Over 50 ethnic media and community activists met with top officials from the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s leading consumer protection agency, to hear the latest advice on trending scams and how to prevent them. Information is the key weapon – getting the word out through trusted messengers – said Rosario Mendez in her opening remarks at the June 27 convening held at the Houston Endowment.

Even more important is that the people targeted by scams report them to us, Mendez, FTC Assistant Director, Division of Consumer & Business Education, emphasized. Serena Mosley-Day, from the agency’s SW Regional Office, cited three recent cases in Texas where the FTC used its enforcement powers to prosecute fraudsters, resulting in reimbursements of up to millions of dollars.

Reporting what’s happened means overcoming fears of being stigmatized or dealing with authorities — but it’s how you can get justice and defeat the scammers. It also means knowing who the key fraud-busting agents are at the local level. Starting off with lawyers from the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District, the Fort Bend DA’s office, and Lone Star Legal Aid, also in Fort Bend, the conference then opened to a lively exchange featuring representatives from the Houston PD and non-profit agencies, and questions as well as personal stories from local reporters.

Among the highlights of the exchange:

Scams Targeting Vulnerable Communities

John Brewer, Chief of the Economic Crimes Division at the Fort Bend District Attorney’s Office, provided a detailed breakdown of how different ethnic communities are targeted by scams. Brewer highlighted the risks for the Latino community, who often obtain fraudulent documents like driver’s licenses or Social Security cards to secure employment or housing. “Simply having those documents in their possession is a felony,” Brewer warned.

In the African community, Brewer noted the prevalence of money transfer schemes, where criminals use bank accounts to move money, which constitutes money laundering. For the Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern communities, he pointed out that business transactions are often based on relationships and handshakes without formal contracts, making it easier for scammers to exploit trust.

Romance Scams and Financial Exploitation

Sandy Close, Executive Director of Ethnic Media Services, summarized the powerful lesson experts shared on romance scams, which often manipulates victims into laundering money unknowingly. “Romance scams take more from you than money; they may turn you into a criminal,” Close warned.

Krystal Walker, Executive Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, underscored the importance of vigilance. “My main takeaway is verify, verify, verify! If you care about your money, verify that you’re sending it to the right place and that you’re sending it to the right person. Don’t be afraid to ask,” she advised.

Phishing and Email Scams

Sheroo Mukhtiar, Executive Director of SERJobs & Financial Empowerment Center, shared her experience with phishing emails, where scammers impersonated her to target employees. “I was naive to think that nonprofits would be spared from scam and fraud because we do good work in the community, of course, I was wrong with that because, if anything, we are seen as an easy target,” she said. Mukhtiar’s story highlighted the need for vigilance and verification of unsolicited emails.

Immigrants and Language Barriers

Fraudsters often exploit vulnerable populations, including immigrants who may struggle with language barriers. Zenobia Lai, Executive Director of Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, pointed out that scammers capitalize on the confusion surrounding constantly changing immigration policies.

“You all hear from the news basically every week there’s a new immigration policy. Sometimes in the immigrant community, it is very difficult to really know what is going on,” she said. Scammers promise to help with immigration status in exchange for large sums of money, exploiting the victims’ fear and uncertainty.

Practical Advice and Community Support

Stephanie Bauman, Elder Justice Coordinator at the United States Attorney’s Office, stressed the importance of reporting scams. “When you realize that something has happened, please report it,” she urged. Timely reporting can prevent further victimization and help authorities take action against fraudsters.

Tariq Gladney, Managing Attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid (Fort Bend), discussed the broader societal impact of scams, emphasizing that “Scams can lead to financial ruin and loss of homes. If you think about the wealth gap and more people falling into poverty, it is something that society as a whole should be concerned about.”

Elizabeth Tran, Legal Services Director at Houston Volunteer Lawyers, encouraged the community to seek help.

“A lot of people in our community are afraid to talk and they don’t want to tell other people about their woes just because they’re like ‘we’ve talked about it too many times,’” Tran said. “They’re scared they don’t want to be embarrassed, but a lot of times too is that they just don’t know if whether or not they have a legal issue. They know that they’ve been wronged, and they need some help.”

