AG Paxton Files Suit Against ‘Reputation Management’ Company

AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed a petition with the Harris County District Court alleging that Solvera, an online reputation management company, violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by abusing the legal system to deceive Harris County district court judges with its defamation lawsuits.

The lawsuit alleges that Solvera perpetuated a “reputation management” scheme by filing lawsuits it knew contained false information – including fictitious plaintiffs and defendants. As a result, nationwide consumers, Texas attorneys and judges, along with search engines such as Google were all duped.

“At every step in its so-called reputation management process, Solvera repeatedly employed false, deceptive and misleading practices,” Attorney General Paxton said. “My office will not allow Texas consumers, attorneys, and courts to be confused and deceived by this unlawful behavior.”

Through its deceptive use of the legal process, Solvera was successful in deleting a number of potentially legitimate comments posted in the review section of websites, eliminating the feedback from search engine results without due process.  

To view the petition, click here: http://bit.ly/2y0ZjNa

County Attorney Vince Ryan advises Hurricane Harvey Flood victims: Know your rights

 The recent floods in the Harris County area have been a nightmare for many families struggling to clean up the mess and have repairs made.  The Office of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan offers the following tips to flood victims who rent their apartments or homes: 

·       If your apartment is unlivable, you have the right to terminate your lease by giving your landlord written notice and obtain a refund of the unused portion of the rent you have paid plus any security deposit that is owed to you.  You cannot be charged a penalty for terminating the lease due to unlivable conditions.

·       If your landlord offers you another unit because yours is unlivable, you are not required to accept it.  If you do accept a new unit, you are not required to enter into a longer lease for the new unit.

·       If your apartment is partially damaged, first provide written notice to your landlord of the repairs needed.  Make sure you are current on your rent.  The landlord is not required to make repairs if you are not current on your rent.

·       If your apartment is partially damaged, you may be entitled to a reduction in your rent in proportion to the extent the apartment is unusable.  Talk to your landlord.   If you cannot reach an agreement, do not withhold any portion of your rent.  You may have to file suit seeking a rent reduction.  Withholding rent is almost always a bad idea.

·       Your landlord is not required to start making repairs to your unit until after the landlord’s insurance company pays him or her for the damage.  The bad news is that you must continue to pay rent while you wait for the repairs. 

·       If the landlord has had a reasonable amount of time but failed to complete repairs, send a second notice to the landlord with a request for an explanation of the delay and explain that you will terminate the lease unless repairs are made or repair the damage yourself and deduct the amount from your rent.  You should consult an attorney if you intend to repair the damage yourself.  

·       You may want to consult the “Tenants’ Rights Handbook” published by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas.

·       If you have any questions or need additional information please contact the Office of the Harris County Attorney, 713-755-6065.

Be Ready: Protect your Paperwork In Case of a Storm

By: Vince Ryan
Harris County Attorney

Hurricane season has just begun. We’ve all heard about being prepared with bottled water, batteries and other necessities for riding out a storm. But is your legal paperwork safe and secure?

If your home floods, will your important documents be safe? If you have to evacuate, could you quickly put your hands on medical records? If you file insurance claims, would you be able to provide your policy and records of your possessions?

Be prepared this hurricane season by ensuring that all your legal documents avoid destruction or damage. A little work now can make a big difference later.

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Insurance Tips for the New Year

   A new year brings with it opportunities to review new health, home, auto, and life insurance options. Here are some important tips to help make your decisions a little easier:


1.    Health policies
•    When picking health insurance policies, there are many important aspects that need to be accounted for. How far is the closest emergency room in your network? Are you focusing on you New Year’s resolution of losing weight or giving up smoking? Even though these may seem like minor factors when considering health providers, some plans offer smoking cessation or diet programs at lower costs than others. 
2.    Home and auto policies
•     Are you paying for collision and comprehensive coverage on an older car? If you're in an accident, most policies will pay up to what your car is worth, minus your deductible. You may want to evaluate the car's value against what you're paying for that coverage to decide if it still makes financial sense.
•     Home renovations can impact the value of your home. Make sure you still have enough coverage to rebuild in case of a fire or disaster.
•     Harris County homeowners should pay special attention to the potential need for floor insurance. Homeowners policies don't cover damage from flooding so it's a good idea to periodically review your need for flood coverage.
•     Take a look at the discounts your insurance company offers and compare them to other plans. Some plans offer discounts for multiple policies, so bundling auto and home insurance may make the most financial sense. Plans often add new discounts so looking over your insurance company's list every year could help you save money.
3.    Life insurance policies
•     Your income and family situation may have changed since last year. Check your life insurance policy annually to make sure it meets your family’s needs. If you’ve recently gotten married, had children, gotten divorced, etc., it’s time to update your beneficiaries. 

