Financial Crimes Unit

The Financial Crimes Unit is comprised of one sergeant, six detectives and one criminal intelligence analyst. The unit’s professional affiliations include: Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Certified Fraud Specialist, National White Collar Crimes Center, Associate Institute of Certified Public Accountants, International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators, International Association of Crime Analysts, South Florida Counterfeit Check Task Force.

Reporting a Financial Crime

Information on how to report different types of financial crimes:

Forgery

The crime of Forgery/Uttering a Forged Instrument occurs wherever the document (check, credit card slip, other document) was either signed and/or passed. The offense must be reported to the agency with jurisdiction over that location. Contact then needs to be made with the financial institution to have an investigation initiated.

Worthless/NSF Checks

Complaints may be filed directly with:

Palm Beach County State Attorney Bad Check Restitution Program –
PMB 171, 6901 W. Okeechobee Blvd. #D5, West Palm Beach, FL 33411

The paperwork can be obtained at any of the District Offices.
If you have any questions call 800-462-3756.

Internet Fraud

In most cases the crime occurs where moneys are received. A report should be made with the Law Enforcement agency of jurisdiction where the moneys are received. Contact can also be made with the Attorney Generals Office, the FBI, and the Postal Inspectors Office (if the crime occurred utilizing the U.S. Postal Service). File a report with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center at:http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Identity Theft

1. A report needs to be filed with the jurisdiction of residency, to obtain a case number to provide any other agency as needed.
2. After obtaining a law enforcement agency case number, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies and file an identity theft report with them, and place a fraud alert on your credit reports.

  • Experian 1-800-525-6285, and write P.O. Box 74021, Atlanta GA 30374-0241
  • Equifax 1-888-397-3742, and write, P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • Trans Union.1-800-680-7289 and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P. O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Other complaints of Financial Crimes

1. Stolen checks. If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts fraudulently set up, report the theft of checks to the law enforcement agency where the theft occurred. Then immediately report the theft to your bank and provide them the case number from law enforcement.

2. ATM cards. If your ATM card has been stolen or compromised, report the complaint to the law enforcement agency of occurrence, obtain a case number and immediately contact your bank.

3. Fraudulent change of address. Notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud.

4. Number misuse. Call the Social Security Administration to report fraudulent Social Security use of your Social Security number.

5. Phone service. If your long distance calling card has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges on your bill, contact your telephone company.

6. Drivers license number misuse. Contact the state Office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license.

Definition: An “Affidavit of Forgery” is a notarized sworn statement attesting the signature or information appearing on the questioned document is a forgery, and not authorized by the account holder. The account holder MUST provide an Affidavit of Forgery before criminal charges can be filed against any suspected criminal. An affidavit must accompany each forged or counterfeited item. If you have 10 forged checks, there must be 10 affidavits. Law Enforcement will provide a blank affidavit for you. You may use this form or obtain one from your financial institution.

The State Attorney’s Office requires the person or business suffering the monetary loss to report the offense. This applies to forgery and credit card abuse.

For Example:

(a) If your checks are stolen and one is cashed at Tom Thumb, TOM THUMB must report the crime to Law Enforcement because Tom Thumb will suffer the monetary loss.

(b) If your Visa card was used to make a purchase with out your approval, the store accepting the credit card must report the offense to Law Enforcement.

If the bank doesn’t credit your account, you sustain the loss, which requires you to report the offense to Law Enforcement.

Yes, you can report the theft to Law Enforcement and to the U.S. Postal Inspector. They have jurisdiction for investigating thefts involving the U.S. mail.

Report the incident to the Law Enforcement Agency where the theft occurred. The Financial Crimes Unit only investigates cases involving the passing of forged or counterfeit checks or the fraudulent use of a credit card.

1. Immediately contact the issuer of the credit, the credit card company, such as American Express or Visa, a department store, or a bank. We also recommend contacting someone who works in the “LOSS PREVENTION” department for the company, instead of someone in their customer service department.

2. When your American Express, Visa, or any other card is used to purchase merchandise, you should also contact the store where the card was used. Again, contact someone who works in “LOSS PREVENTION” for the store and not someone in customer service.

