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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2010, there were over 34,7000 licensed private investigators operating throughout the United States. The Bureau projects by 2020, the figure will increase twenty percent—resulting in almost 42,000 PIs. Though they may be great in number, you may never spot one, because private investigators have a unique set of skills allowing them to blend in with all walks of society.
When the average person thinks of a private investigator, it often evokes a handful of stereotyped images. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous private investigators in the global lexicon—even if he is fictional. In the United States, the film noire genre gave average citizens a staple look for PIs; long, tan trench coats, matching fedora hats, toting cameras with obnoxiously long lenses. More contemporary private sleuths are often thought of as being clad in all black and wearing dark sunglasses. Because these images have permeated American culture, a private investigator fitting any of these descriptions can instantly have their covers blown. With a surge in surveillance culture and the ubiquity of technology and social media, private investigators in the 21st century must modify their investigative methods to adapt to a world where everyone is watching.
Close, But Not Too Close
Even in a world where individuals often have their eyes glued to a screen, it is easier than ever for a private investigator to have their cover blown while in the field. Rise in the saturation of crime coverage in both local and national media has citizens paying attention to their surroundings more than ever, especially when walking to and from their vehicles, and when developing a home security system. Despite concerns about the proverbial “Big Brother,” invading human privacy, the U.S. began to appreciate surveillance technology as a nation after a CCTV camera captured the perpetrators behind the Boston Marathon bombing in the summer of 2013. Law enforcement investigating the tragedy were able to identify Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a crowd of thousands, tracking every move they made until the fateful moment when they planted the two homemade pressure-cooker bombs killing three people and injuring hundreds more.
In 2018, the nation saw a rise in law enforcement agencies utilizing drones in their investigations, leading to a new wave of outrage and concern over the violation of privacy and spying. As of December 6th, over 900 law enforcement agencies were reported to use drones in their casework. This heightened awareness in the American population has forced private investigators to redefine their standards for proximity to a subject. Of course, a PI must be close enough to properly observe the subject, and despite their benefits, long camera lenses outside of large events inundated with press can just as likely be the aspect that blows a private investigator’s cover. Being too close to a subject can provoke them to confront the investigator and compromise the entire investigation. This obliterates future opportunities for surveillance and collection of evidence, as the subject will be on high-alert.
Do Your Homework
Prior to a stake-out or any form of field surveillance, private investigators must conduct extensive research about the area in order to move fluidly and avoid detection. Study of local businesses and restaurants can inform a private investigator what the public will be doing in the area, and increase their chances of successfully blending in with a crowd. In order to keep a low profile, PIs must place themselves in the mindset of a local. Places like coffee shops, restaurants, or shopping malls can be ideal places for surveillance, as there are built-in explanations for a person sitting or milling about without purpose for extended periods of time. In situations where this is not the case, it’s important for the investigator to have a method for making themselves appear occupied to cover their presence in an area. Luckily, a person staring at their phone for large blocks of time will raise no alarms with the subject or anyone else. Books, laptops, or accompaniment by an associate for “lunch” are also tried-and-true covers. Many private investigation periodicals recommend conducting as much online research as possible prior to surveillance in order to limit exposure. This means searching public databases, combing news articles, and scraping social media to arm oneself with as much information as possible.
Blending in is the name of the game when you’re a private investigator.
As mentioned above, everyday citizens are more hypervigilant than ever. Subjects with a history in the criminal justice system or with law enforcement will be even more so. As such, the concept of tailing a subject is becoming less effective, resulting in the private investigator “getting made” by their target. Subjects will recognize the same face after multiple sightings, even if it is in a crowd, and strange vehicles parked in the same location for hours at a time are sure to draw suspicion. This is where thorough research with a private investigator’s client can become invaluable. Reconnaissance at the hands of a client can provide the investigator with information allowing them to be more inconspicuous when following a subject from location to location. For example, a spouse suspicious of infidelity can provide the private investigator with their spouse’s daily schedule—what time they wake up, their morning routine, addresses for their employment, frequent lunch locations, extra-curricular activities, the addresses of friends’ homes, the list goes on and on.
