During Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Take Steps to Prevent Online Crime

October 14, 2016
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Internet crime is constantly taking place, and it often goes undetected. As technology continues to improve and play a greater role in our lives, criminals are also refining their skills online.

Attorney General Jim Hood today asked Mississippi consumers and businesses to continue to be cautious of Internet crime. In recognition of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is observed annually in October, Attorney General Hood offered advice for Mississippians about how they can protect themselves.

“Cyber crime in its many forms can jeopardize a victim’s reputation, threaten personal safety and lead to financial ruin,” Attorney General Hood said. “We encourage consumers to do as much as possible on the front end to prevent the possibility of becoming a victim of cyber crimes such as identity theft, financial fraud, e-mail spoofing, or intellectual property crime.”

Attorney General Hood urges businesses and consumers to look for ways to be more secure online by applying safe cybersecurity practices.

“Companies and agencies must take basic precautions to block cyber thieves from their computer systems and electronic data to prevent a potential data breach. It is very important to train employees and not just assume they know computer security basics,” Attorney General Hood said. “My office compiled a Cybersecurity Guide that addresses growing trends and responses in a single guide. The Guide was designed especially to help small businesses, but it may also be helpful to larger companies and government agencies as well.”

The unique Guide includes a list of suggested standards, a list of what not to do and an appendix of important FTC cases which provide further guidance. Additionally, the Guide provides an overview of cybersecurity threats facing small businesses, a summary of several practices that help manage risks posed by these threats and a response plan in the event of a cyber incident. (Consumers can download a copy of the guide at http://www.ago.state.ms.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Cybersecurity-Guide1.pdf)

As for Mississippi consumers, Attorney General Hood encourages them to follow these simple steps to ensure the security of their personal information online:

·        Keep your private information private. Avoid sharing your full name, address, and other personal information online unless you are providing that information to a trusted recipient in a secure online transaction. Frequently check a website’s privacy options to ensure you have enabled the highest level of privacy as options may get updated or changed completely. Don’t email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information unless it is encrypted.

·        When in doubt, throw it out. Links in emails, tweets, posts, and online advertisements are often how criminals compromise your computer or mobile device. If it looks suspicious, it’s best to delete it and do not click on any portion of the link. If appropriate, mark the message as “junk email” so that future messages from the sender do not end up in your inbox.

·        Set strong passwords. Setting passwords that are long, unique, and hard to guess is one of the most important things you can do to protect your online accounts. Changing passwords regularly and using different passwords for different accounts goes a long way to protecting your online information.

·        Secure your accounts. Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many websites now offer additional ways for you to verify your identity before you conduct business on their sites, such as two-factor authentication.

·        Secure your mobile device. In order to prevent theft and unauthorized access, use a passcode to lock your mobile device and always lock it when it’s not in use. Never leave your mobile device unattended in a public place.

·        Timely update antivirus and other cybersecurity software on  your home and work computers.

·        Monitor your online bank and credit accounts regularly.

For more information, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at (800) 281-4418 or visit www.AGJimHood.com .


Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Arraigned for Possession of Methamphetamine

October 13, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Edwin Glenn Hamilton has been formally charged for possession of methamphetamine.

Hamilton, 60, of Maben, was arrested on June 16 and indicted by a Clay County grand jury last week for one count of possession of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance. Hamilton was arraigned Wednesday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court before Judge James T. Kitchens, Jr.

Hamilton was released Wednesday on a $5,000 bond. If convicted of the charge, he faces up to eight years in prison and a $50,000 fine. 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.

The District Attorney’s Office recused itself from the case. The case was investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Prosecution will be handled by Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander.


October 11, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Hattiesburg man has been arrested for sexual battery.

James Haydel, 23, was arrested today by investigator Trey Rogers with the Attorney General’s Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit following an indictment by a Forrest County grand jury for one count of sexual battery of a vulnerable person.

Haydel is accused of engaging in sexual penetration with a vulnerable person who was a patient in a Hattiesburg healthcare facility at which Haydel at the time was working as a Clinical Assistant.

