by admin_lauth | May 15, 2018 | Corporate Investigations, Criminal Investigation, Private Investigations News, Tips & Facts
Rooting Out Thieves in the Workplace
It is estimated 30% of employees steal from their employer.
Most of us have dealt with a thief during our lifetime. Devious and sneaky, some thieves behave as if stealing is an art. It is usually a theft exposing them; however, many times, they can strike numerous times before getting caught. When theft happens in the workplace, it can not only be a costly lesson but the cause of a business failing.
An estimated 30% of employees steal from their workplace affecting all types of businesses. For instance, if you are running a restaurant with $1 million sales annually, at only 4% theft within the company, your company would be losing $40,000 a year!
Employee theft costs U.S. businesses over $200 billion in annual losses. Not only are companies trying to prevent the public from stealing items, inventory, assets, and ideas from a business, they must also combat thieves on the inside. Unfortunately, 75% of employee-related crimes go undetected.
Theft can take many forms, such as: stealing money, embezzlement, unauthorized use of business or customer identity, and theft of intellectual property, such as cases of patent or trademark infringement.
Combating Theft is Knowing How Employee Theft Occurs.
Employees who have access to a cash register is the most common way employees steal from companies. If unsecured, petty cash drawers or boxes, can be an easy target for thieves.
In addition, an employee can quote a higher price than the actual price of an item and keep the difference at the point of sale.
If employees have access to credit card information or checks, theft can happen as easily as sticking a few checks inside a folder, costing the owner thousands before it is detected.
Checks and Fraud
Most banks do not verify a signature on a company check making it very easy to sign and cash a check.
Credit card fraud is a number one threat to companies and consumers because most credit card holders admittedly do not check each line item on their credit card statement.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), companies with less than 100 employees, lose approximately $155,000 as a result of fraud each year, a much higher rate than large companies.
Employees may often perform actions and falsify records for work they didn’t do, such as requesting reimbursement for travel and other expenses unrelated to work. Employees may also set up fake payroll accounts for workers who have been terminated or retired. Creative thievery abounds.
Time theft or “Buddy Punching” is a very popular way timesheets may easily be falsified. Individuals complete this theft by having one employee punch another employee in or out for the other.
Excessive breaks, malingering, surfing the Internet, chatting with employees or taking personal phone calls are other ways time theft occurs. While some of these things may not at first be thought of as stealing, all these actions, or inactions, can affect the bottom line and be taking advantage of an employer.
Thieving employees will set up fake vendor accounts, submit phony invoices and issue checks for the false vendor. These checks can then be signed over to themselves and deposited. In addition, a variation would be paying a vendor $500 and writing a check to themselves, expensing the entire $500 to the vendor.
Loss of inventory can happen in the merchandise distribution process but can also happen before merchandise is made available to the public. Many times, employees will take items from a warehouse or newly arrived items before they are scanned into inventory software. Employees have even been known to steal entire shipping trucks containing merchandise headed to their employer’s company.
Some employees steal smaller items such as typical office supplies, but furniture and equipment are not off limits for a thief.
Many employees steal information to benefit themselves or a competitor. Types of information include: office memoranda, proprietary products, customer lists and/or other confidential data. Theft can occur by email, printing, or copying information to a flash drive or cell phone, or simply carrying it out in a purse or folder.
Sometimes, theft can be subtler, such as luring customers away, purposefully providing poor service, even spreading rumors to damage a company’s reputation and cause a down-turn in business. All are considered losses.
While there are ways to combat theft within your company, ultimately identifying the thief before they are hired is the most effective way to reduce the occurence of theft.
The SBA recommends: “One of the first steps to preventing fraudulent employee behavior is to make the right hiring decision.”
Background checks are a good practice for any employer, large or small, especially for those employees who will be handling cash, high-value merchandise, or have access to sensitive customer or financial data.
For over twenty-years, Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International has been working nationwide and helping educate employers on methods used to combat theft.
“The first and most effective way to address theft in the workplace, is to conduct an extensive background check,” says Lauth. “A background check can provide insight into an individual’s behavior, character, and integrity.”
Which Types of Background Checks Should You Conduct?
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, upwards to 30% of business failures are caused by employee theft. Thus, conducting effective, extensive background checks helps to mitigate your risk of hiring objectionable or even dangerous employees.
