NJ Division of Consumer Affairs Collaborates with County College of Morris Students to Educate, Empower Consumers with Video PSAs
The State Division of Consumer Affairs presented certificates of appreciation to the County College of Morris students who produced a series of public service announcements to help protect consumers against fraudulent activities.
Pictured here: (front, l-r) Professor Ray Kalas, Cheyenne Terrill, Michaela Diprete, Megan Osmundsen, Casey Sherwood, Emily Mazzoni, Dr. Edward J. Yaw, president of CCM;
(back, l-r) Nicholas Kral, Jordan Kalmowitz, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs Thomas R. Calcagni, Joseph Scocca, Vincent Infinito, and Jack Cronin.
RANDOLPH, NJ – First, he's a shady, unlicensed and unqualified dentist offering to be "the guy who drills your teeth." Then, with a change of costume, he's an unregistered home improvement contractor promising to "fix" the roof you live under. Another wardrobe change, and he's an unlicensed barber.
As an unlicensed, unregistered "professional," he may do shoddy work and leave you exposed to loss or injury. He leers at the camera with an evil grin and asks: "And what can you do to stop me?"
The message is simple: So-called "professionals" who offer these and other services, without being properly licensed or registered, are not just violating the law; they're creating real and expensive risks for consumers. Before doing business with someone, take time to make sure the person or business is legitimate. Contact the State Division of Consumer Affairs, or visit the Division's website, to learn more.
All of this information comes across in just 30 seconds in "The Professional," one in a series of video public service announcements created by students in Professor Ray Kalas' TV Production II class at the County College of Morris. The PSAs were created in a first-ever collaboration with the State Division of Consumer Affairs, to support the Division's aggressive effort to empower consumers with information and awareness to protect themselves against fraud.
The students gained valuable experience in learning consumer protection issues, and in putting their TV production skills to real-world use. The Division of Consumer Affairs benefits from having commissioned well-made PSAs free of charge. The Division has placed the 10 PSAs online at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/mccpsa, will distribute them to TV channels able to play them at no cost, and will use them at consumer awareness seminars.
"The Division of Consumer Affairs protects consumers through swift, tough enforcement in the marketplace – and by empowering New Jerseyans with knowledge and awareness," Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs, said. "From the high school Consumer Bowl, to our FedUp presentations for senior citizens, to our series of free speaking engagements, we are working as aggressively and creatively as we can to make sure New Jersey's consumers know their rights and recognize how to prevent fraud."
To thank the students for their effort, the Division of Consumer Affairs today joined with the County College of Morris to hold a screening for all 10 public service announcements at the college's George Dragonetti Auditorium. Those in attendance included Calcagni, County College of Morris President Dr. Edward J. Yaw, Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Management Dr. Bette M. Simmons, Dean Patrick J. Enright of the Mathematics, Engineering and Technologies Division, and the members of the College Board of Trustees.
"Our students are among New Jersey's most highly motivated, creative, and technically competent, and they were very excited by the opportunity to take on projects that will help educate consumers about matters that directly affect their wallets and bank accounts," Dr. Edward J. Yaw, President of the County College of Morris, said. "We are extremely proud to partner with the State Division of Consumer Affairs on a project that helps students put their skills to practical use, and learn from the challenges along the way."
The following 30-second PSAs, developed for the Division of Consumer Affairs by County College of Morris students, can be found at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/mccpsa:
• "Bait and Switch," about the unconscionable business practice of that name; "Phishing," about a form of identity theft, and afore-mentioned "The Professional." All created by the student team of Michaela Diprete, Jeffrey Dunn, Nicholas Kral, Cheyenne Terrill and Peter Zollo.
• "Charity," about the importance of knowing how a charity will use your donated money; "Grandparent Scam," in which scammers try to convince senior citizens that a grandchild needs money in an emergency; and "Sweepstakes," about scams that say you've won a prize but must pay money first. All created by the student team of Jack Cronin, Vincent Infinito, Megan Osmundsen, Joseph Scocca, and Blaise Scott-Miller.
