Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer

A Special Report from
the Chair of Consumer Affairs

from the Chair

As Chair of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, I am pleased to report the results of a very successful legislative session. Among the Committee’s top priorities were protecting consumers from identity theft and implementing consumer protections for wireless telephone customers.

This year the Committee advanced several privacy initiatives that have been enacted into law or are awaiting action by the Governor, including legislation allowing consumers to “freeze” their credit files to guard against identity theft.

The Committee also took affirmative steps to protect consumers from price gouging.

I am very proud of these and many other accomplishments. The Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection will continue to pursue its goal of protecting consumers throughout all of New York State.


Pheffer’s new law allows you to “freeze” your credit report

Everyone has heard a horrifying story of someone who has had their identity stolen and had to spend months, as well as a lot of money, to restore their credit.

Identity thieves can cause significant damage when they open new credit accounts and loans in the names of their victims. That’s why Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored a new law to provide identity theft victims, and those who are concerned that they may become victims, with the ability to cut off an identity thief’s access to credit, loans, leases, and goods and services.

Chapter 63 of the Laws of 2006 will allow consumers to “freeze” their credit reports to guard against identity theft. Placing of security freezes prohibits access to the personal information maintained in credit reports, thereby preventing identity thieves from taking out new loans and credit in a consumer’s name. This powerful new tool in the fight against identity theft will be available November 1, 2006, when the law becomes effective.

photo AARP activists joined Assemblywoman Pheffer as she championed the Wireless Telephone Consumer Act. This legislation addresses the complaints filed against cell phone companies and their user contracts.

Audrey Pheffer Wins New Protections For New York’s Consumers

New Identity Theft Laws

Disposal of Records Containing Personal Information

photo At the request of Assemblywoman Pheffer, LIPA donated two photovoltaic trash compactors being used at Tribute Park and the Beach 116th St. train station. Each “Big Belly” runs on solar energy and has the capacity to hold as much trash as five conventional garbage cans.

In a practice known as “dumpster diving,” identity thieves sort through the trash of businesses to collect Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, and other personal information that could be used to commit identity theft. In order to ensure that businesses dispose of sensitive information in a responsible manner, Assemblywoman Pheffer introduced and fought for a new law (Ch. 65 of the Laws of 2006) that will help to protect your information. This law will require businesses to take appropriate steps when disposing of records, including shredding or removing personal information contained in the record before disposal.

Document Destruction Contractors

To protect their customers, many businesses already hire specialized contractors to dispose of records containing sensitive personal information. In order to ensure that your information is disposed of properly, Assemblywoman Pheffer introduced a bill that would require businesses that offer document destruction services to register with the Department of State. This will help provide necessary oversight of this fast-growing industry. This bill was passed by the Legislature and is awaiting action by the Governor.

The Anti-Phishing Act of 2006

One of the most common forms of identity theft is “phishing.” With phishing, criminals send e-mails or pop-up messages designed to trick consumers into divulging personal information such as account passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or other sensitive information. This year, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored a new law to protect consumers from phishing scams. This new law will provide additional means for the prosecution of identity thieves engaged in this deceptive activity (Ch. 64 of the Laws of 2006).

Protecting Access to Your Social Security Number

It has been well-documented that the widespread public exposure of personal information, especially Social Security numbers, plays a significant role in identity theft. To address this issue, Assemblywoman Pheffer introduced a new bill that was passed by both houses of the Legislature. The bill would prohibit businesses and others from making their customers’ Social Security numbers available to the public. It would also restrict businesses from printing Social Security numbers on communications, ban them from using Social Security numbers as means of access to services, products, or benefits, and require that only necessary employees have access to number information. This bill is awaiting action by the Governor.

Pheffer Requires Disclosure On Free Trial Offers

Free trial offers can be a good deal for consumers. Some offers, however, fail to clearly disclose a consumer’s obligation to cancel during the “risk free” period. This can lead to situations where consumers are charged for goods or services they did not intend to purchase. That’s why Assemblywoman Pheffer introduced a bill to ensure that consumers are able to make informed decisions regarding free trial offers. This bill, which passed the Assembly, would require entities offering free trials to clearly and conspicuously disclose the terms of the offer, obtain the consent of the consumer to accept the offer, and provide adequate notice regarding the deadline to cancel the free trial offer without charge.

Wireless Telephone Consumer Protection Act

Complaints related to wireless telephone service topped the list of nationwide consumer complaints received by the Council of Better Business Bureaus in 2005 and the list of complaints to the New York State Consumer Protection Board. With more consumers using wireless phones as their sole method of telecommunication and in the absence of meaningful federal oversight, it is important that the state take action to protect consumers. In order to ensure that consumers are able to make informed decisions and receive quality service, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored the Wireless Telephone Consumer Protection Act. This bill, which passed the Assembly, would require wireless service providers to provide customers with detailed coverage maps, written disclosure of all fees and charges and clearly organized billing statements. The bill also would require wireless providers to allow consumers to cancel service without penalty up to 15 days after receiving their first bill. This would provide consumers with the ability to review their first bill and determine if they are satisfied with the quality and monthly cost of service based on their actual usage. The Senate failed to act on this measure.

