This week, AARP Texas is putting a spotlight on consumer protection. Unfortunately the issue of fraud hits close to home for many Texans. A recent federal government report says reports of fraud and other consumer problems were more common in Texas than in most other states in 2017.
The Federal Trade Commission said in a March report that its Consumer Sentinel Network last year collected roughly 206,000 reports from Texas residents of fraud and other consumer protection problems, the latter of which includes categories such as debt collection and automobile-related issues. Texas ranked sixth in the number of these reports per 100,000 people, with the Dallas-Fort Worth area coming in eighth among all metro areas.
Texas did not fare much better when it came to identity theft reports, ranking 11th among all states.
In Texas, 40 percent of all reports received by the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network dealt with debt collection. The top 10 report categories cover a broad range, including imposter scams; prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries; and telephone and mobile services.
An AARP-commissioned March survey found that participants were confident they could sniff out fraud but also fearful about it happening to them. In the survey, 90 percent of participants reported at least some level of confidence in their ability to detect fraud. But 80 percent reported concern about being a fraud victim or target, including 50 percent who said they were very or extremely concerned.
As advocates, we want to help you and your family become your own watchdog. AARP offers resources on how to defend yourself against fraud through our Fraud Watch Network (http://www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork; Spanish: http://www.aarp.org/redcontraelfraude). Here in Texas, you can protect yourself by shredding sensitive documents for free at a series of events hosted by AARP in the Austin and Dallas areas beginning April 3.
AARP is focusing on fraud in other ways in April, including in the recently released AARP Bulletin. This month’s issue features extensive coverage on Medicare fraud and an interview with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A podcast series called “The Perfect Scam,” featuring Frank Abagnale of “Catch Me If You Can” fame, launches April 6.
If you’re a victim of fraud, you can call AARP’s fraud helpline at 877-908-3360, even if you’re not an AARP member. The FTC takes consumer complaints at https://www.ftc.gov/complaint.
Texas consumers can also file complaints with the state attorney general’s office. The office has a consumer protection hotline and lists regional offices in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Pharr and San Antonio. The attorney general’s office says it does not file lawsuits directly for individuals, though complaints could lead to investigations or suits on the state and public’s behalf.
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