Distinctions without a real difference. It can be something as simple as the lottery scam, where “A person offers to sell a winning lottery ticket or a ‘law firm’ says someone has left you a winning lottery ticket, but you must send money so a computer can verify your identity. The ‘winning’ ticket may be counterfeit or not exist.”[i] It could be an elaborate con perpetrated by a smooth talking gentlemen or young lady at a resort frequented by wealthy widows and widowers, designed to lure a vulnerable woman or man into an expensive romantic liaison. Or, it can be a grifter who swindles someone out of money or property through any number of deceptions and frauds. The names are really interchangeable. Any way you look at it, scams, cons and grifts are crimes that generate billions of dollars every year in tax free profits for the perpetrators.[ii]

A few years ago Trace Investigations helped a client unravel a unique version of the romance scam. A professional woman contacted us after receiving a message from a visiting nurse who attended her disabled husband, a retired professor. Our client traveled in her work and needed the assistance of the nurse several days a week. However, one day the nurse called to tell her that when she arrived at the family home, a mysterious young woman was visiting her husband. The nurse had first noticed a car in the driveway with an out-of-state license plate. The young woman identified herself as a former student of the professor who stopped by to visit while in town. The circumstances were suspicious. Among other things, the nurse noticed a checkbook laying open on the desk in the den, where she encountered the visitor and her patient. The nurse knew that our client handled the family’s financial affairs and the professor seemed agitated by the nurse’s arrival, even though it was on her regular schedule. The visitor, however, left the house right away and drove off.

We immediately advised our client to grab complete control of the family’s finances and consult with an estate attorney. For our part, we began an investigation to identify the mysterious young woman. It turned out she was a former graduate student of the professor. After departing the professor’s college, she went on to earn two more graduate degrees. She held no present job. Both her parents passed while she was in grad school and she had no siblings. She had student debt but it was being paid off regularly. She even owned a condominium in a large city and held clear title on the late model Mercedes seen in our client’s driveway that revealing day.

In the meantime, an audit of our client’s finances showed that for several years, corresponding to the time when the mysterious young woman was in the professor’s class, she was the recipient of generous financial “endowments” from his personal checking account and later to the present, from his retirement account. To what other degree their relationship extended suddenly became irrelevant.

With the assistance of the estate attorney and the results of the investigation, our client gained complete control of the family’s finances. The professor was remorseful for his secret obsession with the mysterious woman, who disappeared from their life.

Sometimes the scam or con can be hiding in plain sight. Other times, a careful skepticism or suspicion is a good companion. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.[iii]

When faced with a possible scammer, con artist or grifter, contact the appropriate law enforcement authorities. Trace Investigations is available to assist in gaining further peace of mind.

[i] From the web site of the National Association of Bunco Investigators (www.nabihq.org). NABI is a network of law enforcement officers dedicated to fighting scammers, grifters and con artists. Trace Investigations is an associate member of NABI.

[ii] A grifter is a con artist who moves from one place to another to perpetrate his or her trade. “The first rule of grifting is you can’t cheat an honest man.” A quote from the BBC TV show, “Hustle.” Source, the Urban Dictionary.

[iii] This old adage has many incarnations.