Financial fraud is an increasing problem for many consumers, and there are many forms of financial fraud to be aware of.
Perhaps you get a phone call from someone claiming to be a government official. Or, you may get an email asking for a small amount of money for a "charitable" cause.
Modern-day financial fraud con artists are slick and knowledgeable, says Ralph Greco, president of Sentry Recovery Corporation, a New Jersey-based collection agency.
"These con men call, claiming they are from some agency (and) threaten legal action unless you pay immediately," he says.
In some cases, a fraudster may even claim that you may face jail time if you do not pay them immediately.
Given the sophistication of today's fraudsters, it's understandable that many people give out Social Security Numbers or bank account information without realizing they're speaking to a fraudster.
All people, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or economic standing can be a victim of financial fraud.
How can you try to avoid becoming a victim of financial fraud?
Stopping Fraud by Telephone
First and foremost, a legitimate debt collector, such as the IRS or a credit card company, will not attempt to collect on debt without first sending proof such as a bill, or a letter of collection, Greco says.
"It's a fast-talking game that you can put a stop to rather quickly with just a few simple steps," Greco says.
Here are a few such steps you can take to try to determine whether the collector is legitimate:
Request the caller properly identify themselves. A legitimate creditor's agent will give you his or her name, phone number and their agency or company they are calling from when you ask. If you want to be extra careful, tell callers you will call back after checking to make sure they are legitimate. However, be aware that well-seasoned crooks may have a 1-800 number, or may even have someone posing as a "supervisor."
Request debt information. Ask for specific information about your debt. The agent/creditor calling you should have information about your account to verify the amount owed.
Do not relinquish sensitive information. If you are unsure you are speaking to a legitimate debt collector, do not reveal any bank routing or account numbers, or even the name of your bank. Also do not give out your Social Security number, or even the last four digits of the number.
Stopping Fraud by Email and Internet
Most of us deal with spam emails and many are harmless. Some may be sent with viruses or other malicious programs attached.
Greco urges you to aggressively address any potential financial fraud that arrives via email.
"Delete emails from sources you do not recognize," he says.
That includes emails addressed to "My Good Friend," and clearly fraudulent emails that allegedly come from government agencies.
"Federal agencies do not email everyday citizens on a daily basis with the promise of newly uncovered funds," Greco says.
You shouldn't reply with personal information such as Social Security numbers, passwords or bank account names and numbers.
Avoid being persuaded by people who insist that you reply or send money immediately, and who threaten impending legal action if you do not do so. Be suspicious of get-rich quick schemes that require you to surrender a small amount of money from a bank transfer in order to get a larger amount by return transfer.
Finally, if you don't recognize the sender of the email, don't click on links embedded in an email that suggest the link will take you to an offer, or "confirm" an order you know you did not place. Recent news reports suggest this technique is becoming a popular way for fraudsters to dump viruses onto your computer before stealing your information.