Internet scam investigations are typically run by law enforcement agencies; although private eyes might get involved in high profile or high monetary value cases. The World Wide Web is a barely-regulated frontier that is inhabited by many ruthless individuals and companies who want nothing more than to basically steal your money. Even if you confine yourself to “safe and secure” websites, there is always the chance that someone can hack into your computer or take unfair advantage of your desire for a product or service and scam you out of hard-earned money.
Most scams can be easily avoided with a bit of common sense and caution. However, millions of people become victims of online scams each year and this number is still steadily increasing, despite proactive countermeasures engineered to prevent such criminal activity on the web. It is for this reason that internet scams have become yet another topic of interest for professional detectives.
This essay examines the role of all manner of investigators in preventing and resolving online scams. We will look at how this task might involve law enforcement and other governmental detectives, as well as private sector investigators.
Small Scale Internet Scam Investigation
There are always innumerable small scale investigations being performed on the World Wide Web. These matters might be handled by law enforcement, consumer protection agencies, private sector consumer organizations or by the public themselves. Most cases involve websites that are selling a product or service that has no actual value and therefore angers people upon receipt after purchase. Other cases involve paying for goods or services, but never receiving them. Still other cases involve a variety of creative criminal endeavors, such as fake donation scams, fraudulent crowd sourcing or funding scams, email scams, social media scams and other ways that criminals can appeal to people through various emotions in order to separate them from their money.
Since many of these scams are small-time operations, being run by one person or a small group of criminals, most do not receive much public attention unless they continue unchecked for a very long time. Instead, most are investigated by their victims and often outed on online bulletin boards and social media outlets. Niche-focus consumer websites and groups also raise awareness of these scams as soon as they come to their attention.
Very rarely do professional private eyes get involved with these small scams, since the amount of money stolen is usually low and the cost of investigation services is relatively high in comparison. The exceptions are when criminals target big spenders to take advantage of fewer people, but for higher payouts from each victim. This can happen with scam membership sites, large value purchases and other scenarios where the amount of money lost or stolen exceeds the acceptable threshold for the victim and warrants contracting a private detective, even though this will mean additional cost.
Large Scale Online Scam Investigations
Large scale scams are usually handled by law enforcement, but might also be assisted by consumer protection groups and professional investigators. This is particularly true once lawyers get involved and organize class action or individual lawsuits against the scammer. These attorneys are sure to hire on experts in computer forensics in order to sweep the web for witnesses, evidence and information leading to a successful trial preparation venture.
Large internet cybercrime organizations can target large number of victims, typically in a short time range. They might also operate targeting specific high-value targets, such as investors or businesses, as well as those who have control over large amounts of money for purchasing or charitable uses. Occasionally, a target is taken for so much money that a case gains huge notoriety even though it might only have scammed one person. This is typically the circumstance when the target is a celebrity or wealthy person and the amount of money stolen reaches the six or seven digit figure.
Private Internet Scam Investigation Assignments
Internet crime can compromise people in more ways than just simple online theft. Scams might gain access to personal documents or information, facilitating identity fraud or credit theft. Scams might also seek to put the victim in a compromising position by accessing sensitive documents, photos or videos and then using these for extortion and blackmail tactics.
Unfortunately, most successful scams prey on people’s general good will and charity towards other humans. The scammers will appeal to victims to send money to support what they believe is a good cause. All the while, this money is used to fuel ever-growing criminal empires.
Investigators can be hired by individual victims, by corporate victims, by consumer protection firms or even by municipal, state or federal law enforcement agencies. Detectives who handle these types of cases are experts in internet security, computer forensic science and the practices of online criminal minds. Sometimes, these investigators are called in for preventative efforts to stop scams before they might occur. However, most case work is comprised of scenarios attempting to locate the culprits of the criminal enterprise, gathering evidence to submit to law enforcement and interviewing the victims for use in criminal and/or civil litigation.
For investigators with a desire for the common good and the skills needed to succeed in this niche sector of the detective arts, there will always be work and room to grow. If you embody this type of detective, you might want to consider adding internet scams to your list of available services and watch your client base grow substantially.