• "Internet Fraud – Western" and "Internet Fraud – Pickpocket," which show that giving away your credit card or other personal information to a stranger on the Internet can be no different than having it get stolen by a thief." Created by the student team of Jordan Kalmowitz, Shannon McArdle, Haley O'Sullivan, Casey Sherwood, and Dylan Whitman
• "Lemon Law," which uses humor to illustrate the frustration of buying a car that turns out to be a lemon, and reminds consumers to work with the Division of Consumer Affairs on getting restitution. Created by the student team of Vincent Infinito and Joseph Scocca.
"The partnership between our TV Production II class and the State Division of Consumer Affairs has been an extremely rewarding challenge, with positive results for everyone involved," Professor Ray Kalas said. "The County College of Morris students benefit from stretching their skills to meet the demands of an important State agency. The Division of Consumer Affairs benefits from developing these products at no cost to taxpayers. And New Jersey's consumers benefit from receiving the message about preventing fraud and protecting themselves."
Calcagni pointed out that each PSA covers a topic of real importance to New Jersey consumers, and that basic awareness can help consumers protect themselves against losses of hundreds or thousands of dollars. For example:
• Complaints about services provided by unlicensed or unregistered professionals are a significant concern.
- During the past two years, the Division of Consumer Affairs worked with local law enforcement agencies on the arrests of approximately 18 individuals who performed medical or dental procedures without a license or with a revoked or suspended license. As a result of working with unlicensed dentists, patients have suffered infections, broken teeth that were not fully extracted, and unconsciousness following the injection of anesthesia.
Additionally, the Division received a total of 1,401 complaints against dishonest or unregistered home improvement contractors in 2010, the second-most common complaint reported by consumers last year.
The Division of Consumer Affairs this week launched an iPhone application, "New Jersey Professional License Lookup," available for free download at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/new-jersey-professional-license/id438476801?mt=8 . The application allows consumers to check on the license or registration of approximately 600,000 individuals who work in regulated professions, from accountants to nurses to master plumbers.
• In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 60,000 complaints nationwide, and 1,549 in New Jersey, about the Grandparent Scam and related "impostor scams." The State Division of Consumer Affairs noted that the average New Jersey victim who complained about the Grandparent Scam lost $3,500.
• Identity theft was the most common Internet crime reported last year in New Jersey, according to the FBI/National White Collar Crime Center's 2010 Internet Crime Report. The report noted 2,300 identity theft complaints in New Jersey last year, with a median loss of $740 per complaint.
• Since January 1, 2010, the Division of Consumer Affairs pursued nearly 200 Lemon Law complaints against the dealers of new cars, used cars, or motorized wheelchairs, resulting in $992,608 restitution to consumers.
• Since January 1, 2010, the Division of Consumer affairs has received and acted upon 45 complaints against charities for allegations including harassment, misrepresentation, or deception. The Division encourages consumers to "investigate before you donate," and learn how charities spend donated dollars before making a contribution. The Division keeps an updated list of the "New Jersey's Top 10 Inquired-About Charities," with detailed financial information, at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/charity/inquired/#list .
• Since January 1, 2010, the Division of Consumer Affairs has receved and acted upon 84 complaints about sweepstakes scams; and 41 complaints about companies using bait-and-switch tactics,
As the County College of Morris enters its fifth decade of excellence, the college continues to carry out its founders' mission to provide the community with an outstanding, affordable education. Since it opened in 1968, more than 42,000 graduates have passed through CCM's halls. Many have become teachers, nurses, police officers, doctors and engineers. CCM has also been a community resource for those seeking to enhance their careers through additional education.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs offers speakers or seminars, free of charge, to diverse groups including college and high school clubs and classes, parent-teacher organizations, senior citizens groups, religious organizations, civic groups, and others. Organizations may contact the Division to request a speaker at 973-504-6317 or www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/outreach/speaker.htm. Current and past topics for speaking events include Credit Repair, Identity Theft, the Senior Fraud Education and Prevention (FEDUP) Program, Hiring a Contractor, and Selling Precious Metals.