Steering Clear of Scams
Clip: Season 5 Episode 33 | 18m 52s | Video has closed captioning.
What are some of the common scams going around right and how to protect yourself.
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
Clip: Season 5 Episode 33 | 18m 52s | Video has closed captioning.
What are some of the common scams going around right and how to protect yourself.
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
Well, scammers and fraudsters just never stop looking for ways to get people's personal information and money.
The list of scams is lengthy, and the way they can get you to give out personal information is becoming more and more sophisticated.
So how do you protect yourself?
Joining us to explain ways to better protect our privacy and our money and our identity is Sheri Ann Forbes, Senior Deputy Attorney General; Erin Houston, Deputy Secretary of State for Securities; and Cris Williams, Chief Compliance Audit Investigator with Nevada Consumer Affairs, also serves as the chair of the Fight Fraud Task Force.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
We have an important topic to talk about.
Again, we talk about those scammers being out there and those fraudsters.
Let me just go through a list.
And this is just a short list.
We have romance scams, IRS, imposter scams, Social Security, grandparents, health care, Medicare, sweepstakes and lottery scams, internet, investment, cryptocurrency, charity, mortgage, COVID-19 related scams, student loans.
And again, that's just a short list, which goes to prove that these scammers, these fraudsters, they're out there and they are sometimes ahead, very sophisticated, ahead of, you know, of trying to get the identity and the money from so many victims that are vulnerable.
So let's talk about some of the scams that we're seeing right now.
What are you seeing right now, Sheri Ann?
(Sheri Ann Forbes) One of the things that we see is emails being confiscate-- or not confiscated, but being taken over by fraudsters.
For instance, you might be having an email conversation with a colleague, and all of a sudden the colleague will ask you to do something like go get gift cards.
And it turns out that someone has hacked into the system and is spoofing your colleague's emails.
So that's, that's one that we're seeing.
-And another one that we had talked about off camera is also door-to-door.
You'd think that might be something a thing of the past, but that's still happening.
People coming door-to-door.
And a lot of times they are pretending to be a utility company.
They'll pretend to be Nevada Power, and then they'll try to sell you, you know, solar or something along those lines or something that you don't want or along, you know, that kind of thing.
-And Cris, what are you seeing with the Consumer Affairs Division?
(Cris Williams) Well, being, Maria, with the tax season, we see impersonators.
They're acting like tax, you know, representatives, and they're not.
They take their money, they get their personal information from the consumer, and they're off with their money, with a refund.
-And what about you?
I know that one our Secretary of State mentioned is those romance scams.
You'd think that something is a thing of the past, but it's still-- they're still happening.
(Erin Houston) Absolutely.
We see romance scams very commonly.
We also see cryptocurrency scams.
Often we see those two paired together, cryptocurrency/romance scams.
Where it's an individual who you meet online, who tells you how wonderful you are and how smart and beautiful you are or handsome, and they induce you to invest in a cryptocurrency platform, and the platform doesn't really exist.
-And again, we talked about cryptocurrency, something that's really new, the new shiny thing, but you've actually been investigating this for what, about five years now?
It's not-- it's definitely the new shiny thing, but it does have a significant amount of risk.
-And again, those romance ones have been around for many, many decades.
So let's talk a little bit about you just got back from Carson City.
-Let's talk about Assembly Bill 67.
So Assembly Bill 67 is our attempt, we're seeking to create a restitution fund for victims of securities fraud.
So those people who are defrauded and have lost a significant amount of their savings or any money that they've been earning and, even if it's just a small amount, could then, if the bill passes, would be able to seek financial assistance from our office.
-And why was that so important?
This was Nevada Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar, "Cisco" Aguilar's, the first bill that he introduced.
Why was this such a priority?
-It was a huge priority to our office because we see so many victims of investment fraud who have no resources left, and we needed to find a way to help them get back on their feet.
-And Sheri Ann, let's talk a little bit about from the Attorney General's office, because I think a lot of people don't know that the Consumer Affairs Division exists.
A lot of people don't know that they're, you know, you just did this for securities fraud, which is-- there's so many different scams, so many different levels.
With the Attorney General's office, when somebody contacts you, what recourse, what information do you give them?
How can they get help from the Attorney General's office?
-Well, the first thing we do is we investigate to see what kind of a complaint they have and whether there are any, any consumer laws that have been violated.
And if that's the case, then we can intervene.
And we can contact the company and see if we can get some sort of redress.
If that doesn't work, we always have the ability to bring civil suits against companies to get them to do what they need to do and get an administrative order or a district court order against them.
In the meantime, we also give resources to the consumer in terms of going to Legal Aid if they, if they can't afford an attorney to help try and get some recourse on the private civil suit side.
-And Cris, let's talk about the Consumer Affairs Division.
I was reading.
You sent me some information that in the calendar year 2022, the State of Nevada Consumer Affairs helped consumers recover nearly 1.75 million dollars.
Again, 1.75 million dollars.
That's a lot of money.
-It is, it's a lot of money.
We're a small unit; however, we're very effective.
And most of our complaints that we receive, they are individual complaints; they're individual consumers.
Sometimes we do receive like 10 or 15 complaining about a certain company, and we're able to recoup some of their monies that they've lost.
-And let's talk a little bit about Nevada, Las Vegas in particular.
We're very unique because we are a tourist destination.
So again, these scammers that always seem to be a step ahead are scamming our tourists.
-Tell me about a story about one of our senior tourists who was here from Hawaii.
What happened with that?
She was 86 years old, and she just happened to leave and went to go get some water down the street.
And a business salesman approached her.
And so it was a facial, free facial, and so she was enticed to go in there.
And they did the facial.
Next thing you know, she-- they ran her credit card over-- It was almost $13,000 of cosmetics.
And this is for an 86 year old.
And happy to say that we were able to recover her monies as well, but she was devastated.
Her husband was upset, her daughters were contacting us.
And it was, it was pretty sad.
-Again, what's so sad again, they come here to have a good time-- -Correct.
- --and you never know when they are going to strike.
And that lesson, lesson learned how severe and important to get those receipts, correct?
-What are other, some more advice you have for someone who might be in that situation?
-In this case, a lot of these businesses have the devices now that are electronic.
And so you don't get to see what, what you're buying.
So at that point, I believe they told the consumer that they were out of paper.
So they took her credit card, took it to the back, and they ran it up to almost $13,000.
She got home to Hawaii.
She received some packages, all cosmetic.
And they tried to return it, and they would not accept it.
They said they couldn't accept it.
And so we intervened.
And my investigator and I went and knocked on their door.
And a few times, actually, because the first time they were like, Well, she's very happy.
They take pictures with the consumer, and she looked happy.
She was smiling.
And who knows what they told her, just, you know, to smile.
But they tried to say that she was a happy customer.
-And let's talk a little bit about with a lot of these scammers, fraudsters, a lot of times they think they're above the law, correct?
But that's not the case.
Let's talk a little bit about when it comes to prosecution and prosecuting these, you know, thieves.
Under our statutes for the consumer protection laws, we have the ability to fine them up to thousands of dollars per violation, as well as getting restitution for the consumers.
And so, you know, if we have to, we do go after them.
-And let's also talk about the Fight Fraud Task Force.
That was created in a lot of entities.
We have, let's see, the Federal Trade Commission here as well.
We have the IRS, Better Business Bureau, so many, Metro Police Department as well.
How are you all working to make sure again, that you do stay ahead of the game and make sure that you stay ahead of these fraudsters and scammers?
So I am the chair for the Fight Fraud Task Force.
It's under the consumer, Nevada Consumer Affairs.
And that was established by Elizabeth McDaniel back in, I think it was in 2000.
And so it's been part of Consumer Affairs.
And so they're-- it's a coalition of government agencies getting together.
Secretary of State; we have the Attorney General's office that also attends; we have, like you said, the IRS; Metro; we have, gosh, I would have to say 40-plus government entities that will get together and we just talk about trends that are happening, what we can do to get the word out and educate our Nevadans and also our tourists.
-And Erin, what are you seeing in attending these meetings, some of the trends that you're seeing that may have surprised you as well?
-It is invaluable to attend these meetings.
I think the most helpful thing for me is just hearing from the other agencies what they're seeing.
For example, I had no idea that these two scams existed.
I mean, I've heard about them sort of on the periphery, but to know that they're so prolific and something that other agencies are seeing is extremely helpful to me.
And it helps us as a regulatory agency and an investigatory agency to know the full landscape of what Nevadans are seeing.
-And I do want to talk.
One of the reasons we wanted to do this show is, and I shared this off camera, I had a dear friend of mine reach out to me during right after the holidays.
They got her identity, stole her identity, took all her money.
She wasn't able to give her kids a Cristmas, and she was just devastated.
And she said, Maria, I'll be able to restore my credit.
It might take years to do.
You know, I'll be able to get that money back.
She's like, But I can't get the emotional part of it.
She's like, I have-- I'm paranoid now.
I feel like that lost sense of security, that, you know, she doesn't trust people anymore.
What is being done to help the victims, going above and beyond the monetary?
I know there's some great organizations helping, now with this bill hopefully, to get some funds back.
But what are we doing to help the victims when they are emotionally scarred for life?
A lot of them.
You know, unless you've been through it, I think you don't realize there's not, might not be that empathy.
But again, she said, How do I recoup that, that feeling of helplessness?
-Unfortunately, we don't have anything in place right now.
But AG Ford is trying to get approval in his budget to hire a victim advocate for the office to do exactly that kind of work.
Because like you said, it is really important for the victims.
-Anything, have you heard of anything that might be, is being done to help these victims when it comes to, to that, to the emotional aspect of it?
-I think for our agency, Consumer Affairs, I think once you allow them, to hear them out.
I get people crying on the phone.
I get them in person crying, and it's very sad.
And so we hear them out.
And they actually do feel a little better when they leave, knowing that there is some help.
And again, a lot of people do not know about Consumer Affairs.
And this is a free, a free resource for them.
It's under the Department of Business Industry that also has 11 divisions, and there's a lot of resources there.
There's Labor Commission, just to name a few, financial institutions and mortgage lending.
