A Mysterious Panhandler
When Melissa Smith went out on a summer day in San Diego, California, she had no idea that a chance encounter with a panhandler would end up changing her life forever. The young mother had protective instincts, and immediately felt that something was up when she saw the lady panhandling on the corner of the street.
When she saw the beggar get into a luxury car, she knew something was up and felt an irresistible urge to investigate. Her pursuit led to uncovering one of the biggest secret operations in San Diego, and ended up putting her front and center in a dangerous criminal scandal. This is her story…
Just a Regular Summer Day
Melissa Smith lived in San Diego for most of her adult life, and she loved living there. One day, the young woman went out on her typical errands. She would often meet various friendly faces, as her neighborhood was quite small and tightly connected. On this day, however, she saw a new face that would change her life forever – the panhandler.
It was clear to Melissa from the first moment she laid her eyes on this strange panhandler and her little child that something was very wrong. This was a family neighborhood, and she was always on watch to make sure that everyone was safe. Melissa decided to follow them believing in her gut that something was off. Indeed, a short while later she ended up having to call 911 after seeing what she saw.
Living on the Street
It seemed that the poor beggar was living on the street, and she had found a good spot to relax and panhandle with her child. Her chosen location was a shopping plaza just outside the East Lake Village Center — the place included various family stores, and was visited by thousands every day for their many different shopping needs.
Due to the nature of the shopping center area, the visitors' pockets were always full of change from the day’s purchases. This was an opportunity for the female panhandler to get some spare change, as most people just can’t say “No” to a young mother and her little child. What she wasn’t taking into account though, was that Melissa was keeping tabs on her.
An Unfortunate Truth
The State of California is known for housing some of the most successful and popular people in the United States. It's one of the biggest hubs for powerful people outside of New York, but also has an extremely large gap when it comes to income. California is also notorious for its massive homelessness crisis, and houses more than 130,000 of them on its streets.
Melissa’s neighborhood was a relatively safe and family-friendly place. This also meant that there weren’t that many homeless people there. She first took kindly to the pregnant beggar and her little boy that were down on their luck. But as time went on, something began to seem very fishy about them. Her instincts were found to be correct, and led to a staggering revelation.
A Strange Situation
At first, it seemed that the pregnant lady and her child were just two unfortunate people who were dealt a bad hand by life. They earned the sympathy of the community, and began receiving everything from money to food by its various worrying citizens. But as time went on, Melissa witnessed different suspicious persons accompanying the young lady throughout the day.
A man would often show up and hang out with the panhandling woman. Melissa initially chalked him up to be her husband, but over time it became clear that they weren’t romantically involved. Then, another man began appearing who would collect her spoils of the day. This ticked off a huge warning sign for Melissa, and she began to investigate.
For two months, the pregnant beggar would appear with her child and kindly ask people to give her money. She would be wearing stained and dirty clothing, indicating that she had no clean clothes or place to wash them. Melissa began keeping track of her received donations, and eventually realized there were quite a lot of them.
People gave the pregnant lady anything from a few dollars to large bills, which ended up accumulating into hundreds of dollars per day. This meant that the woman was likely earning more than some of the people donating to her. The more details appeared in Melissa's investigation, the more she suspected the woman’s intentions and motives.
A Talented Money Collector
When Melissa inspected the methods used by the pregnant panhandling woman to receive money from people, she began noticing a clear pattern. She almost seemed skilled at the craft, and used every psychological trick in the book to get people to donate money to her. This wasn’t a poor woman with bad luck, it was a skilled and highly talented money collector!
The panhandler was great at playing the role of the poor surviving mother, and used her child as a prop to get people to feel bad for her. If that wasn’t bad enough, she held a cardboard sign that said “please help”, and made sure to wear shirts that clearly showed her pregnant status. It seemed highly unlikely this was an honest woman trying to improve her chances in life.
