recently released information about scam text messages regarding COVID-19 contact tracing. There’s no question, contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. Scammers, pretending to be contact tracers and taking advantage of how the process works, are also sending text messages. Scammers send spam text messages that ask for a link to be clicked.

If you receive a text message with a clickable link, DO NOT CLICK the link within the text. Accessing the link can download software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal or financial information. Ignore and delete any messages containing a link from an unknown sender. Legitimate contact tracing will only notify you via text message that you will be receiving a call from the local/state Department of Health.

The contact tracer will be contacting you from the local or state Department of Health. Tracers will not be seeking personal information such as your social security or bank information. The tracers for Erie County Department of Health will not be sending random texts with links to click. At this time, Erie County Department of Health will be calling anyone who has been identified as exposed to the virus, they begin the call by clearly identifying themselves as members of the Erie County Health Department. Tracers will seek some personal information (not bank account or social security numbers), details about your recent activities information, and who you have been in contact with during the past few days. If you provide a cell number they may continue contacts with you via text messages but only after securing your permission to. Legitimate texts will not have a link to click, that is a red flag. If you are unsure if the text is legitimately from Erie County Department of Health, please contact the Department of Health directly at 716-858-7697.

People who have come in contact with someone who tested positive are quarantined for 14 days and tested to ensure they haven’t contracted the virus. Staying home stops the spread to others. NYS Contact Tracers will contact you from 518-387-9993 and the caller ID will show “NYS Contact Tracing.”

The FTC gives the following tips to protect against text scammers:

▪ Protect your online accounts by using multi-factor authentication. It requires two or more credentials to log in to your account, which makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username and password.

▪ Enable auto-updates for the operating systems on your electronic devices. Make sure your apps also auto-update so you get the latest security patches that can protect from malware.

▪ Back up the data on your devices regularly, so you won’t lose valuable information if a device gets malware or ransomware.

This information was brought to you by the Erie County Department of Health, the FTC, and New York State Department of Health


Utility Scam: COVID-19 Disconnections:

Consumers are being contacted stating that their utilities will be shut off. This is occurring mainly in the WNY area. Scammers are targeting National Grid electric consumers, stating that the electric service is going to be shut off if immediate payment is not made. This is not the case as shut-offs for utilities has been suspended during the pandemic.

Some of the red flags to look for include:

▪ Payments requested by prepaid debit or wire transfer, as these are untraceable means. Especially if a check or credit card is refused as a payment method.

▪ If the caller is referencing a specific individual but the account is a business account.

▪ Seek proper identification from anyone claiming to be from a utility. 

▪ If you are concerned that the call is not legitimate or there are several red flags, hang up and call the electric company directly!  

National Grid has a number to report suspicious calls, 1-800-642-4272, use this number if you have been scammed.

Utilities United Against Scams, Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) is a consortium of more than 130 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities (and their respective trade associations). UUAS is dedicated to combating impostor utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices, in addition to working together to implement initiatives to inform and protect customers. 

If you have been a victim of a scam call, please file a complaint with our office and notify the actual utility company.

Don’t click links in unsolicited text messages:

You might be seeing text messages promising money – maybe the economic impact payments, loans for small businesses, or an offer for money you can get.

So, if you get text messages claiming to be related to the government’s help for people affected by the Coronavirus:

▪ Do not click on any links. Clicking could expose you to scams, download malware, or get your phone number added to lists that are then sold to other bad actors.

▪ Delete those text messages immediately.

If you have questions about the federal government’s economic impact payment, go to irs.gov/coronavirus.

This information was brought to you by the FTC.


Government Agency Scams- is that truly the New York State Department of Labor?

With many NYS residence still out of work, unemployment benefits are on the rise. A backlog of benefits and people needing that money to survive is reducing their ability to spot scams. Scammers are using this time to target individuals; the New York State Department of Labor (NYS DOL) and New York State Unemployment Insurance (NYS UI) are not exempt from such schemes. NYS DOL, Tweeted to consumers on April 17, 2020 “Protecting your private information is critically important. ANYONE calling from NYS DOL will verify their identity by providing: (a) the date you filed your UI application; and (b) the type of claim you filed.” NYS DOL goes on further to list scams consumers should be aware of here. 

Many government agencies are not contacting consumers, but the NYS DOL is one agency that may contact you! Some individuals whose claims need additional information may receive a call from NYS DOL to complete the unemployment benefit claim. If the caller ID shows a private number this could be a red flag. If you are unsure if the person contacting you is with NYS DOL or NYS UI ask them to verify their identity by telling you the date you filed your application and the type of claim you filed. However, you will never be asked for your full social security number or bank information over the phone. 

NYS DOL advises the easiest way to certify is online at http://labor.ny.gov/signin. From the "Account Overview" page, click "Unemployment Services" and then “Certify to Claim Your Weekly Benefits Here." You can also certify by calling 1-888-581-5812 (for UI) or 1-833-324-0366 (for PUA).

This information was brought to you by the New York State Department of Labor. 


COVID-19 Scams targeting college students:

FTC warns college students are now the target of scammers during COVID-19. If you receive an email that states the “Financial Department” of your University, which contains a link asking you to login, DO NOT Login, it’s a phishing scam. When you click to login you are giving the scammers your username, password, or any other information and may also download malware to your device. 

FTC advises to spot and avoid phishing scams before you click any link:

Check it out. If you feel something is off with an email received, contact the school directly by a number or email you locate for the school, never use the link in the email as you can download malware or be taken to a copycat site.

Take a closer look. Some tips to spot a phishing email include poor grammar or misspellings. If the incorrect department name is used in the email such as the financial department instead of the Office of Financial Aid this could also be a red flag. 

If you receive one of these phishing emails, forward it to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (an organization which includes ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies) at reportphishing@apwg.org. You can also report phishing to the FTC

This information was brought to you by the FTC.


Student Loan Scams Rising During COVID-19:

A new federal law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provides automatic suspension of principal and interest payments on federally-held student loans through September 30, 2020. These suspended payments will count towards any student loan forgiveness program, as long as all other requirements of the loan forgiveness program are met.

Here are some key things you need to know about how this may affect you.

Do I need to apply to suspend my payments or interest on my federally-held student loans?

No. From March 13 through September 30, 2020, the interest rate is set to 0%, and payments are suspended for student loans owned by the federal government. Your federal student loan servicer will suspend all interest and payments without any action from you. You do not need to contact your student loan servicer.

If you made a payment toward your federally-held student loans after March 13, you can request a refund from your student loan servicer. However, if you are financially able to make payments or continue making payments on your student loans, any payments you made or make after March 13 will be applied directly to the principal. This will help you pay off your loans faster.

Under the CARES Act, borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically receive a six-month forbearance retroactive to March 13 for eligible loans. No payments will be due and no interest will accrue during this period, which lasts until September 30.

Are interest and payments suspended on all of my student loans, including my private student loans?

No. The suspension of payments applies only to student loans that are held by the federal government, which are the vast majority of student loans issued since 2010.

Will I get confirmation that interest and payments have been suspended for my federally-owned student loans?

As noted above, your federal student loan servicer will suspend all interest and payments without any action from you. Servicers are required to send you a written notification explaining the suspension of interest and monthly payments between March 13 and September 30, 2020. These notices are expected to be sent by mid-April. Make sure your servicer has up-to-date contact information and check your mail or email.

Someone contacted me to pay a fee to suspend my payments. Is this a scam?

Yes! The federal government will not ask for a fee to suspend your payments. There is no action required of you. If someone asks for money to process this information or creates a sense of urgency that this must be done immediately or you will not receive the waiver, it is a scam. You should report any scam regarding the waiver of payments to the FTC https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/?utm_source=takeaction#crnt&panel1-1 and the New York State Attorney General's Office. https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/buffalo_complaint.pdf

Warning signs that a student loan debt relief company may be trying to rip you off:

Pressure to pay high up-front fees. It can be a sign of a scam when a debt relief company requires you to pay a fee up-front or tries to make you sign a contract on the spot. These companies may even make you give your credit card number online or over the phone before they explain how they’ll help you. Avoid companies that require payment before they do anything, especially if they try to get your credit card number or bank account information. Not only is free assistance available through your student loan servicer, many times taking payment for debt relief services before providing help is illegal.

Promises of immediate loan forgiveness or debt cancellation. Debt relief companies cannot negotiate with your creditors for a “special deal” under these federal student loan programs. Payment levels under income-driven payment plans are set by federal law and, for most borrowers, loan forgiveness is only available through programs that require many years of qualifying payments.

Demands that you sign a “third party authorization.” You should be wary if a company asks you to sign a “third party authorization” or a “power of attorney.” These are written agreements giving them legal permission to talk directly to your student loan servicer and make decisions on your behalf. In some cases, they may even step in and ask you to pay them directly, promising to pay your servicer each month when your bill comes due.

Requests for your Federal Student Aid PIN. Be cautious about companies that ask for your Federal Student Aid PIN. Your PIN — the unique ID  issued by the U.S. Department of Education to allow access to information about your federal student loans — is the equivalent of your signature on any documents related to your student loan. If you give that number away, you are giving a company the power to perform actions on your student loan on your behalf. Honest companies will work with you to come up with a plan and will never use your PIN to access your student loan information.

You do not need to pay someone to help with your student loans. You should also be aware of these warning signs to help you avoid student loan debt relief scams, as well as how to get help if you are a victim of a scam.

This information was brought to you by the CPFB 


COVID-19 Mortgage Relief:

New York State Department of Financial Services (NYS DOS) has given industry guidance for mortgage assistance during the pandemic

Mortgage services are offering relief to homeowners, including short term forbearance and long term options such as changes to the mortgage terms. Contact your service provider directly for relief options.  

Are there any fees associated with getting forbearance?

No. A servicer may not charge any fees to a consumer for entering into a forbearance agreement, but keep in mind that any repayment plan or other type of modification of your loan may result in added costs. Make sure to ask your servicer what foreseeable costs may be associated with getting your loan back on track after the forbearance period.

What should I do if my mortgage doesn’t qualify for the relief that Governor Cuomo announced?

While many options are available to consumers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, Emergency regulation Part 119 does not apply to loans insured or owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, or USDA. Instead, it applies only to loans serviced by an entity licensed or chartered by the Department of Financial Services. Use the following links to determine whether your loan is insured or owned by a government entity or if the institution that services your loan is chartered or licensed by the Department: 

Other than Emergency regulation Part 119, what other relief may be available to consumers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19? What is the CARES Act?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act is a federal stimulus package aimed at providing COVID-19 related relief. For consumers with a “federally-backed” mortgage, the CARES Act provides a foreclosure moratorium of at least 60 days starting on March 18, 2020. This includes the initiation of new foreclosures as well as the continuation of foreclosures that had already been initiated; this does not include vacant or abandoned properties. You are also provided with the right to request and receive forbearance on their mortgage payments for up to 6 months, with the option to extend for an additional 6 months (total max of 1 year), as well as the option to discontinue the forbearance at any time. During the forbearance period, servicers are prohibited from charging fees or interest beyond what the borrower would have had to pay if they were making their payments as scheduled. Use the following links for additional information regarding available relief and eligibility criteria:

Where can I find information on my rights under state and federal law?

Homeowner’s rights can be found in many places in the law. Please always consult with an attorney or housing counselor to ensure that you are aware of all of your rights, but below are links to the most relevant laws:

Watch Out For Scams

Be careful about accepting assistance from anyone other than your servicer, the government, and legitimate non-profit organizations. Some suggestions to avoid scams:

BEWARE of anyone who:

  • asks for an upfront fee in exchange for mortgage assistance. New York law prohibits the collection of such fees in most cases.
  • says they can “save” your home if you sign or transfer the deed to your house over to them in exchange for mortgage assistance.

NEVER submit your mortgage payments to anyone other than your mortgage company without their approval.

CONSULT with a trusted source such as:

  • Government – If someone says they are working on behalf of a government program, look up the program on the Internet and call them directly to confirm. Just because the program exists does not mean that the scammer really works for the government.
  • Attorney - If you do not have a lawyer, call the New York State Bar Association Lawyer Referral Program at (800) 342-3661 to find one. If you do not think you can afford a lawyer, you may qualify for free legal assistance. For more information, you can call the Legal Aid office in your area or call our Foreclosure Relief Hotline at (800) 269-0990 for assistance in locating free legal services in your area.
  • Housing Counselor - Housing counselors can give you advice on your options and resources at little or no cost. They may also be able to negotiate with your servicer for free and help you find free legal services in your area. Find an approved not-for-profit housing counselor in your area.
  • Homeowners seeking counseling or advice can also call the 24-hour toll free HOPE NOW HOTLINE at 888-995-HOPE (888-995-4673). HOPE NOW is an alliance of HUD-approved counseling agents, servicers, investors, and mortgage servicers that provide free assistance. If you live in New York City, you can also call the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN) at 311 or 646-786-0888. CNYCN partners with more than 50 agencies and coordinates foreclosure prevention and intervention services in all five boroughs. CNYCN can help you find the right services for your needs.

STAY INFORMED by visiting the official websites of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), and the DFS Foreclosure Scams page.

Remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

This information was brought to you by The New York State Department of Financial Services. 

 

Consumer Returns and Exchanges for Retail items?

With the current pandemic can a store refuse to return or exchange an item? 

Consumers have reported new return policies for stores. Recently, our office was contacted about changes to a return policy for clothing.

A business' return or exchange policy can be changed as long as the business clearly and conspicuously posts the new policy to properly notify consumers of the change. The change may be temporary or may be permanent. Consumers need to read and understand the policy before purchasing if you don't understand or see the store policy ask an employee for a copy. 

New York Consolidated Laws, General Business Law - GBS § 218-a. Disclosure of refund policies

Every retail mercantile establishment shall conspicuously post, in the following manner, its refund policy as to all goods, wares or merchandise offered to the public for sale:

(a) on a sign attached to the item itself; or

(b) on a sign affixed to each cash register or point of sale; or

(c) on a sign so situated as to be clearly visible to the buyer from the cash register; or

(d) on a sign posted at each store entrance used by the public.

This information was brought to you by the New York State Senate.

 

Rebates Rain checks:

REBATES: Any advertisement featuring a rebate must clearly (1) feature the actual selling price and advise that a mail-in rebate is required to achieve any advertised lower net rebate price; and (2) disclose to consumers how the rebate will be returned to the consumer, either by, for example, check, gift card or credit towards future purchase; and, (3) whether the consumer will incur any additional fees redeeming such rebates.

RAIN CHECKS: NYS law does not currently regulate the provision of rainchecks.

SUGGESTED STEPS TO TAKE & QUESTIONS TO ASK:

▪ Ask for a copy of the refund policy.

▪ Ask if the store imposes a re-stocking fee for returned merchandise?

▪ Ask if the merchandise has to be in a certain condition for the return to be accepted?

▪ Save all receipts for purchases to allow for ease of returns.

▪ Ask for details about the advertised rebate.

▪ Does the store offer rainchecks? If yes, what are the terms and does it expire.

▪ How does the store notify the customer when the product is available?

▪ Note: Consumers should check with local consumer affairs authorities for additional protections in their jurisdictions.

Erie County, New York does not offer any regulation over rain checks at this time.

This information was brought to you by New York State Department of State, Division of Consumer Protection.

 

Ticket and show cancellations: Vouchers versus Refunds:

The entertainment industry is cancelling or postponing shows, concerts, and events across the country. Leaving countless consumers in limbo and desperate for refunds. Some companies are claiming that a voucher is all a consumer is entitled to, is that correct? Know your rights. Be sure to read and understand the terms and conditions of the site you bought the tickets with. Have the terms and conditions changed since the time of purchase?

If the show is postponed your ticket will be valid for the rescheduled show.

If the event is cancelled you should be entitled to a full refund of how you paid, cash, credit, or charge.

State laws provide further guidance on refund rights:

New York State Law: Article 23: Section 23.08 Proceeds from advance ticket sales; refunds Arts and Cultural Affairs (ACA)

3. The refund provisions of subdivisions one and two of this section shall not apply where (i) there was no material change in the time of the performance of the event or in the location at which the event was held; (ii) the performance of such event was rescheduled due to an Act of God, war, riot or other catastrophe as to which negligence or willful misconduct on the part of the ticket distributor who offered or sold such advance tickets was not the proximate cause and where the advance ticket purchaser was given the right to use his or her ticket for such rescheduled performance or the right to exchange such ticket for a ticket comparable in price and location to another, similar event; or (iii) the back of the ticket conspicuously states that if the performance is cancelled or rescheduled, the ticket distributor shall not be required to refund the ticket price if the ticket purchaser is given the right, within twelve months of the originally scheduled date of the performance, to attend a rescheduled performance of the same event or to exchange such ticket for a ticket comparable in price and location to another, similar event. 

If you believe you are not getting a proper ticket refund from a vendor, you can contact New York's Division of Consumer Protection. “The Division of Consumer Protection encourages anyone who believes they may not be getting a proper refund for cancelled events to call our consumer helpline at 1-800-697-1220 or visit our website.”

This information was brought to you by the New York State Senate and New York State Division of Consumer Protection.

 

Online Safety: Stay safe at home. Stay safe online. :

With the current pandemic people are turning to E-Commerce for many of their basic needs. Best practices are to always shop from known sites. However, given the panic buying that many consumers are partaking in that is not always possible. Below are tips for consumer safety which should be applied during this period of increased online usage. 

Tips for Consumer Safety:

Online Safety:

With record numbers working from home everyone needs to make sure that they are doing their part. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/03/online-security-tips-working-home

  • Start with cybersecurity basics. Keep your security software up to date. Use passwords on all your devices and apps. Make sure the passwords are long, strong, and unique: at least 12 characters that are a mix of numbers, symbols and capital and lowercase letters.
  • Secure your home network. Start with your router. Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WPA3). Encryption scrambles information sent over your network so outsiders can’t read it. WPA2 and WPA3 are the most up-to-date encryption standards to protect information sent over a wireless network. No WPA3 or WPA2 options on your router? Try updating your router software, then check again to see if WPA2 or WPA3 are available. If not, consider replacing your router. For more guidance, read Securing Your Wireless Network and Secure Remote Access.
  • Keep an eye on your laptop. If you’re using a laptop, make sure it is password-protected, locked and secure. Never leave it unattended – like in a vehicle or at a public charging station.
  • Securely store sensitive files. When there’s a legitimate business need to transfer confidential information from office to home, keep it out of sight and under lock and key. If you don’t have a file cabinet at home, use a locked room. For more tips, read about physical security.
  • Dispose of sensitive data securely. Don’t just throw it in the trash or recycling bin. Shred-it. Paperwork you no longer need can be a treasure to identity thieves if it includes personal information about customers or employees.
  • Follow your employer’s security practices. Your home is now an extension of your office. So, follow the protocols that your employer has implemented.

To gain additional information on how to protect your computer, your information, and your online file please visit the FTC to learn about computer and mobile security, networks, apps and devices, and common online scams. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/online-security

This information was brought to you by the FTC. 

 

How to protect yourself online:

These tips can help you keep your computer and personal information safe when going online:

Do:                                       

· Learn how to spot common scams and fraud. Learn the warning signs of internet fraudphishing, and other online scams.

· Keep your computer software updated. Download the latest versions of your operating system, web browsers, and apps.

· Talk to your kids about being safe and responsible online. Find out how you can protect your kids online by teaching them about the risks.

Don’t:

· Don’t share your passwords or sensitive information with anyone you don’t trust. It’s also important to learn how to keep your laptop safe from identity theft when you’re in public. 

· Don’t use the same passwords for multiple accounts. Try to make your passwords unpredictable and avoid using names, dates, or common words.

· Don’t give out personal information over unencrypted websites. Only trust encrypted sites that begin with “https” (the “s” means they’re secure). They convert your information into a code that prevents exposure to potential scammers.


Child Safety: Keep your children safe online:

Parents should stay involved in their digital world, know the apps they use, use parental controls where possible, and block and report people who make them feel uncomfortable.

Kids should talk with a trusted adult so they understand online risks, only chat with people they know, ensure their online accounts are private, block people they don’t know or trust, and trust their instinct—if something makes them feel uncomfortable, tell a trusted adult about it.

Kids and parents should stay alert; people aren’t always who they seem in online environments where identity is easy to fake.

Stay safe at home. Stay safe online.

To report an online child sexual exploitation offense, call 911 or go to report.cybertip.org.

Tips to help in protecting children online: 

▪ Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.

▪ Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.

▪ Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.

▪ Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.

▪ Check your children’s profiles and what they post online.

▪ Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the Internet.

▪ Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.

▪ Remember that victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited. It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.

Additionally, the FTC offers protection tips for keeping children safe online. 

This information was brought to you by the US Department of Justice

 

Bottle Returns: Looking for a place to return those returnable bottles you have accumulated during COVID-19?

Bottle Returns during the pandemic, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) oversees the New York State Returnable Container Act, also known as the “Bottle Bill.” 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides the following notice:

Currently, there is no evidence that suggests that the management of residential wastes or recyclables, including returned containers through the bottle bill, represents a danger to the public. Recycling operations, including redemption of containers through the bottle bill are considered essential services. However, redemption centers should implement appropriate social distancing practices whenever and wherever possible. In general, standard procedures for safe handling of returned containers through the bottle bill should continue to be used, including appropriate gloves and any protective clothing normally employed. Proper hand hygiene should always be employed including the following steps:

▪ Signage with handwashing procedures should be posted in prominent locations promoting hand hygiene.

▪ Hands should be washed after removing gloves.

▪ Regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds should be done:

     o Before and after eating.

     o After sneezing, coughing, or nose blowing.

     o After using the restroom.

     o Before handling food.

     o After touching or cleaning surfaces that may be contaminated.

     o After using shared equipment and supplies like electronic equipment such as keyboards, mice, and phones.

 ▪ If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

DEC recognizes that unintended consequences of the COVID-19 response may make full compliance with requirements challenging for certain facilities and result in temporary disruptions to required redemption operations. While continuing the redemption of containers is considered an essential service and is expected to continue, DEC will not actively enforce violations at facilities unable to fulfill redemption operations due to resource restrictions during the ongoing COVID-19 response efforts. Please contact the Department with any questions at nybottle@dec.ny.gov.

This information was brought to you by NYSDEC, 518-402-8706.

 

How to avoid Fake Charites?

How can you protect the donation you want to make and ensure that it will get to a legitimate organization? Some resources you can use: Charity Navigator, Guidestar, or the BBB's Wise Giving Alliance.

Charity Navigator has composed a list of the top COVID-19 nonprofits to donate to: https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=7779

Local community donations can be trickier to verify. However, you should be able to ask questions about where the donation is going and who it is helping. For example, if a local community group is running a food drive; who is benefiting from the food drive, are the donations going to a local community group that can be verified. If a charity is seeking funds or goods from you do some homework; check out social media. Ask questions of those involved with the organization. Ensure the money or goods you are donating will make it to the intended destination.