Alarming Fraud Statistics

Mendez provided a sobering overview of the latest fraud statistics. “Last year in 2023, the FTC received 2.6 million reports related to fraud. People reported losing $10 billion to fraud, a substantial increase from the previous year. One out of four people who reported fraud to the FTC in 2023 also reported losing money. Impersonator scams were the most-reported scam, with higher losses to business imposters. When the scam started on social media, people reported losing the most money overall to scammers, but when the scammer called, the per-person loss was the highest. Younger adults (ages 20-29) reported losing money more often than older adults (ages 70+), but when older adults did lose money, they lost more than anyone else. These numbers are staggering. We know that fraud and scams affect all communities. And scammers don’t just scam one person, so if you see or experience a fraud, scam, or any bad business practice, help your community and help protect your friends and family by reporting it to the FTC.”

Key Takeaways

To conclude, the FTC briefing underscored the importance of staying informed and vigilant. Mosley-Day recommended careful consideration of payment methods, “Watch how you’re paying for things. If someone wants you to pay in cryptocurrency, wire transfer, gift cards, checks, do not use their methods of payment. I am a belt and suspenders person so if I’m not 100% sure of what’s happening, I will pay you with a credit card through a processor because then I have two levels of protection that I can protest if you end up not being the person that I thought you were.”

The collective message from the briefing was clear: vigilance, reporting, and community support are essential in combating scams. 

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Ninfa Saavedra
Student Board Representative

Digital Content Specialist | Houston Area News | Journalism Enthusiast Greetings! I’m Ninfa Saavedra, a seasoned Digital Content Specialist specializing in the Houston area news industry. With a career spanning over six years, I have developed a deep understanding of the digital landscape and its impact on journalism. My journey in this field began during my middle school years when I was introduced to a media program at Lake Olympia Middle School, igniting my passion for storytelling. Beyond work, I find joy in maintaining an active lifestyle, exploring new cultures through travel, and indulging in the culinary wonders of 5-star restaurants. Let’s connect and collaborate on exciting projects!

Rebecca Briscoe
Education Chair

Rebecca Briscoe is a Partnership Coordinator for the United States Census Bureau- Denver Region. She is responsible for developing partnerships with state and local governments, community based organizations, faith-based organizations, schools, media outlets, businesses and grassroots entities.
Briscoe has over a decade of experience working in the public sector as a public administrator, certified educator in title one schools, and as an adjunct professor in higher education. Rebecca is an avid writer with strong national media affiliations and publicity ties. 

While working as a National Features Correspondent at Houston Style Magazine, Briscoe formulated strategic partnerships with many high-profile projects, including Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, NBA, NFL, NASCAR, HBO Sports, BET Networks and the PGA Tour for the publication. Making history is merely a milestone because she has taken the initiative to report the most coveted national events such as: Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Grammy’s, Essence Fest, ESPY’s, NASCAR, BET Awards, MLK Memorial Dedication, HBO Fight Night, and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, just to name a few. Briscoe was the first minority journalist from a minority publication to cover the epitome of sports awards show: The ESPYS, making Houston Style Magazine the first minority publication allowed to cover the event since the awards show’s 20th year inception.

Briscoe holds a BS in Education from Louisiana State University, a Masters in Public Administration from the Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, and a post-graduate certificate in Homeland Security from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University.  

Jennifer Moore

Jennifer Moore

VP, Multimedia

An experienced communications expert with emphasis on leadership, management, strategic planning, problem solving, marketing, marketing strategy, online marketing, public relations, graphic design and speech writing, internal and external communications, public speaking, crisis management, corporate communications, branding, managing large teams, project managing multiple projects across different functions, communications consultant and media relations. But most importantly, I’m results driven.

17+ years of executing successful communications plans & strategies to millions.

Everyone needs an effective communicator – and in the midst of social media & misinformation, my skills are needed now more than ever.

Currently the Executive Producer for dayside newscasts at KHOU 11 News in Houston. Responsible for molding producers and reporters who work on the station’s noon, 4p-hour, 5p and 6p newscasts.

My skills go beyond the news of the day, as I’m proud to have led a team of anchors, producers, graphic designers, editors and photographers as EP of two Juneteenth documentaries. Links to both specials can be found under my work experience

The first special, Juneteenth: 1865-2021, did more than just touch on what happened during the emancipation of enslaved Texans, it then chronicled the history of the Black American experience to the present day.

My passions also lie in public speaking, social media presentation, community outreach, and education about communication in general.

I have experience as a multimedia producer (for television and web), reporter, public relations specialist and television host.

