The busiest shopping days of the year are just a few days away, and Attorney General Jim Hood is reminding shoppers of ways to protect themselves both personally and financially this holiday season.
“In the past, shoppers only had to worry about someone snatching their wallets to get their cash and credit or debit cards. Now, our account information can be stolen from us even when we are shopping online in the safety of our homes,” said General Hood. “Our credit and debit card payment information can be stolen by an invisible thief who may have hacked into the retailer’s payment system or even our own computer systems. During the holiday season, consumers should exercise extreme caution whether they are shopping at stores or online.”
The following are safety measures from the AG’s Consumer Protection Division:
•Be self-aware. Always park in well-lit areas and try to place purchases in the trunk so valuable items are out of view in your car.
•Know when a deal is too good. The old saying “it’s too good to be true” has stuck around for a reason: if it seems too good to believe, it probably is a scam.
•Keep up with your purchases by checking credit card and bank statements throughout and after the shopping season. Recognizing an unauthorized user will be more of a challenge during the high volume of the holiday season. Consumers should regularly monitor their credit card and bank statements especially during and following the holidays.
•If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately to your bank. It can take seven to 10 days for a card to be reissued if it is compromised. As a result, shoppers need to be prepared to use cash in the event their card is compromised so that they are not prevented from completing their holiday shopping or essential purchases.
•Understand return policies. If you need to make returns, you want to be sure you do not get caught out of money for not following the return policies set by each store.
•Only buy from trusted stores and salespeople. It’s easy to get into a giving mood during the holidays, but don’t let a generous heart fog your commonsense when unscrupulous salespeople try to take advantage of your wallet. When shopping online, check feedback for particular sellers when applicable. Be wary of sites that have grammatical errors, broken links, or other signs that may indicate lack of trustworthiness.
•Watch out for card “skimming,” both at ATMs, gas pumps, or any other place you may use a debit or credit card. If you see a card reader that appears to have been tampered with, that could be a sign of “skimming,” where criminals install small devices in the machines that steal sensitive financial information.
•Check a website’s security before submitting a payment over the internet. Websites should be encrypted and secure. Look at the site’s URL, which should start with “https” and/or contain a padlock symbol.
•Always use computers or mobile devices with up-to-date software, anti-virus, and anti-malware programs. Never open links or attachments from unknown sources, since this is a way for criminals to steal identities. Do not email financial information.
To report fraud or scams this holiday season, contact the AG’s Consumer Protection Division at (800) 281-4418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan Wayne Osborne, 57, of Vicksburg, was sentenced last week to pay $40,925.00 in back child support after failing to make payments for nearly two years, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Osborne pleaded guilty and was sentenced Thursday before Warren County Circuit Court Judge James Chaney. He was also sentenced to five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with five years suspended, and seven years supervised probation under the non-adjudication statute. He was ordered to pay a $100 investigative fee to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office and a $100 assessment to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund.
Osborne turned himself in to authorities on July 12 after being indicted by a Warren County grand jury in May on one count of felony non-support of a child.
“This prosecution shows our office’s commitment to Mississippi’s children,” said General Hood. “Children need the support of both parents, and I thank Judge Chaney for requiring this man to pay back what he legally owes his child.”
This case was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Purdie with the AG’s Child Desertion Unit.
Attorney General Jim Hood joined 44 states and territories this week in calling for a repeal of a federal law which strips the DEA of its ability to hold drug manufacturers and distributors accountable as it relates to the oversupply of opioids.
General Hood and the other attorneys general sent a letter to Congress Monday asking for the repeal of the “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016,” which weakens enforcement efforts on drug distributors by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Prior to this law, the DEA had the authority to immediately freeze shipments of narcotics from distributors that it deemed suspicious. Now, the DEA is required to prove the company’s actions pose “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” something critics of the law believe hinders fast action in stopping the oversupply of drugs to pharmacies. In the letter, the group of attorneys general calls the new law “a step backward in our collective effort to prevent the diversion and misuse of prescription drugs.”
A scathing investigation published last month by The Washington Post and aired on “60 Minutes” revealed the ease with which this bill made its way into law, and since then, General Hood has inquired into looking more closely at what role these distributors have played in creating and prolonging the opioid crisis.
“This bill is essentially paving the way for more people to be killed by opioids because it makes access to the drug that much easier, and Congress needs to own up to their role in this epidemic by repealing the law immediately,” said General Hood. “Mississippi is in the middle of this crisis just like the rest of the country, and if we need to take legal action against the companies distributing these drugs, then we absolutely will. I know too many families personally affected by this, and after reading that story last month, there’s clearly more we can do to fight it so that more families don’t experience the loss of a loved one.”
The letter sent to Congress was also signed by the following states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
A Pass Christian man and his girlfriend are behind bars today after being arrested on charges of possession of child pornography and gratification of lust, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Breland Sellers, 29, was arrested Tuesday by the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Division and charged with one count of child exploitation for possession of child pornography. Sellers was booked into the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office then transferred to the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office. His bond was set at $75,000. If convicted, Sellers faces up to 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Kristina Lynn Crose, 28, was arrested Wednesday by the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Division and charged with one count of gratification of lust. Crose was booked into the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office. Her bond was set at $50,000. If convicted, Crose faces up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
A charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.
Assistance with these arrests was provided by the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, both affiliates of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Additional assistance was provided by the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.
