Colleen is an attorney in the United States, and a solicitor on the roll in England and Wales.
Nearly everyone, at some point in our lives, is likely to be approached, on a doorstep, by phone, or through email, in order to entice us into some type of fraud. In addition, especially near the start of our working life, we might notice, or be told to engage in practices which approach the unethical. In this article we will address the varieties of schemes and scams, tactics and strategies which prey on the unwary. We hope the below examples and cases will help alert you to signs pitfalls and booby-traps.
My Own Experience
Overall, I am a sceptic, fairly savvy regarding the ruses and ploys of tricksters and hucksters. Still, as I have found, perhaps no-one is fool proof. Participating in an e-group, I read about a girl in her late teens, claiming to be struggling with issues which daunted me at around the same age. In hopes of being able to help, I invited her to contact me via email.
Scam By Compassion
In her following emails, she wrote of cruelties perpetrated upon her of the most heart-wrenching kind. She explained this openness by saying it was due to my striking her as warm and kind, combined with my counselling background. I did begin to notice, however, how similar her revelations were to those torments described in a memoir written by a young woman from the same country.
When I mentioned this to my husband, he said there might be a financial request upcoming. Though I thought he was being cynical, in my next email I did say, in the gentlest words I could, that my support could only be of an emotional nature. After that, she disappeared; I became erased from her radar. In my own defence, I would never have sent one penny to anyone without far more information as to her needs, circumstances.
Uncovering The Fake
Spurred by this experience, I began to delve into the exploitation deployed beneath the guise of on-line friendship. It soon became clear that a number of e-pal sites are either started or become infiltrated by those seeking either identity theft or information to sell to spamming companies. This is saddening in that there are many genuine people who enjoy connecting with others with various backgrounds and views. Still, it has become a reality.
Clues That Indicate Scammers And Fraudsters
Here are a few hints we hope will prevent you from becoming bamboozled.
As with my above-mentioned “friend”, a new e-pal begins confiding exceedingly private details. Shortly thereafter, the questions begin:
- Date and place of birth.
- Your mother’s maiden name.
- The locations of relatives or close friends you have mentioned, and other such details.
These queries are cleverly interwoven with chit-chat about work, family-over-all living; still, the prying continues. Any caution or reticence on your part is met by seeming disappointment and hurt.
One way of sensing some form of deception is to ask yourself if you met a recent acquaintance for coffee, would you be likely to exchange this level of information? Would you wish to obtain such background facts regarding someone you have known only for a matter of hours, days, weeks, months, or often even years? If not, you have a basis for apprehension.
A Complete Absence of Conscience
An especially cruel twist occurs when these hoaxers, writing to the pen pals sections of magazines geared towards groups with disabilities pretend to suffer from these same physical or mental challenges. Such would-be parasites do all they can to inveigle money, information, or even citizenship in more affluent countries via marriage.
None of these warnings are meant to imply some fantastic and lasting friendships and marriages have not stemmed from on-line encounters and will continue to do so. Still, if a visceral sense of uneasiness alerts you to some subtext or agenda, it is vital to terminate this connection, with no concerns about rudeness.
We have already touched on this type of deception in our discussion of a con artist’s claiming to share the interests and concerns of a target. This strategy extends to more subliminal methods.
As one telemarketer stated with pride, “I can vary my tone and rhythm of speech to mirror that of the voice on the phone. If the fish I’m baiting speaks in a slow, relaxed way, so do I. On the other hand, I can be quick and concise, if the person speaks in that manner.
Alert To An Opening
To a con artist, any snippet of information is treated as fodder. Examples might be:
- “You have new-born twin sons? That’s amazing. I’m due to have twins next month. I must admit I do feel a bit anxious.”
- “You got into debt because you bought that boat? I can understand that; I’m completely wild about sailing.”
Houses of Cards
The impact of a small, rectangular piece of plastic or card, combined with charisma, can have an amazing impact upon the alert professionals. This tendency is exemplified in the case of Charles Sobhraj, described in the book Serpentine, written by respected crime writer Thomas Thompson.
Wiles of A Deceiver
Mapping out his plan, Sobhraj travelled to various hotels with prices high enough to attract only the wealthiest patrons. Once inside its lobby, he would eavesdrop on chitchat. Soon enough, he highlighted a bank manager, physician, psycho-therapist, or anyone likely to have gained financial security.
Having acquired enough information, Sobhraj would rush to the nearest printing shop and order business cards to be written containing his name and the needed contact details. Then, by seeming coincidence, he would encounter his target either in the hotel’s lobby or restaurant.
Soon, easing the conversation into the areas of careers and professions, he would “discover” a kinship between himself and his mark. This would lead to an agreement to meet later either in the bar, or in one of their hotel rooms.
