by admin_lauth | Mar 28, 2019 | Consumer Fraud, Cyber Crime, Cyber Investigations, Fraud, Personal Investigations, Phishing, Resources, Tips & Facts
Being a responsible consumer in the year 2019 means educating yourself—not just on the products and services—but of the ways scammers and thieves exploit consumer behavior for their own financial gain. As technology advances with the convenience of SMS text messaging as a security feature, financial applications that put your finances at your fingertips, and the tangled world wide web, consumer fraud scams will only continue to mutate and evolve. Here are five of the most common types of consumer fraud scams to avoid in 2019.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Financial Fraud Unit, mortgage fraud exploits a consumer’s fear of losing their home to make a quick buck. Mortgage fraud schemes come in many forms, including but not limited to equity skimming, loan modifications, and foreclosure rescue schemes. The perpetrators behind these schemes are often former real estate professionals who use their intimate knowledge of mortgages to swindle homeowners in distress. Real estate agents who are currently employed can exploit their authority to bolster the validity of their scheme. The FBI and FTC advise that consumers should be wary of any unsolicited phone calls, emails, regarding their home finances, and never sign any paperwork or documentation that they do not fully comprehend.
Debit Card Fraud
Debit card fraud occurs when an individual’s debit card information is obtained to make fraudulent purchases. Debit card fraud is one of the most difficult schemes to avoid in day-to-day life, because so many Americans have gradually transitioned from carrying cash to carrying only their debit card as means of legal tender. Anyone with access to the debit card’s information—including the businesses and vendors we trust every day—can pull this information to commit a fraud. Unfortunately, the only recourse consumers have in protecting themselves is to avoid letting their card ever leave their sight, and to keep a watchful eye on their accounts and report any suspicious activity.
Perhaps one of the most despicable types of consumer fraud is charity fraud. Scammers set up shell organizations to receive donations that do not go to those in need, but rather line the scammer’s pockets. Frauds of these type spike significantly during the holidays and in the wake of natural disasters in order to exploit humankind’s benevolence. The name of the game with charities is research. Any charity worth its salt is going to stand up to a great deal of due-diligence and fact-finding. Part of being a responsible consumer is knowing where your money is going.
Winning the lottery is a dream of many Americans, with fantasies of kicking back and never having to put in another hard day’s work for the rest of their lives. Despite the wide range of demographics with these dreams, lottery fraud scams usually effect senior citizens in the United States. The scam usually begins with a letter or email letting the individual know they have won. The correspondence usually includes details about fees that are involved with receiving their winnings. The FTC warns that individuals who have won a legitimate lottery prize of any kind should never have to pay a fee to collect their winnings, and consumers should be suspect of any unsolicited correspondence stating as such. Consumers should also be advised that United States law does not support the sale and transference of international lottery tickets, so any correspondence from international lotteries is most certainly a scam.
Studies by Javelin Strategy & Research conducted over the last seven years indicate that in 2017, there were as many as 16.7 million Americans impacted by identity fraud, with $16.8 million in stolen funds and assets. Identity theft can be committed for a number of reasons. Perpetrators can steal an individual’s information with the purpose of starting over again under a different name, or to escape their creditors. Most commonly, however, identity fraud is simply committed with the explicit purpose of stealing money from American consumers. Once a scammer has an individual’s identifying information, like dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and their mother’s maiden name, they can use that data to make fraudulent purchases in the victim’s name, withdraw funds from their bank accounts, and destroy their credit, leaving them financially arrested. The aftermath of identity fraud is devastating and can cause shockwaves across decades with exponential consequences.
If you have been the victim of a consumer fraud scam, contact a private investigator today to learn how their unique set of skills and professional autonomy can help you locate the scammer in your midst. Call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation (317-951-1100) and a simple solution to your consumer crisis.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigation, fraud, and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.
by admin_lauth | Jan 17, 2019 | Consumer Fraud, Fraud, Fraud and Forgery Evergreen, Investigations, Resources, Tips & Facts
ShutDown: Consumer Fraud Investigations Halted
The United States government has been shut down for almost four weeks, sending shockwaves throughout a nation already gripped by tumultuous politics and controversial issues. In addition to institutions like the National Parks System, and the National Institute of Health, all federal employees have currently been laid off from duty, and a majority of their services suspended. The ripple effect is dizzying, with many of the governments services being on hold for the duration of the shutdown. Many consumers across the country are not aware of the shutdown’s impact on some of our nation’s best departments, so you can imagine their shock when they phoned to report a consumer complaint, and were told the government couldn’t help them.
