Beginning today, Korean-speaking residents can receive extra help from Howard County’s Office of Consumer Protection through a new initiative to provide Korean-fluent volunteers to assist the office’s help line.
The goal is to provide more service to Korean residents who may fall victim to consumer scams because of a language barrier, said Young Smith, senior vice president of the League of Korean Americans of Maryland, which is partnering with the county to provide the service. Scams could include loan and credit card fraud or unfulfilled or overpaid labor contracts.
Two volunteer Korean translators will serve the office’s phone lines from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays, said Office of Consumer Protection Administrator Rebecca Bowman. Residents who call 410-313-3820 will be answered by a Korean-speaking volunteer who will work with consumer protection staff to answer questions, help file consumer complaints and ensure the office stays in touch with residents.
The translation program is a first for the county, which has about 20,000 Korean-Americans and immigrants. The community makes up roughly 24 percent of Ellicott City’s population, according to recent census data, making it one of the mostly densely populated Asian communities in Maryland.
Smith said the program could be especially helpful for older Korean immigrants, whose children who may have previously helped with language barriers and have moved away.
The program is in partnership with Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, which launched its Korean translation program last year. The counties, which will share advertising costs, are the only counties in Maryland with their own consumer protection offices.
Montgomery Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman said the county receives roughly half a dozen calls each week for the Korean translators. The county also offers translation services in French, Russian, Spanish, three dialects of Chinese and hopes to add Vietnamese.
“Scams are the great equalizer,” Friedman said. “Crooks don’t care where you are from.”
County Executive Allan Kittleman, in his remarks at the program’s announcement, said members of the county’s Hispanic community hope to launch a Spanish-language translation program.
“You are the first,” Kittleman said. “And what you’re doing is going to make a difference for other communities in Howard County.”
Bowman said that while the office may only get one or two calls at first, once advertising and word of mouth spreads about the service, she expects to see those numbers grow.