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  • How to Protect Christian Business From Fraud
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    YOU may have heard the saying, “You can’t cheat an honest man.” Like many sayings, that one is untrue. Every day honest people are the victims of fraud; honesty alone doesn’t protect them. Some of the cleverest minds in the world are devising and carrying out schemes to separate people from their money. More than a hundred years ago, one writer noted: “There are some frauds so well conducted, that it would be stupidity not to be deceived by them.”

    Deception has a long history, dating back to the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:1-5) Old schemes have many variations, and new schemes are being concocted all the time. So how can you defend yourself? You need not try to learn all the ways in which criminals defraud people. A few basic precautions will go a long way in protecting you from becoming a victim.

    Safeguard Personal Information

    If a person steals your checkbook or credit cards, he can buy things with them. If he steals your bank account information, he may be able to order and write checks in your name. If he obtains enough personal information, he may assume your identity. Once your identity has been stolen, a criminal can withdraw money from your bank accounts, charge things to your credit card accounts, and obtain loans in your name.* You may even find yourself arrested for a crime you did not commit!

    To protect yourself from this type of fraud, be careful with all personal documents, including your bank statements and checkbooks, driver’s license, and Social Security card or national identity card. Refuse to provide personal or financial information to others unless there is a legitimate reason why they should have it. This is especially so for credit card numbers and bank account information. The only time you should give anyone your credit card number is when you want to buy something with it.

    Swindlers known as dumpster divers root through garbage in search of such information. Instead of simply throwing out paperwork that contains personal data, you are wise to burn or shred it. This includes used checks and bank and brokerage statements as well as old credit cards, driver’s licenses, and passports. It is also wise to destroy unsolicited credit card applications that you receive in the mail, since these contain information about you that someone else might misuse.

    Use Common Sense

    At the heart of many frauds is the promise of unrealistically high returns from investments. A common get-rich-quick scam is the pyramid scheme. Though there are many variations of this scam, the usual design is for investors to recruit other investors, for which the recruiters receive a commission.* Chain letters work in the same way by asking you to send money to people at the top of a list. The assurance is that you will receive thousands of dollars when your name reaches the top.

    Pyramid schemes always collapse because it is impossible to keep on recruiting new members. Consider the math. If five people launch a pyramid and each one recruits five more, the number of new recruits becomes 25. If they, in turn, each recruit 5, that would mean 125 more. When recruitment reaches the ninth level, there will be close to two million people who would have to recruit more than nine million others! Promoters of pyramid schemes well know that there is a saturation point. When they suspect that point is near, they take the money and run. You will probably lose your money, and those whom you have recruited will now be trying to recover their lost money from you. Remember, for you to make money in a pyramid scheme, someone else has to lose money.

    Is someone offering you easy money or huge profits in return for an investment? A cautionary warning is this: If an offer appears too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t be quick to believe advertising claims and testimonials, thinking, “This is different.” Keep in mind that people are not in business to give away money or to share secrets to make you rich. If someone claims to have special knowledge that will make you a fortune, ask yourself: ‘Why doesn’t he use it to make himself wealthy? Why is he wasting time trying to sell it to me?’

    What if you are told that you have won a contest or a prize? Don’t get excited​—it may be a scam, one that has victimized many. For example, a woman in England received a letter from Canada telling her that she had won a prize but that she needed to send a $25 processing fee. After sending the money, she received a phone call from Canada telling her that she had won third prize in a drawing worth $245,000 but that she would have to pay a percentage of that amount as a further processing fee. She sent $2,450 and received nothing in return. If you have to pay for a “free gift” or a prize, it’s a scam. Ask yourself, ‘How likely is it that I have won a prize in a contest that I did not enter?’

    Do Business Only With Reputable People

    Do you believe that you can sense dishonesty in people? Be careful! Swindlers are called con, or confidence, artists because they know how to win the confidence of others. They are skilled at making their victims trust them. Sellers, both honest and dishonest, know that before you can sell a product, you have to sell yourself. Of course, this does not mean that you should mistrust everyone, but a healthy degree of suspicion is important in defending yourself from fraud. Rather than try to discern a person’s integrity by trusting your instincts, watch for two telltale signs that characterize many frauds: First, does an offer appear too good to be true, and second, is the seller trying to rush you into making a decision?

    Too-good-to-be-true offers abound on the Internet. Though the Internet offers much of value, it also enables criminals to defraud victims quickly and anonymously. Do you have an E-mail account? If so, you may find yourself on the receiving end of spam​—unsolicited commercial E-mail. Though spam offers an endless array of goods and services, many of these are fraudulent. If you respond to an unsolicited E-mail by sending money for some product or service, you will probably receive nothing in return. If you do receive something, it will almost certainly not be worth the money you have invested in it. The best advice is, Never buy anything from a spammer.

