Consumer Fraud Office Opens In Payson

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The new Consumer Information and Complaint Office in Payson handled its first client before officially opening its doors.

"It was an identity theft case," said Senior Circle volunteer coordinator Kathy Coombes. "We were able to direct (the client) to their bank and when (the client) walked out she said, ‘At least I will be able to sleep tonight.' So, we knew we were onto a good thing."

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Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was in Payson Tuesday promoting a satellite office to combat consumer fraud. He also spoke to pupils at Rim Country Middle School about Internet safety.

The partnership between the Attorney General's office and Payson Regional Health Outreach Facility (Senior Circle) was a "natural symbiotic relationship," said Chris Wolfe, chief executive officer of Payson Regional Medical Center. "The partnership is not only about the health of the community from a physical standpoint, but also from a mental standpoint."

"The people who are targeted most often with fraud schemes are seniors," said Cory Houghton, marketing director for the hospital.

Ten volunteers have completed the training and background checks to become staff members at the fraud fighter office in Payson and four more are pending.

Two individuals who can speak Spanish are on call.

The office is open to any member of the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Appointments can be made, but are not necessary.

"Payson is the 25th satellite office in Arizona," Attorney General Terry Goddard said. "This, and offices like it, aim to level the playing field for consumers.

"You may be the first center open five days a week," he said. "That is a tremendous accomplishment."

The Arizona Attorney General's office number receives more than 80,000 consumer fraud complaints each year.

The complaints cover a broad range.

The top 10 scams according to Goddard involve: auto purchases and repairs, business opportunity scams, collection services, door-to-door sales, home improvement and repair scams, identity theft and Internet fraud, prize notification scams, telemarketing rip-offs, wireless phone service, mortgage foreclosure avoidance or rescue schemes and predatory lending.

"One of the most complicated things any of us do is go in as a relatively uneducated consumer and negotiate a loan," Goddard said. He cited predatory lenders who charge far more in points, fees and other costs than the borrower can afford.

In past years, Rim Country residents have found prize checks in the mail that turned out to be counterfeit or been scammed out of money over the phone by people who seem legitimate because they know an amazing amount of personal information.

"A lot of people, when they need to contact someone about fraud don't know who they need to call, so this will be a handy location for people to make that type of contact," said Frank Rekart, an attendee at Tuesday's presentation.

"I think it will be good," added Inga DeVeaux, case manager for Gila Aging Services of Payson.

For additional information on filing a fraud complaint, and for tips on how to avoid a variety of consumer rip-offs, visit the consumer page at www.azag.gov.

The Consumer Information and Complaints office is located at 215 N. Beeline Highway, Payson. Phone is (928) 472-9290.

"We are very excited about this office," Wolfe said. "I want to thank all our volunteers."

-- To reach Carol La Valley call 474-5251 ext. 122 or e-mail clavalley@payson.com.

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