3. Contact one of the three (3) credit reporting companies and report the incident to each of them. (Please refer to phone numbers provided below)

  • Ask them to put an alert on your credit report, which acts as a warning to potential creditors.
  • Add a security statement to your report, requesting that all potential creditors should call prior to granting new credit in your name. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain a loan, especially instant credit.
  • Call the Social Security Administration to report the fraudulent use of your number. They may, as a last resort, issue you a new number. Checking Account:
  • Immediately contact the bank where the account has been opened. Again, you should contact someone working in the “LOSS PREVENTION” department for the bank, instead of someone in their customer service department.
  • Contact the store where the check was passed, contacting someone in the “LOSS PREVENTION” department for the store, not someone in customer service.
  • Contact Telecheck and other check verification companies reporting the matter to them.

A: Credit Bureaus:

Check Verification Companies:

  • Telecheck 800-366-2425
  • National Processing Co. 800-526-5380
    *** Make ALL your notifications by telephone, and in writing.

A: You can reduce the risk of becoming a victim of fraud by following the advice below:

  • Don’t use your birth date or mother’s maiden name as a password for your accounts.
  • Avoid writing your account numbers on your checks when paying your credit card bills. If a criminal steals your monthly bank statement, these canceled checks will give the criminal all the information he or she needs to commit fraud.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Be careful to whom you give it. Do NOT put it or your drivers license number on your checks.
  • Shred your credit card receipts, bank statements and any mail showing your name and address before throwing away in the trash.
  • Request credit reports from each of the credit bureaus, checking for discrepancies, on a regular basis.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when someone obtains a person’s identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, social security number or mother’s maiden name. Using this information illegally, an imposter can open new credit card accounts, drain your bank accounts, purchase automobiles, apply for loans, open utility services and on and on.

No matter how cautious you are you cannot be guaranteed a criminal will not obtain your information. The following steps will tell you what the warning signs are, how to protect yourself, what to do if you become a victim and the resources you will need.

Warning Signs

Often, there are no warning signs identity theft has occurred. However, some reasons for concern are:

  • Your monthly credit card and bank statements suddenly stop arriving.
  • You are denied credit for no apparent reason.
  • You start getting bills from companies you do not recognize.
  • Credit collection agencies try to collect on debts that do not belong to you.

How To Protect Yourself

Personal Information

  • Ask your bank, doctor’s office, other businesses and your employer how they use and protect your personal information.
  • Never carry your Social Security card, Social Security number, birth certificate or passport unless necessary.
  • Do not put your address, telephone number or driver’s license number on a credit card sales receipt.
  • Social Security numbers or phone numbers should not be put on checks.
  • Identifying information should not be given over the phone or the Internet to someone you do not know or on a cellular or cordless phone.
  • Shred all personal documents before placing them in the trash!
  • If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver’s license number, ask for another number. Financial Information
  • Get a copy of your credit report every year.
  • Keep your financial records out of sight. Burglars are just as interested in credit cards, bank accounts and investment statements as they are in your jewelry and other valuables.
  • Check monthly credit card statements for charges you did not make. If monthly statements do not arrive in the mail call the lender immediately.
  • Keep a list, in a safe place, of all credit cards and bank accounts including the account numbers, phone numbers and expiration dates. Only use your credit card on the Internet if it will be encrypted.
  • Shred financial or confidential information such as credit card pre-approvals, credit card receipts, etc.
  • If you have credit cards you do not use, store them in a safe place. Cancel the accounts if you will not use them again. Cut up old credit cards before discarding.
  • Carry only the credit cards you plan to use.
  • When you have applied for a new credit card, keep your eye on the mail and the calendar. If the card does not arrive within the appropriate time, call the credit card company.
  • Do not use your mother’s maiden name as a password for accounts. Make one up.
  • Unless your mailbox is secure, mail payments at the post office and pick up new checks at your bank.
  • If you are not interested in pre-approved credit offers, opt-out using the telephone number in our resource section.

What To Do If You Are A Victim

Despite your best efforts to protect yourself, you have become a victim. Now what? The following steps should be taken immediately and at the same time to best insure your protection.

Record Keeping

In the process of resolving the theft of your identity, be sure to keep records of all correspondence with the creditors and government agencies you contact. Include the date and name of contact. Follow up all telephone contacts with a letter and keep a copy.

Creditors

Notify all creditors and financial institutions in writing and by phone that your name and accounts have been used without your permission. If an existing account has been stolen, ask the creditor or bank to issue you new cards, checks and account numbers. Carefully monitor your account activity on your statements. Report fraudulent activity to the issuing company immediately. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) is a federal law that limits a consumer’s responsibility for fraudulent charges to $50.

Local Law Enforcement

Immediately report the crime to local police. Provide them with as much documentation as possible. Make sure that the accounts are listed on the police report. Also, get a copy of the police report. Credit card companies, banks and credit reporting agencies may require you to show a police report to support your claim that a crime was committed.

Federal Law Enforcement

Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC collects complaints about identity theft from consumers and stores them in a secure online database called the Consumer Sentinel that is available to law enforcement agencies worldwide. The FTC provides information on ways to resolve problems resulting from identity theft and refers individuals to various private and government agencies for further action.

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20580
1-877-IDTHEFT
http://www.consumer.gov/section/scams-and-identity-theft

The Credit Reporting Agencies

Contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report to help prevent new fraudulent accounts from being opened. Keep track of when it expires so you can ask for another one if necessary. However, not all creditors check your credit report before issuing a new account.

As an ID fraud victim, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. Also, ask the agencies for a copy of your credit report every three months once you have become a victim. This can help determine how many and which accounts listed are fraudulent. You can also identify the existing accounts that have been stolen.

Equifax
1-800-525-6285
http://www.equifax.com
Experian
1-888-397-3742
http://www.experian.com
Trans Union
1-800-680-7289
http://www.transunion.com

To opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit card offers, call 1-888-5-opt-out

Utility Companies

Ask utility companies (local and long distance telephone service providers, gas, electric and water companies) to watch out for anyone ordering services in your name. If someone has ordered services in your name, cancel those accounts. If you are having trouble with falsified accounts, contact your state Public Utility Commission.

Additional Resources

United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)

The USPIS is a federal law enforcement agency that investigates cases of identity theft. The agency has primary jurisdiction in matters involving the integrity of the U.S. mail.

U.S. Postal Inspection Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza
Washington, DC 20260
(202) 268-2284
https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/

United States Secret Service (USSS)

The USSS is a federal agency that investigates financial crimes. Generally, the USSS will intervene only when the dollar amount of the crime is high. However, they should still be notified in case it is part of a larger fraud ring.

U.S. Secret Service
Contact your local field office.
http://www.treasury.gov/services/report-fwa/Pages/id_theft.aspx

Social Security Administration (SSA)

If you detect fraudulent use of your social security number, report it to the SSA. The SSA does not generally take action unless there is a high dollar amount, workplace impersonation or crimes committed in your name. They will only change your SSN if you fit their fraud victim criteria.

Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235
1-800-269-0271 (fraud hotline)
http://www.ssa.gov

Call For Action, Inc.

Call For Action, Inc. is an international network of consumer hotlines. CFA volunteers provide assistance and mediate cases on behalf of consumers and small businesses. For the office nearest you, visit http://www.callforaction.org/.

Additional Steps To Take:

  • If your bank accounts have been tampered with close those accounts, destroy any checks and cut up any ATM cards. Ask for password protection when opening new accounts.
  • If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment on all checks. Open a new account and reissue checks to legitimate creditors. Also, ask your bank to notify its check verification company to stop giving approval for any of the stolen checks.
  • If you believe your investments or brokerage accounts have been tampered with, report it to your account manager and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Even if you think a problem is resolved, check your credit report every six months for several years after your identity was stolen.
  • If you suspect your name and SSN are being used by an identity thief to get a driver’s license or non-driver’s ID card in your name, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles.

