Scam City! Grifters – and Consumer Protection – Are on the Rise, Officials Say
The economy might be in the dumps but it’s turning into a stellar year for consumer scams … and government plans to combat them.
First, this just came in from one of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Yahoo groups: Beware of the telephone shysters posing as sales reps for the FBI. No, silly! Not the real Federal Bureau of Investigation. This one's an alleged alarm company peddling “free” security systems. The pitch starts off saying "you live in a high crime statistics area" and offers a free home alarm system in exchange for letting the company put an FBI sign on your lawn. It’s the latest twist in alarm system scams.
AFTER THE JUMP: More on D.C. confidence schemes and Obama's plans to take down abusive consumer lenders.
For weeks, reports of shady looking traveling salesmen have been burning up neighborhood listservs. More than a few residents reported unnerving visits from alleged alarm company reps going door to door. These guys demand to be let inside homes to see if the systems needed upgrading. Needless to say not too many street-smart District residents have fallen for this one (um, or perhaps we've only heard from the folks who told the grifters to clear off.)
Well, anyway, those ruses are in no way unique. It turns out the country is awash confidence schemes. The Federal Trade Commission says thousands of people have been swindled out of millions of dollars since the economic downturn began.
Today, the agency announced a crackdown on scammers who have hoodwinked consumers with get-rich-quick plans, imaginary government grants, and fraudulent debt-reduction opportunities, among other things.
The enforcement crackdown involves dozens of cases brought by the FTC, the Department of Justice and law enforcers here in the District and at least 13 states. At today’s press conference, officials even trotted out “a Washington, D.C. job seeker who was conned by a company that made false promises of maintenance and janitorial work.”
I missed the webcast, so I have no more details on our very own District victim. But it sounds like he or she may have been duped by Wagner Ramos Borges, one of several alleged criminal masterminds picked up in the nationwide sweep, officially dubbed: “Operation Short Change.”
Ramos Borges allegedly advertised janitorial jobs in area newspapers and online sites. But once applicants responded, he would trick them into paying $98 apiece for bogus “certified registration number” cards. Those cards were supposed to land them jobs with one of the front companies he operated. But the jobs didn’t exist, officials say.
As for the perfectly legal scams run by banks, the Obama Administration is taking them on too. The Department of the Treasury forwarded a proposal to Congress yesterday that would establish a new agency to oversee home mortgages and other consumer lending. Click here for the press release discussing the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The administration says the new outfit would shield consumers from lending abuses like those that led to the financial sector’s current travails.
According to today’s Washington Post, the banking industry is in revolt over the plan, saying it would allow the government to meddle too much into its business; but lawmakers may have a hard time voting against it without looking like corporate sellouts.