Specialties: Communication, writing, public relations, producing, t.v. personality, shooting and editing video, public speaking, etc…

*Final Cut Pro
*Luci Chyron Program
*Axis Graphics Program
*Hatmos graphics
*Inergize Web Program
*Canvas Technology web system
*Microsoft Teams
*AP Playbook

ShaVonne Herndon
Membership Chair

ShaVonne Herndon is in her 7th year as a Graphics Operator for ESPN. She is a former news reporter, previously working at KTAB (Abilene, Texas), KWTX (Waco, Texas), KYTX (Longview, Texas) and KTAL (Shreveport, La). 

Herndon proudly joined the National Association of Black Journalists in 2006. From volunteering at national conferences and coordinating panels, she continues to pour her energy into the organization, and is proud to now serve on the local Board.

Herndon attends Garden Oaks Church of Christ. In her spare time, you can find her on a yoga mat or spending time with family. This Houstonian is a graduate of Lamar High school (Go Redskins) and Abilene Christian University. Herndon says she is eager to welcome new members into this fine organization and enter greater heights with HABJ

Alexis Jones

Alexis “Fly” Jones serves as a CBS-TV producer for KHOU Ch.11’s Great Day Houston with host Deborah Duncan.

Graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2007, Alexis received her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media from Clark Atlanta University (HBCU).

Her experience in media and entertainment include serving as a Vice-President for a Public Relations Firm, working for Music World Entertainment (formerly Beyoncé Knowles & Destiny Child’s Management Company), and Guerrilla Tactics Media (producers of BET’s reality show “Master of the Mix”).

She is additionally on staff with The Defender Network, and recently served as an original co-host for 93.7 The Beat “Blessed Beatz” radio show.

A well-traveled and sought-after speaker, Alexis has participated as a panelist and moderator, while hosting various events for major brands such as Walmart, Harmony Public Schools and Fashion Group International.

When it comes to service to the community, she’s a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc., serving formerly as a local chapter president.

Her personal brand, affectionately known as Alexis “Fly,” sets out to inspire individuals – no matter the age – to have full out confidence in themselves– encouraging many to fly high and to DO SO… with ALL FAITH and NO FEAR!!!

vannessa wade
Vannessa Wade
Media Monitor

Vannessa Wade is the founder and CEO of Connect The Dots PR. Often called an “idea oven” and “branding magnet,” she has been featured in magazines such as Black Enterprise and Fast Company. 

From working on legislative campaigns, to supporting UNICEF, Wade has been able to help brands position themselves in newsworthy and culturally relevant ways. Her contacts span the gamut across the African American media and influencer landscape. 

Wade is as driven about public service as she is about public relations.  She volunteers her time and expertise to various civic organizations including Kids Meals and The Sickle Cell Marc Thomas Foundation. She serves as Diversity Chair for PRSA Houston, Executive Director of ColorComm Houston and has spoken at The Texas Conference for Women and presented at NABJ. In 2015, she created a branding series aimed at helping college students learn how to brand themselves. 

Wade is a graduate of the University of Houston.

Freddie Willis

Freddie Willis has more than 25 years of experience in journalism, primarily writing for newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, The Times Picayune and the Associated Press. He is currently a freelance journalist for several media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle (freelance writer and statistician for high school football), Regal Magazine (sports writer) and BallerTV.com (videographer). 

The New Orleans, Louisiana native also has 12 years experience in television production, serving as an associate producer for WGNO-TV as part of its production of the first 30-minute high school highlight show in NOLA in 1992. 

Willis is a graduate of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma and has taught journalism as an adjunct professor at Texas Southern University.

He’s proudly made Houston home for the last 14 years and is the longest serving HABJ board member. 

Vicky Heileman Pink
Vice President, Photojournalism

Vicky Heileman Pink, a native Houstonian, is the owner of an independent photography and video company known as VP Productions with over 21 years of experience. She is the chief photographer at Houston Style Magazine and her work has been featured in several local and national publications. She is co-founder of IF (International Focus) Magazine and serves as Director of Operations of The Coalition of Community Organizations (COCO) in Houston, Texas .

Vicky was the first of 7 siblings to attend college. Her freshman year, she was the Engineering Honors Program at Tuskegee University. Due to finances, she transferred to the University of Houston. She eventually moved to California and obtained her Associates degree in English from West Los Angeles College. She then attended Cal State Dominguez Hills and changed her major to Communications. After moving back to Houston, she graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Radio and Television. Her documentary on “The Jaybirds of Fort Bend County” aired on PBS and is now part of the Kendleton Historical Society.

Vicky worked 7 years in Computer Operations at Exxon Upstream Technical Computing, then taught Montessori classes, but decided in 2002 to venture out on her own and pursue her passion as a videographer. In 2008, she began working with Houston Style Magazine as a contributing writer and photojournalist.

As a small minority business owner, Vicky has worked with a variety of corporate and individual clients on many projects. She currently serves on the board of the Houston Association of Black Journalists as VP of Photojournalism, the University of Houston Black Alumni Association and as Co-Chair of the Lectors at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. She is a member of Sisters in the Spirit, The Core (Bo Porter), Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce, the North East Cultural Arts Council and the East End Chamber of Commerce.

Vicky holds a Certificate of Achievement from the Houston Area Urban League’s Small Business Development University, a certificate for the Climate Reality Leadership Training, a certificate of completion for the MAPPS Environmental Health Leadership Training, and a Certificate of Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She has been honored with a Global Achievement Award, the Diamond Award for being a Catalyst for Change and many others. She also has received recognition for volunteering as a guest speaker at events and career days, and for teaching photography workshops and classes.

Vicky’s work has been published in Forbes Magazine, Modern Luxury, The Houston Chronicle, Texas Small Business Magazine, Culture Map, Paper City, Ebony and others. She currently shoots the cover photos for International Focus Magazine, which features a Consul General from a different country each month. Her work has allowed her to travel nationally and abroad. In 2012, she was the hired photographer for a reception in River Oaks with President Barack Obama.

She is very proud of her two daughters, son and two grandchildren. Being a single parent for many years, she strives to instill a legacy of faith, determination and entrepreneurship in all of them. Her future endeavors include creating historic documentaries on disadvantaged communities and informing the public about Sickle Cell Disease.

Erica Simon
Vice President, Broadcasting

Erica Simon is the VP of Multimedia for HABJ and the Weekend Morning Anchor at KTRK ABC13. As a native Texan, she couldn’t be happier to call H-Town home. She comes from a station in Jacksonville, Florida where she received two Emmy nominations — one for team coverage spot news and one for team coverage during Hurricane Matthew. While there, she also anchored the station’s Weekend Morning newscast and helped bring it to a #1 ranking.

After Duncanville High School (in the Dallas area,) she went off to the Midwest and graduated with a major in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sociology from the University of Missouri. From there, she anchored and reported for KOMU-TV, then spent two years at KTAL in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Some of Simon’s most memorable interviews include NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Civil Rights icon Andrew Young.

One of her biggest passions outside of work is service. Simon has mentored teen girls for years and gone on three international mission trips. In Costa Rica, she helped feed an entire village and take care of the Sunday School kids at their sister congregation. In the Dominican Republic, her team threw a Christmas party at a special-needs orphanage, washed children’s hair in a Haitian village and visited widows.

In addition to the National Association of Black Journalists, Simon is part of the Missouri Alumni Association. She loves sports, traveling and hanging with her husband and Sampson, their Dalmatian. They also just entered a new chapter with the birth of their first child. 

Joy Sewing
VP, Print
Joy Sewing is Houston Chronicle’s fashion and beauty editor, covering fashion, beauty, fitness and other lifestyle topics. She is one of a handful of full-time fashion editors at major newspapers around the country. 
An award-winning journalist, Joy holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from University of Houston, a master’s degree in business management from Webster University and taught journalism at Central Missouri State University. She has received several prestigious national journalism fellowships on issues concerning Latin America and the African Diaspora; one in which she lived and worked in Mexico and another in which she traveled to Cuba with a team of U.S. journalists to study racism in the country. 
Joy has worked for the Kansas City Star and the New York Post and has written regularly for Money, People, Vibe, Shape, Time, Town & Country and other magazines. She has interviewed hundreds of famous faces, from Oscar de la Renta to Houston’s own Beyoncé. She also is a regular TV fashion commentator and often speaks to corporations and groups about workplace dress issues, style trends and other topics.  
In 2018, she debuted her first book, “Ava and the Prince: The Adventures of Two Rescue Pups, in celebration of Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog month. The children’s picture book chronicles the true-life story of her rescue boxer dogs, Ava and Prince. Joy has a passion for rescue animals. When Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston in 2017, hundreds of animals were lost, abandoned or homeless in the weeks following the storm. Joy became the go-to Houston Chronicle reporter for “animal rescue and reunion” coverage. Her children’s book was selected for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation home-library program and was a bestseller on Amazon.com. 
Joy also has a passion for helping children and is founder of Year of Joy, a 501(c)(3) organization that provides joyful experiences for children from underserved communities. Since December 2016, nearly 700 area children, ages 5 through 16, have participated in the organization’s cultural, educational and empowering experiences, including the annual Year of Joy Holiday Ice Skating party at Discovery Green.  
Joy is also a former competitive ice skater and became Houston’s first professional African American ice-skating coach while in college. 
Bridgett S. Holden

To date, Bridgett S. Holden is the Principal Owner of Houston based Public Relations Firm, SHE Bridges PR (SBPR), whose slogan matches its purpose of “Bridging the Gap Between You and the Media!” Bridgett has evolved her company by strategically branding her clients in the industries of Fashion, Beauty, Entertainment, Sports, Nonprofits, and Politics. She has successfully secured Brand Placements for her clients via media outlets through television, radio, print, and podcasts on International, National, Local and Digital platforms! Always keeping on trend to grow her company, Bridgett became certified with the City of Houston, The Port of Houston, METRO, the State of Texas and the Federal Government in 2016; qualifying SHE Bridges PR to do business with local/state and government entities as an MBE, WBE, SBE, HUB and WOSB Minority Owned Business. For the past 20 years, Bridgett has successfully managed the roles of being a business owner, entrepreneur, volunteer, board member, speaker, cohost on several podcast, Host of Bridge Talk TV Podcast, Content Creator, YouTuber, Fashion Enthusiast, and an active participant in the Houston community. In 2009 Bridgett was named volunteer of the year by the West Orem YMCA for leading the board in exceeding their fundraiser goal of $50,000 during their Partnership Campaign to the tune of $64,000. She has served on (and is a member) of the Houston Association of Black Journalists (HABJ) Board which raises scholarships for college students majoring in Journalism as the Media Monitor. She is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), has served on the Men of Style Steering Committee which raises funds to find a cure for Sickle Cell Anemia, and has served on the Texas Drowning Prevention Alliance Board which brings awareness to local communities around drowning prevention. Bridgett currently serves on the Dreams UnleaSHEd She Networks Board, a nonprofit organization whose Mission & Vision is to grow and develop young ladies for holistic success. She is often seen on Fox 26’s Isiah Factor Uncensored as a commentator lending her expert opinion on various news stories from a PR perspective. Bridgett is a proud mom of one son (Kamren) who is currently
getting his MBA in Criminal Justice at the University of North Texas. Bridgett’s philosophy in life is to be intentionally happy every day because Peace is Priceless!

Nakia Cooper

Nakia Cooper wears many hats. She is an anchor and news & digital coordinator for KTSU 90.9 fm radio and Vibe Houston, media coordinator for the United States Department of Commerce- Census Bureau, the owner of NewsWithAttitude.com and Bayou Beat News (digital magazines) and an adjunct journalism professor at Texas Southern University.

This multi-award winning journalist, digital and social media expert proudly served as the first African American person to manage a digital media department at a Houston television news station (CW39 Houston). Prior to that, Cooper was in leadership as senior web producer at both KHOU 11 News (CBS) and KPRC 2 (NBC). Over the last decade, Cooper has helped solidify team wins for her web departments, boasting an Emmy, two Edward R. Murrow, three Associated Press and two Lone Star Press Awards for outstanding digital coverage. 

Cooper loves to give back and co-founded Sister 2 Sistah, a mentoring organization for college women of color fighting to overcome obstacles. Her “each one teach one” hands-on approach has helped secure more than a dozen mentees in intern and job placements across the country. Cooper’s career and charitable accomplishments have been featured in Black Enterprise, USA Today, Black Doctor, the Houston Chronicle and Equal Opportunity Magazine, to name a few. She has also received a Congressional proclamation from the Hon. Sheila Jackson Lee and a Letter of Recognition from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.  Cooper has a BA Journalism and MA Communications and Digital Media Studies, both received at her alma mater TSU. While in college, Cooper was the president of the TSU Association of Black Journalists (TSUABJ), contributing reporter for the TSU Herald and executive producer of the KTSU 90.9 FM student newscast. Cooper has spoken on more than two dozen national and local panels on the topics of digital and social media, and the breaking news industry.  

Cooper describes herself as a sassy Southern Belle who is not afraid to “fight like a man” while remaining true to womanhood. She is proud to have broken through a few glass ceilings, but her biggest and best productions to date are her two children.