Frauds and Scams
Protect Yourself and Your Money
Fraud on the Phone
Although the phone is the instrument of choice for many swindlers, much
phone solicitation is legitimate. There are many worthy businesses and
charities that have nothing to hide and will answer your questions freely.
Watch out for fraudulent telemarketers! They may start with a postcard
promising cash and prizes if you call an "800" or "900" number. If you
do it, a friendly voice will ask for your credit card number to "verify"
your identity, then come the high-pressure tactics to get you to buy merchandise
with your credit card. Later, you may be billed several times, or you
may never receive the merchandise at all.
If you do receive the merchandise, it may not be what you expected or
you may feel that the price you paid was highly inflated. By that time,
it is often difficult and time consuming to return the item and receive
To protect yourself, ask for written information on products or services
offered before you order them.
Fake Orders for Magazine Subscriptions
People selling magazine subscriptions may "offer" an extremely low price
which is only available if you pay with a credit card. Repeatedly, terms
like "verification," "identification," or "process" will be used to try
to get you to reveal your credit card number. Once you give it, the con
artist will use the number to place fake orders.
Never give anyone your credit card number on the phone unless you
made the call to place an order or to make a donation. Do not make a donation
to an unknown charity. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if
the organization complies with their standards.
In areas with a high concentration of senior citizens, investment frauds
are usually carried out on a hit-and-run basis. These scams may involve
the selling of coins, oil and gas leases, precious metals, and gemstones.
The caller will flatter you as a "smart investor" who can recognize a
good deal, then confide that if you sign up quickly you can get in on
a great "opportunity." Remember these salespersons are professionals and
gifted at getting people to believe them.
Also, consider that there are fees in most legitimate investment markets
for every transaction--when you buy and when you sell. These fees can
add up, especially if you have given your permission to automatically
negotiate if the market seems to be changing. When someone calls with
an investment opportunity, get the name, address, and phone number of
the company. Request references and written materials. Always read carefully
any forms before signing. Check with the Better Business Bureau, the Bureau
of Consumer Protection, or perhaps the securities dealer at your bank
or investment firm.
Pseudo Bank Examiner Fraud
This type of fraud begins when someone calls your home, identifies himself
as a bank examiner, and says he needs your help to apprehend an employee,
usually a teller, suspected of theft. You are asked to withdraw a specified
amount of cash from your account. The caller says that a representative
will come to your home, pick up the money, and redeposit it in your account
to test the employee's honesty. He explains that the deposit must be in
cash so that serial numbers on the bills can be checked. But once you
give your money over to the "examiner," you never see it again.
Never turn large sums of cash over to anyone, especially a stranger.
If you are approached by a so-called bank examiner or bank representative,
always call your bank immediately to verify and alert them.
Travel scams often combine phone and mail fraud. A phone call from a
travel club announces that you are the grand prize winner of a contest.
Chances are you never entered any such contest, but naturally you would
be happy to win a prize. Then, you are told that this prize only can be
obtained if you pay a membership fee to their travel club, as small as
$10 or as much as $300 or more. And again, you must pay using your credit
card. Once the callers have your card number, they can use it to fake
The best way to defend yourself against questionable calls, other
than to hang up, is to ask the caller to send you information in writing.
Again, ask about the caller and the company. Remember, the use of excessive
high pressure sales tactics is often a sign of a con artist at work.
Fraud at the Door
This can be the most frightening form of fraud, because the con artist
is face-to-face with you, and self-protection is not as easy as hanging
up the phone or throwing away a letter. Here are a few frauds to watch
The Pigeon Drop
This form of fraud is an old but still successful fraud that involves
the supposed "finding of money," usually a wallet. The victim is approached
by a stranger who, in conversation, mentions having just found a large
sum of money. The catch is that to share in the find you must put up "good
faith" money that will be held by a friend or employer of the con artist
until it is certain that the money will not be claimed. You are asked
to withdraw money from the bank, and hand it over for safekeeping. You
can guess what happens when you try to pick up your share of the find
and recover your "good faith" money. Nobody - and no money - is to be
Never get involved in a deal where you are asked to turn money over
to a stranger. Call the police instead.
