Top of page

fraud and truth are represented by knights; truth is on a horse who had one foot on a the dragon of Tyranny looking like a heroic winner pointing his lance at fraud has just fallen off his horse his shield has been knocked away and represents banks; Uncle Sam and a short banker looking man are on a hill in the background watching
Fraud against Truth. Currier & Ives, c1872.

Frauds, Fraudsters, and Savvy Consumers

Share this post:

National Consumer Protection Week  is observed every year in March. The goals and ideals of this campaign, as articulated in H. Res. 179, H2602, are to educate consumers so they would be “better equipped to see through fraud and deception, whether in the form of questionable claims in an advertisement, offers that come in the mail or e-mail, or schemes designed to appear to be risk-free.”

Print shows Justice, with scales hanging from her waist, lifting a washtub labeled "Public Corruption" by the handles, but the rings that hold it together break, they are labeled "The Press Ring, Canal Ring, Whiskey Ring, Indian Ring, City Ring, [and] Tammany Ring", this allows the bottom labeled "Tammany Hall 1872" to fall to the floor, spilling the contents labeled "Bribery, Internal Revenue Frauds, Custom House Frauds, Credit Mobilier Frauds, Treasury Frauds, Post Office Frauds, Savings Banks Frauds, Pacific Mail Subsidy, Dirty Linen, [and] Embezzling". A "Notice" on the wall states "Let every tub stand on its own bottom" showing a tub with rings labeled "Honesty - Duty, Capacity - Intelligence, [and] Education". A washboard leans against the wall behind Justice.
This tub has no bottom to stand on. Thomas Nast, June 5, 1875 Harper’s Weekly (p. 464).
We’ve all heard about the high-profile frauds in recent history including: WorldCom’s and Enron’s accounting scandals, Nigerian email scams, tax-related identity theft, and others described in Forbes’ recent image gallery, “The 10 Biggest Frauds in Recent U.S. History.” However, scams, frauds, and fraudsters in businesses and the marketplace are nothing new. In fact, the history of scams and frauds in the United States is a fascinating study in itself. For example, in 2012, Inside Adams published a post on the shenanigans of one of the more colorful fraudsters in railroad business history, Jay Gould. But, there is more…

Scams and frauds have occurred in other industries as well. For instance:

Print shows a lawyer taking papers that state "Fake Lawsuit for Damages" from a bag labeled "A Shyster" in a courtroom; as he turns toward the bench, he sees the judge point to a paper hanging from the bench that states "Notice to insure against the bringing of frivolous or blackmailing suits, lawyers will hereafter be held responsible for the costs of all the suits brought by them."
A crying need – a law to suppress the shyster / Louis Dalrymple. Cover Puck, v. 45, no. 1167, (1899 July 19).

And, what about the “good guys”? Not to worry. Consumer protection history is also quite interesting. The following are selected resources that speak further on consumer protection and the consumer movement:

For further research on the history of frauds, scams, and consumer protection, the following Subject Headings will help you identify additional publications:

Consumer protection–United States.
Consumer protection–United States–Bibliography.
Consumer protection–United States–History.
Deceptive advertising–United States.
Fraud–United States.
Fraud–United States–History.
Swindlers and swindling–United States.

Why should you care about frauds and consumer protection history?” Well, other than a good story, we can learn from the “lessons” of the past to better deal with the present and prepare for the future. Instances of scams and frauds have risen due to the globalization of businesses and the rise of e-commerce. The federal government’s involvement has increased in response, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed in 2011. Starting in 2015, President Obama began working with American Retailers to shift towards more secure payment standards via “Chip-and-Pin” (EMV) card technology. You are probably seeing the results of these efforts today as retailers gradually shift towards EMV card readers to accommodate microchip-enabled cards.

Currently, National Consumer Protection Week includes a partnership of 89 federal, state, and local agencies who are working together to connect consumers with educational resources. You are making choices everyday about the products you sign up for. These choices not only affect you, but affect your family as well. While nothing is foolproof, learning about different kinds of frauds and scams, and keeping up to speed on your rights will help you make better, more informed decisions, and become an overall savvier consumer.

Update March 22: This post was written by our new reference librarian in Business Angel Vu. She will eventually become a blogger here at Inside Adams so look for more posts in the future.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.