Schneider and Schakowsky joined by federal agency, Better Business Bureau reps at fraud awareness fo
U.S. representatives Brad Schneider and Jan Schakowsky teamed up to host a consumer protection and fraud prevention workshop Saturday, aimed at helping constituents deal with fraud and other scams.
The two-hourslong workshop was held at the Glenview Public Library in Glenview. It addressed a range of issues scams related to online dating imposters, timeshares, debt collection scams, government agency grants, door-to-door hoaxes, mail fraud and identity theft.
“Almost every week, there’s at least one or two people calling with a plan, a scheme, with a solution to a problem I don’t think I really have,” said Schneider, a Deefield Democrat whose 10th District includes several north and northwest suburbs. “They really are taking advantage. We need to address this.”
Panelists Saturday included Todd Kossow of the Federal Trade Commission, Vijay Raghavan of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, Sylvia Carrier of United States Postal Inspector’s Office and Michael Bruening of the Better Business Bureau.
Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau handle consumer complaints.
Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat who is chairwoman of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, noted how scams impact citizens.
“We’re going to be looking into a lot of these issues that affect everyday consumers,” said Schakowsky, whose district includes North Shore municipalities.
Several times this month, for example, people – in many cases senior citizens – have reported ruses where, in some incidents, they lost or were almost out of hefty amounts of money.
A 66-year-old Buffalo Grove woman reported March 12 that she had been contacted by a computer service company she had used two weeks ago. The caller wanted to refund the service charge into her bank account and was told $6,000 instead of $600 had been deposited. To make up the difference, the senior was asked to purchase $5,000 worth of gift cards. She did, giving the caller the pin numbers to redeem the cards.
In another incident, a Northbrook resident reported on March 6 receiving an email from someone who the resident believed was their supervisor. The email asked the resident to purchase $10,000 in gift cards. The resident made purchases at several locations to fill the request, but eventually grew suspicious that it was all a ruse and did not send all of the gift cards that had been asked for.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were three million consumer complaints filed to the agency last year.
Bruening encouraged those on hand to review the business profiles made available to the public on the Better Business Bureau’s website, located at bbb.org. The company has ratings on more than 186,000 businesses in Chicago and northern Illinois, and even more nationwide.
“We’re being more proactive rather than handling your complaint after it happens, we want to educate people on how to avoid the bad businesses that make you complain in the first place,” Bruening said.
Carrier made mention of a woman who nearly fell victim to a mail scam.
“She got a check … in the mail with nothing else, and it appears to be counterfeit,” she said. “Based on my experience, a lot of times even the postage is counterfeit. It’s enraging.”
Carrier said if the check were to be deposited into the woman’s bank account, it would likely bounce.
“I’m going to look into this a little further,” she said. “We’ve been investigating a lot of tech scams, as well.”
Schakowsky said her committee has been alerting agencies, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, adding that some of them have not been doing enough.
Schneider helped introduce several pieces of legislation last year to fight fraud and scams. Those include efforts to launch the National Elder Abuse Registry, which protects senior citizens from fraud and abuse, and the Discourage Dishonest Dialing Act, which requires phone companies to identify when they cannot verify a phone number.
Panelists encouraged attendees and other consumers to be cautious, vigilant and aware. It was suggested that they do such things as use a credit card or check where possible, and consider use of third-party payment systems like PayPal.
Additionally, officials advised that people should know the identity of recipients of money transfers, sign up for the National Do Not Call registry and change logins, passwords and personal identification numbers (PIN) for accounts.
If a scam or fraud should be suspected, people are encouraged to report it to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-382-4357 or visiting ftc.gov/complaint.