Summer officially begins June 20, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) anticipates a number of fraudsters and scammers to descend upon neighborhoods like a plague of locusts.
The warm season brings door-knocking hustlers and con artists onto front porches and doorsteps in droves. “Do you need any repairs? Do you have water leaks in your basement?” are some of the questions that often pepper neighborhood residents.
An imposter may be in uniform, sporting the logo of a utility company – gas, water, or electric – or of a well-known business.
“We’re currently in your area and would like to set up an appointment” is a typical opening gambit. The offer may be to affix a new roof. Despite a cash down payment, no further contact or service ensues.
Elders are vulnerable to quick-paced, high-pressure propositions. But they are not alone.
At a forum on consumer fraud hosted by the FTC, participants explained a variety of tactics fraudsters use. Black and Latino populations, as well as immigrant communities, are most often fraud victims but least likely to report their experiences to the FTC.
The failure to report fraud by those groups was documented in a 2016 FTC study. Whatever the concerns are – whether mixed immigrant status households or the embarrassment over being duped — reporting fraud and scams can be done anonymously. The information is valuable to help detect trends, alert media and the public.
One of the first lines of defense against fraud is to contact a state’s Attorney General’s office or organizations tracking unethical business behavior such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Presenters agreed that the method of payment desired by fraudsters is the first flashing red light that should raise a consumer’s concerns.
Recovering a fraud loss paid for by a gift card is virtually impossible. A demand for a gift-card payment is “a tip-off to the rip-off,” one presenter said.
Yet, monetary rip-offs for goods and services can pale in comparison to the loss of homeowners conned out of their deeds and equity.
Michelle Munoz Durk, an enforcement attorney with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), said social media has enhanced the appeal of making quick money. She warned about “pump and dump” scams in short-term stock trading where fraudsters “pump up the stock” using false information and as the gullible rush to cash in, then “dump” the stock by selling at now inflated prices. Because the underlying stock value had not changed, consumers often take severe losses.
Some schemes, like unscrupulous car dealer sales tactics, are best handled by becoming better informed about terminologies and processes. Yet particular consumer cohorts, like the elderly or language-challenged, remain highly vulnerable.
Additionally, formerly incarcerated persons are likely to have had no contact with the world of finance and credit for years. Foster care children have probably never worked with finance or credit. Not only have their credit histories been hijacked and sullied, but their feelings of betrayal and hopelessness are exacerbated by the sense that “the system was not designed for them.”
Consumer advocates are available to help clients negotiate the emotional turmoil of being a victim.