A Sophisticated Psychopath
Charles Sobhraj was born in 1944, and is alleged to have killed at least 12 victims. He was skilled in his ability to evade the law and attained celebrity status as the man who massaged its application in relation to himself. He was eventually convicted of murder in Nepal and sentence to life imprisonment.
Why Are Tourists So Trusting?
For many, one of the major joys of traveling is the potential to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds. If a chance to expand one’s business emerges via such an encounter, it adds another dimension. For the most part, such encounters are innocuous, and may result in friendship or business networking. (On a personal note, one of my most valued friends is someone I met on a plane more than twenty years ago.)
Unfortunately, for Sobhraj’s newly-found “friends” he had a far more menacing plan.
Consequences of This Connection
Once Sobhraj was able to play the host, he began his manoeuvre. As soon as he sensed alcohol and bonhomie had relaxed his prey enough to be distracted, Sobhraj would stir a strong sedative into their drink. When his guest became all but comatose, Sobhraj would assist them to bed. He would then search for and take any valuables belonging to them.
Then, with a sneering, “Sleep well, my friend”, he would leave with nonchalance. While not trying to kill his victim, he felt if they died, so be it.
If the target did awaken to find his “friend” had been a thief in disguise, he would realize he had no recourse. His sole evidence regarding Sobhraj consisted of a business card bearing bogus contact details.
What About Con Women?
The reason the term “conman” has survived the screening of political correctness is that men tend to viewed as predominant in the field of fraud. According to one perspective, women tend to feel more connection towards fellow beings than do their male counterparts. In addition, women are more afraid of potential prison sentences which will separate them from their children. Still, women have often been willing to entice men using their feminine allurements, or, as time goes by to play upon the belief of their urge to nurture.
Feigning Concern In Order To Gain Information
In a recent example, a young man’s lost mobile phone resulted in a call to his parents from a maternal-sounding woman. She claimed their son, having worked for their charity for several weeks, had failed to appear for work for three days, causing his “employers” to become worried regarding his safety. Given contact details as to his closest family members and friends, the “charity” could facilitate a search for his whereabouts.
Fortunately, these parents possessed enough awareness of such scams to give no information. Knowing their son as they did, they felt certain, if he had changed jobs and/or lost his mobile phone, he would have informed them. Shortly thereafter, their skepticism was confirmed by a call from their son.
Why Are These Wiles Worthwhile?
Fraudulent organizations work by volume. If even one out of one hundred parents, panicked by the thought of harm to a young adult provides information, all sorts of practices are in place to make use of this knowledge. These options might range from identity theft to selling information. In any event, the ideal response to any suspicious call is to put the phone down.
Trading On Tradition
From earliest times, “wise women” have been believed to possess a balanced combination of intuition, visceral understanding and folk wisdom. In essence, these women were the ancestors of modern herbalists, and even to some degree, counsellors and psycho-therapists. During those centuries when medical treatment was largely a matter of guesswork, the remedies offered by these women were as fruitful as those of medical practitioners.
Even today, some herbal cures have been shown to be as effective as certified medicines. Tragically, some tricksters have benefited by the remnants of belief in these “wise women”. In a saddening number of cases, the physical and emotional deception has proved far more damaging than has the depletion of bank accounts.
Endless Depths of Deception
Pain is exemplified in the case of Juliette D'Souza. Claiming to be a shaman and faith healer, she convinced an astounding number of well-informed people, of her psycho-physical powers. She presented herself as a curer of cancer, an extender of life, and the source of success of lifelong, unfulfilled yearnings.
Having ascertained the deepest vulnerabilities of each client, she gained thousands of pounds by a promise to send the money they paid her to shamans. Once within those shamans’ hands, this cash would be tied and pinned to a sacred tree, in the Amazon jungle. These shamans would then perform enchantments and rituals beneath this tree, empowering the monetary offering to overcome the client’s source of unhappiness. In truth D'Souza used the money to squander on luxury goods, travel, property, antiques etc.
Examples of such inducements encompassed convincing one woman her husband would die, another expectant mother to have her baby aborted on the basis of its growing up to be evil, and the promise to arrange a cure for a child with learning difficulties. Such was her credibility that even cardiologists referred their patients to her, based on the belief of her being able to alleviate, or at least ease the severity of heart conditions.
Why D'Souza Succeeded
While the amount accumulated may never be ascertained, she is estimated to have accrued at least a million pounds by this means. She was, in the wickedest sense, the penultimate wise woman. Attuning herself to the most primal fears or dreams of those who sought her advice, she did not care in the least that she stirred hopes with the knowledge of the resulting misery of disappointment.