Those are resources that people can also use, because we also received complaints against mortgages, real estate agents, and they come to us and we direct them to the correct agency.
-And we do have the National Consumer Protection Week coming up as well?
That is on March, usually in the beginning week of March, and we normally would have an in-person event.
And again, we would have all these valuable agencies that provide all this information.
And this year, we're only going to do a segment and, you know, through social media.
And hopefully next year, we will do it in person and provide all that information to our consumers.
Again, you've-- this bill is a step in the right direction.
Anything else said, the Secretary of State is working on to help victims of fraud?
-Well, we're just trying to expand our outreach and expand information about our office and what we do and how we can help.
And part of that is investor education.
So really, our focus is on investor education and outreach so that we can bring people into our office and give them a voice and an opportunity to be heard.
-And that's so important, giving them a voice, because again, they go after the most vulnerable populations.
We were also talking about how they also target minorities.
A lot of them nowadays-- we were talking about the notario fraud.
Can you tell us a little bit, a scam, a little bit about that fraud?
Fraudsters will go out there, and they'll put up a shingle saying that they are a notario.
In Mexico, a notario is someone who actually can do legal work like a lawyer.
But here in the United States, a notary public can only authenticate signatures.
And so the fraudsters will take advantage of that confusion and get people in there, Spanish speaking people, and unfortunately, take advantage of them.
-And what I have noticed, it's wonderful that all of your websites, you do have information both in English and Spanish.
Because it is, again, they're going after the most vulnerable populations and who they can target.
I was at an opening of a supermarket recently, and someone came up and said, Hey, scratch this off, and maybe you can win, some big pots and pans or something.
And I was, like, hesitant, and then she's like, Oh-- I said, Well, do you have the prize here?
She said, No, I have to go to your house.
I'm like, No.
Again, there's all these-- so many scams out there, so much fraud out there that you do always have to be on your toes and be vigilant more than anything.
And speaking of that, I love that AARP has a scam tracker on their website.
And just this morning, they had 36,146 active scam reports.
And this is just here in Southern Nevada where they were reporting everything from the grandparent scam to credit card scams.
And I think that's wonderful; it's a wonderful tool.
The Better Business Bureau also has it.
You're empowering-- it's like a watch, right, a community watch.
We have to watch out for each other.
But again, 36,146.
That's a lot of scams.
-That is a lot.
-And again, we always have to be watching out for each other.
Let's talk a little about some of the other things you might have going on to help victims of, of scams and fraud and-- or resources that you think are out there that a lot of people aren't aware of.
So let's go ahead and start sharing.
-The best resource is to, to talk to your family if you've been in a scam.
Because if you are in a situation where, you know, something doesn't feel right, talk to someone that you trust.
And they might be able to put a reality check on whatever the situation is.
Because a lot of times in the heat of the moment, you just-- it doesn't occur to you what's going on.
Cris, any other advice that you have?
-Don't be, don't be fooled or pressured.
You feel like-- and I hear this all the time from consumers: I was pressured.
They wouldn't let me go.
I felt like I was a hostage.
Don't allow them to do that.
Just put your foot down and say, I don't want to purchase this.
I don't, you know-- -Yeah-- -I'm sorry, go ahead.
I was going to say because a lot of times, they're also embarrassed after the fact, right, to come forward?
-That's something that's so important; you must come forward.
You have to leave that shame aside and know that-- -Absolutely.
- --the only way they're going to catch these, scammers and fraudsters is if you come forward and say, I may not have lost money, but here's what happened and here's what they tried to do.
And again, we're talking about so many different scams.
I do want to talk to you about the affinity scam.
Off the phone, we were talking.
Again, new scams that I don't even, none of us, a lot of us don't know about these scams, but they're out there.
-What we find in our office is that affinity fraud is very, very common.
And that just means any sort of fraud that is perpetuated amongst any sort of community or minority group or any group that you feel that you're a part of where you have a higher level of trust for your co-community members is where we find a lot of fraud happening.
Even investment fraud, any kind of scam involving-- Consumer Affairs, we do see notario fraud very frequently.
So we'd really, we do recommend-- I think the number one thing you can do to protect yourself is try to verify what you've been told.
So for example, you can contact our office and find out if somebody's licensed.
You can even find out-- we have a document preparation services office section within our office.
You can find out if somebody is a licensed document preparer by calling the Secretary of State's office and looking up that information.
So I would really recommend don't believe everything that you're told even if it's from somebody that you would otherwise trust or feel that you have something in common with.
I hate to sound so cynical, but it really is the best ounce of prevention you can take.
-And it is better to be safe than sorry.
We've heard this so many times.
Thank you all for being here.
We do have all your information on our website, such valuable information.
Thank you again, again on the lookout for our viewers.
Again, those scammers are out there and fraudsters.
And thanks so much all of you at home today for watching Nevada Week .
For all of the resources we discussed, along with all of their websites, including also information from AARP, you can see that scam tracker map, the FBI, we also have their information, as well as the Better Business Bureau.
And you can look into different frauds and scams that are happening.
Just go to our website, vegaspbs.org/nevadaweek.
Thanks again for joining us.
Have a great evening.