When running normally, the government requires a wealth of quality communication to run smoothly. As many federal employees remain on furlough, therefore not being compensated, everyone’s level of communication with one another is atypical and—as many federal employees are called in without pay—constantly breaking down. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the federal agency that fields the influx of consumer complaints. A consumer submits their complaint about a business or financial entity to the CFPB, which is reviewed. According to the CFPB, after the complaint is reviewed, “We’ll forward your complaint and any documents you provide to the company and work to get a response from them. If we find that another government agency would be better able to assist, we will forward your complaint to them and let you know.” The CFPB remains in operation and was not effected by the shutdown, but if the agency is ill-equipped to deal with the complaint, they may never get off the ground, as the appropriate department might be effected by the shutdown. This leaves many consumers displaced when it comes to voicing their concerns about products and services.
This suspension of protection services has allowed the beast of robo-calls to fester and become feral, as consumers cannot block or report harassing robo-calls. They’re left screaming into the void. Alex Quilici, the chief executive of YouMail—a smartphone application that helps consumers block robo-calls—describes it, “It’s a neighborhood with no police on the beat.” YouMail estimated, just last month, there were 5 billion robo-calls made, and 50% of calls made in early 2019 could be coming from scammers and robots attempting to fraudulently obtain your information. These horrifying statistics are the codas for a chorus of federal employees who are aware of the scope of the problem, like Jessica Rosenworcel, the Federal Communications Commission Commissioner, “The number of robo-calls consumers are receiving is insane. The problem just keeps growing. Shutting down the government is not going to help.” As of this moment, there is no one to administrate the “Do Not Call” list, the national registry in which consumers can ask specific companies not to contact them.
The Federal Communications Commission is just one of many threads woven into the Federal Trade Commission. Another voiceless victim of the shutdown is the victim of identity fraud. Louette Duvall is one of these victims. Not long after the holidays were over, Duvall’s car was pilfered by thieves while she was at her job. They made off with her purse, her briefcase, and a wealth of identifying information that amounted to a scammer’s treasure trove. Fraudulent charges started rolling in as she scrambled to alert all of her creditors and financial institutions that she had been robbed. She began calculating the full scope of the theft’s ramifications: New checkbooks ordered, extravagant items ordered in her name, new credit cards, the list goes on and on. When she called the Federal Trade Commission to let them know her identity had been stolen, she was told they could not help her due to the government shutdown. FTC data prior to the shutdown stated that the agency received thousands of calls a day regarding identity theft alone. That’s thousands of crimes going uninvestigated every day, a Washington Post reporter pointed out when they became a victim as well. Not only are new crimes going unreported, but investigative resources are also frozen. The Consumer Sentinel Network helps investigators track the movement of identity theft and related frauds to build cases against the perpetrators, and it remains down as of day 26 of the longest government shutdown in history. At a minimum, the FTC is still allowing individuals to file complaints so that they be issued an affidavit for their creditors’ purposes.
News coverage of the shutdown has attempted to sharpen the big picture for Americans when it comes to the ripple effect of the government shutdown. While many federal agencies might be unable to assist consumers with complaints, there is recourse for consumers experiencing the myriad of issues helmed by the Federal Trade Commission. There are online, step-by-step resources for obtaining documentation to dispute fraudulent charges and claims. Consumers can also retain the services of a private investigator. One of the most beneficial aspects of hiring a private investigator is that they are the top of the chain of command in their firm. They are the ones calling the shots in any investigation, not a supervisor nor a superior. They will represent your interests and your interests alone. As is the case with many frauds and thefts, perpetrators tend to either operate remotely, or move quickly to evade law enforcement. Acting independently, private investigators will be able to move as fluidly as a scammer, crossing jurisdictional boundaries with little to no red tape. Statistics surrounding fraud indicate that many federal investigators in charge of tracking down scammers and thieves are inundated with a never-ending stream of complaints. This means their attention can be divided over and over again across a heavy caseload. A typical private investigator only handles between 3-4 cases at a time, meaning your case can be a priority for them and not just another file in a drawer.
Political pundits and talking heads don’t project a sunny forecast when it comes to the shutdown—no end in sight. As the shutdown enters its 27th day, many Americans who have been the victims of consumer fraud and identity theft who do not yet know the full scope of the shutdown’s impact will receive an ugly surprise when they turn to the federal government for help. While the government gets its house in order, know that there are options for victims of consumer and identity fraud. Consult a private investigator today to learn how their specific skill set, experience, and independence can help you get right the ship when it comes to fraud.
