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It sounds harmless. You agree to have funds deposited in your account and then to move them on as directed. Be wary of anything that asks you to transfer money whether in the form of a new job, helping a chum or making an upfront payment to claim a prize. If payments made to you are in an odd form such as gift cards or vouchers then alarm bells should definitely be ringing. There are endless variations on this including cheque clearing, loans, recruitment and romance!
This one is mainly aimed at businesses although it can sometimes be combined with aspects of the advance payment scam. It involves a new customer who makes a big order, pays upfront and then requests a speedy refund. The original payment then fails to clear leaving you out of pocket. Individuals can be targeted if they are selling high price items such as cars. The failure of the payment to clear can them leave both out of pocket and without the sale item.
Be wary around large upfront payments particularly by if they are by cheque or the payment method changes from that agreed. Scammers use various methods to get illicit software on your machine. But it might not be that obvious. A malware insertion attempt could take the form of files from a colleague or supplier. Or a software update that you need to download in order to view a video on social media.
Be suspicious of links or download requests of any kind. Your bank or credit card can be skimmed if you hand it over to anyone. Skimming picks up details from the magnetic strip. A scammer might also attach a device to a cash point to collect this information or trap your card and use a camera or false keypad to capture your PIN.
Try to avoid giving your card to anyone to take payment in another location. Suggest that you take the card to the payment device instead. Check cash points careful for anything odd looking. This might include parts of the cash point that are a different colour, scratches, and tape marks. Keep a careful eye on payments made on your card. Businesses need to keep an even more careful eye if there are multiple individuals authorised to spend against an account.
Check transactions on a very regular basis to catch fraud early. Goods or services that are offered are often poor quality or are never delivered at all. Also, watch out for surveys that are just an excuse to harvest personal information. Urgency is often a giveaway. Meanwhile, check out how legitimate the company is. Scams involving goods are wide and varied. A recent example involved counterfeit Coronavirus tests being sold by a surveyor in one incident and a pharmacist in another.
Variations on this can be online or in-person and might include event and concert tickets, holidays, goods offered on online shopping or auction sites and prizes. Items may be poor or a different thing altogether. In the case of prizes, you may be asked to pay an admin fee. They might also be targeted with fake requests for payments for business rates, data protection registration or advertising.
Businesses need to have robust systems in place for approving payments and checking suppliers prior to placing an order. Properties that are rented, empty or mortgage-free are most at risk. Everything else we'll work out with an administrative order," says commission director Joseph Borg, who is also president of the North American Securities Administrators Association. Sanctions in the latter scenario might include a fine or a cease and desist order, for example.
Of course, Alabama is just one state, and the states are just one layer of securities regulation. Altogether, state regulators conducted more than 4, investigations for the most recent year reported, resulting in 1, administrative actions and criminal proceedings.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is the federal regulator for securities markets. It has authority to bring only civil cases but collaborates on enforcement issues with its state counterparts as well as with criminal prosecutors nationwide. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, is the industry's regulatory body, overseeing more than , brokers. It can levy fines, suspend or bar firms or individuals from the industry, and order restitution.
To understand how the layers fit together, think of it this way, says Borg: Finra is like a neighborhood watch with patrols on every corner, surveilling brokers. If Finra sees misconduct, the broker might be fined, or the case might be referred to a state regulator. Big cases are referred to the SEC. The SEC is like the Federal Bureau of Investigation—it takes on the big cases but doesn't typically get involved with burglaries on the street or the investing equivalent.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is another federal layer. It polices the derivatives market, including options, futures and other products. Skin in the game. With five lawyers on staff, the Alabama Securities Commission prosecutes many cases in-house that other regulators might hand off to the Department of Justice, a district attorney or a U.
At the ASC, says Borg, "the cases start here, they're investigated here, and the same people who work the case show up at trial. We've got more skin in the game. Like their investigator colleagues, some of the ASC's lawyers came to securities fraud from grittier pasts. Greg Biggs keeps a memento from a particularly grizzly murder prosecution: a replica of a reconstructed skull that figured prominently in a case involving a lethal blow to the head and an attempt to cover it up by way of a bulldozer.
These days, Biggs occupies a large and, by choice, windowless office with stacks of folders on the floor and giant whiteboards on the walls marked with flow charts tracking his cases. In a prime bank scheme, perpetrators solicit targets with the promise that their money will be invested in high-yield, bank-issued securities that are not available to the general public.
Victims may be stretching for yield in a low-interest-rate climate or desperately seeking funding for projects of their own—prime bank targets are often businesspeople with a dream. Investors are taken in by sophisticated financial terms and name-dropping of well-known institutions.
Sports stars or other celebrities are often portrayed as fellow investors. One such case started with a man who masqueraded as an international financier, while working out of an auto-detailing shop in Baldwin County. Over the better part of seven years, the case has uncovered a vast web of coconspirators and resulted in felony convictions in Alabama, Arizona, California and Italy.
State regulators have warned investors not to put their money in investment pools or bonds to help storm victims; water-removal or purification technologies; electricity-generating devices; or real estate remediation. Concerns are also mounting in regulatory circles about "binary option" schemes and initial coin offerings.
With binary options, investors bet online that a stock, index, currency or other asset will trade above or below a specific price at a certain time—a yes-or-no proposition that might last only minutes. Investors have complained about high-pressure sales tactics, unauthorized charges on credit cards used on binary options websites, and demands for excessive fees when investors ask to withdraw their money.