Not all background checks are the same. As you build a profile of your future employee, there are several kinds of background checks you should consider. For example, a criminal background check is different than checking on an individual’s credit score or military service, these require consent. A criminal background check does not require consent; however, some states have laws restricting how you use the information collected during a criminal background check.
Private investigation firms like Lauth Investigations offer complete background checks while helping you comply with the law.
Protecting Your Legal Liability with Background Checks
Smaller businesses often forego background checks for two reasons: 1. A false sense of trust and security developed by business owners working too closely with employees. 2. Most businesses do not understand the legal liabilities associated with the failure to conduct employee screening and background checks.
Any business where employees provide a direct service and interact with customers, such as contractors or daycare providers, is liable if an employee does harm to a customer and the employee has a history of wrongdoing.
A company, big and small. may not recover from this kind of lawsuit.
Choosing the Right Company to Conduct Background Checks
Protecting the interests of your workplace and customers while reducing potential liability is of utmost importance; therefore, it is vital to select a company you can trust to conduct the background screening both efficiently and thoroughly.
While employers can do some background checking of their own, working with an experienced and reputable company can ensure the reliability and thoroughness of the background screening.
Purchasing instant public records found online is not appropriate for conducting potential employee background checks. Most certainly if your hiring decision is based on tpublic record data, your company could land in hot water.
Most public databases do not fact check, clean up or refresh their data providing completely different information than received from an investigative firm experienced in conducting professional, legal and full background screening.
Private investigators have access to databases to determine if a potential employee has a criminal background.
A reputable company providing background screening services will ensure the information you receive is current and accurate.
If a hiring decision is made based upon information found in the background check, in most cases, the company must inform the potential employee of the source used to obtain the information for the background checks (which is where using public databases can get your company in legal trouble).
What can you expect from a professional background check? According to Lauth, it’s all in the details and you pay for what you get. If you want detailed, accurate information, you will choose a Private Investigation Background Search.
Unlike a personal background search using public databases, private investigators have access to several databases providing a variety of information.
- Employment history: This search will bring up employment records to include all positions held, making it easier to find discrepancies in a resume. It will also include salaries associated with the positions.
- Academic and professional affiliations: Qualifications to include academic history and certification, even if the person did not complete the program.
- Criminal records: Including a detailed outline of all criminal activity from traffic warnings and tickets to arrests and convictions. Also, these include jail time served and fines paid.
- Financial Standing: Reflects all liens, judgments, bank accounts, current and previous property ownership, repossession of vehicles or other personal property, NSF checks and bankruptcies.
In addition to the typical information received through a personal background check, a private investigator will include:
- Worker compensation claims an individual has filed. This can help determine the character of an individual by looking at the number of claims they have filed which could reveal a person is dishonest and fraudulent.
- Ascertain causes of accidents or any criminal activity. DMV reports will show accident dates and basic information but do not reflect the cause. Private investigators can provide the cause behind the accident and whether criminal activity was involved.
- Information on business and personal partners.
- Analysis of all findings.
Relying on an Internet search is risky. A professional background screening will be more in depth than simply entering a name in a database. When a company’s future is at stake, the only way to go to obtain concise information needed to make informed decisions is a professional, private investigations extensive background check.
by admin_lauth | May 1, 2018 | Criminal Investigation, Missing Person
Rarely do you hear on the news of an American missing in Jamaica. Most missing person cases usually involve tourists who come to visit the island on a cruise, typically docked in Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, and never make it back to the ship once it’s time to depart. Typically, at the end of the investigation, the missing persons are normally found visiting a relative or staying in a nearby resort, claiming they simply wanted to spend more time on the island.
A recent example of such a case happened this past February. Three U.S. nationals, 24-year-old Tricia Forrester, 35-year-old Glen Triston, and 42-year-old Clinton Hill, boarded the Carnival Sensation Cruise in Miami, Florida. They were reported missing on the February 28th after the cruise docked in Ocho Rios. According to Nationwide Radio Jamaica, all three nationals were accounted for three days later, safe and sound, the last one being found in Montego Bay. According to the Head of the St. Ann police, Senior Superintendent Michael Smith, the three were visiting family members when they were reported missing. The passengers stated they were going to deliver luggage to their family members who were to meet them in Ocho Rios. However, when it was time for the cruise to leave it was discovered their rooms were empty and so they were reported missing.
