Thursday, June 25, 2009

Civilian Police Academy: Consumer Fraud Unit

What I'm reading: Claiming the Rancher's Heart, by Cindy Kirk.

A shift away from writing today. Last night was our monthly Civilian Police Academy Alumni meeting. Our speaker, head of the Consumer Fraud Unit gave the definition of fraud as "inserting a lie into a business transaction." Since the recent Romantic Times Conference resulted in a lot of attendees having fraudulent charges on their credit cards, most likely due to an unscrupulous front desk clerk. The topic seemed timely.

Basically, the Orange County Consumer Fraud Unit deals with complaints, and sends them to the appropriate investigative agencies. Our county is second in the state for identity theft, which is NOT something they deal with. However, they discover a lot of it because it often is discovered because someone files a report of consumer fraud, and the investigation leads to the identity theft. As a matter of fact, our speaker was a victim himself.

The sad thing is that it's up to the victim to deal with the mess, which can take from 2-10 years to sort out.

The newest "innovations" in consumer fraud involve the Internet. Somehow, it's hard—and sad—to believe that people will send large amounts of money for merchandise to a total stranger, and they've never seen the item they're buying. One example: someone bought a boat based on a small picture on the seller's website. When he drove from Florida to New Jersey, he found it was a rust-bucket.

And the newest scams are using Twitter. Yep. If it's out there, people will figure out a way to make a quick buck.

Keep Reading...

He also warned about caution in getting your car repaired – motor vehicle repair complaints rank high on the list. Make sure you check the boxes that require the mechanic to give you an estimate BEFORE he does any work. He said that it's common, especially (unfortunately) with female customers, for the mechanic to check the 'no estimate needed' box before handing the paperwork to the customer for service. So that, "Oh, it should be about $200" verbal estimate turns into a $1500 repair bill. And your signature is on the form, so you have no recourse.

Florida is a Buyer Beware state. That means it's up to the consumer to make sure any transaction is on the up and up before closing the deal. And that "3 day rescission" clause is only valid for home solicitation sales. If the vacuum cleaner salesman shows up and you buy a vacuum cleaner, you can cancel within 3 business days. But if YOU initiate the transaction, you're out of luck. This goes for buying a used car—and there's no lemon law on a used vehicle either. Get everything in writing!

A lot of this was a review of what we'd heard in our Crimes Against Seniors session, but it's definitely worth the reminder. Florida's population is heavy with senior citizens. The newest concern for the agency foreclosure scam. More information here.

Phony credit counseling services are also taking advantage of the current economic situation. Things to watch out for here

Home equity loan scams are out there too.

In general, any time you're thinking of taking advantage of a "bargain" here are some red flag key words:

Cash Only – Why is cash necessary for a proposed transaction?

Secret Plans – Why are you being asked not to tell anybody?

Something for Nothing – A retired swindler once said that any time you are promised something for nothing, you usually get nothing.

Haste – Be wary of any pressure that you must act immediately or lose out.

Today Only – If something is worthwhile today, it's likely to be available tomorrow

Last Chance – If it's a chance worth taking, why is it offered on such short notice?

And, of course, keep a close eye on your credit card statements. Don't wait for them to come in the mail. You can go on line and check them any time.

Tomorrow, it's time for another case file from our favorite detective. Don't miss it.

1 comment:

queenofmean said...

Another thing with car repairs that we learned is always get a receipt showing what was done, even if the mechanic just 'looked' at the car & did no repairs. Even without a lemon law, you can still go to arbitration with the maunufacturer & you will need a paper trail to prove your point.