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Government impostors, bogus COVID cures – How crooks scam communities of color ”Holtville Tribune

While Latino consumers are frequently the victims of scams by impostors, African Americans primarily report debt collection fraud through credit bureaus, and Asian Americans are tricked with fake debt collection products. health.

In all ethnic communities, scams through used car sales and lending agencies have attacked people in the midst of their financial difficulties.

These are some of the findings from the latest Federal Trade Commission report on how consumer fraud affects communities of color in the United States. During a briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services, two senior FTC attorneys explained cases that, over the past five years, have led them to sue individuals, organizations or businesses for deceptive and unfair practices.

Monica Vaca (left), associate director, Division of Consumer Response and Operations, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, and Rosario Mendez (right), lawyer, Division of Consumer & Business Education, Federal Trade Commission, speak with Ethnic Media Services on how people of color have been victims of fraud. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ETHNIC MEDIA SERVICES

“Since 2016, we have implemented 25 law enforcement actions, where we could identify behaviors specifically targeting or affecting communities of color disproportionately,” said Monica Vaca, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of the consumer protection from the FTC. In one year, the federal agency establishes an average of 100 cases affecting thousands of victims.

“These are found in a wide range of industries: buying cars, for-profit colleges, prepaid cards, government impersonators, lucrative opportunities, and student debt relief. “

A case brought by the FTC was against the Bronx Honda company for discrimination in the sale of automobiles to African American and Latino customers. The general manager instructed sellers to charge these consumers higher financial margins and fees, which resulted in the sale price changing on paperwork without notice, and levying taxes and fees from people in their area. unknowingly. “As a result of this law enforcement case, we were able to recover $ 1.5 million for the people,” Vaca said.

In a second case, Amazon was blamed for promising drivers who signed up for its Amazon Flex program that they would get 100% of tips received from customers who placed orders through services such as Prime Now and AmazonFresh. Research shows that communities of color are overrepresented in the odd-job economy.

“For a period of two and a half years (2016 to 2019), customers thought they were tipping their drivers on Amazon, but instead, Amazon used those tips to top up the base salary,” he said. declared Vaca. “Until the FTC notifies the company that it is under investigation, in its agreement, Amazon has agreed to reimburse the full tip: $ 61 million will be returned to the drivers.”

In a more recent case, the FTC and the State of Arkansas sued operators of a blessing loom investment program that falsely promised people in financial difficulty due to the COVID pandemic. 19, that they would receive returns on investment of up to 800%. The program specifically targeted thousands of African Americans.

“We happen to be a civil law enforcement agency, which means we don’t lock people up, but if we do, we refer the crooks to the criminal authorities,” Vaca added. “But we’re getting the money back: 1.66 million people have clawed back $ 160 million (as of July 2018).”

Cash and COVID

Another major concern of the FTC is that most Latinos and African Americans use poorly or unprotected payment methods: cash, cryptocurrency, debit cards, or gift cards, which they use for wire transfers. and electronic.

“The way you pay can determine how easy it is to get your money back if you are the victim of fraud,” said Rosario Mendez, attorney with the FTC’s consumer and business education division. “Unlike (communities of color), people who live in predominantly white communities have reported paying scammers with credit cards, and they have some protection against fraudulent transactions.”

This is relevant because the Latin American community in particular is targeted by scammers posing as officials of government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, service providers like Apple or job search companies like Headhunter, who all ask for money in exchange for broken promises.

During the pandemic, the FTC identified several health promoters offering bogus cures for COVID-19, advertised specifically to Korean and Vietnamese speaking communities. “We have also sent hundreds of cease and desist letters, in the United States and abroad, to stop making unsubstantiated claims that products can treat or prevent COVID-19,” added Mendez, acknowledging that disinformation “is extremely difficult” to fight and causes “really substantial harm”.

Two women still employed at the Specialty Health Center at 1073 Ross Ave., Suite D, just west of Bucklin Park, in El Centro, pleaded guilty to knowingly submitting $ 74,000 in false medical insurance claims for false COVID-19 tests carried out at apartment complexes for the elderly in El Centro and Calexico. | PHOTO JULIO MORALES

The authors often target their own community and sometimes act as facilitators to “help” people understand, for example, the tax system and the immigration system. But others are based overseas and have a larger network of people who collect money from their victims in the United States, as in the case of telemarketing fraud, which originated in India and from the Philippines.

See also

“We have an international division that has a memorandum of understanding with other countries and facilitates this cooperation to prosecute (foreign criminals),” Mendez said. “When cases cross international borders, they tend to get more difficult, but they are not impossible,” she added.

The data for the report comes from reports received in 2020 online at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/ and from complaints filed with the Attorney General and law enforcement agencies. This information is gathered in a database called the Consumer Sentinel Network, which is shared with 3,000 law enforcement officials across the country. To establish who was complaining and about what, the reports were compared to demographics from the US Census.

“While we cannot eradicate all scams, what we can do is immunize people in our community against scams, with information,” Vaca added. “Research has shown that when people are aware of a specific scam, they are 80% less likely to lose their money, so we want to encourage them to share their experiences,” she concluded.

People can find out more about how to prevent these scams at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/

Jenny Manrique is a writer for Ethnic Media Services, based in San Francisco.

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