    This applies equally to those who phone to sell you something. Although many telephone sales calls are made by legitimate businesses, telemarketing scams cheat people out of billions of dollars every year. There is no way to know whether a sales pitch is legitimate if you simply talk with someone who calls you on the phone. A swindler may even pose as a representative of a bank or a credit card protection agency. You have good reason to be suspicious if someone calls you claiming to be from a bank or a company with whom you have an account and asks for information that they should already have. If that happens, you might ask for the person’s phone number. Then call back after verifying that the number really is that of the bank or agency.

    A good policy is not to give your credit card number or any other personal information to a stranger who calls you. If someone calls to sell you something that you do not want, you can politely say, “Sorry, I do not do business over the phone with people I do not know.” Then hang up. There is no reason for you to engage in an unwanted conversation with a stranger who may be trying to defraud you.

    Deal only with reputable businesses and people. There are many legitimate companies with whom you can safely do business over the phone or on the Internet. If possible, check out the salesperson, the company, and the investment through some independent agency. Ask for information about the investment, and read it carefully to make sure that it is legitimate. Do not be rushed or pressured into making a quick decision.

    Put It in Writing

    Not all fraud starts out as fraud. An honest business can go sour. When that happens, those running it may panic and resort to fraudulent measures to recover their losses. Doubtless you have heard stories of business executives who lied about revenue and profits and then when the business collapsed ran away with what was left of the money.

    To protect yourself from both fraud and misunderstandings, you should get the details in writing before making any major investment. Any contract that you sign should document all the terms of the investment and the promises made. Recognize, too, that no matter how sound an investment may appear, no one can guarantee that things will go as planned. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) After all, there is really no such thing as a risk-free investment. Thus, an agreement should specify in writing what the duties and responsibilities of each person will be should the business fail.

    By being aware of and applying the basic principles we have briefly considered, you make yourself less vulnerable to being a victim of fraud. An ancient Bible proverb provides valuable advice. It states: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) A swindler chooses easy targets, those inclined to believe his every word. Sadly, there are many people who take no precautions against fraud.

    [Footnotes]

    A pyramid scheme is defined as a “multilevel marketing program in which people pay an entrance fee for the opportunity to recruit others to do the same.” Such schemes usually have no products.

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    If an offer appears too good to be true, it usually is

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    Advice for Victims of Fraud

    Fraud victims typically feel overwhelmed by shame, guilt, embarrassment, and self-directed anger. Don’t blame yourself. You are the victim; the blame rests on the person who conned you. If you have made a mistake, admit that to yourself, and then move on with your life. Do not conclude that you are stupid. Remember that swindlers successfully defraud highly intelligent people​—heads of State, bank managers, executives, finance managers, attorneys, and others.

    Fraud victims are robbed not only of money or possessions but also of self-confidence and self-esteem. When defrauded by a “friend,” there is a betrayal of trust. It hurts to be swindled. Allow yourself time to grieve. It is often helpful to talk about the matter with someone you can confide in. Prayer too can bring much comfort. (Philippians 4:6-8) Recognize, though, that at some point you need to put the matter behind you. Why prolong the misery? Set positive goals, and work to achieve them.

    Be wary of recovery scams. Swindlers will call a person who has been defrauded to offer help in recovering lost money. Their aim is to defraud the person again.

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    Spam Scams​—Six Common E-mail Scams

    1. Pyramid schemes: These often masquerade as opportunities to make a lot of money with little work and cash outlay. One scheme offers you a computer or some other electronic item if you pay to join a club and then recruit other participants. Another variation is the chain letter. Chain letters are almost always illegal. Most of those who invest in them lose their money.

    2. Work-at-home schemes: In one form of this scam, you are offered the opportunity to assemble such things as jewelry, toys, or craft kits. You invest money in the materials and time in assembling the product, only to find that your work cannot be sold to the promoters because it does not meet their standards.

    3. Health and diet scams: Flooding the Internet are offers of such things as pills that help you lose weight without exercising or dieting, cures for impotence, and creams to counter hair loss. These offers are sometimes accompanied by testimonials from satisfied customers. Common phrases that appear in these ads include expressions such as “scientific breakthrough,” “miraculous cure,” “secret formula,” and “ancient ingredient.” The truth is, most of these products don’t work.

    4. Investment opportunities: These schemes typically offer high rates of return with little or no risk. A common version involves investment in an offshore bank. Investors are lured by assurances that those handling their money have high-level financial connections and possess inside information.

    5. Credit repair: These scams offer to remove negative information from your credit file so you can qualify for a credit card, an auto loan, or a job. Despite the assurances, promoters can’t do what they promise.

    6. Vacation prize promotions: You receive an E-mail congratulating you on winning a vacation opportunity for a rock-bottom price. Some say that you have been specially selected. Keep in mind that the same notice may have gone out to millions of others and that the accommodation you receive will offer far less than what was advertised.

    [Credit Line]

    Source: U.S. Federal Trade Commission

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    Pyramid schemes always collapse

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    Any contract that you sign should document all the terms of the investmentand the promises made

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