If it’s too good to be true, it generally is. That is the message that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), California Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Riverside County District Attorney’s Office underlined during a virtual meeting hosted by Ethnic Media Services aimed at warning the community of prevalent scams as well as new ones generated by the pandemic.
“People are far more likely to avoid a scam if they hear about it,” FTC Associate Director Division of Consumer Response and Operations Monica Vaca noted.
The top reported scam in the Inland Empire is online shopping orders that never arrive; those include critical items such as facemasks and hand sanitizers, Vaca indicated.
Additional scams involve treatments and tests, fabricated tracking information of online orders, and threats of eviction.
Chief Deputy District Attorney of Riverside County Kelli Catlett warned consumers fraudsters will attempt to charge up to $185 for fake tests – rapid or blood – and offer to meet in a medical facility’s parking lot to administer the test, promising results in under an hour.
“That is not true, that does not happen, there is nothing that’s been approved by the FDA that facilitates that,” Catlett noted. “We are seeing that (scammers) prey upon people that they overhear, it’s almost like they’re sending people out into the community to recruit for that money.”
A COVID-19 related scam to watch for is the “opportunity” of earning $1,000 to sign up for a trial. That is false.
FTC Regional Director, Western Region Los Angeles Maricela Segura cautions consumers against trusting companies that make claims of ready-to-ship PPEs. There are recorded complaints of packages not arriving, companies providing false tracking information, and claims that products are en route.
Consumers report receiving text messages and emails with hyperlinks within them claiming a package is ready, loyalty rewards card loaded with money ready to be delivered, or opportunities for profit.
“Don’t touch on the hyperlinks, be it a text message, be it from Wells Fargo, just don’t touch on a hyperlink that comes your way,” warned FBI agent Bill Murdoch. “I got a text message asking me if I want to put a Bud Light sticker on my vehicle for $500, maybe it’s legit, I don’t know, but I’m not going to touch on that hyperlink.”
Due to the pandemic some landlords are taking advantage of renters by threatening eviction and deportation for nonpayment of rent, and lying to tenants about their right to make partial rent payments.
California Attorney General Consumer Protection Section Lead Nick Akers underscored to the community that there is a stay on evictions for individuals affected by COVID-19 until early 2021 through AB 3088, and advises if you or someone you know is victimized by a predatory landlord, seek out your local Legal Aid office to assert your rights and protections.
In addition, beware of individuals offering to help pay rent for a fee.
A prevalent scam before the pandemic hit is the Grandparent Scam where individuals pose as the victim’s grandchild, niece or nephew asking for bail money in a pretense of distress.
“Never send money in an unrecoverable form right away… call family members to check out if the story is real,” Segura advised. “Pass this on to your communities, when you get a call that claims to be in distress, don’t rush to wire money or buy the gift cards and send over the numbers. Take a moment.”
Another scam to avoid is paying an upfront fee to an individual who claims they can help you get out of debt. That is not the case.
According to Akers, for-profit colleges and trade schools, namely Corinthian Colleges that operated as WyoTech, Everest, and Heald schools in San Bernardino, swindled thousands of students out of quality education.
“The school invested millions in marketing, making false promises about job placement and graduation rates to lure students, and they’re particularly targeting veterans and GI Bill benefits,” Akers revealed. “Students didn’t get the education they were promised and many ended up saddled with student loans that they could not afford.
Akers pointed out that the AG’s Office put Corinthian out of business, and recommends students seek options that include state colleges, community colleges and apprenticeships.
Immigration remains a popular hot spot for fraud.
“The Attorney General, district attorneys, and other agencies have prosecuted cases up and down the state against scammers that lied and stole their clients’ money, made false promises, or provided incompetent service or bad advice,” Akers said. “If you need immigration help, don’t go to somebody who calls themselves a ‘notario’ or immigration consultant, they cannot legally provide immigration advice.”
Instead, Akers recommends individuals seek services from a legitimate immigration lawyer, TODECO, or Catholic Charities authorized by the federal government to provide immigration advice.
Akers emphasized that the Attorney General’s Office helps all Californians regardless of immigration status. “We will never share a victim’s information with federal immigration authorities,” urging victims to report fraud to oag.ca.gov/report or call (800) 952-5225.
To file a complaint with the FTC: www.ftc.gov
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Report Identity Theft: www.IdentityTheft.gov/ssa TODEC call center: (888) 863-3291
Maryjoy Duncan, Managing Editor of Inland Empire Community News (comprised of the El Chicano, Colton Courier and Rialto Record), was chosen as one of 25 recipients from over 1,000 school districts in the State of California to receive the California School Boards Association’s 2018 Golden Quill Award, presented in recognition of fair, insightful and accurate reporting on public school news. Maryjoy is also a Guest Teacher with the San Bernardino City Unified School District. For news leads, she can be reached by email: [email protected], or by phone: (909) 381-9898 ext. 207.
Will Riverside County get a majority-Latino supervisorial district through redistricting?
With redistricting underway for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, activist groups are pressing the county to consider creating at least one, if not more, majority-Latino districts. The groups are reminding county officials that they must consider federal voting laws as they finalize the process — or potentially face legal action.