Haydel was booked into the Forrest County Jail. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 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 will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Tina Herron of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. 

Attorney General Delivers Nearly $34 Million to the State Treasury; Recommends Money go to Offset Budget Shortfalls for Vital State Services

October 10, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that nearly $34 million recovered by his office was delivered to the state Treasury today, and he encouraged the Mississippi Legislature to use the money to offset budget shortfalls for vital state services.

“Hopefully, this will undo some of the damage inflicted to agency budgets because of state leaders’ untimely devotion to tax breaks for big businesses,” Attorney General Hood said. “Those misguided corporate tax cuts along with the problems associated with Senate Bill 2362 and the Legislature’s mathematical error have led to a reduction of beds at the State Hospital, layoffs at the Department of Revenue and the Forestry Commission, and closure of National Guard armories. Lawmakers will fall far short of collecting the $188 million that they anticipated collecting in the special funds sweep, and I’m concerned that there are more significant budget cuts ahead.”

During his tenure, Attorney General Hood has recovered more than $3 billion from corporations that have harmed Mississippi consumers. He said legislators should use the money received today to make sure those same Mississippi consumers are not harmed further by an inability of state government to meet their day-to-day needs.

The majority of the $33,951,305 delivered to the Treasury is from a judgment against pharmaceutical manufacturer Sandoz Inc., which defrauded the state by manipulating the prices it charged for its drugs to the state Medicaid program.


October 6, 2016

As some Mississippians are filling their gas tanks, criminals are emptying consumers’ wallets through high-tech theft known as credit- and debit-card skimming.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s Cyber Crime Unit is assisting local law enforcement agencies that are investigating skimming at several Jackson area gas stations. Thieves have attached small devices to fuel pumps that capture account information when a consumer swipes a card to pay for fuel. These small devices are almost impossible for consumers to notice. These devices are also sometimes used to steal account information at bank ATMs.

Attorney General Hood today warned consumers to be alert for possible skimming and to diligently monitor account activity to protect against these high-tech thieves.

“These devices may go undetected for weeks, all the while gathering sensitive account information from unsuspecting consumers,” Attorney General Hood said. “Consumers need to call their financial institutions immediately if they see any unauthorized activity on their accounts, and watch closely for signs of tampering when using gas pumps or ATMs. In the meantime, our office will continue working with other law enforcement agencies in Mississippi to shut down this type of crime.”

The Secret Service estimates that skimming is a multi-billion dollar industry for identity thieves.

To thwart the criminals, some fuel companies have begun installing alarms, special locks or security tape on their pumps.  Attorney General Hood suggested some additional steps consumers can take to avoid being a victim:

*Use pumps closer to the entrance to the service station or convenience store. Skimmers generally target the pumps that are farther away from most activity.

*Pay with cash or pay the attendant directly.

*If using a debit card, choose the option to process the payment as credit so that thieves cannot obtain your debit card PIN.

*Ask gas station owners what safety measures they use and how often they check pumps for skimming devices.

In addition, Attorney General Hood encouraged consumers to review account statements and check bank balances routinely. This is especially important for debit card users whose accounts may be compromised, since thieves may be taking money directly from the account.

Consumers should report the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card or card number to the card issuer as soon as possible. Federal law protects credit card users against liability for unauthorized charges if the card number, but not the card, is stolen. Likewise, debit card users are not liable for transactions using a stolen card number (but not card itself) if reported within 60 days of the card statement being sent to them. For more information about liability protection related to lost or stolen cards or card numbers, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0213-lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-and-debit-cards

To learn more about skimming or other consumer issues, visit www.AGJimHood.com or call Attorney General Hood’s Consumer Protection Hotline, (800) 281-4418.

Wesson Resident Going to Prison for Child Exploitation

October 3, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Lincoln County man is going to prison for possessing child pornography.

Joseph Freeman, 55, of Wesson, pleaded guilty today to one count of child exploitation before Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge David Strong. Freeman was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 30 of those years suspended, leaving 10 years to serve, followed by five years of post-release supervision. Freeman must serve his sentence day-for-day without the possibility of parole. Freeman was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund, $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund, an additional $5,000 in fines, and must register as a sex offender.

