05 Dec FTC Adds Language Help for Persons Reporting Fraud
“Only scammers insist you pay by gift card, cryptocurrency or wire transfer,” said Larissa Bungo, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, at a joint FTC-Ethnic Media Services briefing.
By Michael J. Fitzgerald
The Federal Trade Commission has added numerous interpreters and staff to help non-English speakers file complaints with the agency. The FTC “Language Access Initiative” is part of ongoing FTC efforts to help fight fraud and scammers and protect the public.
The ins and outs of the FTC program were discussed by a panel of experts at press briefing Nov. 21 co-hosted by Ethnic Media Services and the FTC.
The agency will now be able to take reports from individuals in English, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Ukrainian and Vietnamese, among many other languages.
Monica Vaca, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, told reporters the FTC for a long time has been able to take reports from citizens in English and Spanish.
“But getting reports from people in other languages has been a limitation for us,” she said.
A bonus of taking reports in additional languages is that the FTC will be able to get the word out more quickly about ongoing scams people have not been aware of, she added.
The FTC estimates that unfair or deceptive business practices cost consumers nearly $9 billion last year — a number based solely on reports made in English or Spanish, according to Larissa Bungo, an attorney with the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education.
Bungo also said that although individuals making a complaint to the FTC about suspected fraud must identify themselves, the FTC will not ask any questions about immigration status.
And time is often of the essence in reporting suspected frauds. The sooner it’s reported the sooner the FTC may be able to help.
The FTC recovered $245 million that is being returned to customers of the company Epic Games. Epic is the creator of the game Fortnite. The FTC says young players were allegedly tricked into making purchases they didn’t mean to make.
The deadline to file a claim with the FTC in that fraud case is Jan. 17, 2024.
The panel also pointed out that getting money back from a scammer or fraud often depends on how the victim was defrauded. If payments were made via a credit card, the card owner can often contest the charge with the credit card company.
“Only scammers insist you pay by gift card, cryptocurrency or wire transfer,” Bungo said.
Lawyer and journalist Jongwon Lee highlighted a scam in which a retiree in Atlanta’s Korean community was bilked out of tens of thousands of dollars. The retiree was drawn into the fraud because the investment scam artist was conversant in Korean. Publicity about the case eventually helped uncover victims in other states.
Lee said the FTC’s language expansion initiative is historic. “It shows that government agencies are looking to do justice for immigrants like us,” he said. “Language access gets rid of fear and shame and gives you confidence and encouragement that you are not alone and somebody is listening to you.”
The new FTC complaint system can be accessed by calling (877) 382-4357. Once connected, press 3. After that, a succession of messages in different languages will indicate what number to press next to reach the correct interpreter. Lines are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, or 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the West Coast.
The new multilingual reporting system can also be used to report identity theft. For those complaints, people should call (877) 438-4338 where they can access the various languages available.