CONSUMER ALERT: Elders Targeted in “Grandparent Scam”

June 26, 2017

Attorney General Jim Hood’s Consumer Protect Division has seen a recent increase in cases where grandparents have been the targets of wire fraud scams, commonly known as “grandparent scams.” General Hood is issuing a reminder to Mississippians to remain vigilant of these scammers and to know how to protect yourself—or your loved ones—in these situations.

Identifying the grandparent scam is easy: a theme of the scam is the caller’s request for the grandparent or intended victim to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram or to provide bank account routing numbers to the scammers. Reports of this scam have been made across the state, but Harrison and Hinds Counties appear to be specifically targeted.

“Wiring money is identical to mailing cash,” said General Hood. “There are no protections for the sender and no way to reverse the transaction, trace the money, or recover payment from the telephone con artists. These scammers will try to convince their victims to send any amount—from several hundred to several thousand dollars—and they may even call back hours or days later asking for more money if they were successful the first time.”

A common scenario of the grandparent scam involves a scammer frantically contacting their victim claiming to be a loved one on vacation in some sort of distress or financial bind. The scammer will usually ask the victim to wire transfer money and could also ask for their bank account numbers. Scammers generally pose as a grandchild, family member or even a close friend or neighbor as they target grandparents or elder individuals who may be unsuspecting.

Attorney General Hood offers these tips to protect you from becoming a victim of the grandparent scam or other ones similar to it:

  • Do not wire any amount of money unless you have properly assessed the situation or in some way verified with others close to your loved one that they are actually in trouble.
  • Be suspicious if your loved one requests or demands that you keep the phone call a secret by claiming to be very embarrassed and/or scared.
  • Avoid acting out of a sense of urgency if you receive communication from a “loved one” (scammer) who claims to be traveling and is in some sort of distress or financial bind asking you to urgently wire transfer them money.
  • Immediately after receiving the call or message, attempt calling your “loved one” back at the telephone number through which you normally reach him or her if they reached out or attempted to reach out to you using an odd or long distance number.

“Our goal is to help educate and make our senior citizens and loved ones aware of these kinds of unfortunate and disheartening scams,” General Hood said. “I strongly urge you to never give out any personal identifying information or account numbers to anyone unless you are certain the individual is who they claim to be and will use the information for the reason they have requested it.”

If you suspect you have already been the victim of a scam, or the intended victim of a scam, immediately report it to local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230 or 1-800-281-4418. Consumers should additionally call and report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Click here to download the Consumer’s Guide to Avoiding the Grandparent Scam (see attached).


Hattiesburg Man Arrested on Charge of Distributing Child Pornography

June 26, 2017

Today, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the arrest of a Hattiesburg man charged with one count of child exploitation.

Matthew Gospodinovich, 34, was arrested at his home Thursday by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit, who were assisted by Hattiesburg Police Department. Subsequent to a search warrant, he was arrested for one count of child exploitation and booked in the Forrest County Detention Center with a $20,000 bond, prior to his initial appearance before Judge Wes Curry.

If convicted, Gospodinovich faces up to 40 years in prison. 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 the Mississippi Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and it will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.

 


Pine Belt Man Arrested on Child Porn Possession Charges

June 21, 2017

Today, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the arrest of a Brooklyn, Mississippi man who was charged with two counts of child exploitation.

Eugene Rhodes, 58, was arrested at his home Tuesday by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit with assistance from the Perry County Sheriff’s Office. He was booked in the Perry County Detention Center prior to his initial appearance before Judge Carl Griffin.

If convicted of both charges, Rhodes faces up to 80 years in prison and $100,000 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 the Mississippi Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and it will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.


Consumer Alert: Staying Weather Aware, Avoiding Scams This Hurricane Season

June 20, 2017

With the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season underway, Attorney General Jim Hood urges Mississippians to make provisions for possible tropical storms and hurricanes in the upcoming months.

Hurricanes and tropical storms can bring storm surges, flooding, and high winds. These storms have the ability to cause massive destruction from hundreds of miles inland, and General Hood wants to be sure residents are prepared both before and after the storm.

“We are getting the message out now so people can be ready to respond if they are in a hurricane’s path,” said General Hood. “After a storm hits, the recovery process begins immediately, and we want to make sure Mississippians know how to protect their families and their homes from also falling victim to fraud during that time.” 

Here are several ways Mississippians can be proactive in preparing for future storm threats:

  • Assemble an emergency supply kit. Supply this kit with flashlights, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, and duplicates of crucial information if evacuation becomes a reality.
  • Decide which evacuation route would be best for your family by reviewing a hurricane evacuation map, and plan how all family members and pets will evacuate safely. Contact your local emergency management agency for more information.
  • If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate, supply your home with adequate amounts of food and water in case you lose power for several days. Also consider any special circumstances for individuals with disabilities or the elderly, and plan according to their needs.
  • Find an emergency notification system for your area. To find these alerts, search the word “alerts” on the internet with your town, city, or county name.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division also has resources available through an online guide for those who fall victim to a storm. The guide includes tips for natural disaster recovery and how to avoid home-repair scams. It also contains a “model contract,” which will help you avoid becoming a victim of home repair fraud.