A Chance Encounter
Melissa eventually decided to let go of her fascination with the woman. Despite how suspicious everything that surrounded her seemed, she never felt like there was anything sinister behind her operation. One day, Melissa found herself craving a smoothie and stopped to get one at the local shopping center where the panhandler usually set up post.
Melissa felt a bit worried when she couldn’t find the panhandler, but moved on with her day. She stopped to fill her car’s gas tank at the local gas station, when she suddenly saw something that made her skin crawl. There she was, the pregnant homeless woman and her child, but this time the two were accompanied by an unbelievable third party.
A Mysterious Driver
The pregnant panhandling lady was standing at the side of the shopping complex making her last few dollars before she ended her day. It was already weird that she was standing there without her son. But suddenly Melissa noticed a vehicle driving towards her. It drove at lightning speed and barely stopped right next to her before she quickly went inside.
This was no ordinary vehicle either. It was a Mercedes E320, this luxury German car probably cost tens of thousands of dollars, and was surely unaffordable even by the neighborhood's residents. Questions bubbled up in Melissa's head, as she tried to figure out who this mystery driver was and what was their relation to the homeless woman.
Following the Car
Melissa wanted to follow the Mercedes and see where it was heading. The driver was clearly a man, and looked like he had nothing to do personally with the panhandler. At this point, the young woman decided that she was going to pursue this mystery until its conclusion, and began driving after them and taking pictures of the vehicle.
The experience of following a beggar inside a luxury Mercedes was surreal for Melissa, to say the least, but she kept her cool and followed the odd couple. What made things even more complicated was that the car looked to be brand new, as if it was purchased just a few days prior. Little did Melissa know that her pursuit would end up in the news.
Documenting the Couple
Finally, Melissa managed to catch up to the couple and stopped next to them in a red light. She was shocked by what she saw, but kept her cool and secretly filmed everything with her phone. There was a boy, and he was not sitting inside a car seat or wearing a seat belt. The couple seemed to be having fun, like they were celebrating something.
The two were clearly enjoying themselves and playing with something in their hands, but what was it? As Melissa zoomed in with her phone’s camera, she almost dropped it in surprise when it became clear that they were counting money and laughing. Her surprise quickly turned to anger, and she vowed to put a stop to whatever this was.
Following Them Further
As Melissa kept following the couple, she winced, aghast at what the couple did next. The Mercedes approached another popular shopping center, parked in a corner that was far from sight, and the woman came out and began panhandling with her son! Mind you, she was still wearing the same dirty clothes from before, and a sign that said “Need Help”.
Less than five minutes later, the panhandling thief was already getting paid hefty sums from generous strangers. By this time, it was clear to Melissa that they were running a scam, but she had no idea just how deep this operation ran. Her instincts told her to back away and call the police, but she went against them and kept investigating the couple.
A Dangerous Situation
Melissa managed to document everything, but was so angry that she went out of her car and started taking pictures of this woman and the young boy that appeared to be her son. The panhandler got extremely angry at her, and began yelling and screaming. She then grabbed a huge rock and tried throwing it at Melissa, who was filming her in public.
The entire incident was filmed, and Melissa was quick to dodge the rock thrown at her. She was shocked at what happened, and didn’t even know that pregnant women could pick up such a heavy object. Luckily, a bystander noticed the event and immediately called the police. The panhandler picked up her boy and ran away, but Melissa wasn’t going to let them go so easily.
Immediately when she got back home, Melisa gathered all of her evidence and reported the incident on social media. She wrote the story of what happened, and warned all of her neighbors to stay away from the panhandler. Next, she contacted her local news stations, eager to get help in exposing the scam perpetrated by this woman and her accomplice.
News stations were obviously very interested in the story, and managed to use the Mercedes license plate to trace the car’s owner and their location. It turned out that the car was registered to a female owner with an undisclosed address, but nothing could stop the hungry news stations from uncovering her location at this point.
Visiting the Woman
Journalists became completely obsessed with this story, and began pulling strings to discover just where the panhandler was living. They managed tracing her home to an apartment in Encinitas Heights, a luxury complex with rent costs of over $2,500 a month. When this information became public, everyone wanted to get a piece of the action.
