Winter 2005/2006
Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer



As Chair of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, I have led the charge to make sure New Yorkers are protected at home, on the internet and in the marketplace. With that in mind, I am pleased to report that much was accomplished during this year’s legislative session – particularly in the areas of identity theft, prescription drug access and personal privacy.

Please take the time to read through this newsletter and find out more about the steps we have taken to protect consumers and families. Be assured that I will continue leading the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee in advancing innovative laws that improve the safety and security of all New York families.


Pheffer Works to Improve Consumer Access to Prescription Drug Prices

As prescription drug prices continue to rise, New Yorkers with little or no insurance coverage are faced with tough choices. An April 2005 survey of prescription drug prices conducted by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) found substantial price differences between pharmacies located in the same communities. In one area, prices differed by nearly $80 for the anti-depressant Wellbutrin, and some consumers in Queens are paying nearly $30 more for the sleep aid Ambien.


To address these types of inequities, in 2002, Assemblywoman Pheffer fought to pass a law requiring pharmacies to provide a weekly retail price list of commonly prescribed drugs so consumers can better inform themselves.While this information is helpful, many consumers – especially seniors – are unable to travel from pharmacy to pharmacy to find the lowest price. So to make vital drug information more available to those who need it most, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored a new law that requires the Department of Health to establish and maintain an internet database that enables consumers to compare retail drug prices in pharmacies (Chapter 293 of 2005).

The website will include the 150 most prescribed drugs, and consumers will be able to search by zip code and other categories. That means consumers will be able to comparison shop from home or the local library – and save much-needed dollars on prescriptions!

Assemblywoman Pheffer discusses important consumer issues with the Committee and Teresa A. Santiago, Chairperson and Executive Director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board.
Pheffer Leads Committee in Efforts to Stop Identity and Home EquityTheft


Identity theft costs consumers and businesses millions of dollars each year. It also takes a tremendous toll on its victims – who are often forced to spend months or years clearing their accounts and restoring their credit histories. Unfortunately, advances in technology have brought advances in the methods of identity theft.

In 2002, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored a landmark Identity Theft Law, making identify theft a criminal act and helping consumers recover damages from it (Chapter 619 of 2002). Now she is working to strengthen that law – to stay on top of new technology and further protect New Yorkers. On April 7, 2005, the Assembly’s Consumer Affairs and Protection, Banks and Codes Committees held a joint public hearing to examine the existing law and study solutions to new methods of identity theft.

Assemblywoman Pheffer heard testimony from the Attorney General’s Office, the State Banking Department, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown and banking representatives. This testimony will be vital as she leads the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee in developing and advancing new laws to further protect New Yorkers from identity theft.


With skyrocketing costs, too many homeowners are becoming victims of home equity thefts. This happens when low- and middle-income homeowners – many of them elderly – fall behind on their mortgages and are approached by unscrupulous individuals who promise to help. Instead of help, these homeowners are scammed into signing over their property titles.

On May 17, 2005, the Assembly’s Consumer Affairs and Protection, Banks, Housing and Codes Committees held a joint public hearing to explore ways of preventing this terrible crime. Assemblywoman Pheffer heard valuable testimony from the New York State Banking Department, housing and consumer advocates, legal services organizations and victimized homeowners. As part of the hearing, several witnesses recommended the passage of Assemblywoman Pheffer’s Home Equity Theft Prevention Act, which requires home equity purchasers to be licensed by the state (A.7667-A).

Although this legislation passed the Assembly, it has not been acted on by the Senate. Assemblywoman Pheffer will continue working to secure its passage next year and put in place vital protections for Queens homeowners.

Red Alert! Pheffer Warns Against
Wireless Telephone Directory Scams


You may have received an e-mail claiming that a wireless phone directory exists that will soon allow solicitors access to our wireless phone numbers. This is not true. Though several wireless phone companies have announced their intention to establish a national directory, these solicitations are just bogus attempts to get your phone number.

That is why Assemblywoman Pheffer pushed through a new law prohibiting any person or business from creating a wireless telephone directory without first obtaining prior authorization from each customer (Chapter 655 of 2005). This will ensure that any wireless directory will only contain the numbers of those who choose to have their number listed.

