Who protects Nevadans?

A case of possible fraud shows the impacts of years of budget cuts

If you or someone you love has been the possible victim of fraud in the state of Nevada, the state Attorney General’s office is too broke to care.

That’s the unfortunate lesson I learned after my mother—a lifetime resident of Northern Nevada—was the victim of an attempted scam.

Mom was checking email at her computer on Tuesday, June 25, when she received a phone call. A man who said he was calling on behalf of Microsoft, via a company called Techhart Solutions, gave her bad news: Her computer was sending error messages, apparently as a result of a malicious computer virus. To “prove” this, he directed my mother to a log that, she says, seemed to show that her computer was indeed sending error messages. The man said it was crucial that he help her fix the computer—for a fee, of course. My mom then gave her Discover-card number.

I am not sure exactly what else happened; Mom can’t remember all the details, as she was quite upset at the time: She’d just gotten home from taking her beloved miniature schnauzer to the animal hospital because he was, among other things, puking up blood. (The dog’s fine now, by the way.)

My mom’s pretty darned smart, and had she been in her right mind, she probably would not have bought the story given to her by the caller. Thankfully, my mother soon realized that something didn’t seem right, so she called me. I told her to immediately unplug her computer from the Internet (in case the “rep” had done something malicious to her PC), and to call Discover and dispute the charge. She called the credit-card company before the charge went through, thankfully; the card was then deactivated.

Later that day, I Googled Techhart Solutions, as well as the phone number that had given my mom ((866) 529-9245). There are numerous online reports from folks who had similar things happen to them, with a similar M.O.

The story doesn’t end there. Presumably because my mom’s credit card was declined, Techhart began calling her several times a day; she ignored the calls. After several days of this, she received a message on her answering machine from Techhart, saying that she needed to call them back regarding an urgent matter.

So I called them. A man with a thick accent answered.

“Hi, my name’s Jimmy Boegle, and I’m calling on behalf of my mom. You left her a message earlier today.”

“Oh, yes,” the man responded. “We’re her computer techs, and we want to make sure that her computer’s OK.”

When I informed the man that Mom did not need a computer tech, and that they’d lied to her about all sorts of things, he hung up. I tried calling back a couple of times from the same phone; there was no response. Therefore, I called from a different phone (my business line), and he answered.

“Hi. This is Jimmy Boegle. I think we were just cut off …”

Click.

While my mom seems to have escaped unscathed—I had a couple of tech-savy friends check my mom’s PC, and it appears OK—not everyone has been so lucky, as those aforementioned Google searches suggest. Therefore, my mom and I decided to file a complaint with the state Attorney General. After all, one of the jobs of the state AG is to protect Nevadans from fraud, and warn them of fraud attempts.

Well, at least it used to be.

I called the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Hotline ((702) 486-3132)—and was stunned by what I heard. An automated phone-system recording asks callers to press “0” regarding mortgage fraud, and to press “1” to file a complaint about other fraud cases. So I pressed “1.”

This is what I heard: With regard to fraud, other than a mortgage-related or foreclosure rescue issue, please be advised that due to budget constraints and limited resources, we are no longer able to reply to and investigate every submission to our division. Moreover, the attorney general cannot act as your private attorney. Therefore, we encourage you to proceed through other avenues, such as the Better Business Bureau … or small claims court …

Let me repeat that: The state AG’s office encouraged me to call the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit with no legal power, and/or file a suit in small claims court. The recording contained no information about how I could even try to file a complaint with the AG’s office.

The recording did go on to recommend that people look for help at the fightfraud.nv.gov website. I checked out the site, and it predominantly consists of links to various news stories about fraud. There was a contact phone number, so I called, and a polite woman said that since the AG’s office only pursues mortgage or foreclosure cases these days, the only thing I could do was file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

So I did. The FTC rep didn’t ask about anything beyond the most basic details of the case; basically, he took my information and my mom’s information before giving me a case number.

Oh, and one more thing: He gave me the number for the Nevada attorney general’s office—the number with the aforementioned automated phone-system recording—and encouraged me to file a state complaint, too.

I really would like to file that complaint, so I could help the government spread the word about a possibly dishonest company. But I apparently can’t.

It’s open season on Nevada’s vulnerable citizens, and the Nevada Attorney General’s office says it’s too broke to give a shit.