Episode 354 The Con (revised 32)
This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.
My email just included a warning about a jury con that is now going around. It works like this:
Someone calls claiming to be a court official who threateningly says a warrant has been issued for your arrest because you didn't show up for jury duty. The caller claims to be a jury coordinator. If you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty, the scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Sometimes they even ask for credit card numbers. Give out any of this information and .... Bingo! Your identity has just been stolen. The scam has been reported so far in 11 states. They use intimidation over the phone to bully people into giving information by pretending they're with the court system. The FBI and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their web sites, warning consumers about the fraud.
Another fraud that has just surfaced concerns the Affordable Care Act, or Obama Care. There is just enough confusion about just exactly how this is going to work that it provides fertile ground for the con. People are calling or knocking on doors with dubious warnings about what needs to be done immediately. Social security numbers are given; credit card numbers and bank account information. People are being conned.
There is something about a con that has always fascinated me. Remember that movie in the 60s – “The Flim Flam Man”. It stared George C. Scott as Mordicai Jones and Sue Lyon as Bonnie Lee Packard. Mordicai is a con man. He can cheat anybody. What I recall is his basic philosophy that you can’t cheat an honest man. He always thought that the way you take advantage of someone is if they think they are getting a “good deal”. Like they think they are beating system also. That opens them up.
Today those of us with a computer and Internet Service have probably all experienced the letters from Nigeria or someplace else in Africa. They all promise us big riches if we will just send them a little bit of money to help them out an urgent jam. They offer us a fortune for just a “little” investment - and risk. Most of us delete these requests. But not everyone. I’ve heard of people who have lost all of their savings, their house, and the savings of their own mother, brothers or children. Amazing. They think they are getting a deal only to wake up one day just a bit short of money, and perhaps family and friends. We have to be careful.
One of my favorite stories about cons actually happened to a coworker of mine in Alaska. He taught business classes. One day in the spring of the year he came to work and told me that this would be his last week teaching. He was quieting at the end of the week.
He had entered into a partnership to buy a ship. I mean a big ship. These guys, his mysterious partners, had contacts with a United Nations ambassador that assured them of a contract with the UN to haul food and supplies to Africa. It would make each of them millionaires – quickly.
The owner of the ship was short on cash. He needed money and he needed it now. He was offering to sell this ship that was worth 3.5 million dollars for just 2.5 million. The contract to ship food and supplies to Africa went with the ship. Time was of the essence. They needed the money fast.
My friend sold his house at a loss to raise cash. He sold his apartment building at a loss to raise cash. He was drawing out his Alaska retirement funds to raise cash. He was on his way to DC that weekend with a suitcase full of money, hard cash: hundreds of thousands - unbelievable but true.
He had taught for over twenty years in Alaska. He could have retired and started drawing retirement. He was in his mid forties. We just shook our head and asked him if he was sure about all of this. He just put on this smile of victory and flew out of the far north.
It wasn’t long till I heard the news, or the rest of the story. He had arrived in DC and stopped by the office on Saturday morning. The demand for money had been pushed up. The seller was desperate. If they could get the money that day to the seller he would cut another half million dollars off the selling price. My coworker delivered the cash to his new business partners. The following Monday they would meet at the office and go over all the details and their future.
The office never opened on Monday. My coworker never saw the guys again. He never saw the money again.
I chanced to run into my former coworker a few years past that horrendous experience. He was walking down the street like he owned the world. I avoided the subject of the con. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he was teaching classes on – and this true - he was teaching classes on how to succeed in business. He appeared to be on top of the world.
This is Retirement Talk.