Scam Artists Prolific in 2013

How many of you received false notifications that you won something, the return address being Clearwater, Florida?

When the economy gets bad it seems that the scam and con artists, called the “Flim-Flam Man” back in the day, but the scam artists are not only of the male gender. The wonderful world of computers has made lives better being able to access vast amounts of information at our fingertips, but it also aids unscrupulous folks as well. They get computer-based phone lines and masked voice-mail boxes and hide their true location which may be in the Dominican Republic.

Scam artists play the false sweepstakes game, which should be a red flag to possible victims who never entered the sweepstakes the scam artist offers. A guy named Stelman and his collaborators collected nearly $1 million from at least 78 victims telling them they are winners, but needed to send taxes and insurance costs before they received their winnings. Most of the victims were senior folks between 50 and 70 years of age. The sad part of this whole deal is that scam victims are usually 65 years or older.

But there are other venues besides false sweepstake winnings out there:

  • Karen and Tracy Vasseur a mother and daughter team living in a Denver suburb posed themselves as US military personnel serving in Afghanistan. In three years, they collected more than $1 million from 374 people in the United States and 40 other countries. Most often they would start a pen-pal relation and then ask for money that would pay for travel to meet with their pen-pal-donors. Karen got 12 years in state prison and her daughter, Tracy, got 15 years.
  • John W. Hargrove – Statistics show that Americans spend more money on charity than any other nations, so scam artists like Hargrove focused on those folks. Working from Columbus, Ohio, he targeted older people for a phony charity called Ohio Veterans Source that amounted to more than 50 people. Hargrove was sentenced in June of 2013 to 2.5 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $2,000 in restitution. Hargrove is not a veteran of any military branch, but he is an ex-con who was convicted for the same con in 2006. Apparently the courts in Columbus, Ohio are too liberal, dealing out a short sentence for a second-time offender.
  • Michael Angelo Giuffrida [and accomplice]– In Canada he got a two-year sentence for what is called the grandparent scheme. He gathered names and other details about family members from obituaries, social media, and ancestry websites. They claim to be grandchildren who have been arrested or hospitalized, usually while traveling and need money. Border Patrol officers searched his vehicle and found several cellphones and $100,000 in travelers’ checks and cash received via wire transfer. The Canadian targeted American grandparents, most of them in their 80s.
  • Randall Lee Joyner – This scam artist was part of a ten-person ring of unlicensed contractors, awaiting trial for ripping off senior homeowners in North Carolina totaling to about $300,000 in repeated bogus repairs. They show up at the marks door unexpectedly and claim to notice repairs are required as they were driving by. Some demanded payment up front for materials and then never show up for the repairs. Others did crappy work like applying cheap motor oil instead of asphalt sealing for driveway re-coating. Some were legitimate repairs, but outrageous prices. One element of the ring were called the woodchucks who trim trees and clean gutters. They continually recommended further unneeded service and repairs until they bled their customers dry.
  • Bruce H. Cherry – head of a healthcare scam ring in Philadelphia, he pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft that produced $700,000 from at least 218 Pennsylvanians who were usually in their 80s. Healthcare scams are becoming more often because no one fully understands the Obamacare mandate taking place this year, beginning in October of 2013. If you noticed, many have been receiving ‘junk mail’ concerning healthcare plans with a sense of urgency so the IRS Gestapo won’t go after citizens who do not have a healthcare plan. Sometimes the ring would offer free medical supplies, or a threat of losing their Medicare coverage using Obamacare as a backdrop, or promise of better sex with low-cost Viagra and other type of products. Medical identity theft is involved and imposters get health care services under your name – but you pay the bill. Those on Medicare, 65 or older, were the targets. Count of more of this fraud as more Americans try to figure out what is going on with the Affordable Healthcare Act [‘Obamacare’] and just what it does to present or future Medicare coverage.
  • Robert Joseph Mangiafico Jr. – Investment schemes is probably one of the oldest of all of the ones I covered in this article. There are several forms and avenues of approach. Some offer free-lunch seminars pushing skeptical schemes of financial products or methods or legitimate investment that is held for a long period of time. Some use telemarketing. Some talk their marks into investing in precious metals for less than the market value. In this category, the loss is usually the highest of all the scams. Investors who fell for this lost on the average, $140,500. Mangiafico stole $655,000 from nine older women, two of them with dementia, when he persuaded them to liquidate their assets and make investments through him. In September of 2013, he was sentenced to serve 40 years in the Texas state prison. Obviously, Texas courts are not as liberal as Ohio. He also pleaded guilty to money laundering.

People are most susceptible to fraud who have recently lost their loved one, had or have an illness, have moved, or other troubling circumstances – especially senior citizens. One couple were denied a mortgage and scammers caught wind of it and sent the couple an approved load modification, a bogus replica allegedly coming from HUD. They got the information from public records [another reason to dissolve that government agency] and were required to send $3,500 in a cashier’s check for processing fees. Fortunately, despite losing that money forever, the couple were able to keep their home when US Senator Bill Nelson [D-FL] heard about the case and interceded. Their mortgage was modified.

Ponzi schemes are problematic.

Be careful and remember: if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is.