By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Con artists and their deceptive tactics continue to get vulnerable immigrants to hand over their cash.
New America Media teamed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and got law enforcement officials and community advocates to come together for a press conference billed as “Spotting and Avoiding Scams in Our Communities” on April 21. Supported by Seattle University’s School of Law, the event took place at the university’s Sullivan Hall.
Sandy Close, executive director of San Francisco-based New America Media, served as emcee and introduced eight panelists to members of ethnic news organizations and community groups.
Charles A. Harwood, regional director, Northwest region, FTC, spoke first and said, “Together, we can help community members speak up, report when they have become victims of consumer fraud and scams, and warn their friends and neighbors. Together, we can build bridges between victims, communities, consumer protection agencies, and law enforcers.”
Other panelists included the FTC’s Laura Solis; Shannon Smith, Washington State Attorney General’s Office; Lili Sotelo, Northwest Justice Project; and Laura Contreras, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
“The last thing we want is for people to be quiet and not speak up,” Harwood said about all victims of consumer fraud and scams.
Jennifer Leach, acting assistant director, FTC’s division of consumer and business education, suggested three ways for minorities to fight back against scams. She urged them to talk to another person before doing anything and to make it hard for scammers by taking your time.
“Please, please report scams. We don’t care about immigration status,” she said about the third action of reporting scams at the FTC website. “Just let us know so we can do more about it.”
Kye Lee told his story of receiving a phone call from a scammer posing as a bill collector for the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) last month.
Henry Choi, Lee’s interpreter, said, “(The) caller said there was an amount due that he had to pay for, and if he didn’t pay in 30 minutes, they will cut off the power.” He said Lee paid his utility bills on time for the last seven years.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) issued a press release last December about this “ongoing scam targeting residential and business customers of area utilities.” It says scammers demand payment by a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.
Lee’s scammer gave instructions to Lee, a Korean American grocery-store owner in Mountlake Terrace, to pay his debt by buying a $450 Reloadit prepaid card at a nearby Albertson’s. Lee followed the scammer’s instructions then called the scammer with the pack number from the back of the Reloadit card.
“After he gave that number to the PUD, the PUD just took the money,” Choi said. “The next morning around 8:30 a.m., he called back just to follow up on the transaction over his credit, but during the phone call, they hung up on him.”
Lee realized he had just been scammed and filed a report with the Mountlake Terrace police department.
“For anyone who receives a call from the PUD, from any company that may cause suspicion, you have to take that as a scam,” Choi said.
The UTC says Lee and other customers will receive “several communications” before a disconnection. It urges the public to report suspicious calls or emails to the FTC or the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
Alan Lai, crime victim service director at Chinese Information and Service Center, gave a presentation entitled “Scams Targeting Minorities.”
He described a blessing scam in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District that resulted in losses of $30,000 in cash and another $30,000 in jewelry. “Eventually, they were sentenced. They were arrested in San Francisco, got only one to three-year sentence,” Lai said.
He also talked about one Vietnamese American man who posed as an immigration agent and targeted Vietnamese immigrants in 2005. The man scammed about 100 people and was later arrested with over $100,000 in cash inside his car.
“In many cases, our own people are ripping (off) our own people,” Lai said. (end)
For more information about the Northwest Justice Project, go to nwjustice.org. To report a scam to the Federal Trade Commission, go to www.ftc.gov/complaint. To report a scam to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, go to www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint. For more information about the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, go to www.nwirp.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.