The board of supervisors — which has the ultimate say in approving the new maps — is tasked with redrawing Riverside County’s five supervisorial districts equally to reflect the county’s 10.4% population growth over the last 10 years. The process occurs concurrently as the California Citizens Redistricting Commission focuses on redistricting for congressional and legislative maps.
But before the county's board approves new maps in early December, three activist groups have highlighted the redistricting requirements laid out by state and federal law, including Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits any voting practices that could dilute a racial group’s electoral power.
The four maps released by the county a few weeks ago did not include enough data to properly account for that section of the Voting Rights Act, according to separate letters submitted to the county by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
Specifically, the initial maps did not include data on the citizen voting-age populations for each redrawn district, a point that both MALDEF and ACLU officials noted could place the county outside of compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.
“The current draft maps only contain total population data — there are no population percentages and no (citizen voting-age population) data included,” wrote a MALDEF attorney in the Oct. 8 letter. “Based on the data provided with the County’s current draft maps, there is no indication that the County has considered either (citizen voting-age population) or compliance with the VRA in creating its current maps.”
The initial maps released by the county were also criticized for lacking any proposals that would establish Latino-majority districts within Riverside County — another potential violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The MALDEF letter notes a pair of districts — one in northwest Riverside County and another in the county’s southwest region — could be drawn in a single map to have Latino residents make up more than half of the citizen voting-age population.
County responds with 3 new maps, data
On Friday, a week after MALDEF sent its letter, the county released the citizen voting-age populationdata for its initial proposals, along with three new maps that also include the same required statistical breakdowns.
“These updated maps continue to move the county forward in our redistricting efforts,” Karen Spiegel, board chair and second district supervisor, said in a statement Friday. “This is a process that requires community feedback, inclusion of updated data and revised lines. All are welcome to draw draft boundaries and submit for review.”
In addition to the newly added data, Riverside County also will assess how cohesively different racial groups vote, a key aspect of determining whether vote dilution has occurred. That step is meant "to further support compliance with the Voting Rights Act,” according to a county statement Friday — and it's something that the ACLU explicitly requested in its letter.
Riverside County’s population sits at roughly 2.41 million, up from about 2.19 million residents a decade ago, and the target population for each supervisorial district will be 483,647, though the process allows for a small degree of variance across districts.
The county's Hispanic or Latino population has grown at an even faster rate over the past 10 years, up 20.8% from the 2010 U.S. Census. Hispanic or Latino residents now make up 49.7% of the population in Riverside County, which is the 10th most populous county in the country.
In a change from the initial four maps, which lack any districts in which Latinos would comprise a majority of the citizen voting-age population, each of the three new maps proposes a majority-Latino district in Supervisorial District 1, which would include the cities of Riverside and Perris.
The proposals would also put the entire city of Riverside within one supervisorial district, something that residents of the county seat pushed for in a recent redistricting hearing.
Redistricting coalition still concerned with new maps
But none of the new maps include two majority-Latino districts, despite MALDEF arguing the county must consider that option. The latest proposals from the county also left unaddressed concerns raised by the Inland Empire Redistricting Hub, a coalition of more than 20 community groups, such as Communities for a New California and Allianza Coachella Valley, focused on the map-drawing process.
"What they provided as draft maps (last week) aren't going to cut it," said Michael Gomez Daly, who is helping lead the coalition. "None of those draft maps have two VRA districts. ... It's definitely very concerning."
As a result, 18 members of the Inland Empire Redistricting Hub sent a letter to the county Monday, stating the group's concerns were "neither heard nor honored" in response to the latest maps.
"The undersigned organizations do not support any of the draft maps that have been proposed and urge you to revisit the drawing process and demand you consider the Communities of Interest testimonies that were previously submitted as well as ensuring (citizen voting-age population) requirements are adhered to in your maps," the letter states.
Gomez Daly also claimed that some of the proposed maps were drawn to benefit incumbents on the board, with less priority given to keeping communities of interest together.
"If you look at all the maps, minus (first district supervisor) Kevin Jeffries who has already stated he's not running again, every single map gives a current incumbent a safe seat, which I don't think redistricting was meant to do," he said.
The proposed maps have also drawn some public pushback from at least one legislator in the western side of the county.
"We can't allow Riverside County to violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of Latinx voters!" state Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, said in a tweet Monday urging residents to engage in the redistricting process.
Supervisorial District 4, which encompasses the Coachella Valley and the eastern side of the county and is currently represented by V. Manuel Perez, cannot be redrawn to have a majority-Latino district, according to Steven Ochoa, MALDEF’s national redistricting expert.
The Coachella Valley’s district will see some slight changes, with every map proposal moving its boundary westward to include a few more communities. The Idyllwild-Pine Cove community, which currently lies in District 3, would fall in District 4 under five of the seven proposals brought by county staff.
Lawsuits could loom depending on compliance
While the county’s release of the latest data Friday could assuage the concerns raised by ACLU and MALDEF officials, there is still precedent for legal action when California counties fail to comply with federal voting law.
In 2018, MALDEF reached an agreement with Kern County to redraw its 2011 maps to create a second Latino-majority district in the Central Valley county.
Gomez Daly said the current situation in Riverside County is "eerily similar" to the Kern County case, which was the result of a large Latino community being broken into two districts, thus submerging their votes into larger white electorates.
"Kern County just chose to ignore (the warnings from MALDEF) and ended up going to court," Gomez Daly said. "The county had to pay attorneys fees, upwards of like $3 million."
"I don't think anybody wants to go into that situation, but I think the county has an obligation to produce fair maps — they're required to by law," he added. "So if it means that this process gets stalled because they have to go back and redraw ... I think they're obligated to."
A similar lawsuit could emerge in any California county that fails to consider the Voting Rights Act in its redistricting process this time around.
Julia Gomez, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said there are "dozens" of groups throughout California keeping an eye out for potential legal challenges related to redistricting.
Gomez also noted that the Department of Justice, led by the Biden Administration, is expected to closely examine redrawn maps across the country to ensure compliance with federal law.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will hold its next redistricting hearing Tuesday at 6 p.m. Members of the public can provide feedback online or by attending the meeting in person Tuesday night.
The five-member board is expected to hold another redistricting hearing Nov. 9 before potentially adopting a preferred proposal at its meeting Dec. 7.
Tom Coulter covers politics. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.
View CommentsSours: https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/politics/2021/10/18/riverside-county-releases-new-redistricting-proposals-following-complaints/8502898002/
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Riverside beefs up park security to address homelessness
Responding to complaints about homelessness, Riverside is stepping up security across its parks. The police department will assign non-sworn officers, known as specialists, to help the homeless access mental health services. The program will cost $2.4 million the first year and $2 million in future years.
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Riverside parks will see more security next year as the city addresses the problem of homeless people in parks.
The city’s parks have been without rangers since 2008 and have been watched by police as well as a few security guards. But soon the city will introduce a new job called park and neighborhood specialist. These employees will work in parks to watch for illegal activity there or in surrounding neighborhoods.
The program is overseen by the Riverside Police Department, and will take the place of traditional park rangers. The program will cost $2.4 million the first year and $2 million in future years. City officials cite public complaints about homelessness as the main reason the program was created.
“There is a community concern with the Riverside parks and wilderness areas and trails that are experiencing homelessness,” Riverside’s Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said during a June city council meeting. “Our objective is to prioritize safety and welfare in the city’s parks for residents and visitors.”
The department received about 95,000 calls for service near a one-fourth mile radius of parks in 2020, Gonzalez said.
“It’s disturbing every time I have a resident say that they don’t feel comfortable taking their child to Little League practice or spend a Sunday at a park because they don’t feel safe,” Gonzalez said at the meeting. “So this is one measure we can take moving forward that can assist with that.”
The specialists will be trained by the police department, but will not be sworn officers, department spokesperson Ryan Railsback said. They won’t carry guns, but will have the power to cite individuals for infractions as well as make misdemeanor arrests.
Specialists will be trained in CPR and can help those who need mental health assistance get the resources they need by working with the police department’s community engagement team.
That team includes a community behavior assessment team that focuses on mental health resources, and has partnered with city programs that focus on homelessness, Railsback said.
Park specialists will patrol parks to look out for disruptive activity by visitors as well as illegal activities by the homeless, such as aggressive panhandling. Specialists are not there to remove homeless people from parks, but can approach homeless people at their discretion and offer services, such as mental health resources.
The department is aiming to hire 20, full-time park specialists for the 50 parks in Riverside starting in January.
The specialists will be on duty seven days a week during peak park hours, which vary, depending on the season. In summer, for example, it’s more busy during the day. Specialists will leave overnight patrols to police. They will also be present at events and have a substation in parks that have community centers.
The city modeled its effort after specialist programs in Anaheim and Pasadena that have shown positive results, Gonzalez said.
“There’s not a park in our city that has not been affected in some form or another by homelessness,” Ward 6 Council Member Jim Perry said.
Finding objects such as needles, drugs and human waste in parks is a reason why there’s a need for an extra pair of eyes at parks, Perry said.
“We will have these individuals provide a resource of security to our residents,” Perry said. “We’re hoping that in most cases the specialists will be able to deal with the problems, and if need be, they can call police officers to come and assist them.”
The need for onsite park staff isn’t new in Riverside.
The city had budget cuts that dissolved the park ranger program in 2008, which led to the city hiring security guards from an outside company, said Randy McDaniel, interim parks director for the city of Riverside.
There were three park rangers at the end of the program and currently there are security guards at every public library and at White Park, a known spot in downtown for homeless to gather.
“We have security guards at White Park to keep eyes out and a presence, and it does help but it is not at the level of what we are hoping for in the park neighborhood specialist program,” said McDaniel.
City officials are hoping that the extra presence in parks can make them safer for visitors.
“I’m really optimistic about what they’ll be able to do and the difference they will be able to make in our parks and our neighborhoods,” McDaniel said.
This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.
Genesis Chavez-Caro covers poverty and opportunity in the Inland Empire, an area encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino counties east of Los Angeles, for the California Divide project, a statewide media... More by Genesis Chavez-Caro
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