News reporters, magazines, radios and journalists knocked for hours every day on the apartment door, but it seemed to be abandoned. A few days later, the apartment was strangely evacuated during the night, and a new couple moved in instead. Fortunately, with the enormous amount of attention the story received, it was unlikely that they would manage hiding for long.
Thanks to Melissa’s diligent reporting of the incident, media outlets and the police had everything they needed to verify the story. She took photographs, videos, provided testimony, and basically handed this case over on a silver platter for everyone to take on. Melisa also spent a lot of time promoting the story herself, mostly out of concern.
Residents were shocked to find out that they were literally giving thousands of dollars every month to a scam artist whose partner drove a Mercedes Benz. Everyone was shocked and appalled by the situation, and also wanted to make sure that the child was safe. Finally, one journalist received a phone call from someone who claimed to have found the female beggar.
Caught in the Act
A concerned citizen named Rebecca who heard the story managed to spot the beggar in a shopping center late at night. She was quick to call news agencies and a news team rushed to the spot to catch the panhandler in action. One team was busy interviewing Rebecca, who was visibly angry, and the other went straight to the center where the beggar was last seen, hoping to discover her.
Rebecca told news reporters how she was horribly disgusted that a woman would be willing to scam people like that. She expressed her anger and frustration in her short segment, and minced no words when it came to condemning this panhandling scammer. Her only hope was that they would catch her on the spot, so that law enforcement could also get involved.
The Search Ensued
ABC Channel 10 news reporter, Emily Valdez, had a lot of experience under her belt, and searched quickly through the people in the shopping center hoping to find the mysterious beggar. They found several pregnant women there, but none of them fit the description. Finally, they came upon a mother who looked like the one from the pictures, and approached her for an interview.
Although the panhandler appeared to be pregnant in the pictures, her pregnant belly seemed to have completely disappeared. She was holding a baby in her hands and looked puzzled as the news team approached. Valdez didn’t let the uncomfortable situation stop her from getting what might be the scoop of her lifetime, and began interviewing the lady.
The news crew closed in on the woman who resembled the panhandler. Valdez quickly pulled out her phone and asked the woman if she was the beggar from the pictures. This was recorded live, but the woman looked strangely relaxed and a bit confused. She stared at the phone, gave it back to Valdez, and shook her head.
The woman stared at Valdez for a long few long seconds, and then said she didn’t speak any English. Suddenly, a boy and his father appeared, and the family of four stood together. Luckily, Valdez knew Spanish and began asking her questions again, this time in the woman's native tongue. The woman still refused to respond and just stared at her husband, waiting for his input.
Fleeing the Scene
Valdez asked the husband if he owned a Mercedes, but he just looked at the woman and said something to her in a foreign language. The two quickly turned away and began leaving with the kids, but the journalists were hot on their tails and followed them to the parking lot. They entered into an expensive minivan with dealer plates and drove away hastily.
After the incident, ABC 10 News ran a facial recognition software which estimated with an 80% accuracy that this was indeed the panhandler they were looking for. Based on the way the man looked and acted, the news team believed that there might be a much deeper story to uncover. Their suspicion would turn out to be true.
Trying to Decode the Words
During the interviewing incident, the mystery man initially spoke in Spanish, but quickly changed his language to a foreign one that the team simply could not identify. They sat in the news room and worked hard to identify what he was saying, but none of the team could work out the language, despite the diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds in the office.
Luckily enough, an expert who happened to watch the ABC 10 News segment had listened to what the man said and identified it. She called the news team and asked if they needed help, and obviously they were more than happy and requested that she come to the station as soon as possible.
As a retired detective with decades of experience under her belt, Leslie Albright was immediately alerted when she came across Valdez’s short interview with the panhandling couple. As a member of the San Diego Police Department, she investigated underground crime gangs for more than two decades, and had a feeling that something was going on here.
