Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Many Faces of Fraud- Part I of 2

Unfortunately, this is a big topic.   There are many varieties of fraud and this post will cover a few of the most common, as well as give some tips on how to deal with fraud, and how to avoid it in the first place! This first blog will cover the fraud perpetrated by strangers.... the next one will give you some options in the case of a known perpetrator.

Telemarketing Fraud:

Telemarketing fraud has gotten much more sophisticated.  Often the fraudulent callers will possess enough information to make it sound as if it may be legit.   Common targets: senior citizens and business owners.  These unscrupulous callers tend to talk fast, be persistent, and use high pressure tactics. They may have some accurate information about you in order to get you to let your guard down.  Businesses are targets because someone who is answering a phone during business hours may be busy and pressed for time, and therefore more willng to "just tell them what they want to know" in order to get the annoying caller off the phone.   These callers may use the phone number or website address of a legitimate business in order to get you to trust them. For instance, a recent scam involves someone claiming to be from "The Better Business Bureau" who calls and leaves the website address for the actual BBB, but in reality is not associated with it.  Best defenses: NEVER give up information on the phone. If they are legitimate, they won't mind you saying "no".   Don't be pushed into a decision.   Keep repeating "I do not give that information out over the phone."  Hang up.   Make sure the senior citizens and children in your family understand safety rules about answering the phone. Train your employees not to give out information on the phone.

Credit Card Fraud:

I have written blogs about this before, and I'll say it again:  SHRED your old credit card documents.   Check your credit report periodically.  Make sure you login to only safe sites online. Don't write down personal information in a place where someone can see it or steal it.   Organize yourself.   The U.S. Secret Service advises that everytime you call an 800, 888, or 900 number your name and address are captured and become part of your electronic profile.  So be careful who you call!

Email and "4-1-9" Fraud

Email scams are called 4-1-9 scams (based on a section of the Nigerian Penal Code that deals with fraud.   A few years ago, these scams were almost laughable ("Hi, I am a Nigerian Prince and I have a check with your name on it, please write back!") but they have become extremely sophisicated.  Don't click on links in the email and don't respond to scams (even if you think it may be fun to "mess with them").   Clicking and responding can cause (at worst) a virus in your computer and theft of electronic data and (best case) an annoying pen pal you can't get rid of.   When you delete the message, delete it from your trash bin as well. It's also a good idea to run a virus scan if you accidentally open one of these emails.   If you have a business and can't avoid opening these emails (because you can't afford to miss some "real customers"), invest in a good virus protection program, train yourself and your staff in how to recognize and deal with fraud and have a system to screen potential clients (hint: they DO know how to create fake I.D.).  You should be familiar with the ways to report fraud (to Texas Attorney General, FBI, U.S. Secret Service, or your local law enforcement and/or District Attorney - depending on the situation).  If you have been defrauded, you should immediately report this to the proper authority (see below).

Creditor Fraud

Creditor fraud takes many forms: pretending that the person owes a debt when the caller knows they do not, attempting to collect a debt that the caller knows is not valid,  misquoting the law (for example telling a widowed spouse that they are responsible for debts of a deceased spouse when the caller knows that they are not), and various misuse or disregard of state and federal laws.  These callers may also try to pressure you in revealing information that you shouldn't, and may even threaten you.   This type of behavior should be reported to proper authorities.

Identity Theft

We have written blogs about this before, because it is so widespread.   The tips quoted above for the other types of fraud also apply here: guard your papers, passwords and private info.  Don't give out information about yourself. Watch what you say online.  Don't trust someone who wants your personal info.  Shred papers.   Watch your credit report.  Look around when you are using the ATM and keypads. Don't leave gas receipts or credit card receipts behind.  If you have been a victim of identity theft, act fast. Report this to your bank, all accounts, the social security office, credit reporting agencies, and possibly to a Driver's License office. 

Helpful Links

Texas DPS Identity Theft Information

U.S. Secret Service: check out "Protecting Yourself"

Texas Attorney General: Frauds and Scams

F.B.I. - Identity Theft

Next time... the "known" perpetrator, maritial fraud, business fraud, and how an attorney can help you.

Kalish Law Office - The Woodlands Texas

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