Another similar case occurred on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, when an American woman, 41-year-old Marjan Ehsani, was reported missing in Kingston. Reports from the Half-Way-Tree police station state, “She checked into a hotel in Kingston on the 4th and was last seen at a gas station in the area. All attempts to get in touch with her were fruitless.” In a surprising twist, she was located only days after in a guest house in Kingston. She was reported to be in good health and returned to The United States shortly after being found.
Desiree Gibbon, 26
Although there are the above scenarios with positive outcomes, there have been a couple unsolved cases over the past decade. The most recent case: A twenty-six-year-old aspiring model and documentary filmmaker, Desiree Hyacinth Gibbon, from Queens, New York, went missing in Jamaica in late 2017. According to the local police, Desiree went to Jamaica on the 20th of October and was given three months to stay on the island. Investigators say she was looking for employment. However, her mother, Andrea Cali-Gibbon, has been reported saying Desiree went to Jamaica with the intention of shooting a documentary. “She wanted to travel to different countries, try new things and experience cultures,” her mom said. Desiree’s father is Jamaican and her grandmother owns a hotel on the island, where she stayed during her visit. At the time of her disappearance, Desiree was visiting Jamaica for possibly her eighth time.
Unfortunately, in December 2017, Desiree’s body was found with her throat slit and her legs, torso, and wrists covered with bruises. She was discovered in the bushes along the roadway of Anchovy, St. James. Local authorities identified her body after taking a photograph of her to the same hotel which her grandmother owns, where she was identified by her Uncle Claude.
Claude said the police officers told him they were looking for two women who they believe may be connected to the crime. The mother insists Desiree would never go out alone and believes this wasn’t a random senseless act, but a crime of passion. “My belief is it was a cold, calculated, planned out murder… It wasn’t a random act of violence. It is somebody she knew, somebody she trusted, and somebody who betrayed her,” Andrea Gibbon, the distraught mother, said. As the case stands, no one has been arrested or charged.
Another unsolved missing persons case dates as far back as May 2012 and involves forty-one-year-old Robert Durbin of Lemay Street, Hartford, who went missing in Kingston. According to the Matilda’s Corner police station, Mr. Durbin was last seen in Jones Town, Kingston 12, carrying out charity work in the community.
Robert visited Jamaica to teach law, lecturing part-time on the weekends through a University of London international program. According to the Hartford Courant, he was a councilman of the West Hartford Town Council and the reason for his visits to the island was to learn about the heritage of Jamaican and West Indian constituents. Durbin said he got a close view of how local services work in Kingston.
“I’m living and volunteering in a low-income development down here. It’s a very up-and-coming, low-income area, so it’s a nice opportunity to work with some social workers. Obviously, this area is a lot different from West Hartford… but my work here in the community will contribute to my service on the town council.”
Some months after, Robert resigned from town council following controversy due to his part-time move to Jamaica and an arrest on charges of interfering with an officer. According to the Hartford Courant, Robert had followed police to a distress call of a domestic disturbance and persistently offered his services as a criminal lawyer to the residents whom he claimed to know. The residents, however, stated they hadn’t known Mr. Durbin, nor had they summoned anyone for legal aid. Durbin was charged with interfering with an investigation and first-degree criminal trespass.
With his political career finished and his divorce processing, Robert decided to go back to Jamaica to do charity work in Jones Town, a peculiar destination as their reputation hasn’t been the best, and can actually be considered a dangerous part on the island. Fast forward to 2018 and Robert Durbin has yet to be found.
In closing, there aren’t many reports of Americans going missing in Jamaica because it is not a regular occurrence. Tourism is one of Jamaica’s main sources of foreign exchange, accounting for over 50% of the total amount. The tourism industry is responsible for about one-fourth of all jobs on the island. As such, the locals treat foreigners like royalty, but just like everything in life, there are a few exceptions.
by admin_lauth | Apr 23, 2018 | Consumer Fraud, Criminal Investigation, Missing Person, Personal Investigations
By: Kym Pasqualini, Lauth Investigations Feature Crime Writer
You receive a phone call and hear the voice of someone you don’t recognize. They tell you they have your child and will kill them unless you pay a ransom. They direct you not to call police or you will never see your child again.
