Philly gets grant to help protect residents from schemes taking advantage of pandemic

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Mitch Little of the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity is overseeing the effort funded by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund.

“This is really about that $12.95 that you’re making in an occupation that makes you an essential employee, in a customer service or a retail job. That little bit of money that you bring home, we want you to be able to hold onto that and not respond to an email or a robocall and out of desperation think that it’s going to improve your financial situation,” Little said. 

He says the effort will target payday lenders, pawn shops, debt collection, document preparation.

“What we’ve heard lately is people paying to apply for unemployment,” Little added. 

Philadelphia’s former consumer advocate, Lance Haver, says it’s long overdue for the city to take up protecting residents again.

“Consumers are being overcharged for utilities, overcharged for insurance. I think that they’re being ripped off on a regular basis and in times of crisis, unfortunately what that means is the sharks come out to take advantage of people who are desperate,” Haver said.

Haver left the job nearly seven years ago and it has been unfilled ever since. 

Mayor Kenney’s chief of staff, Jim Engler, says the city has not neglected consumer protection but works with partners who have the ability to bring cases, such as the state attorney general’s office on consumer protection.

The bureau says it’s recovered $1.6 million for thousands of consumers who’ve brought complaints during the pandemic.