Even the most catlike of private investigators will have their covers blown from time to time. That’s why it’s imperative to have a bulletproof cover story. If they’ve done their research, private investigators can be ready with a plausible reason for being in the area, such as house-hunting, shopping, or just being plain lost and in need of direction. These quick explanations will cause a subject to lower their guard and reconsider their suspicion. Just as is the case with any deception, too many details pierce the veil. Being caught with surveillance equipment like cameras or microphones will also require explanation, but in a culture saturated with technology, this can also be easily explained. Camera drawing too much attention? Not if you’re a professional photographer on assignment. Microphone too conspicuous? It’s no longer a stretch to believe the average citizen is a fledgling podcaster or filmmaker recording “foley” or “walla” noise for their project.
As is the case with many professions, media and culture have defined the role of private investigator as one for a man, which often leaves women out of the conversation. However, it could be argued female private investigators have a much better chance of remaining undetected in surveillance. While social code continues to grow and develop, women are often socialized to diminish themselves—to listen, not speak. Follow instead of lead. Men are socialized to be forward and confident in the interest of being some kind of alpha, while women are known to be better at reading a room, picking up on behavioral cues that might inform their investigation, and their perceived gentility improves their chances of a subject or witness trusting and opening up to them. These aspects of our society are the same ones preventing citizens from suspending disbelief when a woman is accused of a violent crime. A woman would never do that. This allows a female private investigator to conduct field surveillance with more freedom.
Technology has spiked over the last 25 years at astronomical proportions, and our population’s socialization has changed dramatically since the invention of social media. While this may have hampered private investigators in their work, the proper tools, flexible strategies, and an analytical mind can get the job done. Whatever a private investigator’s method for remaining inconspicuous in the field, there is no doubt that as society changes, so must their methodology.
In a few short weeks, it will have been two months since five-year-old Lucas Hernandez was last seen in his Wichita home. The search following his disappearance has been frustrating and fruitless, as investigators involved with the case remain stymied, leaving friends, family, and even strangers on the internet to provide their own armchair detective theories about what happened to the missing boy.
Lucas was last seen on March 17th, 2018 in his bedroom in the home of his father, Johnathan Hernandez. On the day Lucas disappeared, Hernandez left him in the care of his stepmother, Emily Glass, 26.
According to police reports, Glass checked on Lucas at 3:00 PM in his room. She then took a shower and fell asleep. When she awoke to find Lucas missing, she called Wichita police to report his disappearance. at approximately 6:15 PM.
The investigation into Lucas’s disappearance led investigators to uncover an unrelated child-endangerment complaint filed against Glass the day before the five-year-old went missing. The complaint concerns Lucas and his one-year-old sister, claiming Glass “unlawfully, knowingly and unreasonably caused or permitted a one-year-old child to be placed in a station in which the child’s life, body or health may be endangered.” The charge regarding Lucas’s safety was eventually dropped.
Friends, neighbors, and even family close to the investigation have told both law enforcement and media outlets of their suspicions that Lucas and his sister were being abused, having cited photographs of bruises on Lucas’s body, and statements by Lucas to family that Glass had beaten him and dragged him across the floor. Despite pleas with an arraignment judge to lower her $50,000 bond, Glass still remains in jail.
Since details alleging child abuse have surfaced, Hernandez has responded with frustration, feeling that a discussion about the possibility of child abuse is distracting law enforcement from finding his son. He told KAKE-TV, “Now, if you want to bring that up later that’s fine. That’s a whole separate issue. I think it’s taking away from what’s happening and I don’t appreciate it. Not from my family, not from strangers. “When asked for some perspective about how this could have happened, Johnathan Hernandez told Brenda Carrasco of KWCH12 in Wichita, “I’ve been fully cooperative and I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me and I think anybody that knows me knows the kind of person I am or the kind of father I am. I think if they did, I don’t think they would ever say anything about me or my family.”
