Fraud Victims Vulnerable to Severe Stress, Anxiety and Depression

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation issued a new research report, Non-Traditional Costs of Financial Fraud, which found that nearly two thirds of self-reported financial fraud victims experienced at least one non-financial cost of fraud to a serious degree—including severe stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and depression. While the Stanford Financial Fraud Research Center estimates that $50 billion is lost to financial fraud every year, the FINRA Foundation’s innovative research examines the broader psychological and emotional impact of financial fraud.

“Fraud’s effects linger and cause distress well after the scam is over. For the first time, we have data on the deep toll that fraud exerts on its victims, and the results are sobering. This new research underscores the importance of the FINRA Foundation’s work with an array of national, state and local partners to help Americans avoid fraud, and assist consumers who have been defrauded,” said FINRA Foundation President Gerri Walsh.

The research report found that:

  • nearly two thirds (65 percent) reported experiencing at least one type of non-financial cost to a serious degree; and
  • most commonly cited non-financial costs of fraud are severe stress (50 percent), anxiety (44 percent), difficulty sleeping (38 percent) and depression (35 percent).
  •  Beyond the psychological and emotional costs, nearly half of fraud victims reported incurring indirect financial costs associated with the fraud, such as late fees, legal fees and bounced checks. Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported incurring more than $1,000 in indirect costs, and 9 percent declared bankruptcy as a result of the fraud.

Additionally, nearly half of victims blame themselves for the fraud—an indication of the far-reaching effects of financial fraud on the lives of its victims.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to list a few suggestions to protect themselves from financial fraud.
  • Explain how FINRA can assist consumers who have been the victims of financial fraud.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are a few indirect financial costs associated with funds?
  2. Why nearly half of victims blame themselves for being victims of financial fraud?
  3. How and where should you report financial fraud?

Does It Sounds Too Good To Be True?

A current email scam invites people to take advantage of “a little known Social Security contract” which enables you to receive “little known benefits.”  Think that sounds too good to be true? It should—there is no “little known Social Security contract.”

What are some clues that scams might not be legitimate?  Scammers insist that the situation is urgent and issue warnings.  They try to convince you to act now to avoid dire consequences.  They promise a deal or secret that the public doesn’t know about.  They come from organizations unknown to you.  They offer things the government doesn’t want you to know, but they don’t come from a .gov website.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website maintains a list of scams in the news.  You can sign up to be notified by an e-mail when new scams appear.  You can also get free consumer education materials and read the latest from consumer protection experts.  Stay well informed by visiting the FTC scam alert page.  It’s in your best interest to find out about the scams and how they work so you won’t fall a victim to one yourself.  Protect yourself by learning how to avoid scams and fraud.  You can search for “identity Theft” or “phishing scam” on Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov to learn more about how to protect yourself.  Then you’ll be the one who knew it sounded too good to be true.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students what they would do if they received such enticing offers.
  • Ask students to make a list of agencies where they can file a complaint against these scammers.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you determine if the offer is legitimate?
  2. What can you do to protect yourself from such bogus offers?

BAM banned from debt collection

In late July 2016, filed as part of Operation Collection Protection, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that BAM Financial used lies, threats, intimidation, and other illegal practices to extract payments from consumers.  When obscene language, incessant calls, and harassment of family members didn’t get the results they wanted, the defendants got personal.  For instance, the defendants told the parent of one purported debtor “No wonder your daughter is in such predicament with a mother like you.”  The FTC alleges that they falsely stated to another consumer’s 84-year-old mother that they had a warrant for her daughter’s arrest and later told the consumer they were bounty hunters.

The FTC says BAM’s letters and phone calls were riddled with false threats of litigation.  The complaint also charged that in numerous instances, the defendants didn’t follow up within five days of their initial communications with proper validation notices as the law requires.

The settlement with BAM Financial, Everton Financial, Legal Financial Consulting, Luis O. Carrera, and Robert Llaury bans them for life from debt collection agency industry.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students what consumer rights they have when dealing with debt collection agencies.
  • Ask students to list important provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Discussion Questions

  1. Nearly 30 million Americans have their accounts in collection, and debt collectors make as many as one billion contacts with people every year. Are these contacts legal?
  2. What types of debts are covered under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
  3. How can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

Online Shopping: Tips to keep close to your wallet

Online shopping makes it easy and convenient to search for – and buy – the must have items on your wish list.  Before you buy, follow these tips on avoiding hassles, getting the right product at the right price, and protecting your financial information.

To make sure you’re getting the best deal, compare products.  Do research online, check product comparison sites, and read online reviews.

Confirm that the seller is legit.  Look for reviews about their reputation and customer service, and be sure you can contact the seller if you have a dispute.

Pay by credit card to ensure added protections, and never mail cash or wire money to online sellers.

Keep records of online transactions until you get the goods.

Report online shopping fraud.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have shopped online. If so, what have been their experiences?
  • Why is it important to confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number?
  • If you return an item, who pays the shipping costs or restocking fee?

Discussion Questions

  1. What should you do if you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you are browsing?
  2. Why is it important to read the seller’s description of the product closely, especially the fine print?
  3. Why is e-mail not a secure method of transmitting financial information, such as, your credit card, checking account, or Social Security number?
  4. Where can you file a complaint to report online shopping fraud?

Scams, Frauds, and Consumer Complaints

Based on a recent study, chip-enabled cards used without appropriate technology and tax ID theft are the fastest-growing and most costly consumer complaints.  People are often contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS, a utility company, or a tech-support company, and asked to send money or provide personal information. This is a common danger sign of fraud as reported in a recent study of consumer complaints by the Consumer Federation of American and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

This report identified the following as the top ten most common sources of consumer complaints:

  1. Motor vehicle misrepresentations in advertising along with sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
  2. Home improvement, such as inferior work, and failure to start or complete the job
  3. Utility service problems and billing disputes
  4. Credit and debt concerns, such as billing and fee disputes, mortgage fraud, credit repair, debt-relief services, predatory lending, abusive debt-collection tactics
  5. Retail sales problems related to deceptive ads, defective goods, problems with gift cards and certificates, rebates and coupons
  6. Services with poor or incomplete work, lack of licensing
  7. Landlord-tenant concerns, such as unsafe or unhealthy conditions, lack of repairs, and unfair eviction
  8. Furniture, appliances, and household products that are faulty or not properly repaired
  9. Health products and services with misleading claims
  10. Fraud and scams, such as phony sweepstakes, work-at-home schemes, deceptive online sales

Two additional recently reported scams are the “grandparent scam,” in which a phony grandchild calls an older person claiming to need quick cash for an emergency.  With the CEO scam, employees are contacted with what appears to be an email from their company asking them to wire money to a foreign supplier for a deal that needs to close immediately with a promise to be reimbursed.

For additional information on current frauds and scams, go to:

Link #1

Link #2 

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students present a talk with actions that might be taken to avoid consumer scams.
  • Have students create a list of common consumer complaints among their friends.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why are people often victims of consumer frauds?
  2. What are common suggestions for avoiding various consumer scams and frauds?

Fraudulent Debt Relief Operation

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a debt relief company with falsely representing to financially distressed homeowners and student loan borrowers that it would help get their mortgages and student loans modified.  At the FTC’s request, a federal court has temporarily halted the operation.  The FTC seeks to permanently stop the alleged illegal practices and obtain refunds for affected consumers.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Good EBusiness LLC deceptively marketed home loan modification services and illegally charged an advance fee of 1,000 to $5,000.  The agency alleges that the company falsely claims that it can lower monthly mortgage payments, reduce mortgage interest rates usually within a few months, and falsely promise full refunds if they fail.  The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Good EBusiness, using the names Student Loan Help Direct and Select Student Loan; Select Student Loan Help LLC; Select Document Preparation Inc.; illegally charged a fee of $500 to $800 for student loan relief services.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of sources they may rely on for help when they are overburdened with debt problems.
  • What questions should you ask in finding the best credit or debt counselor?

Discussion Questions

  1. Which federal consumer credit law regulates debt collection practices and what are its major provisions?
  2. What options of solving credit and debt problems are available to individuals?

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Warns of Government Impersonators

The SEC has issued an investor alert warning people about fraudulent solicitations that purport to be affiliated with or sponsored by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC does not endorse investment offers, assist in the purchase or sale of securities, or participate in money transfers.  SEC staff will not, for example, contact individuals by telephone or e-mail for purposes of:

  • seeking assistance with a fund transfer
  • forwarding investment offers to them
  • advising individuals that they own certain securities
  • telling investors that they are eligible to receive disbursements from an investor claims fund or class action settlement; or
  • offering grants or other financial assistance (especially for an upfront fee).

If you receive a telephone call or e-mail from someone claiming to be from the SEC (or other government agency), always verify the person’s identity.  Use the SEC’s personnel locator, (202) 551-6000, to verify whether the caller is an SEC staff member and to speak with him or her directly.  In addition, you can call the SEC at (800) SEC-0330 for general information, including information about SEC enforcement actions and any investor claims funds.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other websites, such as, consumer.gov and investor.gov for additional tips on investing wisely and avoiding fraud.
  • Ask students to find a list of international securities regulators on the website of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and a directory of state and provincial regulators in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. on the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

Discussion Questions

  1. What actions can you take to protect yourself from government imposters?
  2. What are the tell-tale signs that an impersonator is contacting you to steal your financial information?

Beware of IRS Imposters

You get a call from a scammer pretending to be with the IRS, threatening you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay taxes you owe right now.  You’re told to wire the money or put it on a prepaid debit card.  The scammer might threaten to deport you or say you’ll lose your driver’s license.  Some scammers even know your Social Security number, and they fake caller ID so you think it really is the IRS calling.  But it’s all a lie.  If you send the money, it’s gone.

The Federal Trade Commission advises that if you get illegal sales calls, robocalls, or fake IRS calls, it’s best to ignore them.  Don’t interact in any way.  Don’t press buttons to be taken off the call list or talk to a live person or call back.  When you have a tax problem, the IRS will first contact you by mail.  The IRS won’t ask you to wire money, pay with a prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone.  If you get fake calls, file a complaint with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov. You also can file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.  If you’re concerned there’s a real tax problem, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to make a list of steps that taxpayers can take to protect themselves from tax scammers.
  2. Why do scammers prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English?

Discussion Questions

  1. What can the IRS and other governmental agencies do to catch and punish criminals impersonating IRS agents?
  2. How can taxpayers protect themselves from scam artists?
  3. What should you do if you believe you owe federal income taxes?

Chip Card Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of millions of consumers who haven’t yet received a chip card.  For example, scammers are e-mailing people, posing as their card issuer.  The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, they need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.  Information received can be used to commit identify theft.  If they click on the link, they may unknowingly install malware on your device.

How can you tell if the e-mail is from a scammer?

  • There is no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by e-mail or by phone to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card number.
  • Still not sure if the e-mail is a scam? Contact your card issuers at phone numbers on your cards.
  • Don’t trust links in e-mails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure).

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other identify theft websites, such as, consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.
  • Ask students to compile a list of what actions can they take to ensure that their credit/debit cards and other financial information are secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you discover that someone has stolen your identity?
  2. What steps can you take to thwart identity thieves?

New Credit and Debit Chip Cards

Banks and card issuers have been sending out new credit and debit chip cards, usually as existing cards expire or need replacement.  If you haven’t gotten your new cards, don’t worry.  The rollout will continue at least through 2016.  If you want to know when yours new chip cards will arrive, contact your card issuers at the phone numbers on your cards.

Your new cards look like your old cards with one exception.  New cards have a small square metallic chip on the front.  The chip holds your payment data—some of which is currently held on the magnetic stripe on your old cards—and provides a unique code for each purchase.  The metallic chip is designed to reduce fraud, including counterfeiting.

Here’s how it works: To buy something in a store, instead of swiping your card, you’ll put it into a reader for few seconds.  Then you might have to sign or enter a PIN.  With each transaction, the chip generates a unique code needed for approval.  The code is good only for that transaction.  Because the security is always changing, it’s more difficult for someone to steal and use.

There will be no change in how you use your card online or by phone.  That means chip cards won’t prevent crooks from using stolen card numbers to buy online or by phone.  So it’s a good idea to still guard your card information closely, and check statements for suspicious activity.  If there is a problem, your consumer protections remain the same.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have received a new chip credit or debit card. Show how the new card differs from the old card.
  • Do you believe that new cards will help reduce fraud? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions

  1. How might scammers try to take advantage of the millions of consumers who have not yet received a chip card?
  2. How can you protect yourself from the scammers?