Valuable tips for common scams and frauds

PUBLIC AWARENESS ADVISORY REGARDING “4-1-9” OR “ADVANCE FEE FRAUD” SCHEMES

4-1-9 Schemes frequently use the following tactics:

  • An individual or company receives a letter or fax from an alleged “official” representing a foreign government or agency;
  • An offer is made to transfer millions of dollars in “over invoiced contract” funds into your personal bank account;
  • You are encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction;
  • You are requested to provide blank company letterhead forms, banking account information, telephone/fax numbers;
  • You receive numerous documents with official looking stamps, seals and logo testifying to the authenticity of the proposal;
  • Eventually you must provide up-front or advance fees for various taxes, attorney fees, transaction fees or bribes;
  • Other forms of 4-1-9 schemes include: c.o.d. of goods or services, real estate ventures, purchases of crude oil at reduced prices, beneficiary of a will, recipient of an award and paper currency conversion.

If you have already lost funds in pursuit of the above described scheme, please contact the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C. at 202-406-5850 or by e-mail.

Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Overview
The perpetrators of Advance Fee Fraud (AFF), known internationally as “4-1-9” fraud after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses fraud schemes, are often very creative and innovative.

Unfortunately, there is a perception that no one is prone to enter into such an obviously suspicious relationship. However, a large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar windfall profits for doing absolutely nothing. It is also a misconception that the victim’s bank account is requested so the culprit can plunder it — this is not the primary reason for the account request — merely a signal they have hooked another victim. In almost every case there is a sense of urgency;

  • The victim is enticed to travel to Nigeria or a border country;
  • There are many forged official looking documents;
  • Most of the correspondence is handled by fax or through the mail;
  • Blank letterheads and invoices are requested from the victim along with the banking particulars;
  • Any number of Nigerian fees are requested for processing the transaction with each fee purported to be the last required;
  • The confidential nature of the transaction is emphasized;
  • There are usually claims of strong ties to Nigerian officials;
  • A Nigerian residing in the U.S., London or other foreign venue may claim to be a clearing house bank for the Central Bank of Nigeria;
  • Offices in legitimate government buildings appear to have been used by impostors posing as the real occupants or officials.

The most common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into seven main categories: Disbursement of money from wills

  • Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
  • Purchase of real estate
  • Conversion of hard currency
  • Transfer of funds from over invoiced contracts
  • Sale of crude oil at below market prices

The most prevalent and successful cases of Advance Fee Fraud is the fund transfer scam. In this scheme, a company or individual will typically receive an unsolicited letter by mail from a Nigerian claiming to be a senior civil servant. In the letter, the Nigerian will inform the recipient that he is seeking a reputable foreign company or individual into whose account he can deposit funds ranging from $10-$60 million that the Nigerian government overpaid on some procurement contract.

The criminals obtain the names of potential victims from a variety of sources including trade journals, professional directories, newspapers, and commercial libraries. They do not target a single company, but rather send out mailings en masse. The sender declares that he is a senior civil servant in one of the Nigerian Ministries, usually the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The letters refer to investigations of previous contracts awarded by prior regimes alleging that many contracts were over invoiced. Rather than return the money to the government, they desire to transfer the money to a foreign account. The sums to be transferred average between $10,000,000 to $60,000,000 and the recipient is usually offered a commission up to 30 percent for assisting in the transfer.

Initially, the intended victim is instructed to provide company letterheads and pro forma invoicing that will be used to show completion of the contract. One of the reasons is to use the victim’s letterhead to forge letters of recommendation to other victim companies and to seek out a travel visa from the American Embassy in Lagos. The victim is told that the completed contracts will be submitted for approval to the Central Bank of Nigeria. Upon approval, the funds will be remitted to an account supplied by the intended victim.

The goal of the criminal is to delude the target into thinking that he is being drawn into a very lucrative, albeit questionable, arrangement. The intended victim must be reassured and confident of the potential success of the deal. He will become the primary supporter of the scheme and willingly contribute a large amount of money when the deal is threatened. The term “when” is used because the con-within-the-con is the scheme will be threatened in order to persuade the victim to provide a large sum of money to save the venture.

