31 Attorneys General Sign Multi-State Letter Supporting FTC Identity Theft Rules

February 14, 2019

Attorney General Jim Hood joined a coalition of 31 attorneys general recently in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the FTC to continue its Identity Theft Rules, which were originally adopted in November 2007. The letter cites the proliferation of identity theft in many states and the growth in technology since the rules were adopted. The letter can be read here.

The current rules require certain financial institutions and businesses that grant credit or issue debit or credit cards to take steps to detect, prevent and mitigate identify theft by implementing reasonable safeguards. The letter also suggests adding a requirement that cardholders must be notified by email or cell phone if an email address or cell phone number is changed. This is in addition to the existing requirement to mail notification upon change of account address. The attorneys general also ask that suspicious account activity also include account access by new and previously unknown devices and repeated unsuccessful access attempts.

A report cited in the letter found that in 2017, 16.7 million Americans were victims of identity fraud, where $16.8 billion was stolen.

“With the rise in technology comes the increasing number of ways a person can easily become a victim of identity theft. That is why these rules are absolutely necessary and should not be repealed by the FTC,” General Hood said. “Our Consumer Protection Division steadily receives calls from consumers for requests for identity theft packets, which are then returned to us for review and investigation.”

The letter was also signed by Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon (lead state), Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.


Harrison County Man Pleads Guilty to Not Paying Child Support for 7 Years

February 13, 2019

34-year-old Gregory Williams of Biloxi

A Harrison County man must pay back more than $12,000 to make up for failing to pay his child support for seven years, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Lisa P. Dodson ordered 34-year-old Gregory Williams to pay $12,818.73 in restitution after failing to pay child support for more than seven years. Williams, who pleaded guilty to the charge, was sentenced to five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with all five years suspended. Five of those years will be on supervised probation followed by two years unsupervised. He was recently arrested on an outstanding bench warrant.

“Those who abandon their duty as a father or a mother cannot hide forever and must pay for it,” said General Hood. “I thank Judge Dodson for making this father pay what he owes to his child’s well-being.”

This case was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Dana Sims of the AG’s Child Desertion Unit.

The Office of the Attorney General prosecutes cases regarding unpaid child support when all other avenues are exhausted or the case has been referred by the Department of Human Services. If you have a complaint regarding unpaid child support, please contact the DHS hotline at 877-882-4916.


Spike in Social Security Scam Raises Caution for Consumers

February 13, 2019

Attorney General Jim Hood is warning Mississippians of a rise in scam calls that try to get you to believe your Social Security Number has been suspended.

“Your Social Security Number will never be suspended,” General Hood warned. “These scam artists are good at what they do in making you think they’re a professional trying to help you or protect you from a scam, but really they’re just trying to steal your personal information. The only thing you should do is hang up immediately.”

The caller says they are from the government and that your social security number has been suspended. He sounds very professional and says a reactivation is needed for the suspended SSN, claiming the number was suspended because of some connection to fraud or other criminal activity. The caller says you must call a separate number to clear up the problem, which is where you will be asked for personal information.

From January 28 through February 1, the AG’s office received 14 calls about this scam. That’s up from nine the previous week, and two from the same time last month.

Here are a few tips to protect yourself:

  • Never give out or confirm personal information over the phone, via email, or on a website until you’ve checked out whoever is asking you for it.
  • Do not trust a name, phone number, or email address just because it seems to be connected with the government. Con artists use official-sounding names and may fake caller ID or email address information to make you trust them.
  • The government normally contacts people by postal mail.
  • Contact government agencies directly, using telephone numbers and website addresses you know to be legitimate.

If you need any additional information regarding this scam, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-281-4418 or 601-359-4230.


AG Sends More than $17.6 Million to State General Fund

February 12, 2019

Attorney General Jim Hood delivered a $17,658,336.29 check to the Mississippi Legislature Tuesday that included settlement monies recently collected.

The settlements include five of the civil suits in the MDOC-Christopher Epps prison bribery scandal, drug pricing cases, data breach litigation against popular ride-sharing company Uber, and several antitrust and consumer multistate cases. The money is placed into the state’s general fund and appropriated by the Legislature; however, General Hood, as required by state law (Mississippi Code Section 7-5-63), made recommendations to the legislative leadership on how the money should be spent.

In a letter to legislative leadership, General Hood recommended the money be spent on mental health training, regional jails, opioid crisis response, and reimbursements for inflated IT expenses. Specifically, he requested investing in more crisis intervention and mental health training for law enforcement across the state, as well as training for all levels of educational personnel to help them identify a student with a mental illness and seek proper care for that person.

“This is essential for the safety of those suffering with mental illness, the law enforcement officers encountering them, and the public,” General Hood wrote.