What would you do?
You tell the person on the other end of the phone not to hang up. You don’t want to disconnect with the one person that can reunite you with your child. You plead for your child’s safe return. “Please don’t hurt her. I will do whatever you want,” you cry.
They demand you go to the bank and wire a ransom of several thousand dollars. Do you call the police? Do you pay the ransom and hope some thug will return your child to you safe?
A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare. For those who do have a missing child, living with such ambiguity is said to be the most traumatic of human experiences.
Sounds like a situation that only happens in the movies, right? Or, something only happening to the wealthy.
According to Newsweek, the Seattle Police Department is issuing warnings to parents advising scammers are targeting parents and demanding a ransom in exchange for the safe return of children they kidnapped . . . well, virtually kidnapped. Police throughout the country are following suit.
On March 8, 2017, in Ravensdale, Kings County, approximately 30 miles southeast of Seattle, a mother drops her children off at the school bus. Shortly thereafter, she receives a phone call from a man who threatened to kill her child if she didn’t pay a ransom.
The mother was able to reach out to the school to make sure her children were there. The school confirmed they were safe.
King’s County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News, this was the first reported incident in their jurisdiction.
In another case, a woman called a father “hysterically crying” claiming to be his daughter and stating she had been kidnapped. A man then got on the phone and told the dad if he didn’t pay a ransom, he would hurt his daughter.
Officers in Denver have responded to several reports of kidnappings. In a press release issued by the Denver Police Department, police say the caller demands a monetary payment in exchange for the release of the victim’s child. The caller dials the parents in the afternoon and demands the ransom to be wired to a bank.
After investigating the recent incidents in Denver, they determined the kidnappings were false and all children involved in the incidents were found safe.
Virtually Kidnapped Daughter
On Monday, April 16th, Sean Hollister was at his residence in Longmont, Colorado, about 15 miles northeast of Boulder, and received a frightening call from his 11-year old daughter who he thought was at school.
“My daughter was in tears, sobbing,” Hollister told the Times-Call. “I thought she was in trouble or something. She said, ‘Dad, I’m sorry I let this happen,’ which is exactly what she would say,” Hollister said.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong,’ and I offered up her name, so he knew my kid’s name,” Hollister said a man got on the phone and told him, “I got your daughter in a truck. She is on her way to Mexico.”
When Hollister told the man he was calling the police, the girl came back on the phone screaming. “Daddy, they are cutting me. Don’t call 911.”
Hollister was able to call police on his cell phone. “The caller told Hollister to get his wallet and identification and promptly leave the house.
Victims of “virtual kidnapping” describe the incident as traumatic.
Hollister’s postman was in the yard when he walked outside. “I’m mouthing ‘Help me,’ and he is freaking out,” said Hollister.
Longmont police showed up at his home fast and they took over from there and the caller hung up. Officers quickly determined Hollister’s daughter was safe.
The traumatized father would later find out the callers were trying to pull off a “virtual kidnapping” scam.
“The gap between the cops getting there and finding out my daughter is okay was terrifying,” said Hollister. “Who would think someone would be that cruel?”
Hollister’s caller had a Mexico number, but police say it is possible the caller was local and hijacked the number to appear like the call was made from out of the country.
In yet another case, a woman received a frantic call her brother had been kidnapped, injured and bleeding out, demanding thousands of dollars through a wire to return him safely. She was able to reach her brother on another phone and never paid any money, but a clear sign anyone can be a victim of this type of horrific scam.
According to FBI kidnapping expert, Agent Eric Arbuthnot, several organizations use these scams regularly to make money.
“Thousands of dollars in ransom,” said Arbuthnot. “And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”
According to Arbuthnot many of the cases have been happening on the West coast and along the border involving criminal organizations from Mexico, some claiming to be members of the cartel.
The FBI has seen recent increases in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas.
Monroe Police Department in Connecticut said by using social media, scammers can identify a victim, look up relatives, and reference names of family members and friends to make the call appear legitimate.