The letter, while appearing transparent and even ridiculous to most, unfortunately is growing in its effectiveness. It sets the stage and is the opening round of a two-layered scheme or scheme within a scheme. The fraudster will eventually reach someone who, while skeptical, desperately wants the deal to be genuine.

Victims are almost always requested to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. Individuals are often told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country. The Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through Immigration and Customs. Because it is a serious offense in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, the victim’s illegal entry may be used by the fraudsters as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to further pressure victims. In June of 1995, an American was murdered in Lagos, Nigeria, while pursuing a 4-1-9 scam, and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.

Victims are often convinced of the authenticity of Advance Fee Fraud schemes by the forged or false documents bearing apparently official Nigerian government letterhead, seals, as well as false letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts. The fraudster may establish the credibility of his contacts, and thereby his influence, by arranging a meeting between the victim and “government officials” in real or fake government offices.

In the next stage some alleged problem concerning the “inside man” will suddenly arise. An official will demand an up-front bribe or an unforeseen tax or fee to the Nigerian government will have to be paid before the money can be transferred. These can include licensing fees, registration fees, and various forms of taxes and attorney fees. Normally each fee paid is described as the very last fee required. Invariably, oversights and errors in the deal are discovered by the Nigerians, necessitating additional payments and allowing the scheme to be stretched out over many months.

Several reasons have been submitted why Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud has undergone a dramatic increase in recent years. The explanations are as diverse as the types of schemes. The Nigerian Government blames the growing problem on mass unemployment, extended family systems, a get rich quick syndrome, and, especially, the greed of foreigners.

Indications are that Advance Fee Fraud grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually and the losses are continuing to escalate. In all likelihood, there are victims who do not report their losses to authorities due to either fear or embarrassment.

In response to this growing epidemic, the United States Secret Service established “Operation 4-1-9” designed to target Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud on an international basis. The Financial Crimes Division of the Secret Service receives approximately 100 telephone calls from victims/potential victims and 300-500 pieces of related correspondence per day.

Secret Service agents have been assigned on a temporary basis to the American Embassy in Lagos to address the problem in that arena. Agents have established liaison with Nigerian officials, briefed other embassies on the widespread problem, and have assisted in the extrication of U.S. citizens in distress.

If you have been victimized by one of these schemes, please forward appropriate written documentation to the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, or telephone (202) 406-5850, or contact by e-mail.

If you have received a letter, but have not lost any monies to this scheme, please fax a copy of that letter to (202) 406-5031.

A pyramid or chain referral scheme is a marketing program based on convincing people to buy the right to sell others the right to market a particular product or product line. Promoters select a product and sell large or over priced inventories to “distributors”, with the added incentive of allowing the distributors to sell sub-distributorships. The profit is earned primarily through investors enlisting new recruits who in turn enroll more recruits. In order to recoup the initial investment, new recruits are encouraged to sell new distributorships and there is little real concern given to selling the actual product or service to the public.

The attraction of the pyramid scheme is that it offers an unusually high rate of return on the initial investment. Investors are typically advised that they can get a full return on their money by getting two or more “new” investors to make an investment. The new investors must then get two or more new investors and so it goes, on and on….

Promoters fail to tell or deliberately conceal that profit from this system becomes mathematically impossible for other than the initiators of the scheme. Similar pyramid schemes are also appearing on the Internet.

An unknown person implies that he/she is a bank representative or working with the police to investigate the misappropriation of money at your bank. Your assistance is required to trap a dishonest bank employee. You are asked to visit your bank and withdraw money from your account. The con artist contacts you after the withdrawal, produces phony identification and takes possession of your money. You are assured that the money will be deposited to your account within a couple of days…The phony bank inspector and your money then disappear. Your entire savings can be wiped out within minutes.

Numerous employees are hired by a con-artist as telephone solicitors to sell products or solicit donations for charitable organizations. The products are frequently of questionable value and the charities are fictitious or, they receive little or nothing. These schemes work well, as each victim consumer is taken for only a moderate amount and they do not usually pursue the issue. However the small-to-moderate individual amounts add up to thousands of dollars for the boiler room operator.

Be prudent and verify the organization or product before making a commitment.

The pigeon drop scheme has many variations and the following is but one possible scenario. A stranger approaches you on the street and starts up a conversation. As you are conversing another stranger nearby claims to having just found a large amount of money. The discussion turns to what should be done with the money. Stranger number two claims to work for a lawyer and leaves to seek legal advice. The finder returns to say that the lawyer advises to say that the money should be put into a trust for a certain amount of time, until the owner is located. If unclaimed at the end of the time period, the money is to be shared among those in the group. However, to ensure that all those in the group are legitimate, a specified amount of money is to be deposited in the trust by each member of the group.

The con-artist then adds that once the lawyer has all the money, for an additional fee, the waiting period can be waived. Both strangers then advise you to withdraw the amount of money required.

The stranger who claims to work for the lawyer then offers to take the money to the lawyer, sign the papers and return with your share. The stranger then returns and advises that the lawyer wants to speak to you personally, and gives you directions to the office. Your search for the office is fruitless and you soon realize that you have been conned.

This con, like many, appeals to a weakness in human nature… the desire to get something for nothing.

NEVER GIVE CASH TO A STRANGER !!!

People wishing to purchase a vacation or retirement property often find themselves trapped in land investment schemes. Through the use of slick advertising, unscrupulous promoters seduce potential victims into buying worthless property. If the price seems too good to be true or it is “an urgent once in a lifetime opportunity” you may be buying a desert bed miles from civilization or swamp land that remains under water even during a drought. Never purchase property sight unseen. Visit the area, view the property, and have it properly appraised.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK….INVESTIGATE BEFORE BUYING

Most home improvement contractors are legitimate and provide a useful service. A small percentage of these contractors are not so honest. Con artists practicing home improvement schemes often solicit contracts from home owners by misrepresenting the necessity for repairs or the value of the home improvements. These operators will ask to be paid in cash, often in advance or with large deposits in advance. The contractual work is then often poorly done or not performed at all.

Before making a commitment:

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau regarding the honesty and reputation of the contractor;
  • Obtain other estimates from reputable contractors;
  • Never pay for the work in advance; pay after it has been completed and examined;
  • If the person represents a utility company ask for proper identification;
  • Carefully read all forms and contracts before signing;
  • Never let anyone rush you into signing a contract or handing over cash;
  • Always verify proof of County or State licensure when using a contractor.

Do business with companies you know and trust. Be sure you know who the company is and where it is physically located. Businesses operating in cyberspace may be in another part of the country or in another part of the world. Resolving problems with companies that are unfamiliar can be more complicated in long-distance or cross-border transactions.

Understand the offer. Look carefully at the information about the products or services the company is offering, and ask for more information, if needed. A legitimate company will be glad to provide it; a fraudulent marketer won’t. Be sure you know what is being sold, the total price, the delivery date, the return and cancellation policy, and the terms of any guaranty. The federal telephone and mail order rule, which also covers orders by computer, requires goods or services to be delivered by the promised time or, if none was stated, within thirty days. Print out the information so that you have documentation if you need it.

Check out the company’s track record. Ask your state or local consumer protection agency if the company has to be licensed or registered, and with whom, and check to see if it is. You can also ask consumer agencies and the Better Business Bureau in your area about the company’s complaint record. But keep in mind that fraudulent companies can appear and disappear quickly, especially in cyberspace, so lack of a complaint record is no guarantee that a company is legitimate.

Be careful to whom you give your financial or other personal information. Don’t provide your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security number or other personal information unless you know the company is legitimate and the information is necessary for the transaction. Even with partial information, con artists can make unauthorized charges, deduct money from your account, and impersonate you to get credit in your name.

Take your time to decide. While there may be time limits for special offers, high-pressure sales tactics are often danger signs of fraud.

Be aware that there are differences between private sales and sales by a business. All sorts of goods and services are sold or traded by individuals through unsolicited e-mails, newsgroups postings, chat room discussions, web auctions and online classified advertisements. While most people are honest, your legal rights against the seller may not be the same as with a business, and you could have difficulty pursuing your complaint if the merchandise is misrepresented, defective or never delivered.

You may be better off paying by credit card than with a check, cash or money order, as long as you know with whom you’re doing business. When you use your credit card for a purchase and there is a problem, you have the right to notify your card issuer that you are disputing the charge, and you don’t have to pay it while your dispute is being investigated. It’s easier to resolve a problem if you haven’t already paid. Also, unless you are purchasing through a secured site (preferably using the new Secured Encryption Technology), it may be safer to provide your payment information by phone or mail rather than online.

Don’t judge reliability by how nice or flashy a website may seem. Anyone can create, register and promote a website; it’s relatively easy and inexpensive. And just like any other forms of advertising, you can’t assume that someone has screened and approved it.

Know that people in cyberspace may not always be what they seem. Someone who is sharing a “friendly” tip about a money-making scheme or great bargain in a chat room or on a bulletin board may have an ulterior motive: to make money. And sometimes those friendly people turn out to be crooks!

Know that unsolicited e-mail violates computer etiquette and is often used by con artists. It also violates most agreements for Internet service. Report “spamming,” as unsolicited e-mail is called, to your online or Internet service provider.

Don’t download programs to see pictures, hear music, or get other features from websites you’re not familiar with. You could unwittingly download a virus that wipes out your computer files or even hijacks your Internet service, reconnecting you to the Net through an international phone number, resulting in enormous phone charges.

In most cased the crime occurs where the victim sends either a check or money order to the suspect and the suspect receives the cash. A report should be made with the agency with jurisdiction over the suspects location. Contact can also be made with the states Attorney General Office, the FBI, and the Postal Inspectors Office (if the crime occurred utilizing the U. S. Postal Service).

There are many ways that people become victimized by false claims of winning the lottery. Letters accompanied with checks are sent; requesting victims to deposit the “good faith” check into their checking account and wire transfer back a portion. These lottery claims are fraudulent. Do not deposit these counterfeit checks or provide any contact information. Contact the FTC to learn more.

How to Protect Yourself:

Source: The Florida Attorney General’s Office

Most telephone sales are placed by legitimate businesses offering legitimate products and services. However, telemarketing fraud is a billion-dollar business in the United States. The consumer must always be on the alert when asked to send money to unfamiliar companies. Fraudulent telemarketers are skilled liars and adept at sounding believable. Victims of telemarketing fraud seldom get their money back. Before responding to a phone solicitation, consider the following:

TIPS FOR CONSUMERS

Don’t be Pushed into a Hasty Decision

Fraudulent telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics. They want to get you to buy their products and get your money before you can check them out or change your mind. Fraudulent telemarketers are trained not to accept “no” as an answer. Some telemarketers resort to insult and argument as a sales technique. Don’t be intimidated by the phrase “you’re going to be sorry if you do not act now.”

Beware of These Common Telemarketing Schemes:

  • Free “Prize Offers” are never free. The consumer usually has to do something for the “Free Prize.” For example, the consumer is required to pay an advanced fee, buy another product, pay a tax, or attend a sales presentation. The prizes are generally worthless or overpriced.
  • “Free” or “low-cost” vacations usually cost the consumer much more than originally presented. There are hidden costs and often the trips don’t materialize. Telemarketers target timeshare unit owners by misrepresenting that investors are ready, willing and able to purchase consumer’s units for large sums of money, the catch: send in an advance fee.

Don’t Provide Financial Information Over the Phone to Unfamiliar Companies

The only time you should provide credit card or bank account information is if you have decided to make a purchase, after researching the company. Be careful if the company wants to send a courier to pick up your money. What is the big hurry? If you have paid by credit card and have not received the product, immediately notify your credit card company in writing.

Research the Company

Legitimate businesses understand when you want written information about their offers or companies. Always request written material about any offer, investment and charity. If you get brochures about investments, ask someone who is knowledgeable about investments to review the documents. Find out how long the company has been in business. Call your Better Business Bureau and government agencies (example: the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, at (800) 435-7352, the Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission) to learn whether any complaints or lawsuits are pending.

How to Protect Yourself:

Source: The Florida Attorney General’s Office

Most telephone sales are placed by legitimate businesses offering legitimate products and services. However, telemarketing fraud is a billion-dollar business in the United States. The consumer must always be on the alert when asked to send money to unfamiliar companies. Fraudulent telemarketers are skilled liars and adept at sounding believable. Victims of telemarketing fraud seldom get their money back. Before responding to a phone solicitation, consider the following:

TIPS FOR CONSUMERS

Don’t be Pushed into a Hasty Decision

Fraudulent telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics. They want to get you to buy their products and get your money before you can check them out or change your mind. Fraudulent telemarketers are trained not to accept “no” as an answer. Some telemarketers resort to insult and argument as a sales technique. Don’t be intimidated by the phrase “you’re going to be sorry if you do not act now.”

Beware of These Common Telemarketing Schemes:

  • Free “Prize Offers” are never free. The consumer usually has to do something for the “Free Prize.” For example, the consumer is required to pay an advanced fee, buy another product, pay a tax, or attend a sales presentation. The prizes are generally worthless or overpriced.
  • “Free” or “low-cost” vacations usually cost the consumer much more than originally presented. There are hidden costs and often the trips don’t materialize. Telemarketers target timeshare unit owners by misrepresenting that investors are ready, willing and able to purchase consumer’s units for large sums of money, the catch: send in an advance fee.

Don’t Provide Financial Information Over the Phone to Unfamiliar Companies

The only time you should provide credit card or bank account information is if you have decided to make a purchase, after researching the company. Be careful if the company wants to send a courier to pick up your money. What is the big hurry? If you have paid by credit card and have not received the product, immediately notify your credit card company in writing.

Research the Company

Legitimate businesses understand when you want written information about their offers or companies. Always request written material about any offer, investment and charity. If you get brochures about investments, ask someone who is knowledgeable about investments to review the documents. Find out how long the company has been in business. Call your Better Business Bureau and government agencies (example: the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, at (800) 435-7352, the Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission) to learn whether any complaints or lawsuits are pending.

How to Protect Yourself:

CREDIT CARD FRAUD

Source: The Florida Attorney General’s Office

Credit card fraud is a serious problem. Credit card fraud causes an estimated $1 billion each year in losses in the United States. The consumer pays for the fraud by way of higher finance charges, annual fees, and increased costs for law enforcement. To protect against credit card fraud, consider the following:

TIPS FOR CONSUMERS

Protect Your Bills and Credit Cards

Unscrupulous scam artists raid mailboxes to gather renewal credit cards and bills to obtain credit card numbers. Be aware of when your cards and bills are due to arrive. If they are late, contact your credit card company. Endorse all credit cards when they arrive. Keep a record of your credit card numbers in a secure place. Include in that record the expiration date, phone number and address of the card issuer. Check your cards to ensure none are missing. Always get your credit card back promptly from salesclerks.

Guard Your Credit Card Number

Do not give your credit card number over the phone unless you are dealing with a company you have done business with before. Memorize your PIN number and do not keep it with your credit card.

Merchants Cannot Require You to Show Your Credit Card for Identification When Paying by Check

It is a violation of Florida law to require a consumer to produce a credit card number or expiration date before payment by check. However, a consumer can be required to show that they have a valid credit card. The merchant can then note the type of card (Visa, Master Card, etc.) and the name of the issuing bank, but nothing else.

Safety Tips When Using Your Credit Card

Destroy carbons and voided receipts immediately. Check your bill against receipts that have been kept in a secure place. If you are not using a credit card, destroy it immediately. Report stolen and lost cards immediately. When on a trip, carry the name of the issuer, account number and the toll free number of the issuer in a secure place. Note the date, time and person to whom you reported that your card was lost or stolen.

Reporting Losses and Fraud

If you lose your credit or charge cards or if you realize they’ve been lost or stolen, immediately call the issuer(s). Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies. By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges. In any event, your maximum liability under federal law is $50 per card.

If you suspect fraud, you may be asked to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchase(s) in question.

Additional Information

For a free copy of Best Sellers, a complete list of FTC publications, contact:

Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
(202) 326-2222; TDD: (202) 326-2502