Initial coin offerings are riding a wave of Bitcoin notoriety to peddle virtual currency tokens with the promise of outsize returns, either in the coins themselves or in projects funded by their sale. In September, the SEC charged a man and two companies with defrauding investors via two such offerings.
One touted the "first-ever cryptocurrency backed by real estate. Kiss the money goodbye. Restitution orders or no, it's rare that swindled investors get their money back. Tom Clement, a retired federal government contractor in Elberta, Ala. But the returns never materialized, and the securities were never legally registered. Three men were indicted in the case; two pleaded guilty, and one jumped bail and fled to Mexico. He was arrested in California in , then returned to Alabama and ordered to make restitution.
But it wasn't until this past July that Clement was repaid in full. Some cases strain credulity. One featured a portable breast-cancer screener that was actually a doctored stud finder of the sort carpenters use. She mentions an electrical engineer who was among the victims taken in by a pitch to invest in a gadget that supposedly saved energy by allowing volt lines to be plugged into volt sockets. These are crimes of trust," says Senn. That's why affinity fraud, which occurs when scammers exploit the trust and friendship of people with whom they have something in common—attending the same church, say—is the bane of stock cops everywhere.
The demographic profile of a typical investment-fraud victim might surprise you: college-educated, self-reliant, earning an above-average income. The crooks succeed because they're good at what they do, and they are relentless. Ask the ASC about the guy hawking the "no-risk, completely safe" gold-trading scheme. Even as the man sat in criminal court, awaiting arraignment, he worked his phone, seeking new targets. The irritated judge revoked the man's bond, and he waited 11 months in jail before pleading guilty and receiving five years' probation.
Greg Biggs is frustrated by such light sentences, a function of the overcrowding in the state's prisons. Says Biggs: "You see someone who's got a degree and is smart enough to know better, who slicks people out of their savings, destroying their lives. And he goes inside for a few months. It's frustrating. But there's nothing I can do—except try to slow 'em down a little bit.
On any given day, you might find U. Secret Service senior special agent Matt Hayes on the other side of the globe, wearing a black suit and an earpiece serving on a security detail to protect a politician or another VIP. Today, on his home turf of Charlotte, N. Tomorrow, he'll request a federal search warrant allowing him to examine laptops seized in an investigation. The next day, he'll meet with a local police detective to discuss identity-theft cases and visit gas stations to check fuel pumps for "skimmers"—devices criminals affix to payment terminals to steal customers' credit and debit card data.
Wherever he is, Hayes picks up his phone or laptop in spare moments, following up on cases and fielding calls and e-mails from police officers, bank fraud investigators and other detectives who help catch the perpetrators. Skilled investigators such as Hayes, an year Secret Service veteran, don't lack for work. Financial fraud is a big business, in part because the up-front costs are low.
Criminals can buy stolen payment-card information for a few bucks per card on black-market internet forums. By spending a few hundred dollars more on equipment found on sites such as Amazon. And the penalties are often light compared with those for other types of crime. Crooks lower their chances of being caught by drifting from city to city or from state to state, keeping under the radar because the financial damage is relatively small in each area.
In one case, for which Hayes was recognized by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department, a group of criminals traveled to small towns within a few hours of Charlotte and used stolen information to apply for lines of credit at retail stores and to finance car purchases. Hayes, along with detectives from the U. Postal Inspection Service and the Charlotte police, noticed that the suspects repeatedly appeared in bulletins from various local law enforcement entities.
The ringleader got almost eight years in federal prison. Gas station gold. The U. The reason: The technology prevents crooks from using a skimmer to intercept data they could use to produce counterfeit cards. But the switchover to the new system isn't complete. Gas pumps in particular are still vulnerable—and skimming is on the upswing as crooks make last-ditch attempts to steal card data. So, after a lunch of North Carolina barbecue, Hayes climbs into a black government-issue SUV and heads to a gas station where skimmers have been pulled from the pumps four times in a nine-month period.
Located in an affluent Charlotte neighborhood, the station is convenient for commuters who need to fuel up on their way downtown. Hayes retrieves keys from the station attendant and unlocks the compartment housing the payment terminal on each fuel dispenser, starting with the one farthest from the station's convenience store. Pumps on a station's outskirts, where a thief can slip in a skimmer unnoticed, are prime targets.
Typically, there are no signs of tampering with the locks; criminals find or make keys that fit. Hayes pokes at the wiring inside, looking for a small circuit board covered in tape or insulation wrap—the telltale sign of a skimmer. The gizmo collects and stores payment-card information—including the PIN for a debit card—and has a tiny Bluetooth antenna attached. A thief need only come near with a Bluetooth-capable device to grab the data. Hayes finds no skimmers today.
Although gas-pump skimmers are usually invisible to customers, you may be able to spot an ATM skimmer on machines that aren't yet upgraded for chip transactions by pulling on the card reader slot. If it moves, that's an indication that a thief has glued or taped on an overlay that collects card data. The fraudsters who skim cards at ATMs for a living are often nomadic, says Hayes, driving old minivans with temporary license tags that they can purchase online.
Hayes hit pay dirt with one such van, spotted by a patrol officer in a Greensboro hotel parking lot. When Hayes and his counterparts arrested the suspects, they found cloned payment cards in their vehicles and skimmer components in their hotel rooms.
Eventually, the main suspect was prosecuted by the feds for skimming crimes in four states. Hayes lays out several fake cards. Other than a thin white line around the border and a smooth signature line on the back—a genuine card's signature line typically has a slightly raised or rough texture—the cards are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Beware of breaches. Skimming isn't the only way to steal your ID.
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