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D.C. mayor's office fails to enforce anti-fraud law, auditor says

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,D.C. Council,Vincent Gray

Over the course of 12 years, three successive D.C. mayors have ignored a law that authorized the creation of a task force and a fund to combat telephone fraud.

A report released this week from the D.C. Auditor's Office calls on the city to act immediately to finally implement a law meant to protect residents against nefarious callers attempting to trick residents into handing over credit card information or other personal information for financial gain.

"To continue to ignore the requirements of the Telephone Fraud Amendment Act and the Auditor's repeated recommendations, needlessly exposes District residents to possible telemarketing fraud," the report reads.

More than a decade ago, the D.C. Council passed the Telephone Fraud Amendment Act of 2000, hoping to protect D.C. residents from cons committed over the phone. The bill set civil and criminal penalties for telephone fraud. It also authorized a fraud prevention fund and called for a task force to prevent telephone fraud.

But mayors have ignored that law and the Auditor's Office's calls to enforce it, according to the report from D.C. Auditor Yolanda Branche's office.

In 2002, the city auditor produced a similar report, urging then-Mayor Anthony Williams' administration to act.

"[T]he District of Columbia has not implemented the regulatory requirements for telemarketers set forth in the law," wrote Deborah Nichols, then the D.C. auditor. She said the mayor's office failed to create "a program for educating District residents, especially our most vulnerable citizens, about the potentially devastating financial impact of telephone fraud."

The new audit took D.C. Council members' staff and the mayor's office by surprise.

"This law far predates us and we have to look into it, we will review the auditor's report," mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro wrote in an email.

However, the audit says, "A change in administrations during the 12 year period since the enactment of the Act did not eliminate the responsibility of the Office of the Mayor to establish the Fund."

Ben Young, chief of staff for Councilman David Catania, wrote in an email, "I am not familiar with this legislation. Of course, it predated me, so that probably explains why."

Catania co-sponsored a 1999 version of the bill, according the Council's website.

"He wasn't heavily involved," Young wrote in an email. "He said he does not recall much about it."

According to the Auditor's Office, the bill required the Auditor's Office to conduct a yearly review of the law's effects. However, the Auditor's Office has produced only two reports on the subject, one in 2002 and another this week.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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