Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Tuesday, April 10, 2001

CORNYN WARNS ABOUT SCAMS AIMED AT HISPANIC CONSUMERS

One scheme centers around fraudulent international collect calls

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn today traveled to South Texas to warn the public about scams involving international collect calls. Most calls in question appear to originate in Mexico and are made primarily to Hispanic-surnamed consumers in Texas. The complaints received thus far center around U.S.-based businesses.

Cornyn visited Laredo, Brownsville and Victoria today to alert Texans about the international collect call scheme and a number of other scams aimed at Hispanic consumers, including home solicitations by door-to-door sales representatives operating specifically in Hispanic neighborhoods and services offered by fraudulent "immigration specialists."

"These shady characters know that more Hispanics live in Texas than ever before. The tremendous growth of the Hispanic population and its increased purchasing power has attracted the attention of bad actors who seize upon the Hispanic market simply to separate consumers from their hard earned dollars," Attorney General Cornyn stated.

Speaking about the phone scam, Attorney General Cornyn said, "Under the pretense of providing a legitimate long distance service, some companies are engaged in deception aimed at Hispanic households. Hundreds of Hispanic consumers have filed complaints regarding collect calls. We share their concerns, and we have launched an investigation. We will pursue scam artists to the full extent of the law."

Consumers reported to the Attorney General, the Public Utility Commission and the Better Business Bureau that they received calls from long distance operators asking them to accept charges for collect calls from a person with their same last name. Callers often pretend to be a relative from Mexico who urgently needs to speak with a family member. The caller uses the Texas consumer's same last name so the consumer will accept the call. Although the calls typically last only a few minutes, even seconds, consumers have received bills for $50 or more per call. Some consumers are targeted numerous times.

Many consumers who were billed for these calls said that they never accepted collect charges. Some even claim no one was home at the time the collect call was allegedly made and accepted.

"Hispanic consumers spend billions of dollars in telecommunications services alone. Unfortunately, it is not surprising that there are some who exploit the Hispanic market while providing little in return. Our message is clear: Texans will not be swindled on my watch, and honest businesses will not be tainted by a handful of scam artists."

Since assuming office, Attorney General Cornyn has sued several companies that have specifically targeted Hispanic consumers. The following are pending lawsuits arising from such schemes:

Perfect Water Solutions - Lawsuit filed on April 2, 2001. This McAllen-based business sold expensive residential water filtration systems through door-to-door sales personnel. After negotiating sales in Spanish, the company failed to provide required information in Spanish to its customers, including notice of their right to cancel under the terms of the Home Solicitation Act. Also, Perfect Water Solutions misled consumers into thinking that the sales price they were originally told, of about $5,000 per filtration system, included financing. Only later would consumers learn that this was false, and that they would be paying thousands of additional dollars in interest. Consumers also claimed that the filters don't perform as advertised.

Hispanic Air Conditioning and Heating - Lawsuit filed September of 1999. The company sold thousands of residential air conditioning units specifically in Hispanic communities through a team of door-to-door salespeople. The company failed to properly disclose to consumers that, by law, they had three business days to cancel their purchases if they changed their minds. The company also misled consumers by stating that the units were covered under 10-year warranties, when this was not the case. Units were often installed by unlicenced personnel, and had a high rate of malfunctions.

Ybarra Immigration Services - Lawsuit filed April of 2000. The company defrauded undocumented immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley by selling them bogus "letters of representation." The company owner charged hundreds of dollars for each letter and assured clients that these would legalize their status, when in fact they had no legal value whatsoever.

To help address the prevention of fraud against Spanish-speaking consumers, Attorney General Cornyn formed his office's Spanish Communications Group in December of 2000. This unit has developed one of the most comprehensive Spanish language public information and outreach efforts in government. By working with Hispanic media and engaging the public directly, the group has provided thousands of Spanish speaking Texans with important information about their rights under the law and the services available through the Office of the Attorney General, including the resolution of consumer issues.

Complaint forms and applications for all services available through the Office of the Attorney General are available in both Spanish and English. The agency has also developed hundreds of publications, brochures, news releases and informative columns in Spanish that are available by calling toll free at 1-800-252-8011 or through the agency's Internet page at www.oag.state.tx.us.

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Contact: Mark Heckmann, Tom Kelley or Jane Dees Shepperd at (512) 463-2050.
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