Melissa Araiza wants consumers to investigate.
After a summer working in the Consumer Protection Division of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, she’s familiar with the many scams being used to bilk citizens; and, she said, a quick internet search of a business or individual’s name is usually enough to raise a red flag if there is a problem.
Araiza, who is heading into her second year at the University of Nebraska College of Law, said that living in the golden age of content and information has advantages and disadvantages.
“Scammers are getting smarter,” Araiza said. “They can learn enough easily to be able to sound like a professional. If I did the right kind of research, I could convince you that I worked for a construction company that had a reputable business, and that we needed $10,000 to be able to start this project.
“They can be kind and knowledgeable, and people may not always recognize whether someone's knowledgeable from the expertise of running a business for a long time or knowledgeable from doing the research to sound knowledgeable and trustworthy.”
But consumers can arm themselves with information, too.
“There are a lot of people who come to us with complaints, and many would be one-star companies on Yelp, or we’d Google them and complaints have been lodged against them with the Better Business Bureau,” Araiza said. “If you do a quick search, and there are multiple complaints, they’re most likely legitimate complaints from consumers trying to warn other people.”
Araiza spent the summer clerking for attorney investigators in the Consumer Protection Division, through a Janet D. Steiger Fellowship, which provides law students the opportunity to work in consumer protection departments in state Offices of Attorneys General and other consumer protection agencies. Araiza worked closely with investigators in the unit. She also attended hearings at the Federal Trade Commission that featured attorneys general from across the country.
As a clerk, Araiza wrote case briefs and settlement agreements regarding identity fraud, contract fraud, data breaches and more. Imposter scams — where a scammer pretends to be someone you know and asks for money — and home repair and improvement scams topped the list of complaints investigated this year by the Nebraska Attorney General.
Araiza said the work was fascinating and raised her awareness of career possibilities in public service law practice.
“My prior experience was with a private firm, so I'd never really considered public service law before, and I definitely would consider it now,” she said. “The general public is rarely aware of what the attorneys here are doing, but the general public is ultimately being protected by the work that they do. For me, by doing this work, I’m helping the entire state of Nebraska, and I think that is very cool.”
Araiza has signed on to continue working part-time for the Nebraska AG’s office, but will move to the criminal appellate division this fall, which will strengthen her litigation skills.
“Everyone here is very team oriented, and all the clerks got to sit down with the department heads, and talk about the work of each department. They are totally open to us trying out different divisions,” Araiza said. “Now, I’ll get to help with oral arguments under the supervision of an attorney, which means by the time I've graduated, I will be able to say that I have made arguments in front of the eighth circuit.”
The summer fellowship was one of many advantages Araiza found by coming back to Nebraska for law school. After completing her undergrad here in 2014, she moved to California with her husband where she worked as a receptionist and then a paralegal for a law firm there for several years.
“I looked at schools in California, but when I found out Nebraska had a law school, I was excited, because I already liked the undergrad experience here,” she said. “I'd be able to go back to the same campus, a similar atmosphere. Then, I started looking at the value rankings and job-placement and bar passage statistics, and Nebraska was the winning deal, no question.”