None of us ever expects to be defrauded by scammers, identity thieves, or other cyber criminals.
But, the unfortunate reality is that consumer fraud is a multi-billion-dollar, global phenomenon, and it’s one of the ongoing threats that we can count on being around for a very long time. Considering this, learning the most you can about these kinds of fraudulent activities is one of the best approaches to protecting yourself from the myriad different ways that criminals can target you.
At the Law Office of Matthew R. Osborne, PC, we are dedicated to arming consumers with the tools and knowledge they need to stay safe in a world where consumer fraud runs rampant. In that effort, here are some helpful tips and descriptions of some of the most common types of consumer fraud to look out for.
The Difference between Fraud and Theft
It’s an understandable mistake to confuse fraud with theft. After all, both of these types of crimes involve depriving property from a consumer.
For some clarity, theft is when something is unlawfully taken through force or stealth, whereas fraud is often described as a purposeful misrepresentation of fact.
As examples: shoplifting from a convenience store is theft. Throwing stones at your car and then filing a claim for hail damage is fraud.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the ways in which criminals commit fraud against consumers, leaving the subject of theft for another post altogether.
Any attempt at fraud that involves the use of the US mail system is, by definition, mail fraud.
You might think that the advent of the internet, email, and ecommerce would have done away with the requirement of sending sensitive information via postal mail, but this hasn’t happened. For now (and for the foreseeable future), physical mail is still required for basic communication for most consumers.
Some examples of mail fraud include:
- Sending scam letters
- Sending comprising letters or packages using someone else’s identifying information
- Forging stamps, seals, or other official postage demarcations
- Impersonating government agencies through the mail
Mail fraud can be avoided by taking your outgoing mail directly to the post office instead of leaving in your mailbox. Also, be skeptical of any letter you receive containing offers that seem too good to be true.
Driver’s License Fraud
Driver’s license fraud happens when someone other than you uses your personal information to obtain a drivers license in your name. Then, the criminal can use the fraudulent driver’s license to do things like purchase a firearm, rent equipment with no intention of returning it, and more. These actions can then come back to bite you, and not the criminal!
Even though there are quite a few stopgaps put into place by state governments in an attempt to thwart drivers license fraudsters, it’s still possible to commit with enough ingenuity and access to the right consumer data.
To protect yourself against drivers license fraud, it might be helpful to enroll in an identity protection service like Lifelock. Then, if you do notice that someone is attempting to use your information to obtain a driver’s license, you can contact your local DMV and put a stop to it before your good name becomes compromised.
Tax Refund Fraud
We always hear about how important it is to file our taxes as early as possible; but do you know why? A big reason has to do with tax refund fraud, a crime that involves someone other than you filing your taxes on your behalf, and then walking away with your tax refund!
Tax refund fraud has definitely seen a drop in recent years as so many tax filers are opting for encrypted, online tax filing services available from companies like TurboTax and Quicken. However, it’s still a very real problem, and consumers are advised to file their taxes early while maintaining vigilance in the protection of their tax-related information like social security numbers, employer information, and income details.
Voter fraud is wildly popular in the press these days. With all of the talk of mail-in ballots and voting in absentia, it’s not that difficult for a fraudster to cast your vote for you, sometimes with you even knowing it!
Any time someone illegally tampers with the voting process (be it electronically or even at physical polling locations), voter fraud takes place. If you suspect you might be a victim of voter fraud, file a report with the United States Department of Justice.