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by admin_lauth | Apr 12, 2018 | Consumer Fraud, Phishing, Tips & Facts
In recent months, many Americans have been receiving calls from parts of the country they have never heard from before. They wonder to themselves, “Who could possibly be calling me from Bristol, Rhode Island? I don’t know anyone in Bristol.” They accept the call, and a voice will tell them that an agent with their firm has reviewed their case file, discovering that they hundreds of dollars in credit card debt, and must pay it all immediately, or else face a smattering of other fees for failure to pay. Fraught with the anxiety of their credit score tanking, they address an envelope to the P.O. box where the voice instructs them to send a check for the full amount. Before they place that envelope in the mail, hopefully they’ll realize they’ve just received a robocall.
They’re almost commonplace nowadays, regarded as more of a nuisance rather than a crime. Strange numbers automatically dial out to phone customers across the country, claiming they’ve won a free cruise or asking for donations to a fraudulent cause. However, many Americans are still not certain about what robocalls are, or the fact that most kinds are illegal.
Robocalls are just one of the latest tools in committing consumer fraud over the phone. There is a great deal of legislation distinguishing which types of robocalls are legal. Conventionally they permit robocalls that convey important and/or emergency information, about things like school closures or natural disasters. With the rise of robocalls at the beginning of the millennium, the National Do Not Call Registry was established so that consumers could place themselves on a list in order to avoid them. However, legitimate telemarketing firms are still allowed to contact you over the phone for legal business, as long as your number is not listed on the Do Not Call registry, and you have not formally opted out of receiving phone communication from the business. Indiana law specifically requires that all prerecorded messages that bot calls are famous for must be introduced by a live operator, as well as providing an address where the caller can be reached.
These types restrictions have forced the “robo-callers” to evolve and adapt. Conventional methods of blocking robocalls have been successful in nearly extinguishing the presence of calls to landlines. With smartphones only growing in use throughout the country, the technology designed to stop robocalls has not yet been perfected for them. The good news is that consumers (like the one receiving robo-debt-collection-calls) are never without resolve when it comes to harassing calls from a number claiming to be a collection agency.
Regardless of whom the robocall claims to represent, there is no legal obligation to speak to anyone over the phone. In the event that the call is legitimate, it is perfectly legal to communicate through your personal or business legal representation. If the call is legitimate, the lawyer can represent your interests and review your options with you. If you are without representation, you can also retain the services of a private investigator to ensure that the call is legitimate. The internet provides the ability to perform a reverse-lookup of suspicious or unfamiliar phone number, but most websites require that you pay for the search results, and after you pay, it might turn out that the information is inaccurate. The professional services of a private investigator allow them access to specific tools that provide accurate information to verify the legitimacy of the robocall. Bearing in mind that there is no agency sanctioned to harass you via telephone, consumers who sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry might find this is an imperfect solution. It will merely put you on a no-contact list required to be observed by all accredited, registered businesses. Although there might be a decrease in unsolicited calls, it still does not prevent illegitimate businesses to contact you with robocalls.
The best recommendation that the Federal Trade Commission has made to consumers who are the victim of robocalls on their smartphones is downloading a third-party mobile app that uses both the hardware and the software of a smartphone to block robocalls from plaguing your mobile device,” “Call blocking apps let you create blacklists – lists of numbers to block from calling your cell phone. Many of these apps also create their own blacklist databases from numbers that have received significant consumer complaints. They also let you create whitelists – numbers to allow – that are broader than just your personal contacts.” This process has so far proven very effective. As users utilize the application, it builds a stronger wall that keeps unwanted robocalls out.
The days of telemarketers who always call during dinner are long gone. Now robots are doing the dialing work. As technology advances, Americans feel more and more paranoid about ways the criminal element might have access to their money. Robocalls have only made it simpler to manipulate vulnerable consumers into parting with their hard-earned income. The Federal Trade Commission is attempting to evolve even faster than scammers, developing technology similar to apps like RoboKiller and Nomorbo that can keep robocall schemes at arm’s length. Professionals like lawyers and private investigators are invaluable sources when validating the legitimacy of a robocall a consumer fears might be legitimate. The most important resource, however, is an informed consumer. Vigilance and skepticism are the first line of defense when dealing with robocall consumer fraud.