Pheffer Calls for Tough Crackdown
on “Phishing” Scams


You may not know what “Phishing” is yet, but the odds are high that you have experienced it firsthand. “Phishing” happens when someone sends a fraudulent e-mail or pop-up message asking consumers to divulge important personal information like passwords, account numbers, credit card or social security numbers or other sensitive information. The emails or pop-ups often claim to be from a business or organization that a consumer has already done business with – like an internet service provider, bank, credit card company or government agency. And they cunningly ask for recipients to “confirm” or “validate” their personal information – even threatening severe consequences if recipients do not respond.

This year, Assemblywoman Pheffer worked to crack down on “Phishing” by passing legislation that would help prosecute identity thieves (A.8025-B). Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on this vital measure.

Assemblywoman Pheffer will continue working to pass this law and put an end to identity theft. In the meantime, consumers should be aware that legitimate businesses and organizations never request personal information through email. Consumers should never respond to emails or pop-ups that ask for sensitive information.

If you receive a suspicious solicitation, contact the real company or organization immediately and notify them about the scam. You should also forward the email to and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at

Pushing For Consumer Notification of Security Breaches

photo Assemblywoman Pheffer questions witnesses who testify before her Committee to help ensure greater consumer protection.

Data security breaches at MasterCard, ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and DSW have left more than 40 million consumers at risk from stolen personal and credit card information. With so many criminals on the lookout for sensitive information, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored the Information Security Breach and Notification Act (Chapter 442 of 2005).

This vital new law will require private businesses and government agencies to provide consumers with adequate notice of a security breach. It will also fine businesses that fail to provide notice and allow the Attorney General to recover damages for victims.


Due to a change in the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, everyone is entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies.

To order reports from one or all three credit reporting agencies, call (877) 322-8228 or visit


photo As Committee Chair, Assemblywoman Pheffer speaks to many groups to inform them of the latestconsumer protection initiatives

Bringing the Security Freeze to New Yorkers

A security freeze is an important new tool to protect consumers from identity theft. The security freeze allows consumers to prohibit access to the personal information in their credit files unless they expressly consent to it. A consumer who files a security freeze is provided with a unique PIN or password that must be given to the credit reporting agency each time the consumer wants to allow access to the information. This prevents identity thieves from taking out loans or credit in an innocent victim’s name.

To provide New York consumers with this powerful weapon in the fight against identity theft, Assemblywoman Pheffer introduced a bill allowing victims of identity theft, and those who believe they may become victims, to place a security freeze on their credit reports (A.7349-A). Several states, including California, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine, have enacted legislation authorizing consumers to freeze their credit files. Assemblywoman Pheffer will continue working to ensure that New Yorkers can as well.

Protecting Consumers From Unfair Penalties

An increasing number of credit card companies are including “universal default” clauses in their agreements, allowing them to raise a customer’s interest rate based on the customer’s indebtedness or late payments to other creditors. That means a late payment on a telephone bill could cause a cardholder’s interest rate to increase. To put an end to this unfair practice, Assemblywoman Pheffer sponsored an important measure that prohibits “universal default” policies (A.809). Under the legislation, any violation would be a criminal offense. Assemblywoman Pheffer will continue working to get this important initiative signed into law next year.

Limiting Preapproved Creditor Insurance Solicitations

Is your mailbox cluttered with “preapproved” offers for credit or insurance? Thanks to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to opt out of receiving future “preapproved” or “prescreened” solicitations for credit or insurance.

According to Assemblywoman Pheffer, in addition to reducing the amount of unwanted mail you receive, opting out of preapproved offers can reduce your risk of identity theft resulting from stolen mail. To exercise your right to opt out of preapproved solicitations, call 1-888-5OPTOUT or visit 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 60 days before you stop receiving preapproved offers. Keep in mind that if you choose to opt-out, you will no longer be included on certain preapproved offer lists maintained by the major credit reporting companies. However, you may continue to receive commercial mailings based on lists from other sources.

Informing Consumers About Existing Credit Protection

For a small monthly fee, many consumers feel extra credit card protection is a good deal. Unfortunately, many credit card protection services do not provide more meaningful protection than what consumers are already entitled to under Federal law. For example, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card holders are only liable for up to $50 in unauthorized charges, and some credit card companies will even agree to waive this fee.

To help consumers to make more informed decisions, Assemblywoman Pheffer introduced an important new law that requires written credit card protection solicitations to include a disclosure of what rights already exist under Federal law (Chapter 433 of 2005). This new law also prohibits credit card companies from automatically renewing protection services, and requires them to let consumers know that purchasing credit protection is not required to secure or retain a credit card.


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