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PO Box 10159
Scottsdale AZ 85271
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Too Good to be True

How to spot a con artist

 

 Copyright 1997 by Jeff Jacobsen

A widow of 13 months in her sixties answered a knock at her door. It was a gentleman in his 30’s asking whether she needed any work done around the house. They struck up a conversation, and a relationship built up from this. She was excited to have a new relationship after the death of her husband of 30 years. Unfortunately, the man was also excited, and took the woman for $273,000. She did not know until later that he was out on probation when they met, and was married!

The above is a familiar story from the files of the Phoenix Police department. Detective Richard Skinner spoke about this and other cases recently at Interfaith Singles meeting at Ascension Lutheran Church. He was there to educate singles about the dangers of "con artists who date singles for their assets."

Skinner explained that anyone, whether you are rich or poor, is a potential target. Of course, those with more money are a more likely target. Skinner told of a woman who scouted out grocery stores looking for older men with no wedding ring driving fancy cars. She would strike up a conversation in the grocery store, and attempt to develop a relationship where she could gain access to the man’s assets. She had been successful until one man finally caught on early in the process and contacted the police.

After hearing Detective Skinner, I talked to Karl Green of Delta Investigations and Intelligence Agency in Phoenix. Green says that the business of investigating potential mates is growing, and about 98% of his clients are women checking on a man. About 10% of these checks turn up a shady background. Are more of his clients coming before a relationship gets serious, or after a serious relationship has problems? Both ways, he answered, but "it’s the more astute ones that do it ahead of time."

Delta Investigations offers four levels of background investigation. The first level is of marital status, history of abuse, alcohol/drug cases, judgments or liens, address, date of birth, and any criminal history. Level "A" costs about $150. The next 3 levels provide more information such as educational background and property owned, and these checks can cost up to $900. Both Mr. Green and Detective Skinner gave general advice for singles on how to watch out for con artists in dating:

1) Is your relationship isolating you from family and friends? For instance, do you tell your family "Jim is a great guy! You’re just jealous of our relationship! Just leave me alone"? Both Skinner and Green advise you to listen to your friends and family, and don’t let yourself become isolated. You should always have trusted individuals in your life in whom you can confide.

2) Does your partner have long or frequent periods of time that are unaccounted for? It could be that he (it’s usually a he) is off seeing someone else.

3) Has a sense of intimacy and closeness grown very quickly - too quickly to develop a sense of trust? A con artist wants to move in quickly, gain access to your assets, and leave with the goods. If things are moving too fast for you, stop! Take a break and have the time to feel safe and comfortable about how your relationship is developing.

4) Is he peculiarly interested in your personal financial information, such as social security number, assets, bank accounts? Normally a legitimate relationship is not dependent on such intimate information.

5) Does he insist on dealing in cash only? Does he ask you to cash out of state checks for him? Do not become a banker. If you give him money for an out of state check and it bounces, YOU are out the money.

6) Do you know anything about this person’s background? Is he secretive about his past? Are there inconsistencies in his story? If you catch him in a small lie, are there bigger lies?

7) Keep an eye on your own credit history. You can get a free printout of your own credit file once per year from Equifax or Experian (formerly TRW), plus you can get a notice of when someone requests your credit history for an annual fee (around $40).

If you discover that you are being ripped off by your significant other, immediately distance yourself from that person. Contact your credit card providers and go over recent purchases. Contest any charges that you did not make.

The above may make it sound like it’s just too dangerous to even be out there meeting people, but that’s not the case. You don’t need to be paranoid of every potential partner, just cautious and patient in developing a relationship. If you feel there is potential for a great relationship but you are still a bit uncomfortable about him or her and your discussions do not satisfy you, then you can contact a private investigation service. Don’t be so leery that you will never trust anyone, but do be cautious. It’s a balancing act that can be done. Let’s be careful out there.