Click here to download the Consumer Tips for Storm Victims guide. 

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

For additional tips and services on preparing for possible hurricanes, visit https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.


Booneville Man Sentenced to 25 Years for Child Exploitation

June 20, 2017

Today, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the sentencing of 46-year-old Brian Michael Kemp for child exploitation and tampering with evidence.

Kemp, of Booneville, pled guilty Friday to one count of child exploitation and one count of tampering with physical evidence in an open plea before the Prentiss County Circuit Court. He was indicted in 2016 for possessing child pornography and intentionally destroying the evidence.

“Our office is dedicated to taking child predators far away from innocent children,” said General Hood. “Our cybercrime division was assisted by Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar and his department in this case, and this sentencing is the result of their partnership through our Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce.”

Judge Jim Pounds sentenced Kemp to serve a term of 25 years in the custody of MDOC, with 18 years suspended and seven years to serve, followed by five years post-release supervision. Kemp, who must register as a sex offender, was also ordered to pay all court costs and $4,000 in fines. Those fines include payments to the Attorney General’s Office for investigative costs, the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund, and the MS Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

This case was investigated by Jay Houston with the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce. It was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorneys General Brandon Ogburn and Mark McClinton.


Meridian Registered Nurse Arrested on Medicaid Fraud Charges

June 13, 2017

Today, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the arrest of a Meridian registered nurse who is accused of stealing prescription drugs intended for several of her patients.

Kristina Nechol Lewis, 31, was arrested Friday following an indictment by a Lauderdale County Grand Jury on three counts of obtaining possession of a controlled substance by fraud, misrepresentation or subterfuge.

At the time the crimes were allegedly committed, Lewis worked as an RN at the Golden Living Center in Meridian. The indictment charges Lewis with obtaining Norco containing Hydrocodon, a Schedule II controlled substance, from three patients at the center, and converting it to her own use.

Lewis was booked into the Lauderdale County Jail with a bond set at $15,000. If convicted of the three counts, Lewis faces up to 15 years in prison (five years on each count) and a total fine of $3,000. As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case is being investigated by Trey Rogers of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Prosecution will be handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Tina Herron.


Hinds County Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for 2014 Jackson Murder

June 9, 2017

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Clinton man has been sentenced to life in prison for the 2014 shooting death of a Hinds County man.

Hinds County Circuit Court Judge William Gowan sentenced 25-year-old Michael Sorrell to life in prison Thursday for first degree murder. Sorrell shot and killed 26-year-old LaCordne Green at the Arbor Park Apartments on Shaw Road in Jackson on August 20, 2014. Sorrell was also sentenced to a concurrent 10 years for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced as a habitual offender because of two prior convictions for robbery and receiving stolen goods.

“I am glad to see this criminal off the streets for good,” said General Hood. “It is the duty of our office to keep Mississippians safe, and I thank Judge Gowan for his sentencing and the jury for their service hearing this case.”

Sorrell was indicted by a Hinds County Grand Jury in December 2014. The multi-count indictment charged Sorrell with first degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The indictment stated that Sorrell was previously convicted of a felony robbery in May 2014, and for receiving stolen goods in March 2011. Court testimony revealed that Green was visiting a friend at the apartments when Sorrell attempted to rob him. Green was shot in the neck during the robbery attempt, and the bullet exited his right arm.

The case was investigated by Jackson Police Department and Perry Tate of the Attorney General’s Office Public Integrity Division. It was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Marvin Sanders.


Laurel Woman Sentenced to 20 Years for Exploiting Vulnerable Person

June 2, 2017

Today, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the conviction of a woman who financially exploited a vulnerable person in the amount of more than $100,000.

Lisa Byrd Mozingo, 54, of Laurel, pled guilty last week to three counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person in Jones County. While employed as a caregiver for the victim, Mozingo transferred money belonging to the victim to her own account, and, by power of attorney, bought cars and made substantial withdrawals and transfers from the victim’s accounts. She converted more than $100,000 in money, silver coins, and other purchases during the nearly two years of her employment as the victim’s caregiver.

Jones County Circuit Court Judge Dal Williamson sentenced Mozingo to 20 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with 10 to serve, 10 suspended, and five post release supervision. She was also ordered to pay restitution of $100,000 and complete mandatory community service upon release.

“I thank Judge Williamson for sentencing this woman to jail and ordering nearly full restitution,” said General Hood. “Not only is what she did against the law, but it is morally wrong to take advantage of someone for whom you have been entrusted to care.”

This case was investigated by Investigator Jamie Patrick and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Marvin Sanders.