Pa. Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro pledges to address fraud against consumers

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMPAIGN
  • Photo courtesy of campaign
Approximately one year ago, Margaret Pietz, of Pittsburgh, received a call from a man claiming her grandson had been in a car accident. Allegedly, the boy had been driving a friend's car, and the man on the phone told Pietz he could make the problem go away if she sent money for repairs.

Many people have heard about scams like these. Whether it's a person calling asking for money to help with a family emergency, or someone claiming to be an official agency like the Internal Revenue Service, the scam artists are looking for easy targets who won't ask questions. But Pietz wasn't one of them.

"The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was a scam," Pietz said at a forum earlier this week.

The Jan. 10 forum, held in Squirrel Hill, was hosted by Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro to discuss consumer protection and frauds against consumers. There, Shapiro pledged to fight against instances of fraud like Pietz experienced.

"There are scammers out there," Shapiro said. "We need the tools to go after them."

Other types of fraud and consumer-protection issues discussed included payday lending, fraudulent contractors, rent-to-own properties, and entities that take advantage of veterans. Ben Stahl, executive director of Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, says veterans often fall victim to for-profit education institutions and dishonest VA home-loan lenders.

"You'll see veterans see their GI bill completely drained," Stahl said.

"That's disgusting," Shapiro replied.

Another big topic at the forum was the conflict between Highmark and UPMC. The two health-care providers have been at odds for several years, and Lois Campbell, an organizer with the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, says senior citizens using Highmark insurance worry about being being barred from UPMC facilities. A consent decree that allows for access across the networks ends January 2019, a date Shapiro said he is well aware of.

"Anytime I'm in Pittsburgh, the issue of Highmark and UPMC comes up," Shapiro said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Shapiro announced for the first time that he would be creating an office of public engagement to provide consumers with better service from the attorney general's office.

"We can no longer be an attorney general's office that just looks inwards, just sitting in our office," Shapiro says.


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