Consumer Fraud: How to Protect Yourself and Report It

Consumer fraud has grown proportionately in recent years in both breadth and type. According to the FBI, an astonishing $6.1 billion was secured in restitution orders for the year of 2009. These were only for cases of pending corporate fraud. People are becoming more perceptive in spotting fraudulent endeavors, but just as consumers are alerted to a new scheme, another pops up. This means that individuals must be vigilant in staying educated and up-to-date on the actions taking place within the consumer market. Knowing how to avoid fraud is very important. Governmental agencies and non-profit organizations offer help to individuals who have been, or think they may have been, a victim of fraud.

Types of Consumer Fraud

New scams are cropping up all the time. Targets span a wide range, from business people to stay-at-home parents, elderly individuals to recent college graduates. Emails claiming a consumer has “won” a prize, is “owed” money or has the opportunity to “help” someone with an inheritance are coming to people on a daily basis. Other schemes include work at home opportunities that require the consumer to pay in order to access the terms of an offer or to see a list of customers. Emails sometimes contain links to malicious websites that harvest personal information. These are all things to avoid.

Fraud Protection Tips

Researching any type of opportunity that comes via postal mail, phone or email is always a good idea. As the old saying goes, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” People that commit fraudulent acts have a gift for telling untruths. They present enough information to stir up positive thoughts and excitement. This can lead some people to take action before thoroughly investigating prospects. This is unfortunate as it can lead to identity theft, a significant loss of money and in extreme cases, even criminal charges. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Never give out your social security number (SSN) or other identifying information online; if you encounter a true work-from-home opportunity, you can apply for an employer identification number (EIN) at IRS.gov to be used in lien of your SSN.
  • If you are inputting any personal information whatsoever online, even when ordering a product, make sure the website is encrypted (it will read https:// in the web address located in the browser bar and will often have an icon picturing a padlock or key).
  • Always verify the source. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been complaints about a company in question. Make sure a non-profit is a registered entity. Contact local banking or policing institutions if you have any questions about something that does not seem quite right.
  • Don’t click on email links or attachments unless you know where it is taking you. Computer corruption happens all the time. Even something that looks as if it could be pictures from a relative could actually be malicious software that an email server is putting out from that relative’s email address.

Fraud Agencies

It is very unfortunate that these types of problems occur, but thankfully, regulating agencies have created programs to help stop fraudulent acts. Government agencies often work hand in hand to identify the acts, the people causing the fraud and the victims affected by it. Warnings are consistently being updated and public awareness is growing. It is a good idea to keep up on the latest happenings so that you can prevent becoming involved with any such activity.

How to File a Complaint

While most people never intend to get involved in a scheme, it does happen. When victims find themselves in the middle of fraudulent activity, it is their responsibility to report it. There are numerous agencies set up to handle reports and complaints. The type of fraud determines the proper agency to contact. If ever in question about the legality of any activities, a person should contact the local police department for advice.

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