A Strange Affinity
Do you trust people more if they’re like you, or a part of your community? Scammers bet that you do. Every day, they take advantage of that unconscious trust.
It’s called “affinity fraud” — when someone in a group uses their membership in that group to scam another member. Think religious, ethnic, or professional groups. Might you be willing to hear more about a deal if a member of your church asks you to? Or take advice from someone who speaks your same language?
Through the FTC’s Legal Services Collaboration, we’ve heard of cases just like that. According to Dan Choi, an attorney with the Northern Virginia office of the Legal Aid Justice Center, “Our immigrant clients tend to place a special trust readily and rapidly with other people who share their language, culture, and physical attributes. In some cases, this fellow community member attends the same church and knows the same people. In other cases, this fellow community member is a complete stranger, hundreds of miles away.”
Once affinity frauds happen, they can get complicated for those who get scammed. Choi notes that many of his clients don’t have the knowledge or language ability to get help. Some immigrants tend to avoid reporting fraud to law enforcement — perhaps based on their experiences in their home country — and, Choi says, “there’s also pressure to resolve community problems internally.”
So, what to do? When you hear about a “great” deal:
- Take your time. You don’t want any deal that requires you to act now. Time is your friend. Use it.
- Don’t buy the hype. You might hear promises of guaranteed results (profit on your investment, or the promise of legal immigration status, for example). You might also hear you can get the results risk-free. Not so. If anybody tells you either thing, it means you’re seeing a scam.
- Get it in writing. Before you part with your money, look at the terms of the deal in writing. Then take your time and review. Are the terms what you expected?
- Check it out. No matter who offers you a deal, do your homework. Talk to others. Look up the company online and search for consumer complaints. Most important, is this deal good for you? Can you afford the loss if it doesn’t work out as promised?
- Report it. The FTC can investigate only the scams it knows about. When you tell us that you suspect a scam, you might just be helping protect others in your community. Go to ftc.gov/complaint to report scams.
Whether an “opportunity” comes from your neighbor, a family member, someone from your church or hometown, or someone who speaks your language, taking these steps will help you hold on to your money, and keep it away from scammers.