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.


Adams County Man Convicted of Manslaughter

November 22, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that an Adams County man has been convicted of manslaughter in the February 2014 shooting death of another man.

mauricedavisMaurice Davis, 24, of Natchez entered an open plea to manslaughter today before Judge Forrest Johnson in Adams County Circuit Court. An open plea means that a defendant refuses to accept the state’s recommendation and instead throws himself or herself upon the mercy of the court. Davis was sentenced to 15 years in prison with 10 years suspended, leaving five years to serve. Davis was also sentenced to 10 years of post-release supervision and ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund. 

Davis and two co-defendants were accused of the attempted robbery and killing of Terrance Thornburg of Natchez in the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 2014. Davis’s co-defendants are awaiting trial.

“We are working to bring Mr. Thornburg’s killers to justice, and with today’s conviction we are a step closer to that goal,” Attorney General Hood said. “I appreciate the Natchez Police Department for its efforts on this case and I thank Judge Johnson for sentencing this defendant to time in jail.”

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.

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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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