AG Hood Encourages Consumers to Shop Safely, Smartly

November 21, 2016

In a Thanksgiving weekend tradition that’s become as common as turkey and the Egg Bowl, millions of Americans will try to cash in on holiday shopping bargains this week as they descend on retail stores for “Black Friday” sales.

According to the National Retail Federation, more than 137 million people will hit retail stores or go online to shop this weekend. “Black Friday” is the most popular shopping day of the year. The Monday after Thanksgiving, known as “Cyber Monday,” has become the big day for consumers to go online for deals.

As the holiday shopping season begins, Attorney General Jim Hood encourages consumers to shop smartly and safely. Attorney General Hood urged consumers to take the time to protect themselves against fraud and scams and safeguard their personal information.

“Shopping for Christmas gifts is stressful enough without having to worry about criminals lurking to steal or commit fraud this time of year,” Attorney General Hood said. “Fortunately, there are some simple steps consumers can take to avoid con artists. From being aware of your surroundings while out shopping, or being aware of online safety measures when on the internet, consumers can successfully manage the holiday shopping rush.”

Attorney General Hood’s Consumer Protection Division has produced a detailed brochure, “Consumer Safety Tips for Holiday Shopping,” that is available to download on the Attorney General’s website, www.AGJimHood.com

Here is some of the advice the Consumer Protection Division offers for safe, secure holiday shopping:

·         While out shopping, avoid walking alone and always be aware of your surroundings. Many malls and shopping centers provide security escorts upon request. Park in well-lit areas and avoid leaving valuables or gift purchases in view inside the car.

·         Remember that “Black Friday” deals aren’t always the best deals. Sales times and quantities may be limited, so spend some time shopping around before committing to a particular purchase. Keep in mind that some retailers may offer “sale adjustments” if you buy an item at regular price and it goes on sale later. Some stores may offer a credit or refund of the discounted amount.

·         Ask retailers about return and exchange policies, which differ depending upon the retailer or the item purchased. Some retailers may not accept a return in an open box, or, if they do, they may charge a “restocking fee.” Clearance items may not be eligible for return or exchange in some circumstances.

·         Carry only the cash and credit cards that are necessary, and immediately report lost or stolen cards to the card issuer and local law enforcement.

·         Watch out for ATMs and credit-card readers that appear to have been tampered with, as that could be a sign of “skimming,” where criminals install small devices in the machines that steal sensitive financial information.

·          When shopping online, know the reputation of the seller and be aware of the site’s refund policies and shipping/handling fees.

·         Before submitting a payment over the internet, make sure the website is encrypted and secure (The site’s URL 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.

·         Maintain receipts and monitor credit card transactions. Make sure credit card and bank statements accurately match sales receipts. Promptly report any problems to the card issuer.

The “Consumer Safety Tips for Holiday Shopping” brochure, which contains more advice, can be downloaded on the Attorney General’s website, www.AGJimHood.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/mississippiattorneygeneral) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/MississippiAGO).

To report fraud or scams this holiday season, contact Attorney General Hood’s Consumer Protection Division at (800) 281-4418.

 

 

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Union County Woman Going to Prison for False Pretense

November 17, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Blue Springs resident is going to prison for attempting to profit off the murder of a Panola County teenager by using the murder as a way to fraudulently collect donations.

Janet Lee Posey, 41, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of false pretense before Union County Circuit Court Judge John A. Gregory.  Posey was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with three of those years suspended, leaving seven years to serve. Judge Gregory ordered her to serve three years of post-release supervision and pay $1,433 in court costs.

Posey was arrested in December 2014 by investigators with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the Union County Sheriff’s Office following an investigation that revealed Posey had started a fraudulent internet scam after the murder of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers. The investigation revealed that Posey attempted to collect donations for the family without their consent or knowledge.

“This defendant posed as a family member of the victim and created a Facebook page in an attempt to convince people to donate money to her, where she intended to take it for her own personal use,” Attorney General Hood said. “Her acts are reprehensible. Fortunately, we caught her before she raised any money. We thank Judge Gregory for his strong sentence, and I would like to thank Sheriff Jimmy Edwards and his deputies for their dedication and assistance on this case.”