Mississippi is experiencing a critical shortage in treatment facilities for both the general public and those who are incarcerated as death rates from the opioid crisis continue to rise, so General Hood requested a portion of the $17.6 million be directed toward funding more treatment programs. Additionally, he asked for funding for overdose reversal drugs and data tracking software for usage be given to the Mississippi Department of Health. General Hood also sought additional help for Child Protective Services, which helps children who have been neglected or abandoned by parents who are addicted to opioids.

“The money I’ve sent over to the Legislature is extra money they now have to spend on some of the most critical programs in our state that have been making do after experiencing deep budget cuts in recent years,” General Hood said. “I sincerely hope the legislative leadership will carefully consider how this money is dispersed and remember the many families who are suffering due to the opioid crisis or the law enforcement agencies that need money to be properly equipped to de-escalate a person with a mental illness who may cause harm to themselves or others. There should be nothing partisan about this when these are great needs across the state.”

Following a decrease by the Mississippi Department of Corrections to the regional jails’ per diem rates, General Hood requested some of this money be directed to regional jails in order to maintain operations for the safety of the community. Finally, General Hood asked that $475,112.45 from cases regarding price-fixing of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) be given to public entities in the state who suffered from inflated prices of computers with DRAM. That includes the Institutions of Higher Learning, Department of Finance and Administration, Department of Education, and cities and counties.

A breakdown of settlements can be found here.


CONSUMER ALERT: AG Hood Warns State Workers of Paycheck Scam

February 12, 2019

Attorney General Jim Hood is warning employees of the State of Mississippi that scammers are targeting them in attempt to reroute direct deposits of employees’ pay to another bank account.

The scammers are emailing agencies’ Human Resources (HR) Directors requesting a Direct Deposit Form, which is the step taken when an employee wishes to sign up for or make a change to their paycheck deposit. The email appears to come from an employee’s work email address. In one case, an email address of a state agency’s executive director was spoofed. The email indicated that the executive director was changing bank accounts and needed to change the account information on file at the office. When the HR director sent the proper forms to make such a change back to the email address that made the request, the address appeared as a Gmail account. The scammer behind that account quickly replied with the “new” banking information, a fake voided check, and the signed forms.

“Unfortunately, this has happened to a state employee before, where the transaction was completed and the paycheck was deposited into the wrong account. Luckily, last week’s scam was caught in time,” General Hood said. “Our cybercrime investigators are tracking this activity, and although they haven’t found evidence of it happening outside of state agencies, we strongly encourage any HR director to always make direct, verbal contact with an employee who appears to be asking for a change in any of their information, especially when it comes to banking account changes.”

Additionally, General Hood says a red flag should be raised if an HR director receives a request from an employee asking for their checks to be deposited into a Green Dot account. Green Dot accounts are created by scammers to help them easily receive deposits so they can spend the money like cash.

Anyone who feels they have been targeted by this scam or has information about it should contact the Cyber Crime Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office at 601-576-4281.


SOS, Attorney General Seek More Than $25 Million from Federal Government for Unconstitutional Taking of 8,000 Acres of 16th Section Land

February 11, 2019

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood filed suit today against the federal government on behalf of school children in three districts in southwest Mississippi alleging an unconstitutional taking of almost 8,000 acres of 16th Section land. 

“This is a historic day for our State,” Secretary Hosemann said. “Today, our State and three public school districts allege the United States has taken property deeded to Mississippi 200 years ago.”

The allegations in the complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, stem from artificial flooding caused by the Old River Control Structure, a water control project under the purview of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Launched in the early 1950s, the project sought to change the natural course of water flowing from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River by diverting more water down the Mississippi River.  The goal was to prevent damage to cities in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The project, however, failed to account for the inevitable destruction of Mississippi land.  Over the years, artificial flooding from the Structure has caused increased siltation, deterioration of wildlife habitats, tree mortality, and other problems on private and public land along Mississippi River.

The lawsuit, which alleges the federal government’s artificial flooding amounts to an unconstitutional taking, seeks at least $25 million in damages on almost 8,000 acres of 16th Section land.  The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause requires the government to pay “just” compensation when it takes property for public use.

“All of the money raised by the leasing of 16th Section lands, timber sales, and other transactions related to these properties goes directly to our public schools,” said Secretary Hosemann, who serves as supervisory trustee of 16th Section land. “When this public trust land is destroyed unlawfully, our children are the ones who suffer.  The only responsible action is for the federal government to make our school districts whole.”

General Hood agreed.

“The federal government has caused thousands of acres of land in southwest Mississippi to flood, killing timber and, in essence, taking property from Mississippians.  Every 16th section (generally containing 640 acres) out of a 36 section township and range was kept by the state to hold in trust for the public schools in that county; many counties contain several 16th sections,” General Hood said. “The school boards, with oversight by the Secretary of State, have a duty to make sure that the lands earn the most revenues possible from sources such as hunting and farming leases and sale of timber and oil.  I have a duty to make sure that no individual, company, or even the federal government takes property from our state, its citizens and, particularly, our children without paying for it.”

