(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – A bill to create a website where Nevadans could learn how to protect themselves from consumer fraud was received favorably today by an Assembly committee.
Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, introduced Assembly Bill 323 to help fight Nevada’s Top 10 in the nation ranking in areas of consumer fraud ranging from builders and contractors to investment opportunities to telephone service to mortgages.
“Unfortunately, deception and fraud and misrepresentation are a constant undercurrent in our society today,” he told the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee. “The index of Nevada Revised Statutes lists over 100 entries under the heading of fraud and false pretenses and representations.”
There are other types of fraud that harm consumers indirectly by increasing the cost of goods and services and increasing the state’s overall tax burden, Conklin said. These include insurance fraud, tax evasion and welfare fraud, among others, he said.
But the state’s regulatory system to deal with fraud is spread across numerous agencies, and there are multiple professional licensing boards that deal with the issue as well, Conklin said.
“Nevada has ranked in the Top 10 for fraud in the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book since it first came out in 2002,” he said. “Top 10 in the country for the last decade.”
The average amount paid per instance of consumer fraud in Nevada in 2010 was tops in the nation at $3,400, Conklin said. The total amount paid in consumer fraud in 2010 was over $21 million, he said.
Nevada also ranks in the top 10 in internet crimes, Conklin said.
The Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, which oversees the Medicaid program, has opened 511 new investigations this fiscal year and has recovered $700,000, Conklin said. In the last 15 months, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has conducted over 9,000 investigations of unemployment fraud, he said.
“The list is, unfortunately, a long one,” he said.
The FTC report shows debt collection is the top fraud complaint in Nevada in 2010, followed by internet services and impostor scams.
“Assembly Bill 323 sets up a comprehensive, shared, inter agency internet website to assist with the enforcement and compliance efforts by encouraging reports of fraud, and allowing consumers to check quickly on someone they are thinking about doing business with,” Conklin said.
The site would provide cautions and warnings, reports on specific confirmed instances of fraud and information on violations and violators, he said. The Department of Business and Industry will set up and run the website, receiving information from the other agencies and boards.
Many of these agencies have websites already, but there is no single place consumers can go to find out how to protect themselves, Conklin said. The state’s Fight Fraud website is not as useful to consumers as it could be either, he said.
The committee did not take immediate action on the bill, which saw no one speak in opposition.