Consumer Privacy

New technology is very exciting and helpful, but it can also be dangerous — especially when it comes to your privacy. That is why Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored legislation, which passed the Assembly, regarding regulation of radio frequency identification systems (RFID). These small tags or chips, which can transmit your identity and track your movements without you knowing about it, are being placed into products by manufacturers. Assemblywoman Pheffer’s bill calls for a task force that would study this new technology and determine the best way to protect consumers from its dangers.

Magazine Renewals

Magazine subscribers are bombarded with renewal notices — regardless of whether they have one month or one year left on their subscription. And all too often, it is difficult to remember when you got the subscription and you could be coerced into renewing it well into the future. To make sure consumers have the information they need to make a well-informed decision, Assemblywoman Pheffer’s new law, which will take effect on September 24, requires publishers to provide clear notice of subscription expiration dates on all renewal invitations. This will help all of us make the right choice when it comes to renewing our magazine subscriptions.

Protecting Consumers at the Pump

gas pumps

Price Gouging

The dramatic escalation in the price of gasoline and home heating fuel following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita caused both public outrage and significant concerns about price gouging. That’s why Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored a bill to strengthen the state’s ability to pursue and punish those who engage in this disreputable practice. This bill, which passed the Assembly, would strengthen the current law by providing a specific standard of proof for price gouging, significantly increasing the civil penalty for gouging, and extending the Attorney General’s jurisdiction over price gouging to include sales in the chain of distribution that occur out of state. The Senate failed to act on this measure.

In order to increase existing consumer protections against price gouging, Assemblywoman Pheffer also introduced another bill granting consumers who are victims of illegal price gouging the right to directly sue the responsible party for actual damages or $1,000, whichever is greater. Businesses found to have knowingly violated the price gouging statute would be subject to a penalty of up to $5,000.

Debit Card Holds

Assemblywoman Pheffer knows that high gasoline prices have left us more vulnerable than ever to “holds” placed on our bank accounts by some gas retailers and financial institutions when a debit card is used for purchases. These additional withdrawals – as high as $75 – can take several days to clear, leaving consumers at risk of drawing upon insufficient funds and bouncing checks. Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored a bill this year to protect consumers from unknowingly incurring disruptive and costly overdraft fees.

This bill, which passed the Assembly, would require gas stations that place debit card holds to post a notice informing customers of their hold policy. Stations that allow customers to use a debit card would be required to also post a notice informing customers that the bank that issued their debit card may place a hold against their account.

Pheffer Bill Reduces Unwanted Faxes

Unsolicited fax advertisements are a nuisance for businesses and individuals, and tie up valuable time that could be better spent. Although federal law prohibits unsolicited faxes, here in New York State, there is a loophole in the law that allows these faxes to be sent at night and in the middle of the night — leaving piles of junk for people to deal with in the morning. Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored legislation to stop this nuisance by prohibiting unsolicited faxes at all times of the day.

Pheffer Fights To Keep Our Children Safe

Improving Our Playgrounds and Pools

As parents, we want every assurance that our children are protected when they are away from home. We need to know that the places our children play are as safe as possible. That’s why Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored legislation to improve safety in playgrounds and pools areas. These measures passed both houses and are awaiting action by the Governor.

To make our playgrounds safer, Assemblywoman Pheffer’s legislation will require the construction of new playground equipment to follow the highest standards outlined by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. Although there is no way to completely prevent accidents, this measure will help prevent those that are caused by faulty equipment.

To improve safety in pool areas, Assemblywoman Pheffer also sponsored legislation calling for the installation of alarms in newly-constructed commercial and private swimming pools that sound if someone falls in. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in children nationwide, and these deaths can be prevented with an alarm.

Assemblywoman Pheffer’s legislation will also require pool sellers and installers to inform consumers about the laws that require barriers around swimming pools and the costs associated with the barriers. This will go a long way toward making sure people are following the letter of the law and protecting safety.

photo As the Chair of Consumer Affairs, Assemblywoman Pheffer is a continuous advocate for improving child product safety. At a recent press conference, Pheffer discusses the legislation that will ban yo-yo waterballs.

Cracking Down On Dangerous Toys

Yo-yo waterballs first became popular in 2003, and they have been a menace to families ever since. This dangerous version of a yo-yo is made out of a liquid-filled ball with an elastic cord that allows children to bounce it back — all too often causing serious injury. Parents have reported that children have been cut by this toy, suffered from eye injuries and have even been strangled by the cord.

To get these waterballs off the market permanently, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored legislation that passed the Assembly prohibiting the sale, import, manufacture, or distribution of yo-yo waterball toys. Those who violate this measure would be stopped in their tracks and given a $1,000 fine.

The New York State Consumer Protection Board has issued two warnings about this toy and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has received over 400 complaints in the last three years. But while many retailers have voluntarily pulled them off the shelves, thousands of these dangerous toys continue to be sold.

Assemblywoman Pheffer is encouraging all parents to check to see if this toy is in the house and if so, throw it away or cut off the cord. That is the best way to stop this threat to our children!

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