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AG, FTC, consumer advocates find common ground in attacking fraud

Release date: 1/16/2013

Cooper points to new efforts to fight financial fraud as an example

Raleigh: Cooperation is key to fighting fraud, Attorney General Roy Cooper told consumer protection advocates and attorneys who gathered in Raleigh today to learn how they can better work together to help North Carolina consumers.
 
“Millions of people in North Carolina and around the country are getting scammed, ripped off, cheated or outmaneuvered and we are here to fight for them,” Cooper said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve had better cooperation with our federal partners than ever before, and we want to build on that.”
 
Cooper spoke at the Common Ground consumer protection conference, sponsored by his office and the Federal Trade Commission to increase cooperation between federal and state officials and other consumer protection advocates in North Carolina. 
 
Cooper’s office has partnered with the FTC in the past to go after business opportunity schemes, foreclosure relief scams, illegal telemarketers and other threats to consumers. Cooper also discussed new efforts to tackle financial fraud.
 
“Our goal is to help consumers keep more money in their pockets,” Cooper said. “Cracking down on the bad guys also gives legitimate businesses a level playing field.”
 
The new Financial Fraud section, a part of Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division, is expected to work closely with federal authorities, local District Attorneys and others to pursue complex cases. Cooper will also chair a new Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to bring state and federal law enforcement together to work to stop those who deceive North Carolina consumers for financial gain, including criminal prosecutions when possible. Both the Financial Fraud section and task force, as well as a new effort by District Attorneys to prosecute more financial crimes, are funded from a landmark national mortgage settlement that Cooper won last year. 
 
Approximately 100 people attended the day-long workshop. Conference attendees heard from experts with the FTC, the Attorney General’s Office, Legal Aid of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, the Center for Responsible Lending, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the NC Justice Center.
 
The workshop tackled specific areas of concern for North Carolina consumers, including a morning session on lending schemes such as payday loans and advance-fee loans and credit. Panelists discussed how more and more transactions are taking place over mobile devices, which increases the potential for scams and raises new privacy concerns. 
 
They also discussed the challenges North Carolina faced in eliminating payday lenders from the state, and the industry’s many attempts to get around state law that caps interest rates. For example, Regions Bank, chartered in Alabama, had started making payday-type loans here last year, claiming protection under federal law. Thanks to pressure from Cooper’s office and other consumer advocates in the state, the bank recently stopped making those loans in North Carolina. 
 
In the afternoon, experts discussed debt issues confronting North Carolina consumers, including debt
collection, debt buying, debt relief, mortgage assistance relief and credit repair. According to the Federal Trade Commission, debt collection complaints remain one of the highest source of complaints from North Carolina consumers, second only to identity theft. Panelists gave a historical overview of enforcement actions taken against these businesses and legislation that has helped combat schemes that end up driving consumers deeper into debt.
 
During the final session, workshop attendees broke into small discussion groups to examine issues including scams that target seniors and military service members, identity theft, robocalls, and mortgage and housing scams.

  Contact:  Noelle Talley (919) 716.6413