The case was investigated by Miller Faulk and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Mark Ward of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

 


TUPELO MAN GOING TO PRISON FOR CHILD EXPLOITATION

November 16, 2016

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

Austin Long, 64, appeared Monday before Lee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Gardner and entered an open plea to a bill of information of one count of child exploitation. An open plea means the defendant refuses to accept the state’s recommendation and instead throws himself or herself at the mercy of the court. As a result, Judge Gardner sentenced Long to 20 years in prison with 17 of those years suspended, leaving three years to serve, followed by five years of post-release supervision. Long was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund, $100 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund and a $1,000 fine. Additionally, Long must register as a sex offender.

Long was arrested last December at his home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit with assistance of the Tupelo Police Department. It was discovered through an investigation that Long was using the internet to communicate via chat rooms and emails with other child predators to receive sexually explicit images and videos of children under 12.

“This case originally started as a cyber tip that was sent to our office following the result of an investigation in a different case worked by an affiliate of the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children task force,” Attorney General Jim Hood said. “We appreciate the dedication and hard work of the Tupelo Police Department and we thank Judge Gardner for giving this defendant time to serve behind bars to think about his perverted acts he committed against our children.”

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


ATTORNEY GENERAL JIM HOOD ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH ADOBE RESOLVING INVESTIGATION INTO UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO SERVERS

November 14, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that software company Adobe Systems has agreed to take additional steps to protect consumer data following a 2013 data breach of servers containing the information of more than a half-million Adobe customers.

The company has already instituted free credit monitoring for the affected consumers. And, today, as part of a settlement with Mississippi and 14 other states, Adobe will pay $1 million to the states and institute new policies and practices for improving data security.

Mississippi will receive $38,604 in the settlement.

“Consumers should have the confidence that large corporations are making their best effort to secure and protect sensitive financial information,” Attorney General Hood said. “The policies being implemented by Adobe will be a step in the right direction, but I encourage all corporations that handle consumer data to learn lessons from this data breach and take the time and expense to ensure that consumer data is secure. My office compiled a Cybersecurity Guide that addresses growing trends and responses in a single guide that was designed especially to help small businesses, but it may also be helpful to larger companies and government agencies as well.”

The 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, including doctor offices, who house medical records for their patients should read doctors’ offices, which maintain confidential patient medical records. The guide includes 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)

An investigation by Mississippi and other states found that Adobe did not use reasonable security measures to protect its systems from an attack or have proper measures in place to immediately detect an attack. The agreement reached today requires a semiannual review of security and more employee training among other measures to prevent future breaches, many of which Adobe had voluntarily implemented. 

In September 2013, a hacker stole encrypted payment card numbers and expiration dates, names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and usernames as well as other data maintained on an Adobe server.


AG Hood Asks Supreme Court to Provide Level Playing Field For Mississippi Merchants

November 7, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that Mississippi and 10 other states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a 1992 decision that effectively prohibited states from implementing sales taxes on online purchases.

In an amicus curiae brief, Attorney General Hood and other state attorneys general encouraged the court to hear arguments in Brohl v. Direct Marketing Association and reconsider a 1992 ruling that requires a business to have a physical presence in a state before states may collect sales and use taxes from that business.  With the remarkable increase in online shopping, the physical-presence requirement has placed local retailers at a disadvantage and thwarted states from collecting revenue that could have supported important government services.

“More and more, the marketplace is moving from Main Street to the Information Superhighway, and our local merchants are at an unfortunate disadvantage,” Attorney General Hood said. “If local stores are unable to compete with out-of-state online retailers, we lose jobs, an important tax base and a critical investment in our communities. We’re asking the Supreme Court to even the playing field for merchants and to allow the states to gain the revenue that should be due to them.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce sales for U.S. retailers were about $300 billion in 2014 and e-commerce accounted for nearly 7 percent of all retail sales that year. Online sales were up more than 15 percent from the previous year, a trend expected to continue since most Americans own smartphones that often come preloaded with online shopping apps.

Retailers have argued against sales taxes on goods purchased online, stating that calculating thousands of tax rates based on a consumer’s location would be too great a burden. However, the states argue in their brief there is readily available software that can easily calculate tax on any sale.