 

 

Surfing precautions for online shoppers

   Shopping online, a common occurrence during the holiday season, can make us vulnerable to internet scams. Even our email accounts can be compromised at the click of a link. USA Today reported just lasweek that as many as 1 billion Yahoo accounts may have been compromised in a breach that took place in August 2013.

   To guard against these types of breaches, consider frequently changing passwords and security questions. Do not use birthdates, addresses, or other personal information as passwords or security questions. To that end, be sure each account password is unique and doesn’t match the password chosen for numerous other accounts. Finally, be careful where you click. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails. Even if the email is from someone in your contacts, if it looks unfamiliar, reach out to that person and make sure they intended to send you the link or attachment.

Money Magazine names John Oliver 2016's consumer champion

Money Magazine has selected John Oliver as 2016’s most influential and informative (and, funny!) financial crusader.  HBO’s Sunday-night mock news magazine, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,  has provided entertaining and informative looks at the wage gap, predatory lending, paid family leave, credit reports, debt collection, retirement planning, and auto lending.  Check out these and other shows on YouTube.

 

Nursing homes that receive federal funding may not limit residents' right to sue

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued new rules that bar nursing homes from requiring residents and their families to give up their right to sue and submit to binding arbitration in cases where safety and quality of care are in dispute. Officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia urged the government to cut off funding to nursing homes that use arbitration clauses, arguing that arbitration kept patterns of wrongdoing hidden from prospective residents and their families. Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/29/business/dealbook/arbitration-nursing-homes-elder-abuse-harassment-claims.html?_r=0

Massive Flood of Romance Scams Defraud Older Victims

This is a massive area of fraud.  Many of us have heard about romance scams, and most would agree that it is a problem area.  However, in order to set priorities – and we all must – it is extremely helpful to know how widespread this activity really is.  For some types fraud one can extrapolate the size and scope of fraud from the number of complaints filed with law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel database began separating these romance fraud complaints into a separate fraud category several years ago. In 2015 the FTC received 8715 complaints.  The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) unfortunately stopped contributing its complaints to Sentinel two or three years ago, but they reported an additional 12,509 complaints for the same period.  IC3 also reported aggregate losses to their victims at $204 million for 2015 alone.  According to the IC3, romance scams was the largest personal fraud crime based on losses reported in 2015. 

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Steps to protect your children from identity theft

Scammers and thieves have learned that stealing a child's identity may be just as profitable and potentially easier than trying to get an adults. Bankrate.com lists nine steps you can take to protect your children from identify theft. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit/combat-child-identity-theft-1.aspx

Companies Falsely Advertising Ineffective Products as “Zika-Preventive”

Companies across the U.S.  have been marketing products with claims that the products prevent or protect against Zika virus even though the products are known to be ineffective for that purpose. 

These companies advertise ultrasonic devices or botanical oil-based products with claims that the products would prevent or protect against Zika virus by repelling mosquitoes even though the products contain no EPA-registered insect repellents with at least one of the five CDC-recommended active ingredients. The makers of ultrasonic devices claim that they repel mosquitoes by emitting a high frequency buzz. Numerous scientific studies have found that ultrasonic devices do not repel mosquitoes, and may even attract mosquitoes. The makers of botanical oil-based products, including wrist bands, bracelets, patches and stickers, claim that products contain ingredients that repel mosquitoes. Common botanical ingredients, including oil of geranium, cedar, lemongrass, soy and citronella and are not EPA-registered insect repellents with at least one of the five CDC-recommended active ingredients, and these products have limited effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes. 

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Watch out for cell phone thieves.

ABC News has video showing a simple scam used to steal cell phones.  The best protection: Keep your cell phone out of sight when you are not using it. Check it out: http://abcnews.go.com/US/thieves-simple-scam-target-cellphones/story?id=40813884

Beware of E-mail Scams Containing Malicious Software

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is warning Texans of suspicious e-mails containing malicious software seemingly coming from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). The e-mail claims to come from the Consumer Protection Division to inform business owners that a complaint has been filed against their organization. A link to the complaint is provided and once clicked on it downloads harmful software onto the computer. Click here for more information.

 

Source: https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/news/rele...

Five ways thieves steal credit card information

While the number of data breaches involving credit and debit card numbers grew in 2015 to 160 from 138 the year prior, the total number of records exposed fell dramatically to 800,000 from 64.4 million, according to The Identity Theft Resource Center, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization. Bankrate.com reveals five ways thieves steal credit card information.

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/5-ways-thieves-steal-credit-card-data-1.aspx#ixzz4EHdmbIUf 
 

Tips for paying your bills on Line

The Spring Observer, reports online bill pay has become much more popular in recent years, mostly due to convenience. While some consumers may be wary of the security risks associated with virtual payments, research has actually shown there is a lower risk of identity theft and other cybercrime using online bill pay rather than sending payments by mail. Read more at http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/spring/living/consumer-tips-are-you-ready-for-online-bill-pay/article_a7d7a32a-4585-11e6-98d3-67d01e62419c.html

 

Don’t be silent about elder exploitation

Vince Ryan, Crime Stoppers of Houston Blog

As the number of senior citizens in Harris County continues to grow, new forms of elder abuse and exploitation constantly appear. We must all recognize the ongoing and new schemes and scams that plague persons 65 and older. The term exploitation includes the illegal or improper use or attempted use of an elderly person’s assets or resources.  

Financial exploitation is a very common form of elder abuse. Family members, care givers and other familiar individuals, as well as strangers may all be perpetrators. Because of resources accumulated over a lifetime, including Social Security income, and insurance, elders may easily become targets of greedy relatives, Ponzi scheme artists, and online thieves.  

Many of the elderly are less likely to report exploitation because they are dependent on the perpetuator to provide food, clothing and shelter. In other instances, the elderly are not aware of the exploitation because they may be in a cognitive decline, are dealing with health problems or are coping with the loss of a loved one. If the elderly do realize exploitation has occurred, they may be reluctant to report the crime because they are afraid of retaliation, worried they will lose their independence, be denied legal rights or have a private guardian appointed.  

The Harris County Attorney’s Office represents the Harris County Guardianship program and is all too familiar with many tragic stories. Our Office believes that our elderly population needs to be embraced and protected by our community.  If you learn that an elderly person is being exploited, please say something. Whether you notice changes in their bank account, the disappearance of their personal belongings, forged signature on important documents, long lost relatives moving in, or any other suspicious activity, please call Adult Protective Services at (800) 252-5400.    

Our Office works with the Adult Protective Services, the Sheriff, Constables, and other law enforcement agencies and are available to discuss your concerns. Together we can end the silence associated with elder abuse and exploitation. Additionally, our office has a speaker’s bureau to address relevant topics important to the elderly and to all Harris County residents. Call us today at 713-274-5101.  

AG reports on fighting identity theft

The Texas Attorney General offers practical tips about avoiding and fighting Identity theft.

Identity theft is one of the nation's fastest-growing, most expensive criminal enterprises. Every year more than 25,000 Texans report being victims of identity theft with thousands more unaware that their information and bank accounts have been targeted. Identity thieves use stolen information to obtain new credit cards; open checking accounts; make long distance or collect calls; or make purchases on a stolen credit card. 

The AG advises if you believe you are a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:

  1. Stop Ongoing Damage
  2. Report ID Theft Crime
  3. Fill out ID Theft Affidavits
  4. Prevent Further ID Theft Abuse
  5. Monitor Your Credit Report
  6. Declare That You are a Victim