The school districts represented in the lawsuit include the Claiborne County School District (657 impacted acres), Natchez-Adams School District (5,540 impacted acres), and the Wilkinson County School District (1,734 impacted acres).

Sixteenth Section land is select property in each county set aside when the State was formed for the benefit of public schools.  Across the State, about 640,000 acres of 16th Section land are held in trust for 101 school districts.  For more information about 16th Section land in Mississippi, visit http://www.sos.ms.gov/Public-Lands/Pages/16th-Section-Lands.aspx.


Two Plead Guilty in 2011 Murder of Disabled Man

February 8, 2019

Two men were sentenced this week after pleading guilty to the 2011 murder of Eddie Bankhead in Columbus, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Omar Beard, 35, of Columbus

Cortez Williams, 34, of Cahokia, Illinois

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omar Beard, 35, of Columbus, pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter. He will serve 20 years in prison and be eligible for parole after 10 years. Cortez Williams, 34, of Cahokia, Illinois, pleaded guilty Friday to depraved heart murder. He was also sentenced to 20 years in prison, which will run day-for-day. Both men’s sentences will receive credit for time already served. They have both been in prison since 2011. Lowndes County Circuit Court Judge Lee Coleman sentenced both men.

The men assisted 41-year-old Derrick Bankhead in the robbery and murder of Bankhead’s cousin, Eddie, on July 11, 2011. Derrick was the mastermind of the plan, while Beard assisted in robbery and Williams committed the murder by shooting Eddie. Both Beard and Williams had weapons. Eddie Bankhead was handicapped and wheelchair-bound. Derrick is currently serving a life sentence for capital murder for his role in this murder. He was sentenced in August.

“Killing another person is as evil as it gets, but when the victim is disabled and defenseless, there is an entirely different element of evil in that,” General Hood said. “I hope Eddie Bankhead’s family finds peace in knowing these criminals are locked up. I thank Judge Coleman for making that happen.”

This case was investigated by AG Investigator Lee McDivitt and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorneys General Patrick Beasley and Lakeita Rox-Love. The case was assigned to the Attorney General’s Office after the local district attorney recused himself due to a conflict of interest.


AG Calls on Public Retirees to Attend PERS Board Meeting Tuesday

February 8, 2019

***UPDATE***

In addition to the Board meeting at 11:30, the PERS Administrative Committee will meet at 10am in the same building to discuss the issue below of state retirees continuing to receive their pension while serving in the Mississippi Legislature. From this meeting, the committee will give a report to the board at 11:30. The 10:00 committee meeting is open to the public, and it is important that state retirees attend this meeting as well as the 11:30 board meeting. The board meeting will have a public comment period.

 

Attorney General Jim Hood is encouraging state retirees to attend a meeting Tuesday with the Board of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) regarding their ability to run for a state legislative seat without forfeiting retirement benefits.

General Hood issued an opinion on November 29 (linked here) confirming that retired state employees should keep their pension while serving in the Mississippi Legislature. PERS already allows retirees to serve in a local elective office but not in the Legislature.

“The PERS Retiree members have vested rights to their benefits, are entitled to receive their benefits and, if qualified and elected, they have a right to serve as a representative or senator in the Mississippi Legislature without forfeiture of their PERS retirement benefits,” the opinion says. General Hood issued another opinion in January answering related questions (linked here).

On Tuesday, February 12, at 11:30 a.m., the PERS Board will discuss whether to adopt regulations implementing the Attorney General’s opinion in time for the March 1, 2019 deadline to qualify as a candidate for the Legislature.  The meeting will be at the PERS office at 429 Mississippi Street in Jackson. General Hood strongly encourages any current government employees or retirees with any interest in potentially running for the Legislature now or in the future to attend this important meeting and voice their support. For those who cannot attend Tuesday’s meeting, call PERS at 800-444-7377 or 601-359-3589 or email customerservice@pers.ms.gov.

“Every citizen of this state deserves an equal opportunity to stand for elected office. We should work together to remove this financial barrier which keeps retired teachers, law enforcement, social workers, health care workers and other hard working retirees from fully participating in our state government,” General Hood said. “For too many years, the state has denied public retirees their hard-earned retirement money if they choose to continue serving their state as a legislator. Mississippi desperately needs and deserves its best citizens, including retirees, serving as legislators. I encourage anyone who works for the state who has ever had the smallest interest in one day serving as a legislator or in a statewide elected position to attend Tuesday’s meeting, as the decisions of PERS will directly impact your future ability to be a public servant while still receiving your retirement.”

Tuesday’s PERS meeting is a special-called board meeting. The meeting agenda can be found here.

WHO: State of Mississippi employees and retirees

WHAT: Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) Board Meeting

WHEN: Tuesday, February 12, at 11:30 a.m.

WHERE: 429 Mississippi Street, Jackson, MS

If unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, call PERS at 800-444-7377 or 601-359-3589 or email customerservice@pers.ms.gov​.