As with many criminals, people who scam others for a living tend to carry on doing so until something dramatic makes them think again – such as a significant prison sentence, losing someone important in their life, violence etc.
“Fred” was a scammer for many years, working for various scam outfits until the day the Federal agents turned up at his office and he ended up spending several years in prison. Now he works to prevent fraud and warn people of how it is done.
If I were still in the scam business, I would focus on reverse mortgages and precious metals. Home-equity and reverse mortgage scams are attractive now because a lot of seniors have paid off their house, and that’s like an untapped bank account. If your home is worth $300,000 and you paid off your mortgage a couple of years ago, you have $300,000 sitting in the bank, waiting for me to steal it. A lot of TV and direct mail advertising tells you how to get money out of your house while you are still living in it. Some of these ads are legitimate; many are not.
My ma asked me once how her friends could avoid these scams. I told her two things. If someone is pitching a deal, ask yourself, “What’s in it for him?” A common ploy is to get you to take out a loan on your house, then invest the proceeds in a long-term annuity or some other investment in which they make a huge commission. It may not be a fraud, but it may be a lot better deal for the salesman than for you. I also told Ma that when it comes to your house, never sign any paperwork until your lawyer — someone you choose, not someone the salesman refers you to — reads the fine print.
As for gold and silver scams, I worked in several coin rooms in the 2000s. We would sell gold coins at a 300 to 500 percent mark up. So the victims would pay $25,000 for a bunch of coins, which they would receive, but years later, they would take them to a coin shop and learn they were worth only a few thousand dollars. This is a great scam, because the coin industry is largely unregulated. Plus, because the victims receive the coins, they don’t realize until years later that they’ve been taken.
One of my victims was a successful engineer from California named Tim. He first talked to one of our salesmen, who gave him the generic pitch. Then he turned him over to me to close. The first thing I said to Tim was: “Hi, Tim, this is Jim. How are you doing? Go get a pen and paper right now — I want you to write my name down.” Tim immediately said, “Oh, OK, I’ll be right back.”
With those six words I knew that Tim was going to fall and fall hard. It wasn’t just that he immediately complied with my request; it was how he complied.
Out of the Game, for Good
All of those years I ripped people off, I knew it was wrong. But I was making so much money, I didn’t care. It wasn’t until those agents busted into my office in Miami that it finally hit me: What I was doing was really bad. I pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and went to prison for more than three years. I had a lot of time to think about my crimes. When I got out, I promised my mother I would never go back to my old ways. It wasn’t easy. The first year I was out of prison I was asked almost daily to work as a closer for the latest scam. Finally, I changed my phone number so I wouldn’t be tempted.
Now, I am 44 years old, and I live in my parents’ house. I owe the federal government almost a million dollars in restitution that I don’t have a prayer of paying back. Thanks to years of smoking and drug abuse, I have acute emphysema and I carry around an oxygen tank. I’m on the waiting list for a double lung transplant, but the clock is running out. Can you spell karma?
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