 

Travel: Airlines: Cancellation, Refund Vouchers: 

Consumers who are faced with airline cancellations are entitled to a refund, in the original form of payment. Be it cash, charge, check, or airline miles at no additional charge to the consumer. That does not mean an airline voucher. The airline can offer you a voucher but it doesn’t mean you have to accept such. 

What recourse do you have if airlines refuse refunds?

If the airline is refusing to credit you in the means you paid and only offering a voucher, you can dispute the charges with your credit card or file a complaint with the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT). US DOT has issued regulations outlining what must happen if a flight is canceled and the airline has to follow those instructions. If the airline fails to they can face US DOT regulations such as fines. 

Be careful of accepting a voucher:

If you’re not happy with what you’re being offered, don’t accept it. Airlines when canceling flights must provide a refund: “If your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.” However if the airline off the voucher and you accept it, then you’ve agreed to the terms and conditions associated with that voucher and the airline no longer has to refund your original purchase price. Don’t agree to anything until you know the rules and what you’re getting yourself into. 

Ask Questions before accepting a voucher:

Are there any restrictions that may apply: such as blackout and expiration dates, advanced booking requirements, and limits on the number of seats.

How long are the vouchers valid?

Who can use it? Is the value of the travel voucher limited to you, or can you use it to buy a ticket for someone else? Many airline vouchers may be used only by the person who initially received it for his or her travel. Depending on your flexibility, that might or might not be a deal-breaker.

Does it cover the whole price? Does the vouchers require additional fees; if so, what?

If you do not use the full value of the voucher in one booking do you lose any remaining amount?

Are there any fare limitations? 

Read and understand all Terms and Conditions of any alternative refund offered, such as vouchers before accepting such. Once a voucher is accepted the consumer cannot continue to seek a full refund. 

This information was brought to you by the US Department of Transportation.

 

Pools, Spas & Hot Tubs impacted by COVID 19?:

With the NYS Pause order being extended till May 28th, Erie County residences may be looking for ways to exercise or unwind. One way is to enjoy a swim or decompress in the spa or hot tub. Staying at home and enjoying your pool, spa, or hot tub will help slow the spread of the virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water."

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed if you use the right products. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has compiled a list of disinfectant products that can be used against COVID-19, including ready-to-use sprays, concentrates, and wipes. Each product is effective against viruses that are harder to kill than viruses like the one that causes COVID-19.

This information was brought to you by the CDC and EPA.

Vehicle Lease Expiring?: 

According to the Greater New York Automotive Dealer Association (NYSADA) “ GNYADA worked with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Administration to permit licensed dealers to sell and lease vehicles remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that dealers can sell and lease cars by telephone or by using an electronic system. The Governor’s authorization also allows for vehicle lease returns and delivery of a vehicle by appointment only.”

If you have a lease that is expiring during this pandemic call the dealership you wish to turn the vehicle into and make an appointment to do so. If the dealership, is located in Erie County New York and refuses to accept a lease you need to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), The New York State Attorney General’s Buffalo Regional Office, and our office.

Another option available is to extend your lease. To do this, you will need to read the terms of your lease, including all the fine print. Many auto finance leasing companies require the consumer to contact them directly to discuss this option. Given the decreased workforce nationwide, you may experience longer than normal wait times when reaching out to see if an extension is possible for you. 

The New York State Attorney General’s Office provides tips for leasing vehicles you can review those here.

Edmunds.com provides the following contact information manufactures and finance companies:  

COVID-19 Lease Policies and Contact Information 

Audi, Audi Financial Services has released no statement but provides a number specifically for lease-end inquiries: 1-866-277-8191, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. (EST) weekdays

BMW, posted this short message on its website: "For those who have a lease expiring soon, contact a BMW Financial Services Customer Advocate to discuss your options." BMW Financial Services: 1-800-578-5000

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which includes Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Alfa Romeo, posted the following on the Chrysler Capital website: "If you need help or have questions regarding your Chrysler Capital account resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, you can reach us by phone. We have programs in place to help customers experiencing difficulty due to the impact of the virus. However, we also ask for your patience as higher than normal call volumes may result in longer wait times. We will get to your call as quickly as possible." Chrysler Capital: 1-855-563-5635

Chase Auto, which handles the leases for Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Mazda, and Subaru, offered these two options:

"Lease-End Extension: If your lease is scheduled to end soon we'll automatically extend it. By continuing to make your monthly payments, you may extend the term of your Lease Agreement for up to six months to allow you extra time and flexibility. No phone call is needed to confirm your extension. You'll receive a letter or email from Chase for more information about the lease extension."

"Lease-End Vehicle Returns: If you don't wish to take advantage of the lease-end extension and want to coordinate the return of your vehicle, please follow these steps:

"Start by contacting your local dealer. If you can return your vehicle to the dealer, please notify us when that is complete via Chase's secure message center.

"If the dealership is closed, you can request a Home Pickup by completing our Home Pickup Request form (PDF) and returning it to us using the secure message center.

"You will also need to complete an Odometer Statement and leave it in your vehicle on the day it is scheduled to be picked up.

If you have other concerns, please send us a secure message or call us." Chase Auto: 1-800-242-7396

Ford posted this short message on the Ford Credit website: "If you have been affected by COVID-19 or a natural disaster, access your Account Manager on the website. Or call a special hotline ... to discuss options." Ford Credit coronavirus hotline: 1-800-723-4016

Genesis issued this statement in a news release: "To give current Genesis lessees options during these uncertain times, Genesis Finance has existing policies that allow customers to extend their lease. For example, if their lease term is coming to an end, and they are unable to acquire a new vehicle at this time, these options are available to all Genesis Finance customers, especially those impacted by COVID-19. We encourage Genesis Finance customers with lease maturities in the next 60 days to work with their retailer through email and/or phone to discuss their options." Genesis Finance: 84-GENESIS-7 (844-363-7477), 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (EST) weekdays

General Motors, which includes Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC, posted this on its website: "One-month lease extension: If you are unable or choose not to return your vehicle, we will process a one-month extension to allow you additional time. No need to contact us — if we don't hear from you 10 days after your original termination date, we will automatically extend your lease for one month. You will receive a notification at the address we have on file for you. Later, if more time is needed, we will work with you on a solution that meets your needs. Review the lease extension guidelines before deciding to extend your lease. Some dealerships may close portions of their operations or have limited store hours. Contact your local dealership for details." GM Financial: 1-800-284-2271 or text "INFO" to 53721

Honda has said its solutions will differ case by case but is offering 10-day grace periods for some customers. The automaker didn't comment on what would happen outside the 10 days, so make sure you stay in touch with the company. The phone number varies by state, so click the following link to find your local Honda Financial Services contact number, available 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (local time) weekdays

Hyundai released a statement saying, "Hyundai Motor Finance has existing policies that allow customers to extend their current lease, including those customers impacted by COVID-19. We are closely monitoring the news about coronavirus (COVID-19) and are intent on ensuring our customers and dealers are cared for during this global health crisis." Hyundai Motor Finance: 1-855-463-5378, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (EST) weekdays

Lexus told us, "Lexus Financial Services (LFS) are providing several options to assist lessees [who are] at or near the end of their lease and impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that many customers are facing challenges in the current environment and we have a variety of solutions that will help them during this difficult time. To provide the solution best suited to each customer’s needs, we invite LFS lessees to call or email using the Mail Center function after logging into LexusFinancial.com." Lexus Financial Services: 1-800-874-7050, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays

Mazda is offering a choice between a six-month lease extension or a lease pickup at your home. The lease inspection will be conducted at a later time, so if there are any excess wear-and-tear fees, you'd presumably be billed at that point. Arrangements should be made with Mazda's lease termination specialists. You can find more information under Chase Auto, which services Mazda's financing. Mazda Capital Services: 1-877-506-1198

Mercedes-Benz posted the following message on its website: "Our thoughts are with everyone impacted. If necessary, and when you are ready, please reach out to one of our qualified team members to discuss your situation. We are committed to assisting customers experiencing hardships. Our customer care centers remain open, but we ask for your patience as we are experiencing higher than normal call volumes and extended wait times." Mercedes-Benz Financial Services: 1-800-654-6222

Nissan said, "For customers with expiring leases who might have difficulty going to a dealership due to a facility's closure or guidance by local officials, Nissan is offering a few options. This includes extending a current lease on a month-to-month basis until circumstances improve, facilitating the return at another nearby dealership, or even picking up the vehicle directly from the customer's home." Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp.: 1-800-778-4211, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. (EST) weekdays

Porsche issued this statement in a news release: "Porsche Financial Services is offering up to a six-month extension on lease contracts that are scheduled to mature through April 30, four months longer than the regular extension period, to give customers peace of mind that their mobility needs are secured." Porsche Financial Services: 1-800-PORSCHE or send an email to customerservice@porsche.us

Subaru told us, "We are working with lessees to extend their leases and will arrange to pick up the vehicle from their homes." You can find more information under Chase Auto, which services Subaru's financing. Subaru Motors Finance: 1-866-401-9743

