Victim blaming prevents consumers from coming forward and reporting fraud

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Posted at 1:23 PM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 14:23:36-05

No one likes to admit they're a victim of fraud. It's embarrassing and sometimes that shameful feeling prevents people from reporting the crime.

"These fraudsters thrive because they know consumers are hesitant to report that they've been victims," said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud with the National Consumers League.

Breyault says sometimes people blame themselves and keep silent. The pandemic has only given criminals more ammunition -- a COVID-19 spin on their go-to tools like phishing emails, robocalls, fake texts, or bogus social media posts.

Research from July of 2021 from a global insurance company, Aviva, shows people were more likely to report an attempted burglary of their house (71%) than they were to report they received a suspected financial scam mentioning coronavirus (54%).

Even though the company points out, there's arguable more money at risk with financial fraud. It's important to note, those who filed complaints during the pandemic are losing a lot more than their pride.

As of Dec. 2, the Federal Trade Commission reports these COVID-related schemes cost consumers $627 million.

"It happens to the best of us, people get scammed," said Alex Hamerston, a cyber security expert with TrustedSec, a security consulting company.

Hamerston says it's unfortunate to see online bullies look for any opportunity to shame others.

"It's horrific, it's horrendous. You know, people are always blaming the victim, and really if you fall victim to one of these things, you're a victim and you need to report it," said Hamerston.

Consumer advocates say by reporting the fraud to the police, the Better Business Bureau, or Wisconsin's consumer protection agency, DATCP, you're doing something that will benefit others.

"The best anecdote is prevention and so if we can talk to people about these scams, so they can identify them, then we're better off," said Lara Sutherlin with DATCP.

Sutherlin explains DATCP can identify patterns and educate businesses or consumers about scam trends. If warranted, complaints that come in can also be forwarded to a federal agency, which can investigate a fraudulent company or person.

"Folks need to understand the breadth of this and be willing to talk about it. That's the only way it's going to stop," she added.

Reporting crimes, however, can get complicated if victims are taken advantage of by their family members. Waukesha County's Assistant DA Peter Tempelis has come across this with elder fraud cases.

"Sometimes the victim, if we call that person a victim, or the survivor they want to maintain that relationship. There's a value in that relationship. They might feel they need to have that relationship for transportation, for care, what have you. So we have to recognize that," said Tempelis.

The National Adult Protective Services Association says only one in 44 cases of financial exploitation of seniors is ever reported.

Even if a victim decides to come forward and makes a report, it may not put anyone behind bars. Deciding to speak up, though, could be for the greater good.

"You may not be able to save yourself or save the money you spent, but you'll definitely help protect other people," said Breyault.

You can report scams or fraud to the below agencies. You can remain anonymous.