What Is Mass-Marketing Fraud?
The term "mass-marketing fraud" refers generally to any fraud scheme that uses one or more mass-communication methods – such as the Internet, telephones, the mail, or in-person meetings – to fraudulently solicit or transact with numerous prospective victims or to transfer fraud proceeds to financial institutions or others connected with the scheme. Mass-marketing fraud schemes generally fall into two broad categories: (1) schemes that defraud numerous victims out of comparatively small amounts, such as several hundred dollars, per victim; and (2) schemes that defraud comparatively less numerous victims out of large amounts, such as thousands or millions of dollars per victim.
Law enforcement and consumer protection authorities sometimes classify particular fraud schemes by the communication mechanism used (e.g., “Internet fraud,” “mail fraud,” and “telemarketing fraud”). At the same time, they also recognize that mass-marketing fraud schemes often use multiple communication techniques to reach more prospective victims. For example, an advance-fee fraud scheme (further described below) may use a high volume of unsolicited emails (“spam”) to make initial contact, encourage interested recipients to call a particular telephone number for further information, and mail materials to the potential victim, such as counterfeit checks. Mass-marketing fraud schemes can appear as “too good to be true” payments for goods or services required in advance, requests for personal information over the telephone, unsolicited offers, or high-pressure sales tactics claiming that immediate action is required to avoid losing a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.1
What Are The Major Types of Mass-Marketing Fraud?
Advance-Fee Fraud Schemes
These schemes are based on the concept that a victim will be promised a substantial benefit – such as a million-dollar prize, lottery winnings, a substantial inheritance, or some other item of value – but must pay in advance some purported fee or series of fees before the victim can receive that benefit.
Bank and Financial Account Schemes
Some mass-marketing fraud schemes involve tricking potential victims into providing their bank or financial account data, so that participants in the scheme can gain unauthorized access to those accounts and siphon off funds or charge goods to the victims’ accounts. These types of schemes may also involve identity theft.
Investment Opportunity Schemes
Other investment schemes involve direct solicitation of prospective investors through “cold calls” (i.e., calls to people whom the fraud scheme has not previously contacted) or email or phone contact lists of people previously contacted by members of fraud schemes. These include schemes that simply fail to invest the investors’ money as promised, as well as “Ponzi” schemes (i.e., schemes that recruit multiple would-be investors, but use a portion of the funds received from later investors to pay to earlier investors to enhance the appearance of the scheme’s legitimacy).
How Do I Protect Myself?
To reduce the risk of becoming a victim of Mass-Marketing Fraud, there are some basic steps you can take.
- Remove your name from solicitation lists. You may opt out of direct mail and email oﬀers at www.dmachoice.org, credit card oﬀers at www.optoutprescreen.com or (888) 567-8688, and online cookie collecting at www.networkadvertising.org.
- Shred suspicious mail and do not respond to junk mail or emails from strangers.
- Do not participate in or respond to claims that you have won a foreign lottery, particularly any lottery or sweepstakes that you do not remember entering. Participating in a foreign lottery is against the law.
- Get all oﬀers in writing and independently verify credentials.
- Don’t deposit checks sent by companies that claim the check is for fees or taxes on lottery winnings or an inheritance from a long-lost relative. Before the bank discovers the check is counterfeit, the fraudster will request that you return a portion of the money via wire transfer.
What Can I Do If I Have Become A Victim of
Report the Fraud to Law Enforcement
- Local Law Enforcement – Contact your local law enforcement oﬃce to file a police report.
- District Attorney – Contact your local District Attorney’s Oﬃce.
- State Attorney General – Contact your state’s Attorney General’s Office to report the fraud. Find contact information at www.naag.org.
- Federal Law Enforcement – Contact your local FBI Field Oﬃce or submit an online tip at http://tips.fbi.gov. Look up your local field oﬃce at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field.
Report the Fraud to the Federal Trade Commission
- Federal Trade Commission—Contact the FTC's Complaint Assistant.
Lodging a complaint with the FTC will also enter the fraud into the Consumer Sentinel Network so that law enforcement can stop ongoing fraud and track these crimes. Please note that this process will not initiate a criminal investigation of your case.
1FBI Mass Marketing Fraud—Awareness & Prevention Tips