Leslie remembered that she heard the language spoken by this man before in one of her cases. The memory was still a bit foggy for her, as she had been retired for years at this point. Still, she knew that she wanted to assist, and made the call to offer her help. When the retired detective remembered where she heard that language before, she realized just who they were dealing with.
A Bigger Story
The internet also found its interest in finding who the beggar from the news report was. Luckily for the news team, online trolls and geeks are some of the most talented individuals in the world at conducting online research. Finally, after many resources were invested in finding the identity of the panhandler and her accomplice, a brave person exposed the truth.
This whistleblower initially posted their story on Reddit, and explained just what was behind this criminal conspiracy. This was an extremely dangerous move that could potentially put them in danger. Meanwhile, retired detective Leslie Albright was working diligently with the news team. After much work, she finally recognized the language in the interview.
Identifying the Language
Most criminal gangs in the United States are run by illegal immigrants and other forces that are not allied with the USA. Many foreign crime gangs have also found their way into America, and deal with everything from drugs to human trafficking. When Leslie identified the man’s language, she immediately knew that he was a part of one of these gangs.
The man was speaking Romani, a language that is often identified in the United States with various crime gangs. The Romani are a fringe ethnic group of Northern Indian origin and are mostly spread across Europe, the Americas and Asia. Finally, the team had a serious lead on the case, and continued diligently investigating the matter.
Organized Crime Gang
Retired detective Leslie Albright came to the conclusion that this man was a member of an organized crime gang that she had been investigating for years. The group began working in the United States in recent decades, and most of its criminals are illegal immigrants on American soil. They are known for committing many crimes and scams on a daily basis.
This crime gang is known for having various methods of staying clear from authorities and the press. Their main strategy is living in various cheap apartments all across the United States, while driving in continually changing vehicles so they are hard to track down. The panhandler’s pregnancy story was a lie, and there were many more of these to uncover.
Fleeing the Scene
This organized crime gang managed to escape persecution for many years thanks to their talent of escaping just when things begin to heat up. The moment one of them notices that the law is on their tail, they quickly flee and relocate to a completely different location. This keeps them nimble and hard to track down, because by the time police arrive, they’re gone.
It’s no surprise that this is exactly what happened to the beggar in Melissa’s story. As soon as she reported the incident, not only did the beggar stop showing up in shopping centers, but she also disappeared from her flat, along with the Mercedes. Luckily the Reddit whistleblower stepped in, which tipped the scales in law enforcement's favor.
The Reddit Whistleblower
The unknown whistleblower shared his story on Reddit, and was very aware that he was putting his life in danger. In his online post, the whistleblower shared his knowledge of the gang, “I had a friend of a friend tell me that they knew them and that they’re just a hustling pair of con artists whose families conned their way into the country.”
Moreover, the whistleblower claimed that the woman in question wasn’t there of her own free will, and was forced to scam people by these gang members. Shortly after sharing his story the Reddit, the user deleted his profile and disappeared from the internet. He was in terrible danger for what he had shared, and couldn’t risk staying exposed online any more than he had to.
Answers Began Appearing
More and more information began surfacing regarding this incredibly bizarre story. First, news reporters found out that the female beggar stuffed her clothes with foam in order to appear as if she was pregnant. The appearance of a helpless pregnant woman motivated people to help, and she reportedly made over $500 from panhandling on a daily basis.
The next piece of information regarding this criminal organization was that it was led by men. These criminals would offer desperate women shelter, food and protection in exchange for their labor. They sent these poor women out to collect unaccounted charity donations for them, and then led a luxurious lifestyle thanks to the kindness of unwitting individuals.
Raising a Generation of Criminals
The real victims in these situations were not just the women, as the biggest damage was done to the kids involved. Leslie revealed that this crime gang will “use the babies, children, anyway they can” to get their way. They will hold on to their children and teach them how to scam instead of sending them to school to get an education; raising a generation of criminals.
The Reddit user revealed a lot more information, “People should know, there’s plenty of service and organizations that exist to help people and especially for women with children. They’re taking advantage of them all as well as scamming people at the parking lot entrances. They don't report the money and claim poverty to get state and federal assistance.”
