Posts Tagged "fraud"
April 12, 2022
How Scammers Use Emotions to Persuade
It’s an implausible ruse. Yet we are all human, and many people are taken in by it.
In the Social Security imposter scam, someone claiming to be from the agency tells the intended victim that he has been accused of a crime and that his bank account will be frozen. To prevent arrest and preserve the money, the individual is instructed to withdraw the funds and buy gift cards or exchange the cash for virtual currency such as Bitcoin. A government official, the caller claims, will return the funds tomorrow.
More than 300,000 people lost millions of dollars in this scam between 2018 and 2021. At a broader level, imposters purporting to be from various government agencies were the most common fraud reported in 2019 to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks and investigates cases of consumer fraud.
A new study found that young adults in their 30s, and also minorities, were more likely than other groups to report being victimized by the Social Security imposter scam. But the victims who are over 70 lost significantly more money, on average. The typical loss among victims of all kinds was $1,500.
More interesting is what the researchers uncovered about how someone becomes ensnared in such an outlandish scheme. The insights came from victims’ first-hand accounts in 600 FTC complaints, as well as an involved process of coding the narratives in some 200,000 complaints to find the emotional words the victims used that would identify larger themes about the Social Security imposters’ methods of persuasion.
High emotional arousal “is an extremely effective tool” that overwhelms victims’ ability to process information rationally, the researchers concluded.
The victims’ accounts reveal a trove of psychological manipulation by the Social Security imposters to elicit anxiety and other negative emotions. Some imposters threatened to harm the victims or their families. In half of the complaints the researchers scrutinized, victims were threatened with arrest. …Learn More
November 30, 2021
Financial Troubles Hide in Soaring Markets
Texas Securities Commissioner Travis Iles says we’re living in a perfect storm – for financial fraud.
Isolated at home to avoid COVID, people are spending more time online, and he suspects that some have become more susceptible to fraud because they think a big win would take the edge off of the financial uncertainties of the pandemic. And social media only feeds the frenzy, giving scam artists a natural audience for selling their “investments” – and for recruiting others on social media to help them.
“People look for follows and likes and they’re dialed in on a lot of social media platforms that three to four years ago were very foreign,” Iles said in a recent interview. “It’s actually influencing people’s decisions about where” to invest their money.
In March 2020, just as the pandemic took hold, he began tracking how many administrative and enforcement actions his office had taken. Over the next 18 months, his office launched some 450 investigations, resulting in more than 60 actions against suspicious companies selling investments to Texans.
“We’ve never been more prolific in terms of output,” he added.
The craziness of these times can be seen in a recent cease-and-desist order issued by the Texas Securities Division against a company promising wild returns of 30 percent in 60 days or 50 percent in 90 days to investors in a nebulous operation: cryptocurrency cloud mining.
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are complicated enough – but mining cryptocurrency? As one law firm explains, it’s a treasure hunt that “involves validating cryptocurrency transactions on a blockchain network and adding them to a distributed ledger.” …Learn More
October 22, 2020
Cognitive Decline Meets COVID-19 Scams
The federal government warns that older Americans are being targeted by a battery of financial scams, including telemarketers offering to do contact tracing – for a fee – or to reserve a slot for a future vaccine. Others are soliciting donations to charities purportedly helping people in need during the economic slowdown.
COVID-19 makes this a perilous time for people struggling with cognitive decline.
Few can escape a deterioration in their cognitive capacity as they age. It’s just a matter of degree and speed. But the faster it happens, the more damage it can do, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation concluded in a new study.
The study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 older residents in Chicago retirement communities and subsidized housing – average age, 80. The same people were periodically asked questions with varying degrees of difficulty about their general financial knowledge and investments and were asked to compare and calculate percentages.
The older people who either initially had less understanding of financial concepts or experienced a faster decline in their knowledge made poorer financial decisions in exercises that simulated real-world decisions.
This included a vulnerability to scams, which was assessed by asking the older people to agree or disagree with statements like this: “If a telemarketer calls me, I usually listen to what they have to say.” (Not recommended.) And this: “If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is” (Count on it.)
To prevent scams, older people – and their caregivers – need to anticipate the financial damage that cognitive decline can cause. …Learn More
April 2, 2020
1st Quarter: Our Most Popular Blogs
People born smack in the middle of the baby boom wave, including many of this blog’s readers, are now in their mid-60s and have retired – or, at least, they were planning to retire before the stock market crashed.
Some of your favorite articles in the first quarter, based on the blog’s traffic, were about the nuts-and-bolts of retirement, including one that ranked retiree living standards by state.
The 10 most popular blogs listed below ran before the coronavirus changed our lives but they may still hold kernels of wisdom that will be useful in these trying times.
For example, one article reported on the $38 million in misplaced retirement funds from prior employers. If you think you have a long-lost retirement plan, search the unclaimed property account in the state where you worked.
Or, if you’d already committed to retiring before the market drop, it’s become more important to fashion a satisfying lifestyle. One blog explores how to prepare for retirement.
Our readers’ most popular blogs in the first quarter were:
Have You Misplaced a Retirement Plan?
Can’t Afford to Retire? Not all Your Fault
Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement
February 13, 2020
Romance Frauds are Hiding in Plain Sight
Romance scammers follow a predictable script.
Find a willing person on social media or a dating website. Use the information she’s posted online to befriend her and then win her affection. Ask her for a loan for an urgent matter and promise to pay it back. After the money is wired, ply the victim for more money while promising to meet in person – a plan that never seems to pan out.
Despite the flashing red lights that say “fraud,” romance scams are becoming increasingly profitable. Last year, its victims were cheated out of more than $200 million. This is a 40 percent increase over 2018 and exceeds the losses for any other type of scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Middle-aged Americans, who are very active online, are the most common victims – and they’re often women. But the typical loss for someone over 70 is $10,000 – the most for any age group. Some people lose much more.
One victim, a 76-year-old widow from Rhode Island, met her alleged perpetrator while playing Words with Friends, an online word puzzle. Over a two-year period, she gave him $660,000, which required her to refinance her home, sell property in Massachusetts, and withdraw money from her bank account.
A Texan in her 50s met a man on Facebook who claimed to be a friend of a friend. He persuaded her to turn over $2 million, which she doled out slowly over time as he promised to pay her back, told her he loved her, and arranged for them to meet. They never did.
“He was saying all the right things,” she told the FBI. “I felt there was a real connection there.” …Learn More
July 31, 2018
Financial Data Brokers Have You Pegged
In the world of Big Data, do you fall into the industry’s Extra Needy category, or are you viewed as American Royalty? Perhaps Ethnic Second City Struggler or Small Town Shallow Pockets is a more apt description of you? Or how about Eager Senior Buyer or Tough Start: Young Single Parent?
While the media are focused on Facebook’s privacy breaches, a growing multibillion-dollar industry of data brokers is mining personal information online in order to sell our data dossiers to financial and other companies – sometimes to the detriment of our personal finances.
Big Data collection also can be innocuous, when it is used for marketing. In this form, it’s just the high-tech version of snail mail solicitations for credit cards, retail catalogs, or the services of a neighborhood real estate agent.
But Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said evidence is growing that some consumers are being exploited by the unfettered sharing of personal data. Further, individuals generally do not have a legal right to see their dossiers, which are proprietary – “and we don’t know what they’re being used for,” she said.
In one egregious case, brokers sold data on an elderly veteran, who was then victimized by a scam that stripped him of his life savings. Some brokers compile lists of people living in trailer parks to sell to companies making “predatory offers to those in financial trouble,” Dixon testified before the Senate. …Learn More
February 8, 2018
Cautionary Tale of Defrauding the Elderly
Two Morgan Stanley investment advisers agreed last week to plead guilty to stealing nearly $500,000 in a set of schemes that took particular aim at their elderly or retired clients, the U.S. Department of Justice charged. One client is in his mid-80s.
Multiple allegations detailed in the federal complaint demonstrate the creative ways that trusting older individuals might be deceived. For example, the Justice Department (DOJ) indicated that college tuition may have been the auspice or motivation for adviser and broker James S. Polese’s alleged fraud to obtain $320,000 from the client in his 80s – labeled Client B in the complaint.
The allegations included that Polese, age 51, knew a $50,000 loan from Client B for his children’s college expenses was prohibited by Morgan Stanley and was “a conflict of interest between the client and his adviser,” said the complaint, which was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Polese and Cornelius Peterson, who both live in the Boston metropolitan area, also worked together to divert money from Client A and also a Client B to a failed wind farm investment without their knowledge, the complaint said. A third client allegedly paid inflated fees.
The brazen allegations in this case come amid reports that financial fraud against the elderly is on the rise. Retired people with nest eggs can be enticing targets for scam artists, and the elderly are “likely financially vulnerable” if they are experiencing cognitive decline, one study said. Further, a trusting senior might have more difficulty detecting financial deceptions that involve complex transactions. (Little detail about the clients’ personal situations was disclosed in the court documents.)
Morgan Stanley said that it fired Polese and Peterson in June 2017 immediately after uncovering the fraudulent activities and “referred the misconduct to regulatory and law enforcement agencies.” The two are registered brokers, and the Securities and Exchange Commission was involved in the investigation. The brokers agreed to plead guilty, said a statement from the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts. A plea hearing is scheduled for February 15.
Client A and Client B were involved in the wind farm investment, the complaint said: Client A lost $100,000 after Peterson made “false statements” to his employer “when he signed a form stating that Client A had verbally authorized the $100,000 [wind farm] investment.” Client B, a businessman, was unaware that his funds were being used to support the wind farm, in the form of a loan account that could be used as a collateral backstop to the project, according to the charges. Although the funds were never used, Client B’s money was nevertheless put at risk, DOJ said, and he paid $12,000 in fees associated with the transaction.
Boston attorney Carol Starkey said her client, Peterson, age 28, was a “minor participant” and noted that Polese, who is 23 years his senior, was Peterson’s supervisor. Polese’s attorney did not respond to requests for a comment. …Learn More