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

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. lists nine steps you can take to protect your children from identify theft.

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:

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.



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. reveals five ways thieves steal credit card information.

Read more: 

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


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

NPR: Money Transfer Companies Fight Back Against IRS Scammers

There's a phone scam going around where an intimidating caller pretends to be from the IRS, demanding money immediately. There is also an anti-scam going on. At check cashing outlets, employees are dealing with terrified victims demanding to send money to fake IRS agents. Intervening requires awareness, compassion, and a script, just like the scammers use.

Read more at NPR.

Watch out for the virtual kidnapping scam

Tiffany Craig, KHOU 11 Investigations reported on a scary extortion scam in which a man is told his wife is being held hostage and that he must pay immediately.  Fortunately the man had a co-worker call his wife during the phone call and discovered that she was perfectly safe.  Investiator Josh Nowitz with the Harris County Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes Unit advises taht the scam comes in many forms.  He suggests getting information about the caller. Ask them who they work for, name and employee ID number. Hang up and then call the agency's main number to find out if the story is real. 



Consider a spring cleaning for your electronic devices

 Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) are encouraging consumers to put cybersecurity top of mind by urging them to make digital devices an additional target of their spring cleaning activities. NCSA and BBB encourage everyone to make a thorough “digital spring cleaning” an annual ritual. Internet users can get a fresh start with their online life by keeping all machines clean, purging their online files, enhancing security features and ensuring that their online reputation shines.  For more information go to