FBI Supervisory Agent Christopher Johnson said his office in St. Louis, Missouri deals with these types of crimes. “Scammers will often mention specific facts about the parent or victim, likely from information they were able to obtain online.”
Authorities say about one in five kidnapping cases are successful resulting in the criminal getting their ransom and not getting caught. While extortion has been around for decades, virtual ransom kidnapping calls are increasing around the country.
FBI Special Agent Glenn Milnor warns parents about virtual kidnapping.
With this emerging scam, the FBI has launched a nationwide campaign to warn parents to fight back against “virtual kidnapping.”
If you receive a virtual kidnapping ransom call…
Unlike traditional kidnapping schemes, a “virtual kidnapper” has not actually kidnapped anyone. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if you receive a call from an individual demanding a ransom for the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is suggested you quickly evaluate the following to determine if you are receiving a legitimate ransom call:
- Caller insists you stay on the phone.
- Call does not come from your child’s cell phone.
- Caller tries to stop you from contacting the kidnap victim.
- Call includes demand for ransom to be paid via wire transfer.
- Ransom amounts may decrease quickly.
Knowing what to do
Police say it is best to hang up the phone; however, if you continue the conversation pay attention to the following:
- If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Deliberately try to slow the situation down and ask to speak to your child directly.
- Ask “proof of life” questions like, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- To gain confirmation if your child is an actual kidnapping victim, ask questions only your child would know such as the name of a pet.
- Listen very closely to the voice of the person speaking. If possible record the call.
- Have someone else try to call your child’s cell phone, school, text, social media, etc., to confirm their safety.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to make arrangements.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom: by wire or in person.
- Don’t deliver money in person.
- Immediately call your local FBI office and police.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), as of March 31, 2017, there were 86,618 active missing person cases in the FBI database, with 8,792 entered as involuntary.
Experts agree an actual kidnapping with a ransom demand is quite rare but all experts urge parents to be vigilant.
To read the FBI warning, please click here.
by admin_lauth | Apr 17, 2018 | Personal Investigations, Private Investigations News, Tips & Facts
By: Kym Pasqualini, Feature Writer for Lauth Investigations
Have you ever found a $20 bill in your laundry and felt you just won the lottery? Most people would be ecstatic to realize they forgot to empty their pockets but what happens to money you don’t know exists? Hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars.
You may be surprised how many people in this country have unclaimed assets they may never know existed . . . unless they look for it.
Currently, it is estimated local, state and federal agencies collectively hold more than $58 billion in unclaimed assets, roughly $175 for every U.S. resident. However, experts estimate there may be as much as $100 billion languishing in unclaimed cash and benefits held in local, state and federal agencies. We do know, daily, the amount of unclaimed funds increases.
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, every state including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands has lost assets, commonly referred to as unclaimed funds.
What are Lost Assets?
The unclaimed property law or escheatment was first enacted in 1954. The purpose of the act is to provide a central repository in each state, so citizens can seek lost assets belonging to them. Each state maintains a comprehensive list of the unclaimed assets.
Unclaimed funds are financial assets owed to an individual or business not claimed or have unknown ownership. Examples of unclaimed assets or funds are the following:
- Uncashed payroll checks
- Dormant bank accounts
- Safe deposit boxes
- Customer overpayments
- Security deposits
- Insurance payments
- Unclaimed dividends
- Unclaimed securities
- Traveler’s checks, money orders, cashier’s checks
- Principal on debt
- Escrow balances
- Old stock certificates
- Mining Certificates
- Mineral royalty payments
- Property held by courts and other governmental agencies
All businesses must forward all unclaimed funds or property to their state in accordance with their state’s escheat laws. Ideally, the state holds unclaimed funds in a trust and attempts to locate the rightful owner – except it doesn’t always work in that way.
Unfortunately, since 2006, a mere 5% of lost assets has been returned to rightful owners.
The Escheatment Process
Unclaimed property is governed by state laws requiring all unclaimed assets be turned over to the state to be held in trust. For example, if a bank account is inactive for a lengthy period, commonly within one year, the state can claim the funds in the account through a process known as escheatment.
Escheatment accounts are defined as dormant, unclaimed or abandoned. For instance, banks are responsible for reporting unclaimed property to the state after a certain amount of dormancy. Each state has a different time frame before the state escheats the assets to safeguard them.
