The stock market is a fertile breeding ground for fraud. The massive increase of technology over the past few decades have now made it absolutely simple for a single crook to reach tens of thousands of potential victims just by pushing the "send" key.

If you are reading this on a computer, you have probably been a recipient of email "stock tips." This is a scam where someone widely publishes information that a certain stock is going to rapidly increase in value. If thousands of people suddenly want to buy the stock, it does increase in value -- but only momentarily. The crook then sells off his own block of stock when it is artificially inflated, and all the late buyers share the loss to cover his gain.

Civil securities fraud (also known as investment fraud) is a form of theft by deception, and is considered a white collar crime. It costs Americans an estimated $40 billion a year, although nobody knows the real amount because some victims never report the crime.

As one of the most difficult crimes to uncover (investigating and proving the crime can be time consuming and expensive), your best bet is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. Sadly, that can't always be accomplished. Enron and WorldCom are examples that prove that even the largest corporate entities are susceptible to insider frauds. Most of the victims were people over the age of 50; those who were relying on their investments the most.

The governing body that oversees the business of Securities is the Securities and Exchange Commission. If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud, that is who you want to contact: