Understand your rights and risks when whistleblowing on suspected scammers: Internet Scambusters #792
It's fairly easy to finger online scammers when you encounter them; there's a whole array of organizations waiting to hear from you.
But whistleblowing -- reporting fraudulent activities in your workplace -- can be a whole lot riskier.
In this week's issue, we'll tell you the best way to tackle either type of crime and provide you with a wide range of links to make sure you head down the right path.
Let's get started...
Whistleblowing and Scam Reporting: Where to Find Help
Sooner or later, many of us will encounter a scammer or a defrauder. We may be a victim, or we might just spot a crook trying to scam someone else.
It could be someone at work. Or you might simply come across them online fraudulently attempting to buy or sell something.
So, what do you do to blow the whistle on people who, one way or another, are stealing money from innocent victims?
These days many organizations actively encourage customers and employees to let them know about scamming activities.
For instance, all the big Internet retailers and sales sites like eBay and Craigslist have special procedures to follow. Here are some useful starting points:
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many different types of frauds you may not know which way to turn when one of these crooks crosses your path.
The official website of the United States government runs a special section listing contact points for various types of scams and frauds.
It suggests that your first port of call should be your local police department and perhaps the consumer protection office of your state regulator. You can find your state regulatory office via their State Consumer Protection Offices search page.
"Violations of federal laws should be reported to the federal agency responsible for enforcement," the site explains.
"While federal agencies are rarely able to act on behalf of individuals, they use complaints to record patterns of abuse, which allow an agency to take action against a company or industry."
Those agencies include the Federal Trade Commission to report most types of frauds, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for tax scams, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for postal fraud and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for scams relating to these health programs.
Check out the full list of relevant government agencies.
Why should you bother?
"If you report a fraud promptly, you improve your chances of recovering what you have lost," the site points out. "It also helps law enforcement authorities stop scams before other people become victims."
But what happens when you identify or suspect fraudulent activity in your workplace?
Dealing with this can be fraught with risks to your employment.
Suppose you think an individual, a colleague or even your boss is using the organization to scam others? What you might do depends on who the suspected offender(s) is/are.
Many organizations have specific procedures laid down for whistleblowing and, so long as it seems safe to do so, you should use these internal channels to highlight your suspicions first.
Tammy Marzigliano, a lawyer specializing in whistleblowing, offered this advice to viewers of CNBC's TV show American Greed:
"Complain to your boss, to HR, to compliance, to legal, to really escalate this up to the chain of command and make a formal complaint about what you believe in good faith to be a violation of the law."
If this is not an option, or perhaps even if it is, at a fairly early stage the best thing you can do is to consult an attorney.
For instance, you may suspect widespread fraud in your workplace and you may not be sure about who you can trust to confide in.
Note, though, that not all attorneys have the experience or expertise to handle whistleblowing cases.
However, you can find a list of relevant lawyers via the non-profit Taxpayers Against Fraud (TAF) page.
You have to be extremely careful about how you gather evidence -- for example, you should never remove original versions of documents; otherwise you might be accused of theft.
You also need to know how to distinguish between suspicions and clear evidence of scams. You don't necessarily need hard evidence, but you likely will need to justify your suspicions. Only an attorney can help you take the right steps.
Beware too of sharing your suspicions with fellow employees. You could be talking to the wrong person or compromising your anonymity.
Whistleblowing can be a scary process, but federal law does provide a high degree of protection to people who disclose information about fraudulent behavior by their employer.
In fact, there are some circumstances when failing to report fraudulent activities might be considered a violation of the law. So, make sure you know your rights and responsibilities.
Whistleblowing and scam reporting are crucial to good law and order. It can be a tough path to follow but if your motives are honest and fair, you could be doing your fellow citizens a great favor.
(Note: This report is provided for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice for which you should always consult an attorney.)
Alert of the Week
When you create a document or photo and share it with others, did you know that it contains hidden information that could be used and abused by others?
This may include your name, address or other personal information that you provided to your computer in the past.
Windows users can delete this information before sharing. Find and highlight the file, right click it and select "Properties."
In the window that opens, select the "Details" tab and, at the very bottom of this new page, click on "Remove properties and personal information."
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!