Toyota told us, "Toyota Financial Services (TFS) are providing several options to assist lessees [who are] at or near the end of their lease and impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that many customers are facing challenges in the current environment and we have a variety of solutions that will help them during this difficult time. To provide the solution best suited to each customer’s needs, we invite TFS lessees to call us or email using the Mail Center function after logging into ToyotaFinancial.com." Toyota Financial Services: 1-800-874-8822, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (local time) weekdays

Volvo posted this message on its website: "If you have questions regarding lease turn-ins, please call Volvo Car Financial Services. You can also visit www.volvocarfinancialservices.com to access our self-service portal to complete an extension request or send a secure message regarding your account." Volvo Car Financial Services: 1-866-499-6793

Volkswagen told us: "Customers can log in to their account and send a secure message to request to have their lease extended. Lease extensions up to six months are available. At the moment, at-home lease turn-in is not available." Volkswagen Financial Services: 1-800-521-0171, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (EST) weekdays 

This information was brought to you by Edmunds.com, FTC, GNYADA, and the New York State Attorney General. 

 

Stimulus check taken by nursing home or assisted living facility?:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued an alert about nursing homes and assisted living facilities requiring residents on Medicaid to sign their stimulus checks over to the facilities.  

According to the CARES Act, these payments are not countable as “Resources” for federal programs like Medicaid as they have been classified as tax credits. The government cannot seize these payments. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities cannot take the money from their residents just because they are on Medicaid. If you have a relative in a nursing home or assisted living facility which has taken the stimulus payment already reach out to the state attorney general for assistance in recouping such, file a complaint with the Attorney General here and with the FTC, here

This information was brought to you by the FTC.


Consumer Rights for Funerals: 

New York Attorney General issued guidelines to protect New Yorkers using funeral homes and reminded funeral homes that the office will take action against any entity that violates consumer rights. Attorney General James also lauded action by the New York State Cemetery Board, for which the Attorney General advocated, that will address severe cremation delays in the downstate region and make it easier for funeral homes to transfer deceased to upstate crematories with more capacity. 

Those arranging funerals should be aware of certain requirements and recent Executive Orders and emergency regulations that impact funerals and funeral arrangements in the following important ways:

▪ At this time, only the immediate family of the diseased may gather at the funeral home for a private viewing/ceremony and graveside services. The number of attendees should be kept to as few as possible while maintaining social distancing, which is at least 6 feet apart.

▪ Documents related to funeral arrangements may be signed electronically during the current public health crisis. However, this does not apply to the cremation authorization form, which still requires a physical signature. Cremation authorization forms may be witnessed remotely.

▪ Emergency regulations adopted by the New York State Cemetery Board, allow funeral directors to transfer deceased from crematories operating with extensive backlogs to crematories elsewhere in the state that have more capacity.

▪ It is illegal for funeral homes to add a surcharge or additional fees for services to those who died of COVID-19, or any other infectious disease.

▪ Funeral homes may not refuse to embalm or otherwise handle the body of a deceased loved one, regardless of the cause of death.

The complete guidance document regarding funeral planning during the COVID-19 pandemic can be downloaded from the Office of the Attorney General website. You have the right to be provided with a “General Price List” that identifies the prices charged for various goods and services available. Although funeral homes are permitted to set their prices, it is a violation of law to charge you more than the prices listed on the funeral home’s General Price List. When you have made your selections, you will be given an Itemized Statement of Services and Merchandise, which, for most funeral arrangements, will include contractual language which legally obligates you to pay the cost of the funeral once the contract is signed. If the arrangements have been made by telephone or other remote means, you will also be given a copy of the General Price List when you receive an Itemized Statement of Services and Merchandise.

Who and how many can attend visitation and funeral services under the PAUSE NY Executive Order? The immediate family may gather at the funeral home for a private viewing/ceremony and graveside services. The number of immediate family should be kept to as few as possible while maintaining social distancing (6 feet apart).

It is illegal for funeral homes to engage in the following practices: 

• pressuring the customer to select certain services or merchandise; 

• charging an additional fee for filing the death certificate or getting it medically certified; 

• charging a “handling fee” for paying third parties on your behalf;

• charging a fee for handling a casket provided by the customer;

• charging for any service or merchandise not selected by the customer; 

• charging prices above those listed in the General Price List;

• charging interest on an outstanding balance unless this charge is disclosed at the time the funeral arrangements were initially made and is stated in the Itemized Statement; 

• having persons other than a licensed funeral director make funeral arrangements, prepare the body, or supervise the burial; and

• misrepresenting laws and regulations relating to funeral directing. 

Remember: 

• You do not have to accept services or merchandise you don’t want. 

• You must be informed of all charges in advance. 

• Always get a receipt!

If you believe your rights have been violated file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General’s office, here

This information was brought to you by the New York State Attorney General.