The Reddit user also stated, “They might be up and trying this scam again or it might be another woman, either way, call the cops on them and make sure to tell the dispatch that they’re “the BMW scammers” so they’re identified and the state can start the proper deportation proceedings against them… don’t help any of them or give money to any of the panhandlers you might see.”
His warning was a helpful message to everyone, as the organization still looms at large and has managed to evade the police quite skillfully for many years now. Until they are caught, stay aware for these kinds of scams and make sure to always report them!
An Abundance of Scams
Criminals have been scamming people for as long as we have been exchanging and bartering goods. Scams in past decades usually involved purchasing counterfeit gold or fake materials, but today’s cases are much more advanced. As our technology evolves, new opportunities for scams keep popping up.
While most scammers used to be frightening criminals, mafia gangs and smooth talking swindlers, today’s scams are usually done by high-tech geeks and are often committed from far away distances and overseas. Here’s how modern technology puts us at risk…
Using Modern Technology Against Us
The more advanced we get as a society, the more our lives become abundant with comfort and entertainment. Almost 100% of all U.S. citizens have at least one mobile phone, and growing up without internet is practically unheard of. Our data also gets consistently more digital, and it's often shared online even without our knowledge or consent.
This opens the door for various different types of scams, which usually involve tricking people into inserting their personal login details or credit card numbers in places they really shouldn’t. The easiest way to avoid these scams is to always be suspicious of anyone who’s asking for your personal information, but even that is not always easy to do.
The Danger of Credit Cards
Credit cards are also a major vulnerability for many people. They are quite easy to use, and rely on mostly magnetic and digital technology. This allows scammers to trick people into swiping their cards without knowing that their details are getting copied. It’s such a prevalent scam that many criminals live from selling hundreds of these credit card details at a time.
Again, there is no easy solution to avoid this kind of scam. Being tech savvy and wary of your spending always helps, but it's impossible to be absolutely safe from it, no matter how talented or aware you may be. Luckily, credit companies provide various anti-theft mechanisms, and allow for charge-backs in cases where theft was allegedly involved.
Avoid This Scam
One of the most popular credit card scams, which still gets performed all across the world, is the ATM scam. Criminals would visit these cash delivery machines at late hours when nobody is watching, and insert their very own plastic device to cover the real one. These came equipped with both a credit card scanner, and a camera to catch you typing your pin number.
Many people found their bank accounts emptied as scammers used these details to withdraw massive cash amounts in their names. The easiest and simplest way to avoid this is to simply withdraw cash only from actual bank branches. You can also check for these counterfeit devices by gently shaking the plastic and seeing if it moves. The fake ones will probably break off in your hands.
Nigerian Prince Scams
Another extremely popular form of scams which has been going on for many years is the infamous Nigerian prince scam. It involves an anonymous email from someone, usually from Africa or the Middle East, who claims to be a royal member looking to deposit a large amount of cash and willing to compensate you for your immediate assistance.
If you check your email account’s spam folder, there’s a big chance you’ll find at least a handful of these just from over the past few years. They’re extremely easy to recognize, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone would actually fall for them. Unfortunately, there’s a specific section of the population which is at a much higher risk of falling prey to this scam, namely senior citizens.
Senior citizens are the ideal target for a scam artist. They usually live alone, have a large amount of savings, are much less tech savvy, and often suffer from mental illnesses, such as dementia. Scammers often pretend to be their grandchildren, and ask for immediate financial assistance due to being stuck in a foreign country and other such stories.
If you have a senior family member who lives by themselves, it's important to ask them to notify you whenever anyone asks them for money or any personal details. It might be an annoying habit, but it might also save them from losing thousands of dollars or worse. Luckily, there are those who take it upon themselves to punish these scammers and make them pay.