In this situation, funeral chasers visit the family of a recently deceased
person, claiming that the decedent made a down payment on merchandise
which is scheduled for delivery the next day, but there's a balance due.
They mention facts about the decedent designed to assure the family that
the collector is legitimate. However, such facts are easily found in obituary
columns and elsewhere. At times like these, family members may be easy
to convince, and the so-called balance due often is paid.
Try not to make quick decisions under emotional or stressful conditions.
Take time to think. Ask to see a receipt or order signed by the deceased.
This con game is spreading rapidly and will continue to do so as dwellings
and their owners both grow older.
Someone comes to the door and says there is a problem with your house--
roofing, siding, electrical, driveway, whatever. They offer to fix the
problem quickly at what seems like a reasonable cost. Once they have begun
the work, however, major problems suddenly turn up that will cost more
than the original estimate. Often the "experts" have created the damage
Before you let anyone work on your house, be sure to get several estimates
for the repair. Ask for references.
When buying from door-to-door salespeople, you have certain protections
under the Federal Trade Commission's "cooling off" rule. This rule gives
you three business days to change your mind and to cancel any purchase
of $25 or more that you made from your home or anywhere other than the
seller's normal place of business.
Fraud through the Mailbox
A major concern for the elderly is the theft of checks from mailboxes
and mail slots. Since the
mail carrier delivers social security checks on the same day of each
month, these and other predictable, routine payments are easy prey for
theft. Stolen checks are easily turned into cash by thieves who know where
to go and what to do.
The Social Security Administration strongly encourages direct deposit
of checks. Seventy-five percent of those receiving social security benefits
use direct deposit.
If you have any regularly scheduled payments, you should seriously
consider direct deposit. Federal Reserve Banks and financial institutions
process direct deposit transactions electronically through a national
automated system. Contact your financial institution about payments that
Fake contests are a prevalent form of mail fraud. You get a notice saying
you have won a "free" trip, a TV, or even a car. To redeem your prize,
you should send "X" number of dollars or bring the money to a certain
place. In reality, prizes frequently do not exist, or if they do, only
a very small number of them will be awarded.
General Precautions against
All Frauds and Scams
- The greater the potential return, the greater the risk.
- Investments seldom exist without some risk involved.
- Always get information in writing before you give away
- Never let emotions interfere with your business affairs.
- Never invest what you cannot afford to lose.
- Legitimate offers will always be there tomorrow.
- Take time to do careful research.
- If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Do not send cash by messenger or overnight mail.
Watch out for prizes that you have to pay for. Also, carefully
examine any letters that look official or urgent.
Another Form of Scam . . .
Some recent scams have involved people's credit ratings. Here's how one
might work. A so-called credit repair advisor removes information from
a good credit record to repair a client's bad credit rating. In many cases,
this is done when both parties have similar names. You may not know that
you have been a victim of such a scam until you apply for a loan, employment,
or insurance, and you are turned down on the basis of your credit report.
If you are curious about what's listed, or if you suspect that incorrect
information exists in your credit record, the Fair Credit Reporting Act
gives individuals the right to know the contents of their files.
Contact your local credit bureau and for a small fee, you can obtain
a copy of your report. If you have been turned down for credit recently,
you can get a copy of your file at no charge if you contact the agency
within 60 days of receiving the notice. Consumers are encouraged to review
their credit reports periodically.
Credit bureaus now provide a copy of your credit report free of charge
under other circumstances. You are entitled to one free report per year
if you certify in writing that: (1) you are unemployed and plan to look
for a job within 60 days, (2) you are on welfare, or (3) your report is
inaccurate because of fraud.
What Is the Law?
The law makes it a federal crime to use any unauthorized card, plate,
code, or account number to obtain money, goods, or services.
In the case of duplicate billing or incorrect charges on your credit
card statement, the Fair Credit Billing Act, an addition to the Truth-In-Lending
Law, requires prompt correction of billing mistakes. The Federal Reserve
writes these consumer regulations and, along with other agencies, has
the responsibility to enforce them.
For More Information
This overview was based on materials originally
created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.