Freeman was arrested April 7 at his home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit with assistance from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. It was discovered through an investigation that Freeman was in possession of electronic media which contained child sexual exploitation videos.

“There is no pity in Mississippi for this defendant or other predators who are targeting our kids online,” Attorney General Hood said. “We appreciate Judge Strong for putting this defendant behind bars, then ordering him to pay a hefty fine. Our office will continue to join forces with state and local agencies to track down these predators to help protect our children.”

This case was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn of the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit.

Mississippi, Other States Reach Settlement with Retailer Whose Practices Unfairly Impacted Military, Veterans

October 3, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today a settlement with retailer USA Discounters, which is accused of unfairly impacting military personnel and veterans with its debt collection practices.

USA Discounters agreed to provide debt relief and other restitution measures to affected consumers across the country. The estimated value of the relief is $95.9 million, with active-duty military and veterans being the primary beneficiaries.

USA Discounters, also doing business as USA Living and Fletcher’s Jewelers, sold consumer products, including furniture, appliances, televisions, computers, smart phones, jewelry and other consumer goods principally on credit. USA Discounters typically marketed to members of the military and veterans, advertising that military, veterans and government employees would never be denied credit for goods purchased from the retailer.

Attorney General Hood, as well as 49 other state attorneys general, alleged that USA Discounters engaged in unfair, abusive, false and deceptive acts and practices. For example, in collecting on consumer debts, USA Discounters constantly contacted service members’ chains-of-command, and caused some service members to lose security clearances and face demotions. USA Discounters is also alleged to have only filed its lawsuits in a few Virginia jurisdictions, no matter the service member’s location, deployment status, or residence.

In addition, the states alleged USA Discounters sold overpriced household goods at high interest rates, often using the military allotment system to guarantee payment.

“Our men and women in uniform, as well as our veterans, deserve better than what they were subjected to at the hands of this company,” Attorney General Hood said. “These unfair, abusive tactics meant higher prices and high interest rates for our military families, who in turn were routinely at a disadvantage because of the company’s improper debt collection practices.” 

Among other relief, USA Discounters has agreed to write off all accounts with balances for consumers whose last contract was before June 1, 2012, and correct the negative comment from the company on those consumers’ credit reports. That’s valued at approximately $71 million.

The company will apply a $100 credit to all accounts for contracts dated after June 1, 2012, and correct the negative credit report comment. This applies to debts not already discharged during bankruptcy proceedings (USA Discounters closed its stores last year and later declared bankruptcy).

The company will also write off all judgments not obtained in the correct state. Attorney General Hood and other AGs focused on judgments obtained in a state different from where the debtor resided because it impacted service members the hardest. Service members were often unable to travel to another state to defend themselves in court while stationed at a different state military base or overseas.

The approximate value of the restitution to consumers in Mississippi is $887,110.81. This settlement is expected to impact 320 Mississippians.

For more information on the settlement, consumers can contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at (800) 281-4418 or visit www.AGJimHood.com.

Poplarville Resident Going to Prison for Child Exploitation

September 29, 2016
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Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Poplarville man is going to prison for possessing child pornography.

Jeffrey A. Davis, 61, pleaded guilty today to one count of child exploitation before Pearl River County Circuit Court Judge Anthony A. Mozingo. Davis was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 35 of those years suspended, leaving five years to serve, followed by five years of post-release supervision. Davis was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund, $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund, and must register as a sex offender.

Davis was arrested in November 2014 at his home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit. It was discovered through an investigation that Davis was using an online photo sharing service to share and view child pornography.

“We work closely with law enforcement agencies across the state and nation to crack down on Internet crimes against children, and in this instance we acted on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Cyber Tipline,” Attorney General Hood said. “We’ll keep up our cooperative efforts using the latest technology and investigative techniques to track down the evil predators online who commit crimes against our children.”

This case was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn of the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit.