The popular phrase: “there’s a sucker born every minute,” is a popular saying for a reason. Human nature dictates that we want to believe in, and help our fellow man. But some people will take advantage of that helping human nature. We often hear of scams that involve elderly victims or supposed government agents threating arrest if one does not pay a fine via a prepaid gift card. These scams are often on a small individual scale, but businesses (and even law firms) are not immune to attempts to scam people out of money.
Case in point—I am the treasurer of a club and was recently contacted, via email, by someone who I thought was a vendor. The email asked that I authorize a wire transfer to a “vendor.” I assumed they learned I was the treasurer through our club’s website. The email purportedly came from the president. It looked like a legitimate email. As the day progressed there were emails sent back and forth. It was only when the vendor who I thought I was speaking to, failed to provide certain information that I have to have to authorize payments as treasurer that I realized something was amiss. Thankfully that failure tipped me off that this was a scam and I did not authorize the payments. But now the scammers know that they almost had me, so they are trying to get me again—this time with a different email address from which they used on the first attempt.
In this case, these scammers are committing a federal felony—wire fraud. The Justice Department has a unit that focuses specifically on financial crimes. They also have the ability to offer resources with which to help you. The biggest thing that one can do to help themselves after being victimized is to report the crime. Currently it is estimated that only about 15% of fraud victims report their victimization. Reporting is the first step that is needed to get the proverbial wheel of justice rolling for any case—be it reporting a car wreck, or in this case a financial crime.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the government agency that investigates online scams. FindLaw, an online legal resource, states that:
The perpetrators of online scams are often charged with federal wire fraud crimes. Wire fraud is similar to regular fraud, except that it involves the use of interstate electronic communications, including email, instant messages, or other online activity. If the perpetrators of an online scam are convicted, they may be ordered to pay restitution to their victims. Restitution is a payment that’s intended to financially restore victims of a crime to the point they were at prior to the commission of the crime.
In recent years, federal and state legislators have taken additional steps to help prevent online scams. In 2003, Congress passed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act in order to combat “spam” email. In 2005, the Anti-Phishing Act was introduced in Congress, proposing a five-year prison sentence for those convicted of phishing. While the Act was never passed into federal law, California, Texas, and a number of other states have adopted the anti-phishing law.
Get Legal Help with Your Online Scam Case
Online scams can be subject to both federal and state laws depending on the circumstances. If you’ve been charged with running an online scam, or any other crime, it’s in your best interests to consult with a local criminal defense attorney who can help craft the best defense based on the specific facts of your case.
Anyone can be a potential fraud victim, including businesses. The biggest threat to businesses is the potential for copyright or trademark infringement; this can lead to potential lawsuits from fraud victims if a scammer gets ahold of information from the business website, and then recreates the information to use in their scam. You can mitigate this risk by:
- Being Observant–utilize your resources to spot potential issues. Goggle yourself. Look at the email or number calling—in my case, the email addresses changed, but the name that signed the email and the request for payment authorization remained the same.
- Control–for problems by watching your invoices and bank statements, keep updated antivirus software on all electronic devices (this includes smartphones).
- Make Plans–Plan ahead of time of what you or your business would do if you become a victim of fraud. Plan a budget to cover any potential for possible legal defenses and loss of revenue.
You’re not alone; many people fall for scams everyday—its human nature to trust our fellow man and desire to help. There are resources that can be found via an online search. Reporting is necessary to help mitigate personal loss and help the wheel of justice to start rolling. If you are a victim of financial scams then you do have rights.
Civil litigation attorney Billy Cunningham practice concentrates on personal injury, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, business litigation, environmental law and insurance matters. He is licensed to practice in the state and federal courts of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as in the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States.