In midst of immigration reform, Federal Trade Commission cautions ethnic communities on scams

The Federal Trade Commission in conjunction with New America Media held a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 10 to reiterate its goal of protecting all consumers—regardless of immigrant status—from fraud and scams. With impending immigration reform from President Obama’s recent executive action and trillions of dollars being transacted in non-English speaking communities, the Commission felt it timely to remind the public that it served “all slices of American consumers,” said Thomas Syta, Assistant Regional Director for the FTC, Los Angeles.

South Pasadena resident Lang Zhao spoke on her experiences as a scam victim. She’d used the services of an allegedly illegitimate courier service in Monterey Park in April 2014. Zhao mailed baby formula and skin care products to her sister in China through EZ Inc.’s services, but says the package is now caught up in China Customs. Zhao contacted EZ but the company was unable to resolve Zhao’s concerns. They then relocated their office without notice and Zhao has not been able to contact them since. Zhao said that the information on the package is that of EZ Inc.’s, not hers. As a result China says that Zhao has no claim over the parcel.

Zhao said “hundreds of people get scammed,” in the non-English speaking community.  She added that language barriers make it difficult to resolve claims. “We also don’t know where to call. Where they speak Chinese,” Zhao said about the daunting process of finding help.

The FTC implemented the “Fraud Affects Every Community,” initiative in 2014 to explore how diverse communities get scammed and what can be done to protect these people. Monica Vaca, Assistant Director in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that the FTC can effectively shut down scams but only once they know about them.

Vaca said that she hopes to improve communication between the public and the FTC. “Often times it’s not clear [to people] what resources are available and if it’s not clear then they might go to the wrong places for help. The reason we’re here is because we think access to government is important.”

Vaca advised customers to check up on businesses on the Better Business Bureau—a non-profit organization that vets businesses—and stick to positively reviewed establishments. Vaca also advised consulting with someone, even a friend, about suspicious claims. She said the FTC has researched cases in which people were contacted over the phone about false allegations of debt; those who talked to someone about the claims before paying up were much less likely to fall for the scam than those who did not speak with anyone.

Syta said that the FTC recognizes the new opportunities afforded to scammers through Obama’s recent immigration action. “When a new government program comes in to place, scammers are on top of that,” said Syta. "They’ll twist it in such a way that they’re trying to get money but not provide any help.”

Carina Franck, Legislative Liasion with the State Bar of California, said that any California attorney stealing money from their clients can be disciplined, and that the money can be recovered. “Especially around immigration, with all the executive action and immigration reform talk going on, there are individuals who are preying on community members. Immigrant families are prone to being big targets to these bad players who know that often times these families won’t report stolen money from fear that they will be reported to the authorities.” Franck clarified that any resident may file a law suit. “We don’t care about the person’s immigration status and we want the community to know that,” said Franck.

For more information on consumer protection, visit the FTC’s website or call 877-382-4357.

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