In Arizona, a financial institution must report securities property after a period of 3 years dormancy and bonds after two years.
The laws are strict. A company could be fined by the Arizona Department of Revenue a civil penalty of 25% of the value of the unclaimed asset or abandoned property or $100 per day up to $5,000.
The only tangible property covered is the contents of safe deposit boxes. However, for contents of safe deposit boxes, periodic auctions are conducted by most states and proceeds from the sale of items are held for a rightful owner.
While unclaimed, the policy for unclaimed funds is they should be used for the “greater good” of the public, until such time as it is returned to the rightful owner. Without affecting the state’s obligation to return unclaimed funds, collections are used to finance operations such as public schools and college scholarships.
In 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court stated in the Standard Oil Co. vs New Jersey case, “Property that escapes seizure by would-be possessors and is used for the general good rather than the chance enrichment of particular individuals or organizations.”
In 2015, $3.235 billion was returned by state government unclaimed property agencies to rightful owners or heirs.
What is an Heir?
An heir is the “rightful owner” of lost assets/funds or a person in ranking who is entitled to inherit property if the rightful owner is deceased, sometimes referred to as a logical heir.
An heir can be an individual or a company such as a business or corporation, church or charity, or hospital.
Defining the Source
A government database of centralized information does not exist; therefore, each federal agency maintains its own records. When looking for lost assets this can create confusion and, in reality, often makes the property hard to find.
- United State Treasury reports an estimated 25,000 payments are returned as undeliverable.
- US Bankruptcy Courts reports approximately $200 million dollars is waiting to be claimed.
- Class Action Lawsuits have generally 95% of the funds as unclaimed.
- Savings Bonds show an estimated 40 million savings bonds have gone unredeemed, equaling an estimated $16.5 billion dollars.
- Life Insurance reveals there is approximately $1 billion dollars unclaimed due to lost or unknown policies.
Lost assets can be found in the most unlikely places.
In an Oklahoma News 4 report, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesperson Matt Skinner said, “You were someone who had an ancestor who owned minerals in 1910, [and] that’s still the name on the minerals, then if you can prove those minerals were part of an estate that came to you, you would get the money that is in the fund.”
For any given property, there might be dozens, sometimes hundreds, of oil and mineral owners. Much of the time, people are second and third generation and the original rights are still in the parents or grandparents names who have passed away.
While each state maintains their own database, the resources to find the owners of the property are minimal, even nonexistent. Some states advertise on their websites and others in the local newspapers. Clearly, with only 5% return on total lost assets, these methods are not effective.
With the lack of a national database, finding lost assets can be difficult for most individuals and makes it necessary to find help.
Prior to turning over unclaimed property to the state as required by law, businesses or holders of lost funds may conduct due diligence and often hire companies, referred to as heir finders, to assist in finding the rightful owner of unclaimed assets.
Most states require heir finders to be licensed private investigators to protect consumers.
One may think they don’t need a private investigation firm to represent them; however, there are many benefits to hiring a private investigator to locate lost assets. Experts say it is beneficial to work with professionals who are familiar with specific state laws where the property is located and the ability to obtain procurement of documents and certificates while working efficiently for the client.
Rain Lauth of Lauth Investigations International Lost Assets Division, specializes in finding lost assets and works closely with local, state and federal agencies to provide assistance to consumers, stresses the importance of working with licensed private investigators when searching for lost assets and filing claims for ownership.
“They will be familiar with all the forms that will be filed, the proper identification, probate laws, court properties, co-claimants, death certificates and other required information,” says Lauth.
Lauth Investigations has returned over $15 million to rightful owners since 2013 with an overall success rate of 98% on all claims.
“We take great pride in working with our clients in a caring and professional manner,” said Lauth. “Often the process of locating and claiming lost assets can be an overwhelming experience, but with our extensive resources and a highly skilled team, we diligently seek to make the process of documentation of ownership a painless experience for our clients,” added Lauth.
by admin_lauth | Apr 12, 2018 | Consumer Fraud, Personal Investigations, Private Investigations News, Tips & Facts
From Latin, it means “buyer beware.” It’s a phrase that conjures scenes from the famous tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Young Jack’s mother, filled with shame and frustration, regrets sending her son to market after finding out he’d sold their most valuable possession—their cow—for a handful of beans. Jack’s mother feared her son had been a victim of consumer fraud, and unfortunately, it is far from fiction.
In many ways, capitalist America is the perfect hunting ground for the man with the magic beans. America is one of the largest consumer nations on the globe. Securing an excellent deal on goods and services means bragging to your friends about how you got the new lawnmower for a song. The consumer feels intelligent and capable, as if they managed to somehow trick the store or salesperson into giving it to them at an attractive price. American consumers chase this feeling by attending special sales, racking up credit card debt, and turning coupon-clipping into an Olympic sport—all in the interest of outsmarting the man with the magic beans.
Luckily for American consumers, there are institutions that help protect them from consumer fraud, such as the Better Business Bureau, which identifies problematic businesses that might swindle American consumers out of their hard-earned money. There’s the Federal Trade Commission, a government agency policing business practices and policies to protect American consumers and regulate competition within industries to maintain a healthy, well-balanced economy. In the long century since both of these institutions were established, the man with the magic beans has also changed and evolved, just like any predator.
One of the most common types of consumer fraud in America is mortgage fraud. Owning one’s home is still very much a part of the American dream. Americans shop for homes for months, searching for the certainty they will not overpay for their homes. Those who have morbidly derelict credit are afraid to answer the phone, desperate to evade bill collectors, petrified of losing their home. They are perfect targets for criminals running foreclosure-rescue schemes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines it as “perpetrators profit by selling the property to an investor or straw borrower, creating equity using a fraudulent appraisal, and stealing the seller proceeds or fees paid by the homeowners.” Perpetrators convince the debtor they can transfer their poor credit into the name of a third-party investor (i.e. the perpetrator), renting their property until such a time their credit is once again in sufficient standing. The perpetrator fails to make the mortgage payments on behalf of the victim and pockets the profit.
As technology advances, there are more convenient ways to pay for goods and services with the rise of electronic pay, using applications and online services to pay bills. It might be the best way to avoid another common type of consumer fraud: debit-card fraud. Many Americans are familiar with credit card fraud but might believe their debit cards are safe. Ken Stalcup, a certified fraud examiner working with Somerset in Indianapolis, identifies these types of fraud for a living, but even he is not immune to consumer fraud. He was just paying the bill at a restaurant. The waitress disappeared out of sight with his debit card to clear his bill, and when she returned, nothing was amiss. However, Stalcup’s bank was alerted when it appeared his debit card was used to purchase computer equipment almost halfway around the world. The waitress had sold his card information, enabling other criminals to steal from him. His advice to other vulnerable consumers is to “avoid letting their debit cards out of sight and check their accounts daily.”
One of the most devious forms of consumer fraud is charity frauds. Fake charities are set up with the intention of exploiting humanity’s capacity for the desire to help those less fortunate than oneself using the same system that real charities use to collect legal donations. According to a 2011 statement by the FTC, they received more than 30,000 reports of people making donations to fraudulent charities. Just as easily as Americans are vulnerable to a good deal, they are also vulnerable to putting their money towards a charitable cause, whether out of actual benevolence or the appearance of such. These predators are especially fond of slithering out of the woodwork in the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes like Katrina and Maria that devastated both New Orleans and Puerto Rico respectively. These tactics add a brand-new level of sleaze to consumer fraud, taking advantage of the American need to help their fellow man.
In addition to remaining an informed and skeptical consumer, there are other ways you can protect yourself from consumer fraud. Enlisting the help of a private investigator or a similar inquisitive entity can help you protect yourself from scams like those mentioned above and resolving these frauds after they are perpetrated. A private investigator’s job is to serve the specific needs of their client, diligently capturing the entire picture of how severely the consumer might have been affected by a particular fraud. Of course, they can be a perfect tool for exposing the agencies that claim to want your money and knowing exactly where the money is going. Local authorities are often overwhelmed by crime statistics that force them to practice triage when dealing with different types of cases. Private investigators have an invaluable list of tools at their disposal, which they can often use without the restraints legislation places on law enforcement. Whether you’re outsourcing to a third party or taking your personal consumer protection into your own hands, never let your guard down when it comes to the man with the magic beans.