Once brought to trial in May 2014, her maximum prison sentence of ten years seems a paltry compensation for her financial exploitations and psychological cruelties.
You're Right To Become A Tough Non-Customer
Although it is a cliché, the view of anyone’s home as his castle has become deep-rooted, due to its truth. This fact is irrefutable, whether this home consists of an unheated flat or a royal estate, once its occupant has closed its door. This means that anyone who tries to invade that space is the equivalent of a would-be intruder, and therefore deserves to be treated as such. Refusing to answer the door or putting the phone down at the first sign of solicitation is completely justified.
Pitfalls of Politeness
Many of the most vulnerable are those people who grew up in a time where answering the door was deemed essential. Having done so, anyone invited inside was a guest, and so must be treated with the utmost courtesy.
“I’m not trying to sell you anything; I am only phoning to ask you a few simple questions”
Still, what constitutes a “simple question”, why is it being asked, and to whom might the information be sold? Every question on any such survey has been placed there for any number of purposes. Hence, your children’s ages, their choices in toys, whether or not you have pets and what kind, are all saleable fodder. Information is invaluable. Once provided, it cannot be reclaimed.
There are those who believe the growing frequency of defrauding is due to deterioration of the character of human nature. While fraud is unquestionably on the rise, a glimpse through history makes clear that there have always been those who, given the opportunity, were prepared to avail themselves of goods, services or money via dishonest methods. The main difference today lies in the ability to steal credit details, or to create a global framework set up to allow such culprits to disappear at the first hint of suspicion.
Crimes From Earlier Times
In past centuries, the most frequently recorded cases were those regarding collection of wages accrued by deceased members of the armed forces and merchant sailors, many of whom may not have had any next of kin. This rendered it fairly straightforward for a fraudster to produce false documentation in order to claim such money and assets.
However, these wages were paid by the Crown. This meant that if such a pretender was caught, he would be viewed as having attempted to defraud the crown. Any offense of this kind was viewed by the court with the utmost gravitas. Therefore, those found guilty were usually sentenced to death.
- Here are three early fraud cases from the United Kingdom
Sailing Assets To Safety
- In 1711 John Restow was found guilty of deception within bankruptcy.
John Restow was a Draper (cloth merchant) who had become indebted to creditors who in-turn declared him legally bankrupt intending to liquidate his assets. Restow decided to move his stock/merchandise before his creditors could seize and dispose of it. His plan was to claim that he did not have any stock.
During the night he secreted his stock onto horse and carts and transported it to a ship ready to set sail to a new location. Fortunately for the creditors; they had received prior information about Restow’s plan, and were able to arrest him and take possession of the stock. At trial Restow pleaded guilty to the charge of deception, and begged mercy from the court; he was sentenced to death.
Stealing A Dead Man’s Pension
- In 1819 Launcelot Jackson was found guilty of fraud.
Jackson’s neighbour, Ralph Venables, was a retired pensioner. Venables died in his eighties during January 1819. Since his retirement he had collected a pension of 6 shillings per month from his parish church fund. Jackson was aware of these pension payments. Hence, four months after Venables death Jackson went to the Parish church office and stated that Venables was too ill to collect his pension and had authorized him to collect the money on his behalf.
The Parish warden paid Jackson 24 shillings and told him to return and provide a certificate of health so as to validate both this transaction and future payments. However the Church warden became suspicious and went to the Venables address where upon he discovered that he had died four months earlier. At Jackson’s subsequent trial, the Church warden produced Venables burial certificate. In addition, the undertaker testified that he had buried him. The court, finding Jackson guilty of fraud, sentenced him to be publicly whipped.
The Punishment of Whipping
- Flogging at the cart's tail
During these earlier centuries the sentence of public whipping was generally issued for crimes related to theft. This would entail the prisoner being tied to the back of a moving cart that would be steered along the street in which the prisoner had committed the crime. He or she would be whipped on the back of their torso while they walked behind the cart until their back had been bloodied. Only then would they be released and discharged. Public whipping was abolished in the UK in 1862
- Private whipping
This punishment took place within the court or prison. The prisoner would generally be secured in stocks or a pillory. The severity of the punishment often depended upon the status, and wealth of the prisoner. It was not uncommon to obtain leniency via the promise of financial favor. Private whipping in prison was not abolished in the UK until 1948
- In 1817 Daniel Cowley was found guilty of fraud via obtaining goods under false pretences.
Cowley had been employed by a publishing company who in turn were regular customers of Arthur Wright, a carpet and rug dealer. Cowley, claiming to be still employed presented himself at Wright’s carpet shop and ordered on credit four bundles of carpets for his supposed employer.