Attorney General Hood said a sales tax on online purchases would especially benefit Mississippi because ongoing budget problems have led to layoffs and service reductions across state government. Attorney General Hood called on the Legislature to enact an Internet sales tax to help balance the budget and support local merchants.

“At least 13 states now have laws to levy sales taxes on purchases through third-party affiliates like Amazon, for example,” Attorney General Hood said. “Courts in New York have upheld this type of tax, and I will be asking the Legislature to stand up for our local businesses and adopt a similar tax next year. I also remain hopeful that the brief we filed today will move the Supreme Court toward opening the door for states to collect sales tax on all Internet sales.”

Click here for a copy of the Brohl v. Direct Marketing Association amicus curiae brief.

 


Former Cleveland Police Officer Sentenced for Extortion

November 3, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that former Cleveland police officer has been sentenced for extortion.

Melvin Sparks, 47, of Cleveland, appeared today before Bolivar County Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Webster and entered an open plea to extortion by a public official. An open plea means the defendant refuses to accept the state’s recommendation and instead throws himself or herself at the mercy of the court. As a result, Judge Webster sentenced Sparks to serve three years in prison, with all three of those years suspended. Additionally, Sparks was ordered to pay $500 to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund and a $1,500 fine.  Judge Webster also ordered Sparks to serve three years of supervised probation.

Sparks turned himself in to the Bolivar County Sheriff’s Office last October following his indictment by a Bolivar County Grand Jury. While on duty as a police officer, Sparks accepted money from a citizen on the pretense of “fixing” a ticket.

“Public servants should be held to the highest standard, and they are expected to uphold the law, not to break it,” Attorney General Jim Hood said. “I am glad that this individual has been brought to justice and that he is no longer in a position to take advantage of citizens.”

The case was investigated by Jerry Spell and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division.

 


Belzoni Resident Going to Prison for Child Exploitation

November 2, 2016

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

Leroy Bowman, 26, of Belzoni, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of child exploitation before Humphreys County Circuit Court Judge Jannie M. Lewis. Bowman 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. Additionally, Bowman was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund and $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

Bowman was arrested in May 2015 at his home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit with assistance from the FBI Child Exploitation Unit and the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Department. It was discovered through an investigation that Bowman was in possession of electronic media which contained child sexual exploitation images.

“Any person who seeks to rob a child of his or her innocence by owning, producing or distributing heinous material that perpetrates the cycle of child exploitation deserves to be put behind bars,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “I’d like to thank the prosecutors and investigators from my office, the FBI and the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Department who worked tirelessly to put this man away and who are dedicated to apprehending child predators across Mississippi. I also appreciate Judge Lewis for the strong message this sends to anyone who engages in this kind of criminal behavior.”

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


Jackson Man Going to Prison for Possession of Marijuana and Crack Cocaine

November 2, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Jackson man is going to prison for possessing marijuana and crack cocaine.

Kenneth Keith Beal, 41, of Jackson, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of possession of marijuana and one count of possession of cocaine before Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill, Sr. Beal was arrested in September 2013 following the execution of a search warrant of his room in which a marijuana and crack cocaine rocks were recovered.

Beal was sentenced to serve six years in prison for possessing marijuana with one of those years suspended, leaving five years to serve. Beal must also serve 15 years in prison for possessing cocaine with ten of those years suspended and five years to serve. Those five years are to run concurrently with the other prison sentence, leaving a total of five years for Beal to serve behind bars. Additionally, Beal was sentenced to three years of post-release supervision and was ordered to seek mandatory alcohol and drug treatment.

“Our responsibility as law enforcement officials is to ensure that our communities are safe,” Attorney General Jim Hood said. “I appreciate the Jackson Police Department’s efforts in this case to take a drug offender off the streets and take another step toward improving the quality of life for our citizens. The arrest, prosecution and sentencing of this individual is another good example of how we can work collaboratively to get positive results for Mississippi.”

This case was investigated by the Jackson Police Department with assistance by Investigator Perry Tate of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division. Prosecution was handled by Special Assistant Attorneys General Marvin Sanders and Larry Baker after a recusal by the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office.