States, Federal Government Reach Settlement with Ashley Madison Owner Over Data Breach

December 14, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that the owners of a website catering primarily to married men have agreed to strengthen data security and cease deceptive practices following a July 2015 data breach in which sensitive user information was hacked and posted online.

Ruby Corp., the entity that owns AshleyMadison.com, will also make a payment of $1.657 million to the federal government and 13 states involved in an investigation of the company’s practices. Mississippi will receive $52,489.05.

The company demonstrated through financial documentation that they were unable to pay a larger amount, although if information changes, they will pay an additional $17 million.

“This breach should remind everyone to be careful about his or her online activity, because there’s always a chance that hackers will obtain their personal information,” Attorney General Hood said. “I will not condone the actions of those who used this site nor the owners who provided a means for the destruction of marriages and the break-up of families.  However, like every business, the owners of the site had an obligation to ensure that user information was secure, so they failed in their legal responsibility as well.”

The data breach exposed information from millions of individuals, including photos, usernames, email addresses, and communications with other users. Much of this information was posted publicly online. In this instance, the exposed information was not only harmful to the subscribers, but especially harmful to their families.

In the wake of the security breach it was discovered that the website had created thousands of fake user profiles, misrepresented the strength of its security, and sold a “Full Delete” option which it did not carry out in all instances.

In the settlement, the company agreed to end certain deceptive practices, to not create fake profiles, and to implement a stronger data security program.

Attorney General Hood said his office’s Cybersecurity Guide could be helpful to small businesses, corporations and government agencies. The guide includes an overview of potential cybersecurity threats to businesses, suggestions for response to those threats and for actions following a data breach or hacking incident. Download a copy of the guide here: http://www.ago.state.ms.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Cybersecurity-Guide1.pdf

For additional information about this or other consumer issues, visit the Attorney General’s website, www.AGJimHood.com, or call the Consumer Hotline at (800) 281-4418.

 


Desoto County Resident Arrested for Possession of Child Pornography

December 14, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Southaven man has been arrested and charged with one count of child exploitation.

Joseph Landon Blankenship, 30, was arrested Monday at his home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit with assistance from the Southaven Police Department and the Mississippi Department of Corrections Probation and Parole. Investigators executed a search warrant at the defendant’s home following an investigation of online activity.

Blankenship was booked into the Desoto County Jail with no bond set. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. As with all cases, 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 will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn of the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit.


Online “Blessing Loom” Spins Only Trouble

December 8, 2016

Consumers expecting to collect hundreds of dollars from an online gifting scheme will find a “Blessing Loom” that spins nothing but trouble.

“The gimmick currently making the rounds online may be referred to as a Christmas wheel, a Christmas loom or pay-it-forward loom, and with it comes assurances that participants can earn up to $800 if they themselves pay a fee and then recruit other friends to do the same. Whatever it’s called, it’s a pyramid scheme,” Attorney General Jim Hood said.

Such scams are illegal in Mississippi, and Attorney General Hood warns consumers to avoid them.

“These so-called gifting circles that are all over social media right now are nothing more than illegal Ponzi schemes,” Attorney General Hood said. “The only reason they keep circulating online is because the people who have paid money into a scheme are desperately recruiting others in hopes they can get their money back. These pyramid schemes always collapse, and I hate that some people in our state would risk losing their money, especially this close to Christmas.”

The “Blessing Loom” calls for consumers to pay $100, typically into a PayPal account, and then find others to do the same. There are no products or services offered in exchange for the payment.  Instead, in order for consumers to make money in such a scheme, other people must constantly be recruited to compensate those who joined before them. As with any pyramid scheme, at some point, the pyramid collapses and consumers lose money. So-called “Secret Sister” gift exchanges often rely on the same illogical premises.

Mississippi law prohibits participation in pyramid schemes. Violators face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

The U.S. Postal Service refers to these types of schemes as “high-tech chain letters.” It’s a violation of federal law to send chain letters that request money or other items of value while promising a large return. Participants who use the postal service at any time during these online schemes are breaking federal law.

“I encourage anyone involved in these types of illegal schemes to stop their involvement immediately and refrain from spreading word about these programs through social media,” Attorney General Hood said.

For more information about this or other consumer issues, visit www.AGJimHood.com. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline is (800) 281-4418.


Attorney General Hosts 13th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in Memory and in Honor of Mississippi Crime Victims

December 7, 2016

we-remember_tree-704x1024Attorney General Jim Hood will host the 13th annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Tuesday to remember and honor Mississippi crime victims, those who lost their lives or loved ones to violence and the dedicated individuals who work to serve victims of crime.

The event will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the lobby of the Walter Sillers Building, 550 High Street in Jackson. 

Victims and survivors of violent crimes are invited to place an ornament on the Christmas tree in the Sillers Building lobby to recognize the personal struggles associated with violence or in honor of a lost loved one. The event is organized by Attorney General Hood’s Bureau of Victim Assistance on behalf of victims of crime and the surviving family members of homicide victims.

“Everyone who is hurting needs a kind word and to know they are not alone, especially during the holidays. This time of year can be a painful reminder for victims, their families and those who have lost their loved ones to violent crimes,” Attorney General Hood said. “This ceremony is just one way we can acknowledge the struggles of crime victims and those who have lost loved ones to an act of violence.”

The Bureau of Victim Assistance of the Office of the Attorney General works diligently to increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, promote the fair and compassionate treatment of victims of crime, ensure victims are afforded their constitutional rights and considerations, and provide financial assistance with losses resulting from injuries or death.

“It’s important to take the time to recognize and thank those who work hard throughout the year to provide services to these victims, survivors and their families,” Attorney General Jim Hood said. “This event and others like it in our communities have continued to take place each year because of their immeasurable compassion and devotion.”

In fiscal year 2016, the Bureau’s Victim Assistance Program assisted 1,163 victims of violent and non-violent crimes and the Victim Compensation Program paid $3,747,754.61 in victim compensation benefits. Since 2005, the Victim Compensation Program has distributed a total of $35,159,137.19 in victim compensation benefits. The Bureau operates with revenue derived from fees and assessments imposed on criminals, court-ordered restitution and federal grants.

For more information on the services provided by the Bureau of Victim Assistance, please call (800) 829-6766 or (601) 359-6766 or visit www.agjimhood.com.


Adams County Man Sentenced for Aggravated Assault

December 2, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that the last of three men charged in connection with a February 2014 shooting death in Adams County has been convicted of aggravated assault for his role in the crime.

Alan T. Thomas, 35, of Natchez, pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated assault before Judge Forrest Johnson in Adams County Circuit Court. Thomas was sentenced to 15 years in prison with 10 months already served and 14 years, two months suspended. Additionally, Thomas must serve 10 years of post-release supervision, pay $500 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund, and pay all court costs.

The investigation did not reveal any substantial evidence that Thomas had prior knowledge of any potential criminal activity before arriving at the victim’s residence. Thomas drove his two co-defendants to the victim’s home, then joined them in entering the home prior to the commission of the attempted robbery and murder.

Maurice Davis, of Natchez was sentenced last week for manslaughter to 15 years in prison with 10 years suspended, leaving five years to serve and 10 years of post-release supervision. Jhakeel Hawkins, of Natchez, was sentenced for aggravated assault Tuesday to 15 years in prison with 10 years suspended, leaving five years to serve and 10 years of post-release supervision.

The Attorney General’s Office took over the case following a recusal by the Adams County District Attorney’s Office. The case was investigated by the Natchez Police Department and Investigator Jerry Spell of the Attorney General’s Office. Special Assistant Attorneys General Marvin Sanders and Kimberly Purdie prosecuted the case.


Attorney General Jim Hood Reminds Storm Victims of Post-Storm Dangers from Scammers

December 1, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood wants to remind Mississippians who suffer property damage as a result of severe storms or flooding to be on alert for scam artists and aware of the many dangers that come from scammers following disasters and storm damage.

“Our thoughts go out to our friends and neighbors around the state who have been impacted by the recent storms.  Our job is to ensure that Mississippi storm victims are not victimized again by unscrupulous contractors or other scam artists who prey on misfortune,” Attorney General Hood said.

Following storms like those in Mississippi this week, many scams involve tree removal and related repairs. Here are some tips to protect you and your loved ones from fraudulent tree cutters, roofers and others:

·       Verify that the company you are considering is insured. Ask for a copy of the certificate of insurance.

·       Do your research.  Contact our Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi to see if they have complaints against the company. Ask for several local references that are recent of at least one year-old and make sure to follow through on checking them. Look online at reviews of their work.

·       Take time to shop around and be suspicious of any price that seems unusually high or low. Get written estimates from more than one company and check with friends or family who’ve had tree work done recently to see what they paid and who they would recommend.

·       Ask how the job will be done and if they will perform the work according to industry standards.  For tree removal services, pay attention to the “lingo” such as “topping a tree,” “lion’s-tailing” or “using climbing spikes to prune a tree.” If you hear these sayings, the company may not follow industry standards.  “Topping” is drastically cutting back the major limbs of a tree to reduce its size.  “Lion’s tailing” is an extreme stripping out of most of the interior branches of a tree.  Sometimes these techniques will be presented as a way to save money by removing more of the tree at one time. However, these practices can injure or kill your tree a tree, and trees pruned by one of these methods usually requires more expensive restoration work in the future in order to save it.

·       Ask about cleaning up and the debris removal after the job is done. Before the job is started, ask if the company will remove the tree, damaged roof, or other items from your property as well.  If you don’t, it could lead to you having to also pay for debris removal.

Additionally, Attorney General Hood offers these tips to help keep you from becoming a victim of home repair fraud:

·       Hire only licensed and bonded contractors.  Ask to see the license and verify the bond.

·       Use Mississippi contractors if you can. You can verify the contractor’s license and if they are insured by checking online at www.msboc.us

·       Be wary of supposed contractors who come to your home soliciting business. Most reputable contractors will be busy and won’t need to solicit business.

·       Always get more than one estimate. Three bids are recommended. Ensure that all quotes are in writing for the full scope of the work.

·       Request references and follow up with these references.  Don’t assume that just because a reference is provided that it is a positive one.

·       Put all of your terms in writing. A copy of a “model contract” can be found atwww.agjimhood.com. A contractor who won’t put pricing or warranty information in writing may be planning to defraud you.

“In situations following widespread damage to homes or businesses caused by storms, tornadoes or flash flooding, crooks will be on a scavenger hunt looking to take advantage of vulnerable homeowners,” Attorney General Hood said. “These con artists will take your money and run and any unskilled contractors could potentially perform careless work.”

Attorney General Hood urges you to educate yourself on how to best protect you and your family and to take time in advance of a storm to develop and practice emergency plans. Having necessary supplies on hand, a communications plan with your loved ones in place, and insurance and financial account information ready will assist consumers during and after a storm. More information can be found in “Consumer Tips for Storm Victims” as well as a copy of the “model contract,” which will help you avoid becoming a victim of home repair fraud.  Both of these resources can be found atwww.agjimhood.com.

In the aftermath of any storm or any other time, if you suspect home repair fraud or think you may have been conned by a scam artist, please contact the Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division at (601) 359-4230or (800) 281-4418.


Long Beach Man Faces Charge for Felony Embezzlement

December 1, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Long Beach resident was arrested for one count of felony embezzlement.

Everette Waits, 51, was arrested Tuesday by investigators with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, with assistance from the Long Beach Police Department, following his indictment by a Hancock County grand jury. He was booked into the Hancock County Detention Center with a bond set at $20,000.

Waits is accused of accepting a personal check for $25,000 towards contracting work for a construction job and did not complete any of the work for a homeowner in Bay St. Louis. Waits allegedly converted the money to his own use.

The maximum sentence for embezzlement is 10 years in prison or a fine of $1,000. As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case is being investigated by Shannon Beaver and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Mark Ward of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

 


Adams County Man Sentenced for Aggravated Assault

November 30, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that an Adams County man has been convicted of aggravated assault in connection with his involvement in a February 2014 killing.

Jhakeel Hawkins, 23, of Natchez, pleaded guilty Tuesday to aggravated assault before Judge Forrest Johnson in Adams County Circuit Court. Hawkins was sentenced to 15 years in prison with 10 years suspended, leaving five years to serve. Hawkins was also sentenced to 10 years of post-release supervision and ordered to pay all court costs.

Hawkins and two co-defendants were accused of the attempted robbery and shooting death of Terrance Thornburg of Natchez in the early morning hours of Feb. 23, 2014. Maurice Davis, one of the co-defendants, was sentenced last week for manslaughter. The third co-defendant is awaiting trial.

“This is the second individual now sentenced to spend time behind bars for his role in this senseless act of violence,” Attorney General Hood said. “I appreciate all the work done on this case by my office and the Natchez Police Department, and I thank Judge Johnson for his sentence today.”

The Attorney General’s Office took over the case following a recusal by the Adams County District Attorney’s Office. The case was investigated by the Natchez Police Department and Investigator Jerry Spell of the Attorney General’s Office. Special Assistant Attorneys General Marvin Sanders and Kimberly Purdie prosecuted the case.