Jamie Orr, the boy’s biological mother, was involved in the original grid search for her son that spanned several local parks, desperate for confidential tips that might lead to her son’s safe return. However, her interactions in her personal relationships and social media have led both family and strangers alike to believe that she might know more about her son’s disappearance. Her ex-boyfriend, Robert Cook, has alleged in screenshots from text messages and posts on social media that Orr had a plan to kidnap her son and elope with Hernandez.
Unfortunately for those praying for Lucas’s safe return, the investigation has slowed to a crawl. Police officially closed the tip-line regarding the Hernandez case on March 12th. In addition to the investigation conducted by Wichita police, they have also given permission for a Texas-based search and recovery team known as Texas EquuSearch, to begin their own search as of March 2nd. The team has used the boats, ATVs, and sonar equipment at their disposal to assist in over 1700 missing person cases, including the high-profile disappearance of Natalee Holloway. The team’s founder, Tim Miller, empathizes with the missing boy’s parents, as his own daughter, Laura, was missing for seventeen months before her body was recovered many years ago. He told ABC News, “I remember every minute of that seventeen months—of the helplessness, the hopelessness, the loneliness, and I just made a promise to God that I’d never leave a family alone if there was anything I could do, and here we are.”
Lucas was born Dec. 3, 2012, has brown hair and brown eyes, is about 4 feet tall and weighs about 60 pounds. He was last seen wearing black sweats, white socks and a gray shirt with a bear on it. As the original tip line has been closed, investigators ask that anyone with information that might lead to Lucas’s safe return to call detectives at 316-268-4407 or Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111.
1. Keep your employees safe
Keeping employees safe is the humber one priority for most businesses. According to the United Stated Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration, 2 million workers report being the victim of workplace violence every year. 4,679 fatal workplace injuries happened in 2014 with 749 of those deaths being ruled homicides.
Protecting your business from the threat of violence must be a top priority in order to create a safe and productive space for your employees. Employees shouldn’t be anxious about their safety and neither should you.
Increased emphasis on pre-employment background checks can keep potentially violent people off of a company’s payroll. Annual background checks of current employees will help detect changes or rising threat levels before anything bad can take place. Private investigators can screen employees for red flags and let you know about them before it’s too late.
2. Save money through employee retention
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Some form of that question is asked in every single interview across America. Businesses don’t want to hire people for the short term. They want people that will stick around and be part of their company for years to come. Long term employees bolster company culture and cohesion. They also save businesses money on training costs.
The Center for American Progress reported in 2012 that the average cost to replace an employee fell between 10% and 30% of that employee’s annual salary. Searching for new employees sucks time and money from other activities managers could be working on. Improved background checks will protect any company’s investments by helping them make the right choice the first time they fill a position.
3. Protect your assets
Employee theft is a major problem for businesses. Costing up to $18 billion annually, everything that can be done to prevent employee theft must be done. Companies won’t always know before hiring someone if they’re more likely to commit theft, but expansive background checks can help detect early warning signs.
Credit checks are an excellent indicator of an increased risk of theft. For years the government and military have run credit checks on all personnel seeking security clearances. The higher someone’s debt and lower the credit, the higher their chances of being compromised by financial gain.
Has the employee stolen before? Do their former coworkers consider them honest? Beyond credit checks, a deep look at past employment can help indicate if someone might steal. Private investigators can find all this information and more.
4. Investigate social media history to prevent going viral for the wrong reasons
Going viral is all the rage for companies in 2016. Everyone wants to be the talk of social media and to trend on FaceBook and Twitter. Companies spend a lot of money on marketing and promotion aimed at creating the next online sensation. But what happens when you go viral for all the wrong reasons?
in 2012, Jessica Harr was a bartender for Proof Nightclub in Chicago when her Facebook page regrettably caused the club to become the talk of the internet. In an extremely racist FaceBook post Harr described African Americans as “ignorant” “stupid,” and “apes.” Harr even swore she’d never hire an African American for those reasons.
