I am pleased to report to you the work of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection from the 2011 Legislative Session. 2011 was a year of transition for the Committee as we said goodbye to the Committee’s longtime Chair, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. Assemblywoman Pheffer was appointed to the position of Queens County Clerk and I wish her the best of luck on her new endeavor. Her leadership and passion led to the strengthening of New York’s consumer protection laws for over a decade and for that she should she be thanked.
During the past year the Committee’s top priorities were to protect consumers from unscrupulous debt collecting practices as well as keeping New York’s infants safe from products that can cause damage to their growing bodies.
I look forward to continuing the work of Assemblywoman Pheffer as well as bringing new and fresh ideas on how we can keep this state a safe place for consumers. I am excited to serve as Chairman and to work with the Committee in the upcoming legislative session.
The Enacted State Fiscal Year 2011-12 Budget contains two major initiatives of interest to consumers, namely the transfer of the New York State Consumer Protection Board to a new Division within the New York State Department of State and the merger of the New York State Banking and Insurance Departments into a newly established Department of Financial Services.
Division of Consumer Protection
The Consumer Protection Board is now the Division of Consumer Protection within the Department of State. The Division has been granted the powers, duties and functions of the former Consumer Protection Board, including receiving and mediating consumer complaints and enforcing certain consumer protection laws. The Consumer Helpline telephone number and website address have not changed (See Important Contacts).
Department of Financial Services
The new Department of Financial Services (DFS) will assume the powers and duties of the current Banking and Insurance Departments. The DFS will enforce the banking, insurance, and financial services laws and have the authority to regulate certain existing and newly-created financial products and services. The Department will include a new Financial Frauds and Consumer Protection Unit, which will be charged with investigating suspected financial fraud and bringing civil enforcement actions against violators. The merger will become effective on October 3, 2011.
During the 2011 Legislative Session, the Committee continued to work toward updating and improving the laws that govern debt collection agencies and debt settlement companies. The Committee also advanced legislation addressing a wide range of consumer issues, including the following:
A.7767-A (Bing) – This bill would require automobile brokers to maintain a $75,000 surety bond and make certain disclosures in contracts and advertisements (Passed Both Houses).
A.52-A (Paulin) – This bill would largely prohibit “caller ID spoofing,” whereby a business alters its caller identification with the intent to defraud or harass the recipient of the call or a third party (Passed Assembly).
A.3224-B (Bing) – This bill would prohibit the practice known as “cramming,” which is the addition of charges on a landline telephone service bill by a third party without the informed consent of the consumer (Passed Assembly).
A.8183-A (Camara) – This bill would increase the surety bond amount for employment agencies from $5,000 to $20,000, increase consumer disclosures, and require contracts to be printed in the language in which they are negotiated (Passed Assembly).
Checking your credit report for mistakes or suspicious activity can help protect your credit and guard against fraud and identity theft. Under federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major national credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once a year. AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY website that offers truly free credit reports as required by federal law. Other websites may have similar names, but in order to receive the “free” credit reports offered by these companies consumers must enroll in what is known as a “free to pay” trial offer, which must be cancelled within a short timeframe or the first monthly payment becomes due. To obtain your free annual credit reports, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.
Under federal law, you have the right to opt out of “preapproved” or “prescreened” solicitations for credit or insurance. If you no longer wish to receive these offers, you may opt out by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT or visiting www.OptOutPrescreen.com. You may choose to opt out for five years or permanently, and may opt back in at any time. Your request must be processed within five days, but it may take up to sixty days before you stop receiving preapproved offers.