Taking Revenge on Scammers
Meet Ben Taylor, a popular YouTuber who’s channel goes by the name of 'Pleasant Green'. With more than 250,000 subscribers, he’s well beloved online for helping catch and punish various scammers. Ben often reports on various types of scams, and uploads hilarious videos documenting his unique and creative methods for getting back at them.
One of the most hilarious examples of deterring action taken by Ben to punish a scammer happened back in 2015. A Nigerian scammer tried to get the popular YouTuber to send him a camera he was selling on eBay by pretending to send payment for the item. Not only did he lie about paying for it, but he was demanding to get his shipment! Ben obliged.
Sending Him a Gift
Ben used an online service whose name is too vulgar for us to mention, and promptly sent his scammer a huge bag of feces instead of the camera he had requested. He documented the entire exchange, and made sure to not only check up on his scammer occasionally, but to even include a tracking number for the package in one of his videos.
The original video and the one documenting the aftermath received a combined 3.5 million views on YouTube. Ben gained a lot of followers and subscribers, and definitely turned us into fans for it! While this is a hilarious example of scamming gone wrong, some scams not only succeed, but eventually end up costing people their entire life savings.
Meet Bernie Madoff
Bernie Madoff became one of the most notorious men in America after running a ponzi scheme that was estimated to be worth around $65 billion dollars. He tricked countless investors and managed to pull off the largest scam in history, tricking almost 5,000 of the United State’s most wealthy individuals into handing him millions of dollars at a time.
Madoff started off as a penny stock broker in the ‘60s, which he managed to grow into the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. He was one of the most respected and beloved market analysts in Wall Street. Bernie was often associated with some of the most wealthy and powerful people in America, which gave him the idea to trick them into giving him millions.
The Ponzi Scheme
If you haven't heard of the term before, the Ponzi Scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, the most notorious con artist of all time. He invented a scheme, which allowed him to make more than $250,000 in a single day. Ponzi basically promised investors returns that were unheard of for their cash, up to 100% in just 90 days. He would pay this money by getting money from new investors.
This scam worked for years, and Ponzi was considered by many to be a financial genius. He was eventually investigated by the Boston Post, who exposed him in 1920. Charles Ponzi was arrested shortly after and spent 14 years in prison. He spent the remainder of his life in Brazil, fleeing from the American public's reactions. Still, he remained highly proud of his actions until the very end.
Bernie Madoff wasn’t only a great friend to the rich and powerful, but also found his way across government agencies. From 1991 to 2008, he and his wife gave about $240,000 to various political candidates, making him a favorite in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. This gave him a lot of power among law-makers, cementing his credibility and power.
Madoff managed to trick everyone by promising guaranteed investment returns that were practically unheard of at the time. He managed to get money from some of the world’s most successful people, as they all trusted his reputation. The man had a spit-shine track record, a charming personality, and a bevy of powerful allies. This made criticizing him a taboo topic among investors.
Stealing From the Rich
Most of Bernie Madoff’s clients were rich, powerful people who controlled various sectors of business and entertainment. Some of his most famous celebrity victims include Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, the famous Hollywood couple, who gave him millions of dollars. He also tricked Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, into giving him $12 million - his entire life savings.
Other famous victims include actor John Malkovich, who’s known for 1992’s award-winning drama film, 'Of Mice and Men'. He even managed to get Larry King to give him $700,000, after the two met through a mutual friend. King’s friend took a much harder hit though, and claims to have lost upwards of $500 million by investing his money with Madoff.
In every scandal, there’s always at least one or two people that are considered the “canary in the coal mines”. These are the early warning callers, who usually end up being criticized for “ruining the party” for everyone. In 1999, Harry Markopolos, a renowned financial analyst, reported to the SEC that he thought it was impossible, both legally and mathematically, to reach the gains Madoff claimed to deliver.
It reportedly took him just four minutes of looking at Madoff’s claimed investment returns to realize that they were likely a fraud. He tried contacting Boston’s Security and Exchange commission, which was responsible for preventing these incidents, but was ignored for more than an entire decade as he tried to warn everyone involved about the scam.
