John Brewer (left) speaks about economic crimes in Fort Bend County, Texas as Krystal Walker (middle) and Rosario Mendez (right) look on at the Houston Ethnic Media luncheon with Federal Trade Commission leaders on June 27 (Photo Credit: Ethnic Media Services).

Hubris can make many believe they cannot get scammed.

But it can happen to anyone.

It happened to me as the treasurer of a local Houston organization.

My sole responsibility as treasurer was to cut checks when the president reached out to me to tell me a bill needed payment.

However, when I got an email under the name of the president for a four-figure payment, it felt funny.

Nevertheless, I made the payment, reluctantly.

Thankfully, I used my credit card.

As a result, I got out of the debt without having to pay for it.

But it was a lesson learned.

However, when members from Federal Trade Commission (FTC) spoke to ethnic media leaders in Houston, it became quite apparent that unsuspecting citizens have an infinite number of lessons to learn because scammers constantly come up with new ways to get over on hard-working Americans.

Speakers at the June 27 FTC luncheon included: Rosario Mendez, senior member of the Division of Consumer and Business Education in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection; Serena Mosley-Day, FTC attorney from the Southwest Region; Krystal Walker, AUSA in both the Civil and Criminal Divisions where she prosecutes white collar crimes; John Brewer, chief of economic crimes in the Fort Bend County, Texas District Attorney’s Office and Tariq Gladney, managing attorney of Lone Star Legal Aid’s Richmond, Texas office.

Mendez told Houston ethnic media leaders that the FTC is a consumer protection agency.

The organization’s job is to protect people from fraud and deceptive and unfair practices.

The FTC does investigations on potential scammers and then sues those alleged to have committed the scams.

Those lawsuits can often lead to victims receiving their money back.

However, Mendez said that it is imperative that people report alleged scams so that the FTC can then investigate and rectify the situation.

Often, people are too embarrassed to admit that they have fallen victim to a scam.

But if people tell their story it could lead to financial compensation and serve as a warning to others who might find themselves victims of scams.

Mendez said that the FTC received 2.6 million fraud complaints in 2023 with $10 billion in losses for victims.

She said that impersonator scams represent the largest number of scams with people impersonating the IRS or businesses like Amazon.

Last year also saw a big increase in scams via social media.

Younger Americans, ages 20-29, report more alleged fraud.

However, older Americans lose more money.

Day told Houston ethnic media leaders that Texas ranks 10th in fraud per capita based on statistics from 2023.

The state ranks seventh for identity theft.

She said Houston had 11,300 imposter scams in 2023.

Experts warn people that scammers will often appear charming and convincing.

They will also have good answers for many people’s questions.

If a person is scammed, it is important to report to the FTC, attorney general’s office or the local police.

Furthermore, victims should share their stories with family members, friends and other loved-ones.

One of the biggest scams targeting the African-American community during the pandemic was Blessings in No Time.

The pyramid scheme promised victims $11,000 if people loaned their stimulus checks to Blessings in No Time.

The couple behind the Blessings in No Time scam decided to settle their lawsuit.

The couple was indicted by the Eastern District Court of Texas and authorities were able to recover $450,000 for the victims.

Walker said that many of the scams are successful because it is in a human’s nature to want to trust people.

She added the fraudsters often attack companies by hacking into emails, accessing business systems to get customer information, creating fake invoices or interfering with legitimate invoices.

The attorney said that some of the telltale signs are misspelled words or awkward wording.

She said to always verify before sending large sums of money.

Call and confirm to see if the information is correct.

Additionally, instead of transferring large sums of money via online and wire transfers, exchange the money in person so that you can have proof that it is going to the right people or company.

However, if the money does get sent to the wrong account, see if the bank can reverse the transfer before it is too late.

Also, Walker said fraud victims in the Houston area can contact the Homeland Security Investigation hotline at 713-693-5000.

The hotline is open 24 hours.

Although Walker said it’s in human nature to trust people, Brewer said that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Brewer said that fraudsters and fraud victims in Fort Bend County, Texas are just as diverse as the area.

However, he said that many people from the African community fall victim to bank account scams where fraudsters ask them to put money in their account.

Doing that opens people up to money laundering accusations.

More importantly, Brewer said that a great way to prevent becoming the victim of fraud is to stop writing checks.

Fraudsters can create fake checks with your account information or even wash the payee information so that they can transfer the money into their accounts.

Despite all the knowledge dropped by the panelists at the FTC luncheon, many fraud victims might fear having to pay a lawyer to go after fraudsters.

Gladney said that Lone Star Legal Aid offers free access to justice consumer rights advocates.

The legal aid does civil and criminal law work.

But the speakers urged media members that the real work belongs to people like them.

If they can tell personal stories about themselves and other people, maybe they can help people avoid scams that can happen to anyone.

Those stories could save people a lot of money, a lot of heartache and a lot of embarrassment.

Todd A. Smith
Follow Todd
Latest posts by Todd A. Smith (see all)