COVID-19 Consumer Resources
COVID-19 CONSUMER INFORMATION
As the number of documented cases of COVID-19 continue to increase across the United States, public health is a primary nationwide concern. Unfortunately, we are also now seeing the most vulnerable communities having to deal with financial challenges and pandemic-related scams. Like most, you may be experiencing a great deal of uncertainty and fear around COVID-19 and its impact on your economic stability. Thankfully, safeguards have been put into place to protect New York State residents.
The VLP is also proud to have signed on to a letter with other consumer advocates urging a lift on enforcement of consumer judgements by use of a bank levy or income execution. Although an official directive was not issued, VLP attorneys continue to advocate for this relief in civil court.
IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION
Kings County Clerk: (347) 404-9123
Coronavirus Court Hotline: (833) 503-0447
If you are a current VLP volunteers who needs guidance from VLP staff on consumer and foreclosure matters or are interested in providing help to new clients during this time, please reach out to VLP’s Director of Legal Services, Sidney Cherubin at (718) 624-3895 or email@example.com.
Not a current VLP volunteer, but want to help out? Please contact VLP’s Pro Bono Director, Anne O’Grady at (718) 473-9202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consumer cases at Kings Civil Court: The court is now hearing cases, typically via Microsoft Teams, that are deemed an “emergency.” In the consumer context, this includes OSCs when there is a bank levy or income execution. Currently, older consumer cases (those filed pre-pandemic) are now being calendared for virtual hearings beginning June 1st, 2021. For older and current consumer cases, litigants can call the clerk’s number above to find out their new court date.
Economic Impact Payments: For consumer receiving stimulus checks, those funds have been deemed exempt from garnishment under New York law by the Attorney General, Letitia James. Ms. James has issued guidance to banks regarding this exemption, saying, “Banking institutions are advised that they should treat CARES Act payments as subject to the same protections as statutorily exempt payments.” Her office will prosecute any violations of this guidance. In addition, the New York Legislature has passed a Bill which deems stimulus payments exempt from collection (S5923A / A6617A). The VLP provided a Memo of Support for this bill which addressed the large impact such a measure could have on our low-income clients.
New case filings from creditors: Chief Judge Marks announced that beginning Monday, May 25, 2020 new matters, previously classified as “nonessential,” will be able to be filed electronically for the five New York City counties and the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk, along with Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties using NYSCEF. Pursuant to this, creditors are now filing cases against litigants through NYSCEF in Supreme Court and in person at the Civil Courthouse. If you receive a consumer Summons and Complaint then you must file a response by mail, over the phone, or in person.
Statute of limitations for case filings was tolled from March 20, 2020 – November 3, 2020.
Credit card debt, auto loans, personal loans: If individuals cannot make credit card payments, many banks are offering deferred monthly payments (90 days/120 days, etc.). Contact banks directly for details (call numbers on the back of cards or on monthly statements). This does not waive the monthly amount owed, but interest and late fees should not be applied during times of deferment.
Third-party debt collectors: Many have agreed to suspend debt collection activities if consumers can demonstrate a hardship related to COVID-19. Collection activities will cease when someone shows that their only income is exempt, i.e. Social Security, unemployment.
Checking and savings accounts: Banks may offer fee waivers for services like expedited checks and overdraft protection.
Federal student loans: As of March 13, 2020, interest will be 0% and payments are suspended until at least September 30, 2021. Payments are automatically suspended. These suspended payments count towards income driven repayment plans, public service loan forgiveness, and loan rehabilitation. If income will be low for a considerable amount of time after this period, consider income-driven repayment plans which can be set up by loan servicers. Contact the loan servicer to continue to make payments if preferred. These provisions are not applicate to private student loans.
After September 30, 2021 auto-debit payments will resume automatically on your first due date when payments begin again. If you are in a traditional repayment plan, then your monthly payment could be different – your loan servicer will recalculate your monthly payment amount using your current balance of principal and interest and the remaining repayment period that you have on your loans. If you made payments during the suspension period, then it is possible you will have a lower monthly payment.
Price gouging: The Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection (DCWP) has promulgated an emergency Rule under the City’s Consumer Protection Law that makes price gouging illegal for any personal or household good or any service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat COVID-19. The Rule, NYC Administrative Code 20-701(b), is in effect and makes it illegal to increase prices by 10% or more. The Rule follows DCWP’s previous declaration that face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are in short supply and expands the Agency’s ability to protect New Yorkers from price gouging.
DCWP encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by contacting 311 and saying “overcharge.” Consumers who believe they were victimized by price gouging should keep their receipts and any information about the store where the transaction occurred and file a complaint with DCWP.
Scams: Be careful! Do not click on unfamiliar links and do not provide personal information to unverified sources. There has been a spike in COVID-19 scams on social media, email, texts, and websites. Recent common COVID scams involve a request to pay fees for FEMA funeral expenses and COVID-19 vaccines, “person in need” and charity scams, and fake COVID testing and cures. Scammers are impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the New York Department of Education (DOE). Do not give out personal, identifying information over the phone, such as date of birth or social security number.
To file a complaint involving a potential scam, visit the New York Department of Financial Services online or contact the Consumer Hotline at (800) 342-3736.
If you – or someone you know – have legal questions and would like legal help, please call our intake help line at (718) 624-3894 or by starting an online intake.