Giving His Testimony
Other people began voicing concerns only years later, once Bernie Madoff's scam reached multiple billions of dollars in size. An investigation began, and Markopolos was called in to testify about his findings. He believed that Madoff’s strategy was likely legal up until 2001, but quickly became dirty as he attempted to guarantee profit numbers for investors.
The truth began to unravel. Clients were quickly pulling their money out and rich potential targets stopped showing up to invest with Madoff. This dried up the supply for new clients, which was the basic foundation of the ponzi scheme. Since these kinds of schemes involve taking large sums of money from new investors and slowly supplying it to older ones, Madoff's funds couldn't survive for long.
Bernie Madoff officially admitted to both the scope and size of his ponzi scheme in March 2009. Instead of investing money and generating returns for his clients, he used the money to shell out fake returns to his clients. They would then believe they were making unbelievable profits on their investment, and send in more unsuspecting targets for him to scam.
When investors were aware of the scam and asked for their money back, Bernie used what was left of the fund’s money to pay back some of the investors. Unfortunately, because of the way ponzi schemes work, many of his clients lost most if not all of their money in the process. Almost his entire clientele were millionaires, which basically reverted them back into the middle class.
The Investors’ Losses
It’s been estimated that about $18 billion that were owed to investors simply disappeared and vanished into thin air. Many efforts have been made to recoup the money, but they were largely unsuccessful. In late 2017, the U.S. government pledged to pay out almost a billion dollars to more than 24,000 of Bernie Madoff’s unfortunate victims.
Madoff himself was found guilty in early 2009 of eleven federal felonies, including securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements, perjury, theft from an employee benefit plan, and making false filings with the SEC. He was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 150 years in federal prison, and will remain there until the end of his life.
Hurting His Family
Several of Bernie Madoff’s family members were not only hurt by his scheme, but were actually unwitting accomplices, as they worked for him. On the morning of December 11, 2010, exactly two years after Madoff’s arrest, his son, Mark, was found dead in his New York City apartment.
Medical examiners claim he had committed suicide and hung himself. The Madoff family name was forever tarnished, and his family had to retreat into shame and escape the relentless media coverage they received. His wife, Ruth Madoff, claims that she and Bernie attempted an unsuccessful suicide in 2008 by taking “a bunch of pills”. Bernie suffered from a heart attack in late 2013, but neither that nor anything else will ever get him out of jail at this point.
Who Was Involved?
Although Madoff claims that he performed his ponzi scheme alone, it’s clear that countless people were involved in this scam. It’s virtually impossible to perpetuate a $65 billion investment fraud without any help at all. Some of the people involved were his employees, who also knew of the scam. A three-person accounting firm, who created false financial reports for him. And a collection fund which helped him send money to his “investors”.
Many other people have since been implicated in the scheme, some of them his family members. While it was quite an unfortunate incident, we take some comfort in knowing that for the most part, only the rich and powerful were negatively affected. So thankfully, they all managed to land back on their feet. It’s unlikely this kind of event will ever happen on this scale again, as financial regulations have since been severely tightened.
Avoiding Everyday Scams
You can’t discuss the topic of scams without at least giving a brief mention to Frank Abagnale, an American security consultant known for his history as a con man. He successfully impersonated everything from a university teacher to a commercial airplane pilot from age 15 to 21. A film was made about him in 2002 called 'Catch Me If You Can', starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen.
Since his early days of being a con artist, Frank eventually turned his life around and decided to spend it by helping people avoid scams instead. In addition to his popular autobiography, he recently wrote a book to help consumers avoid these schemes titled “Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today's Rip-off Artists”, which became a bestseller.
Advice From the Expert
Finally, some of the best advice from Frank Abagnale, the legend himself, includes using a shredder to shred anything that contains your personal information, using credit monitoring services which report even small payments directly to you, and never using a debit card under any condition.
Abagnale also advises being extremely careful with the information you give out on social media. By providing Facebook and other platforms with your location and date of birth, you are essentially providing 48% of the information needed to steal your identity.