The post quickly went viral and numerous people threaten to boycott the club. Other club owners came out and said they’d had issues dealing with Proof Nightclub as well. Harr was quickly fired, but Proof’s brand was damaged and they had to commit serious time and money to repairing their identity.
In the age of social media, companies cannot afford to ignore their employee’s social media pages. One post is all it takes to stoke outrage and retaliation against a business for those they employ. If your background checks don’t include extensive online research then you need to make a change fast. Protect your brand and go viral for the right reasons.
5. Trouble with past employers
When companies interview job candidates it’s important they not only verify their work history, but investigate it as much as possible. Verifying the dates of employment is a good start, but finding out how the candidate interacted with coworkers and management is vital to thorough vetting.
Private investigators are perfect for building a profile of any candidate to better evaluate their chances of success if hired. Was the candidate considered a team player at their last job? Did they show up early and leave late or cut corners to get out as quick as possible? Don’t waste your time on employees who won’t give your company 100%. Find out who they are before you pay them for who you think they might be.
For Private Investigation Inquiry contact Thomas Lauth, Lauth Investigations 317-951-1100
David Schroeder, Blog Writer, Lauth Investigations International
Skip tracing is a difficult, but valuable tool for any private investigator. Skip tracing is the practice of tracking down someone who has skipped town. Typically used to find people that are trying to avoid paying a debt or have skipped out on bail, a skilled skip tracer can run down sources to find just about anyone.
Skip tracers are only as good as the information they can procure. The first step in skip tracing is building a database of every thing you can possibly know about who you’re tracking. By searching through publicly available databases like telephone directories and social media sites, tracers can figure out who their target is and who they associate with. Skip tracers also search for past bills or debts to see where the missing person has lived in the past and who with.
Once enough data has been compiled, skip tracers sift through it to create a profile of their target. Combing through this data is one of the most difficult parts of skip tracing and will separate the inexperienced tracers from the veterans. Making a mistake at this stage can be costly.
Tracers have to know which bits of information are worth using and which are wastes of times. Some data may be outdated or contradicted by further research. Poorly assessing one data point can send the tracer and their profile in the complete wrong direction and it can take a while before that becomes evident.
With a completed profile, it’s time for the tracer to get out and talk to people in the area to find out more. Friends and family of the missing person can be great for getting an idea of where to look, but how forthcoming will they be? If they know someone’s looking for their friend or kin, they’ll be more guarded about discussing them.
Tracers need to know how to talk people and work them for information without tipping their hand. Slipping up can result in the missing person getting tipped off that the heat is on them. If the target knows people are coming for them, they’ll put more effort into concealing their movement and they’ll become more difficult to predict.
Surveillance and efficient work are the other keys to quality tracer work. Tracers need to be willing to sit on a location and watch it to determine if their target is in the area. Even when their target doesn’t show up, it’s important that tracers are dedicated and willing to determine who is coming around. The target might not have stopped in, but one of the visitors could be their girlfriend or sibling.
When someone is on the lamb it’s not out of the question that they would use a third party to relay messages or transport supplies. The only way to figure out who’s stopping in and why is through consistent surveillance and tracking. Dedicated surveillance is time consuming, but incredibly valuable.
Skip tracing is a skill developed over years of practice. There are seminars and limited classes that can teach people the basics, but veteran tracers will tell you hands-on experience is the only way to truly learn. Skip tracing can help close a case fast and every investigator should either be competent in doing it themselves or have trusted people at the ready to handle it.
For Private Investigation Inquiry contact Thomas Lauth, Lauth Investigations 317-951-1100
David Schroeder, Blog Writer, Lauth Investigations International