Sandra Hernandez, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), January 21, 2005
Elian Degen considered himself a prudent man, indulging in few luxuries since arriving in Florida two years ago.
But when Degen saw a Spanish-language television ad promising a Pro-Line credit card to viewers without previous credit histories or Social Security card numbers, the 52-year-old Venezuelan paid close attention.
He dialed the number on the screen and applied. But within minutes of hanging up, Degen felt uneasy. He called back to cancel and his problems began: telephone callers threatened him with prosecution unless he sent them the $299 processing fee. Like thousands of Hispanics across the United States, Degen found himself caught in a scam. Until recently, many of these frauds went unreported and undetected by the Federal Trade Commission despite boldly placed ads on Spanish-language television networks and radio stations.
But the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on the growing number of schemes targeting Latinos, which range from advance fee cards to ineffective weight loss programs. Last year, the FTC filed cases against 19 companies, with at least five filed in Florida and California.
An FTC survey released in 2004 found Hispanics were nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be victims of fraud.
While 6 percent of the whites had been defrauded, 12 percent of the Hispanics had been bilked.
While the study offered no explanation, some experts suggest immigration status and language may spur con artists to focus on Latinos.