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Common Fraud Scams
Fraud Protection & Prevention
Common Fraud Schemes
The following are some of the most common scams that the FBI investigates and tips to help prevent you from being victimized.
When you send money to people you do not know personally or give personal or financial information to unknown callers, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.
If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.
There are warning signs to these scams. If you hear these—or similar—“lines” from a telephone salesperson, just say “no thank you,” and hang up the telephone:
If you hear these or similar “lines” from a telephone salesperson, just say “no thank you” and hang up the telephone.
Tips for Avoiding Telemarketing Fraud:
It’s very difficult to get your money back if you’ve been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:
Nigerian Letter or "419" Fraud
Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number provided in the letter. Some of these letters have also been received via e-mail through the Internet. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a “propensity for larceny” by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.
Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria. In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist, and the victim eventually ends up with nothing but loss. Once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks that they received to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances. While such an invitation impresses most law-abiding citizens as a laughable hoax, millions of dollars in losses are caused by these schemes annually. Some victims have been lured to Nigeria, where they have been imprisoned against their will along with losing large sums of money. The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law. The schemes themselves violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label “419 fraud.”
Tips for Avoiding Nigerian Letter or "419" Fraud:
Identity theft occurs when someone assumes your identity to perform a fraud or other criminal act. Criminals can get the information they need to assume your identity from a variety of sources, including by stealing your wallet, rifling through your trash, or by compromising your credit or bank information. They may approach you in person, by telephone, or on the Internet and ask you for the information.
The sources of information about you are so numerous that you cannot prevent the theft of your identity. But you can minimize your risk of loss by following a few simple hints.
Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft:
Information At Your FingetipsYou can download the following free documents from the Federal Trade Commission in PDF format for more information on protecting yourself from Identity Theft, and recovering from Identity Theft.
Advance Fee Schemes
An advance fee scheme occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value—such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift—and then receives little or nothing in return.
The variety of advance fee schemes is limited only by the imagination of the con artists who offer them. They may involve the sale of products or services, the offering of investments, lottery winnings, “found money,” or many other “opportunities.” Clever con artists will offer to find financing arrangements for their clients who pay a “finder’s fee” in advance. They require their clients to sign contracts in which they agree to pay the fee when they are introduced to the financing source. Victims often learn that they are ineligible for financing only after they have paid the “finder” according to the contract. Such agreements may be legal unless it can be shown that the “finder” never had the intention or the ability to provide financing for the victims.
Tips for Avoiding Advanced Fee Schemes:
If the offer of an “opportunity” appears too good to be true, it probably is. Follow common business practice. For example, legitimate business is rarely conducted in cash on a street corner.
Health Care Fraud or Health Insurance Fraud
Medical Equipment Fraud:
Equipment manufacturers offer “free” products to individuals. Insurers are then charged for products that were not needed and/or may not have been delivered.
“Rolling Lab” Schemes:
Unnecessary and sometimes fake tests are given to individuals at health clubs, retirement homes, or shopping malls and billed to insurance companies or Medicare.
Services Not Performed:
Customers or providers bill insurers for services never rendered by changing bills or submitting fake ones.
Medicare fraud can take the form of any of the health insurance frauds described above. Senior citizens are frequent targets of Medicare schemes, especially by medical equipment manufacturers who offer seniors free medical products in exchange for their Medicare numbers. Because a physician has to sign a form certifying that equipment or testing is needed before Medicare pays for it, con artists fake signatures or bribe corrupt doctors to sign the forms. Once a signature is in place, the manufacturers bill Medicare for merchandise or service that was not needed or was not ordered.
Tips for Avoiding Health Care Fraud or Health Insurance Fraud:
Redemption / Strawman / Bond Fraud
Proponents of this scheme claim that the U.S. government or the Treasury Department control bank accounts—often referred to as “U.S. Treasury Direct Accounts”—for all U.S. citizens that can be accessed by submitting paperwork with state and federal authorities. Individuals promoting this scam frequently cite various discredited legal theories and may refer to the scheme as “Redemption,” “Strawman,” or “Acceptance for Value.” Trainers and websites will often charge large fees for “kits” that teach individuals how to perpetrate this scheme. They will often imply that others have had great success in discharging debt and purchasing merchandise such as cars and homes. Failures to implement the scheme successfully are attributed to individuals not following instructions in a specific order or not filing paperwork at correct times.
This scheme predominately uses fraudulent financial documents that appear to be legitimate. These documents are frequently referred to as “bills of exchange,” “promissory bonds,” “indemnity bonds,” “offset bonds,” “sight drafts,” or “comptrollers warrants.” In addition, other official documents are used outside of their intended purpose, like IRS forms 1099, 1099-OID, and 8300. This scheme frequently intermingles legal and pseudo legal terminology in order to appear lawful. Notaries may be used in an attempt to make the fraud appear legitimate. Often, victims of the scheme are instructed to address their paperwork to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
Tips for Avoiding Redemption/Strawman/Bond Fraud:
As they plan for retirement, senior citizens may fall victim to investment schemes. These may include advance fee schemes, prime bank note schemes, pyramid schemes, and Nigerian letter fraud schemes.
Letter of Credit Fraud
Legitimate letters of credit are never sold or offered as investments. They are issued by banks to ensure payment for goods shipped in connection with international trade. Payment on a letter of credit generally requires that the paying bank receive documentation certifying that the goods ordered have been shipped and are en route to their intended destination. Letters of credit frauds are often attempted against banks by providing false documentation to show that goods were shipped when, in fact, no goods or inferior goods were shipped.
Other letter of credit frauds occur when con artists offer a “letter of credit” or “bank guarantee” as an investment wherein the investor is promised huge interest rates on the order of 100 to 300 percent annually. Such investment “opportunities” simply do not exist. (See Prime Bank Notes for additional information.)
Tips for Avoiding Letter of Credit Fraud:
Prime Bank Note Fraud
International fraud artists have invented an investment scheme that supposedly offers extremely high yields in a relatively short period of time. In this scheme, they claim to have access to “bank guarantees” that they can buy at a discount and sell at a premium. By reselling the “bank guarantees” several times, they claim to be able to produce exceptional returns on investment. For example, if $10 million worth of “bank guarantees” can be sold at a two percent profit on 10 separate occasions—or “traunches”—the seller would receive a 20 percent profit. Such a scheme is often referred to as a “roll program.”
To make their schemes more enticing, con artists often refer to the “guarantees” as being issued by the world’s “prime banks,” hence the term “prime bank guarantees.” Other official sounding terms are also used, such as “prime bank notes” and “prime bank debentures.” Legal documents associated with such schemes often require the victim to enter into non-disclosure and non-circumvention agreements, offer returns on investment in “a year and a day”, and claim to use forms required by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). In fact, the ICC has issued a warning to all potential investors that no such investments exist.
The purpose of these frauds is generally to encourage the victim to send money to a foreign bank, where it is eventually transferred to an off-shore account in the control of the con artist. From there, the victim’s money is used for the perpetrator’s personal expenses or is laundered in an effort to make it disappear.
While foreign banks use instruments called “bank guarantees” in the same manner that U.S. banks use letters of credit to insure payment for goods in international trade, such bank guarantees are never traded or sold on any kind of market.
Tips for Avoiding Prime Bank Note Fraud:
"Ponzi” schemes promise high financial returns or dividends not available through traditional investments. Instead of investing the funds of victims, however, the con artist pays “dividends” to initial investors using the funds of subsequent investors. The scheme generally falls apart when the operator flees with all of the proceeds or when a sufficient number of new investors cannot be found to allow the continued payment of “dividends.”
This type of fraud is named after its creator—Charles Ponzi of Boston, Massachusetts. In the early 1900s, Ponzi launched a scheme that guaranteed investors a 50 percent return on their investment in postal coupons. Although he was able to pay his initial backers, the scheme dissolved when he was unable to pay later investors.
Tips for Avoiding Ponzi Schemes:
As in Ponzi schemes, the money collected from newer victims of the fraud is paid to earlier victims to provide a veneer of legitimacy. In pyramid schemes, however, the victims themselves are induced to recruit further victims through the payment of recruitment commissions.
More specifically, pyramid schemes—also referred to as franchise fraud or chain referral schemes—are marketing and investment frauds in which an individual is offered a distributorship or franchise to market a particular product. The real profit is earned, not by the sale of the product, but by the sale of new distributorships. Emphasis on selling franchises rather than the product eventually leads to a point where the supply of potential investors is exhausted and the pyramid collapses. At the heart of each pyramid scheme is typically a representation that new participants can recoup their original investments by inducing two or more prospects to make the same investment. Promoters fail to tell prospective participants that this is mathematically impossible for everyone to do, since some participants drop out, while others recoup their original investments and then drop out.
Tips for Avoiding Pyramid Schemes:
Market Manipulation or “Pump and Dump” Fraud
This scheme—commonly referred to as a “pump and dump”—creates artificial buying pressure for a targeted security, generally a low-trading volume issuer in the over-the-counter securities market largely controlled by the fraud perpetrators. This artificially increased trading volume has the effect of artificially increasing the price of the targeted security (i.e., the “pump”), which is rapidly sold off into the inflated market for the security by the fraud perpetrators (i.e., the “dump”); resulting in illicit gains to the perpetrators and losses to innocent third party investors. Typically, the increased trading volume is generated by inducing unwitting investors to purchase shares of the targeted security through false or deceptive sales practices and/or public information releases.
A modern variation on this scheme involves largely foreign-based computer criminals gaining unauthorized access to the online brokerage accounts of unsuspecting victims in the United States. These victim accounts are then utilized to engage in coordinated online purchases of the targeted security to affect the pump portion of a manipulation, while the fraud perpetrators sell their pre-existing holdings in the targeted security into the inflated market to complete the dump.
Tips for Avoiding Market Manipulation Fraud: