Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Lean Financial Times Fatten Scam Artists

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By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features



Uncertain economic times are playtimes for con artists.
While the crooks are around all the time, they feast on the fear and greed that grips everyone when the stock market goes south, pensions shrink, and investment portfolios get sucked dry. Add other types of events such as flailing governments, terrorism, and natural disasters that  include hurricanes, floods, and droughts that are fallow financial fields for scam artists.
There is no official estimate of how much money is bilked from Americans each year by a variety of crooked schemes, but most experts agree that it spirals into the billions of dollars.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks involving four U.S. airliners that killed some 3,000 Americans, the number of sleazy schemes multiplied. They all sounded full of promise.
In North Dakota, investors were milked of more than $2 million by a small group of salespeople linked with a local pastor who used religious and family ties to assure the victims they could achieve financial returns up to 300 percent. They were promised access to investment secrets of the world’s elite banks and their portfolios.
Schemers also preyed with victims in Indiana, where some 20 elderly investors were bilked of $1.4 million in a promissary-note scam. The folks were promised returns up to 12 percent on their money. Instead, it was funneled into off-shore bank accounts used by the perpetrators to subsidize a high-flying life style.
Also rampant are liars who laud little-known stocks with the expert assurances that they are bound to increase in value when the dust settles after these disastrous times end.
The biggest target for all these wolves are seniors.
Another sleazy scheme involves a referral from someone you know who already has made money on what he or she is about to recommend to you. All you have to do is come up with $20,000 or $30,000 and double it in a month or so.
The catch, you’re told, is that it’s not quite legal because it’s a tax dodge. The money will be used to buy high-ticket automobiles in a foreign country and bring them into the United States without paying import duties.
You feel comfortable because you’ve been given all the inside information you need. And your friend made money on this already. What you don’t know – and your friend may not realize, either, if he or she goes for the proposal again – is that the original deal was the “come-on.” That was the bait to lure you, and others, into the scheme.
This time, the crook will come back with some problems. One scenario is that the scam artist will report the vehicle, or vehicles, were stopped at the border and everyone involved in the deal has to come up with another $5,000 or $10,000 to pay taxes and penalties. Then he may come back for more money, claiming the truck driver needs a lawyer you’re going to have to pay for or the driver’s going to implicate you.
You’re relief may come in the form of an explanation that your money is gone but the trucker isn’t going to talk so you have no tax worries. That way, you drop the whole matter and forget the loss.
Because you feel you’ve been part of an illicit and illegal deal, you don’t go to the police or the government. These crooks are free to feast on another group of fiscal “fish.”
There are variations of this con, ranging from scalping tickets for concerts and sporting events to fencing stolen goods.
Another insidious scheme that lures seniors is the work-at-home scam. The crook convinces you there are ways to make money by working at home. Legal analysts can tell you the crooks make more than $30 million a year in this scam.
Victims usually are the elderly who need to supplement their fixed retirement income.
The prevalent schemes require victims to buy something up front – some materials, a manual to follow, or a mailing list – at prices as low as $40 or so.
The problem, of course, is that what you purchased may not be worth a cent. For example, the mailing list probably is old and already has been sold to hundreds, or thousands, of other people. Or the company from whom you bought the envelope-stuffing program may only pay you for recruiting other envelope-stuffers.
If you buy some material to make handicraft articles at home, you probably will never get a penny because you’ll be told that the results of your work don’t meet the company’s standards.
There are a couple of simple rules to follow if you’d like to avoid getting conned.
One is, if it costs money up front, it’s probably not a good idea.
Two is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
And then remember the words of W.C. Fields, who covered both sides of this matter. In one breath he said, “Never give a sucker an even break.” And then he said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

Mature Life Features Copyright 2003

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 24, 2011 at 12:05 am

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