The National Consumers League (NCL) warns that frauds linked to the bad economy are on the rise and is calling upon federal fraud cops to "vigorously enforce existing anti-fraud statutes and regulations" and redouble their efforts to educate consumers about the growing threat of recession-fueled fraud.
In testimony before a senate subcommittee, NCL said consumers' thinly stretched pocketbooks have "increased their vulnerability to fraudsters offering promises of extra income.
The consumer group also warned that nearly one in three consumers could be at risk for fraudulent work-at-home schemes and that fake check complaints involving phony sweepstakes and bogus "mystery shopper" jobs continue to increase.
"Consumers face a double bind. The economic crisis has made them increasingly vulnerable to fraud while local agencies that investigate scams and enforce the laws are shutting their doors, leaving consumers with fewer avenues to protect their interests," said Greenberg. "Absent increased action at the federal level to investigate and prosecute scam artists, consumers will be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place."
In support of Greenberg's testimony, NCL's Fraud Center released its semi-annual ranking of the top telemarketing and Internet scams plaguing consumers so far in 2009, with fake check scams continuing to top the list. For the first six months of 2009, fake check scams made up more than 44 percent of the total complaints NCL received, with more than half of these complaints (55 percent) involving a fraudulent mystery shopper job or phony sweepstakes winnings. Average losses per victim were more than $3,000.
Phony business opportunity scams, which include fake franchises and distributorships, were not among the most commonly reported scams to the Fraud Center in 2008. However, in the first six months of 2009, they have risen into the top ten most-reported scams.
Earlier this year, an NCL-commissioned survey found that 31 percent of respondents were more likely to consider starting a home-based business due to the current economic climate. NCL contents that this is a reflection of a weak economy, loss of jobs, and consumers' eagerness to find viable employment.
"The worsening economy has clearly had an impact on consumers' vulnerability to fraud." said John Breyault, NCL Vice President for Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. "Consumers should be wary that scammers are eager to prey on those in greatest financial need."