Mr. Wright dispatched two of the bundles via Cowley. However Cowley disposed of these for his own gain. It was not until the invoice that Wright issued was questioned, that the two missing bundles were discovered to have been obtained by ex-employee Cowley.
At trial Cowley claimed that his previous employer had given him permission to purchase goods in lieu of wages and had not rescinded that permission.
Quite rightly the jury rejected this ridiculous claim. He was found guilty and sentenced to be publicly whipped.
The Importance of Intent
As these early cases make clear, the mental state, called mens-rea, of a defendant is the basis upon which guilt is assessed. In each of these three above-mentioned cases, the flagrant strategizing by the defendant left no doubt as to his plans to defraud. Unfortunately, in many cases, the intent is by no means as obvious. When this occurs, a court is forced to deduce the mental state by analysing the facts and circumstances. Despite its most conscientious efforts, this necessity holds the potential of an unjust fine, loss of license, and/or a prison sentence.
Deception Or Genuine Error
As is well-known, the most honest individual or business can make an error which costs anyone who has trusted him with their assets to accept an often irreparable loss. If, however, the court is convinced the intent to defraud was spawned before the transaction began, or took root when the assets could have been returned, then the defendant morphs into a criminal, and will be treated as such.
While the punishments have become far less draconian than in earlier times, they can still prove substantial. Thus, a lawyer who, due to negligence, allows the statute of limitations to pass before acting upon a client’s claim, this lawyer may be fined or suspended for a period of time, by whatever authority regulates such decisions. Conversely, if any dishonesty can be found, this lawyer may be disbarred, perhaps on a permanent basis. He may also face both criminal prosecution and a civil suit by his client /s.
Limitations of The Legal System
There is sometimes a misconception that acquiring a lawyer almost guarantees compensation. Sadly, if a client has paid cash for goods or services and failed to insist on receipts, the finest lawyer on earth may not be able to arrange reimbursement. In one such case, a man paid out, during the course of a year, a series of under-the-table payments, due to a series of never-kept pledges and promises. Despite his lack of even one trace of documentation, he felt aggrieved by the fact that the law firm I worked with at the time could not get his deserved refund.
It Can Be Difficult To Admit
Con Artists And Contracts
A similar limitation lurks in a verbal agreement or written contract which proves unenforceable. While working as a mediator, I was glad to be allowed to hear both sides of a dispute, though remaining neutral. In one memorable case, a highly-educated man in his forties had written a check (cheque) to a company which claimed they could easily get him a job. One of their major inducements, he said, was to assure, “With your background, if you sign up with us, you will get interviews worthy of you. We have a phenomenal contact base.”
In fact, the few interviews he gained for himself were for entry level jobs, resulting in his being repeatedly told he was over-qualified. What recourse did he have? None at all. The company’s representative’s references to his background and their contact base did nothing more than encourage him to place his name on the contract. Such words, however heartwarming, have no legal significance.
There are signs to look for when entering into any transaction. In terms of a loan, if a payment is required in advance, there is undoubtedly something bogus afoot. A further avenue is to do research into whether this is indeed a registered company. Several books have been written and news items often aired regarding the tactics of these tricksters. Still, an astounding number of people continue to trust a friendly voice on a phone, combined with a seeming eagerness to fill the need of the called.
We will end this article with a recent case of a woman who, having drained her own bank account of her life’s savings, borrowed funds from a sister who had trusted her with power of attorney. When she asked me, “Do you think I might get at least some of that money back?” I could only respond in all honesty, “I truly do hope so.”
© 2014 Colleen Swan
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on June 16, 2014:
They told me I was gullible… and I believed them
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on June 16, 2014:
Thank you Gilbert for looking in. It seems that the internet is a dangerous shopping mall. Every fraudster needs two accomplices; an ISP and a bank.
Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on June 15, 2014:
Thanks for reminding me that we should all be careful of people offering things to us. Some computer downloads often have a way of looking fraudulent. They can slow down your computer and cause dreaded viruses. We can't take anyone or any organizations for granted. It is important that we only negotiate with people with flawless reputations.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on June 11, 2014:
Hi MsDora, Thank you for your interesting observation. Often women are more convincing than men because they play on the idea that they are basically nicer. And when they bring children into it, well!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 11, 2014:
Colleen, there was a female on HP who wrote a sad story for her first hub. She had a baby and no food. I found someone in her city to help her and gave her the number to get in touch. She never called, and to the best of my knowledge has not written another article. I wonder . . .
Thanks for all these stories which serve as sensible warnings.
Colleen Swan (author) from County Durham on June 09, 2014:
Thank you DDE for looking in. Yes we must be on our guard.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 09, 2014:
Interesting about fraudsters of how they work their way into a person's life. I try to be more careful and not so trusting.