Consumer protection, fraud discussed at Rotary meeting

STEUBENVILLE – Consumer protection, business obligations and business fraud were discussed during the Friday luncheon meeting of the city’s Rotary Club at the YWCA.

Sandy Lynskey, chief of the consumer protection division of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, told Rotarians her office deals with issues such as business/consumer mediation, consumer complaints and outright fraud. Lynskey began by saying she was a resident and teacher in Steubenville before going to law school at age 40.

“I was lucky to get an internship with the attorney general’s office and placed with consumer protection,” said Lynskey, adding later on she would lead the agency.

“(The attorney general’s office) has some 30 sections,” she said. “The attorney general has a lot of authority that can affect people’s lives. I’m discussing issues with Attorney General (Mike DeWine) all the time.”

Lynskey said her department has 82 employees, including attorneys and investigators.The office also helps to resolve consumer conflicts with businesses as well as educate businesses and consumers on Ohio laws regarding commerce.

“We will educate businesses as to Ohio consumer laws,” she said, adding many consumers don’t realize all sales are final. “If (a business) has a return policy it must be posted somewhere in the store, and a (consumer) has to see it before the sale.”

Consumers also have a three-day right to cancel a contract with a business, mandated by both state and federal law, she said. She added the agency’s consumer educators are frequently in the field.

“The No. 1 problem facing consumers now – fraud,” said Lynskey. “There’s so much out there now because of the Internet.”

Lynskey said many don’t understand the danger of posting personal information on the Internet, as scammers and identity thieves can easily obtain much of that information for fraudulent use.

“People’s whole lives are out there,” she said, adding it could make a person a target for fraud.

Even Facebook isn’t immune, as a person’s profile can be hijacked and used by scammers. She said the agency has begun an aggressive identity theft unit with the crime being so widespread.

She said it’s the dark side of the Internet, “but we’ve fallen for it. Debt collectors have become very aggressive. But they aren’t really debt collectors, but (scammers). No debt collector can tell you owe a debt without sending you proof you owe the debt. A lot of times if you ask for proof they will hang up on you.”

Some scammers can even hold a person’s computer “hostage,” gaining control of the computer until a person pays a “ransom,” she added.

Other scams, including bogus Publisher’s Clearinghouse and other sweepstakes are rampant, with scammers informing a person they’ve won a large amount of money – the catch is they ask for money up front, she said.

“Any sweepstakes or lottery – you aren’t required to pay any money up front,” said Lynskey, adding any entity asking for funds up front is probably fraudulent.

Lynskey also said many people fall for the scams, but it can be difficult to get funds back once the crime has been committed.

“The agency can recoup any funds scammed within the U.S., but not outside the country,” she said. “Nine out of 10 scammers are out of the country.

“The best defense is a good offense,” continued Lynskey, adding people need to be aware of scammers and their tricks. “Tread cautiously on the Internet.”