After reaching a settlement in January with money-transfer service Western Union over money laundering and consumer fraud violations, Mississippians who were deceived into sending payments to scammers using Western Union’s wire transfer over the past 13 years may now apply for compensation, Attorney General Jim Hood announced today.
Mississippians may be eligible to receive compensation if they were a victim of a fraud-induced transfer using Western Union between January 1, 2004, and January 19, 2017. A typical fraud transfer in this case would include a scammer getting their victims to wire them money by making the victim believe it was for a lottery, family emergency, online dating, and other tactics.
Compensation for victims of fraud will come from a $586 million fund administered by the Department of Justice’s Victim Asset Recovery Program. This fund is related to a multi-state settlement with General Hood and 49 other states, the District of Columbia, and Western Union that was first announced in January.
All complaints that were filed with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office covering the relevant time period were sent to Western Union after the settlement was announced. Those individuals and any Mississippians who reported to Western Union or another government agency that they had been the victim of a scam using Western Union will be sent a claim form in the mail. The claim form will be sent from the settlement administrator, Gilardi & Co., in the next two weeks. The form will contain instructions explaining how consumers may file their claim to receive compensation.
However, if you did not previously file a complaint, you may still be eligible to submit a claim directly to Western Union. If you believe you may have an eligible claim, please visit http://www.westernunionremission.com or call 1-844-319-2124 for more information on how to file a claim.
Filing a claim is free, so consumers should not pay anyone to file a claim on their behalf. No one associated with the claims process will ever call to ask for consumers’ bank account or credit card number.
“For years, Western Union allowed scammers to use its money transfer system to get payments from victims, even though they received hundreds of thousands of complaints about money transfers that were induced by fraud and deceit,” said General Hood. “Because they chose to ignore the problem instead of implementing policies and procedures to better protect consumers, they are now having to reimburse consumers for these loses.”
All completed claims forms must be mailed back to the settlement administrator by February 12, 2018. The Attorney General’s Office encourages Mississippians to reach out to our Consumer Protection Division if they have questions or concerns at 1-800-281-4418 or email@example.com.
A Hattiesburg man will serve five years in prison for possessing child pornography and sharing those images over the internet, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Matthew Bryce Gospodinovich, 35, of Hattiesburg, pleaded guilty Monday to a bill of information to one count of child exploitation. Forrest County Circuit Court Judge Bob Helfrich sentenced Gospodinovich to 40 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with five years to serve and the remaining 35 years to be served on post-release supervision. He must pay a $2,500 fine, $200 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund, and all court costs, in addition to registering as a sex offender.
Gospodinovich was arrested in June by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cybercrime Unit, with assistance from the Hattiesburg Police Department. Investigators discovered multiple pornographic images of girls in his possession, which he was obtaining online.
“This man is just one of many who thinks he can remain anonymous on the internet while sharing pictures of children being sexually abused,” said General Hood. “He tried to hide, but our investigators found him and will find others like him out there. We will not let people who take advantage of children hide behind a computer screen.”
This case was investigated by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.
Jackson resident W. David Watkins turned himself in to authorities Wednesday night after being indicted on two counts for embezzling bond money intended for a development project he managed, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Watkins, 68, turned himself in to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department on one count of wire fraud and one count of embezzlement. The indictment, which was handed down in October by a Madison County grand jury, states he took $587,084.34 in bond proceeds from the Mississippi Business Finance Corporation while employed as the managing member of development company Retro Metro, LLC in June 2011.
According to the indictment, the bonds were intended for construction costs for a project financed through taxable revenue bonds for which BankPlus in Ridgeland served as Trustee. The bond money was ultimately put toward Watkins’ own use. The wire fraud charge stems from the scheme being transmitted by telephone, wire, or other communication across county lines.
If convicted on all counts, Watkins faces up to 25 years in prison and $30,000 in fines. A charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case was investigated by Roger Wade and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Robert G. “Bob” Anderson, both with the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division.
Two southeast Mississippi men were sentenced Tuesday in Forrest County Circuit Court after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography and child exploitation charges, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Christopher Britt, 37, of Petal, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography, and Timothy Cochran, 51, of McLain, pleaded guilty to one count of child exploitation. Judge Jon Mark Weathers sentenced both men to 40 years in prison with 10 years to serve and 30 years post-release supervision. They must register as sex offenders and cannot have contact with victims in these cases. Additionally, they must both pay $1,000 to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund and $1,000 to the Children’s Trust Fund.
Britt was arrested in January after a report from social-media platform Twitter alerted attorney general investigators he posted images to his account of children being sexually abused. When investigators responded, they found numerous other images and videos in his possession. The images posted online and in his possession ranged from those of toddlers to teenagers.
Cochran was arrested in August 2014 after the mother of a Forrest County 10-year-old found he had been asking her daughter to send him nude pictures of herself over text message. Cochran posed as a classmate of the girl’s, and after multiple attempts of telling the child what types of nude pictures to send, Cochran did not receive the images he wanted.
“These two cases are perfect examples of why we stress to parents the importance of knowing what your child is looking at on their phone,” said General Hood. “The digital world in which we live can be dangerous to our children with people like this out there, and the first thing we as parents can do to protect our children from predators is to be aware and talk with them about being careful on the internet.”
These cases were investigated by the AG’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force with assistance from the Petal Police Department, which is an ICAC affiliate. The cases were prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn with the AG’s Cybercrime Unit.