In 2020, consumers lost an estimated $5.8 billion to online fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This article provides an overview of fraud investigations related to frauds, scams, and schemes criminals use to deceive unsuspecting people into revealing personal information. Although there are many scams, this article covers general fraudulent emails, jury duty scams, lottery and inheritance schemes, relationship fraud, and secret shopper offers. The ultimate goal of most of these scams is identity theft.
What is Fraud?
In criminal law, fraud is the crime or offense of deliberately deceiving another to damage them – usually, to obtain property or services from him or her unjustly. Fraud can be committed through many methods, including mail, wire, phone, and internet fraud. In addition to being a criminal act, fraud is a type of civil law violation known as a tort. A tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy.
Civil fraud typically involves making a false representation of a fact susceptible to actual knowledge that another person relies upon to that person’s detriment.
Fraudsters may attempt to contact you in various ways—for example, by email, text messages, social media, apps, mail, and phone calls. The following is an overview of various ways thieves will try to steal your money.
How to Deal With Fraudulent Emails
If you receive a fraudulent email, exercise immediate caution. Emails of this type are designed to get you to provide personal information such as your bank account number, routing number, social security number, birth date, etc. The information obtained is then used to secure a credit card in your name or draft a payment from your checking or savings account. Report it to your internet service provider and email hosting provider, then add it to your spam filter and delete the original message.
Under no circumstances should you respond to the message and not provide any requested information. Fraud email messages of this nature can often be very convincing, tempting you to respond. It is in your best interest to report it, delete and block it so you won’t receive this type of junk in the future.
Charitable Contributions and Donation Requests
Criminals exploit fraudulent charities during civil unrest, mass shootings, or politically-motivated events. The tragic nature of the event may cause you to relax your worries about dealing with a potential con artist. Who would do such a thing? Making donations or providing financial account information may put you at risk of money loss and even ID theft. Visit FTC.gov for guides on donating wisely and ensuring your contributions reach their intended targets.
Fake Job Offers
Unfortunately, even legitimate job offers may have a scammer behind them. Dishonest people may post notices on popular job boards or send them to you via email. Often, they create a sense of urgency to get you to react quickly. However, behind the scenes, they are working to gather your personal information. For example, your full name, address, date of birth, etc. Also, they may suggest that you provide the last four numbers of your social as a passcode. Then, they’ll try to get you to provide banking information. Next thing you know, you’ve given them your identity.
This type of social engineering may not come as a single email or phone call. The scammers behind job offer schemes work to gather information in small pieces. As a result, you don’t notice that you’re giving away so much information.
Jury Duty and Juror Schemes
Most people take a court summons for jury duty very seriously. When most citizens receive a notice to report for duty, they take the day off work or school and head to the courthouse. However, enough people skip out on their civic duty that a new and ominous kind of fraud has surfaced. In what is known as a “jury duty scam,” the fraudulent caller claims to be a jury coordinator or court officer.
Suppose you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty. In that case, the scammer asks for personally identifiable information so they can check to see if you have an arrest warrant. Usually, the scam artist asks for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Once the caller has this information, they have all they need to steal your identity. They can apply for credit card loans and open bank accounts.
Jury duty fraud has been reported in every state. This type of scheme is particularly insidious because they use intimidation over the phone to bully people into giving information by pretending they are with the court system.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their websites, warning consumers about the fraud. Beware and remember, never give out personally identifiable information over the phone.
Fraud Investigations: Lottery and Inheritance Scams
In recent years, lottery and inheritance scams have become popular forms of fraud. Scam artists and fraudsters contact unsuspecting people and inform them that they have won a large sum of money, either in a lottery or in an inheritance from a relative.
Quite often, the schemers can produce documents that appear to be legitimate, such as official checks, wills, award letters, or contracts. Victims can be easily fooled by the convincing appearance of the communications and the promise of receiving large sums of money. Here are a few tips to share with your family, friends, and clients to help you avoid becoming a victim of a lottery or insurance scam:
- Always be skeptical of unsolicited letters, calls, or emails informing you that you’ve won a lottery. Lotteries don’t work that way. Generally, you must buy a ticket or submit an entry to win. So, if you didn’t play the lottery, you didn’t win.
- Ignore any communications from foreign lotteries, paying attention to the address or phone number from the notice.
- Legitimate lotteries don’t require winners to pay fees to collect winnings or to provide personally identifiable information such as birth dates or social security numbers. Once they ask for this information, hang up and discontinue all communications.
- Check with relatives about recent deaths in your family. Confirm the person is a member of your family and that they have passed away before responding. Even then, be suspicious.
- Never give anyone personal or financial information over the Internet or telephone.
Follow these simple steps to help keep you and your family safe from these fraudulent scams.
Relationship and Dating Scams and Schemes: Con Artist Specialties
The internet allows anyone to establish business and personal relationships with people worldwide. Unfortunately, fraudsters and scam artists often exploit this opportunity by preying on individuals who frequent internet chat rooms, online dating services, social networking sites, and other online locations. As a result, relationship scams are on the rise.
The schemers establish an online relationship with a potential victim by requesting emotional support for some personal event. By doing this, the scammer slowly cultivates a relationship that they hope will translate into significant goodwill and financial gain. The relationship can continue for weeks, months, and sometimes even years. After a successful online courtship, the scammer may ask the victim to assist them financially to remedy some traumatic situation such as losing a loved one, pending loss of a home, loss of their job, or other emergencies. Some of the most common reasons, or “angles,” include:
- The individual or a family member needs medical attention
- The individual is a victim of a violent crime, and they’ve been robbed of their belongings
- The individual would like to visit but needs funding for airline tickets, visas, or excessive customs costs.
Whatever the situation, the scammer asks the victim for money or requests them to send traveler’s checks, money orders, or some other financial item to negotiate. They instruct the victim to wire the funds to a third party, such as a doctor or hotel manager. Any proposed transaction will likely involve counterfeit or altered items. Here are some tips to avoid relationship schemes and Internet dating fraud:
- Be cautious when meeting people on the Internet. Remember, they can pretend to be someone they aren’t.
- Be suspicious by default. Make others prove to you that they are a real person and they are who they say they are.
- Do not negotiate items on behalf of someone else
- Do not send money by money transfer to someone you do not know.
- Once someone asks for money, be suspicious of their behavior and carefully consider every move you make.
- Never give out personally identifiable information such as your address, birth date, phone number, or social security number. Make it your goal to give them nothing.
Following these simple steps will help you avoid becoming a victim of a relationship scam. If you need help, hire a private investigator specializing in fraud investigations.
Secret Shopper Offer Scams
If you receive emails about becoming a “secret shopper,” please be aware that it is fraudulent and part of a worldwide scheme focused mainly on the United States. Fraudulent secret shopper scams of this type attempt to get you to provide personal information such as your bank account number, routing number, social security number, birth date, etc. The information obtained is used to secure a credit card in your name or draft a payment from your checking account.
If you receive an email like this:
- First, don’t respond. Don’t provide any personal information.
- Report it to your internet service provider and your email hosting provider.
- Consider reporting it to the company or domain spoofed (e.g., PayPal, Amazon, retailer, etc.)
- Add the sender to your spam blocker so you don’t have to deal with future junk.
- Delete the email
Also, never deposit a check that you receive from an unknown source. In some cases, frequent shopper fraudsters may mail you a physical check. Then, they may ask you to deposit the check into your account as an advance payment. Often, these checks are counterfeit, which may lead to you losing money or even becoming unknowingly involved in the crime. If you receive this mail, throw it in the trash.
Security System Fraud
Beware of “door-knocking” agents who pretend to work for your current home security provider. These scumbags use the signs and/or stickers you have on your home to determine who provides your security. Then, they knock on your door and pretend to be an agent working for the company. Often, they suggest that they are there to upgrade your security system. Also, they create a false sense of urgency. For example, “We detected a problem with your system” or “Your alarm system is no longer communicating with our monitoring center.” Then, once inside your home, they get you to sign a new contract with their company.
Ask for a business card or official company identification to avoid this trick. Then, call the office to make sure they are legitimate. Don’t hesitate to tell them to get off your property while you make the call. Or, go ahead and tell them to get off your property, and you’ll call and make an appointment; if you decide it is truly necessary.
Social Security Scams
Social Security-related scams focus on stealing your personal information and your money. Unfortunately, the scum bags who commit these crimes tend to prey on the elderly. For example, they call and pretend to represent the Social Security Administration. Or they send an email with official-looking logos, signatures, links, etc. Sometimes, they mention that you are eligible for a prize. Or, they say that your SSN was involved in a crime and need you to provide personal information. Eventually, they will attempt to convince you to send them money. Usually, they suggest using prepaid gift cards to “keep your money safe.”
Impersonating a Credit Card Company Employee
Scammers often pose as employees who work for a credit card company. Usually, they spoof or mimic a phone number to make the call look legit. Then, they use some pretext about your credit card account with a particular company. Next, they try to get you to reveal personal information. They may only try to get you to reveal or confirm one piece of sensitive info (SSN, date of birth, etc.). Later, another person will call and try to get more (PIN, password, etc.). Also, they try to get you to transfer or send money to make a payment.
Of course, credit card companies will never do this. Therefore, it is best to hang up and block the number. When you doubt the call’s legitimacy or caller, you can always call the company using the number on your statement.
- If you get a suspicious call, email, or text, don’t disclose personal information until you verify it’s from a legitimate source. If you have any doubts, contact the company directly.
- Only allow remote access to your computer when you’ve initiated contact with a company you know through a verified phone number or website.
- Always protect your card and account PIN. Be sure it is not easily guessable, do not enter it on a non-Citi site, and remember that our team will never ask for it.
- Set up 2-factor authentication (multiple ways to identify yourself) with the companies you work with to help keep your device and money secure.
- If you suspect one of your accounts has been compromised, immediately change your user ID and password for your Citi account and other important accounts.
List of Fraud Investigation Resources
The following websites provide information on various types of business, computer, and internet fraud investigations. Many websites provide tips and suggestions for preventing and protecting yourself from fraud and allow you to file a formal complaint.
Federal Trade Commission – File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, scams, ripoffs, unwanted telemarketing texts, SPAM, etc.
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – FinCEN works to safeguard the financial system from illicit use, combat money laundering, and promote national security through collecting, analyzing, and disseminating financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.
Internet Crime Complaint Center – The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).IC3 accepts online Internet crime complaints from either the person who believes they were defrauded or from a third party to the complainant.
National Consumer’s League Internet Fraud Watch – Now Fraud.org is dedicated to consumer education and advocacy related to Internet and telemarketing fraud prevention.
National White Collar Crime Center – Provides a nationwide support system for agencies involved in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of economic and high-tech crimes and supports and partners with other appropriate entities in addressing homeland security initiatives related to economic and high-tech crimes.
Report Amazon Phishing and Email Abuse
If you are an Amazon Prime member or have an Amazon account, you are a popular target for scammers and thieves. For example, scam artists use software to generate email addresses randomly. Then, they distribute thousands of emails, hoping a certain percentage will work.
Amazon works to shut down phishing websites and impersonation phone numbers. Also, they refer hundred of bad actors to law enforcement around the globe.
If you receive a phishing email that is attempting to steal your Amazon credentials, do the following:
- Don’t reply to the email, and don’t provide any of the information the email requests in any way
- Don’t click on any of the links or images in the email, even if they look legit
- Forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Add the email to your email spam blocker (mark the sender as spam)
- Delete the email and any attachments
- If you have any questions, visit Amazon Customer Service
In the future, visit Amazon.com directly via your browser. Then, log in to your account to see any important messages to verify orders.
What Private Investigators Need to Know
Private investigators are hired to uncover information on a broad range of topics. A private investigator with strong skills in surveillance may be hired to follow subjects who may be involved with insurance scams. Other private investigators with forensic accounting skills may be hired to uncover embezzlement schemes or employee theft.
Questions and Comments
If you have any questions about fraud investigations, please comment below. Also, learn more about other Frauds, Scams, and Schemes.