After her father dies, Grace is in charge of investing her father’s lifetime savings. She decides to put her money into gold and silver. Along the way, she realizes the investment isn’t what she had thought it was.
TIP: Do your research and read the fine print. Don’t respond to cold calls and add your name to the Do Not Call Registry. Don’t act now; avoid limited time offers and pushy salespeople.
Coming up on this episode, of AARP's Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] Once you
get on these lists, those lists tend to be bought, sold, and traded, maybe on
the dark web or elsewhere among this circle of fraudsters, and the people who
are perpetrating these crimes are professionals, and it's their business to
fool you and to lie to you.
[00:00:20] HOST: Any
kind of investment usually has some risk attached to it. Stock market, real
estate, your next car. But what about precious metals? Gold and silver? You
know the one's we're talking about. You see the ads on TV and hear them on the
radio. And something about the pitch seems just so, well, reasonable. But what
is it really like to invest in gold and silver? Are there scammers out there
making money off victims or are these legit businesses that all have some risk
associated with them, just like any investment? For The Perfect Scam, I'm your
host, Will Johnson and we are joined, as always, by my cohost and The AARP's
Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. This come up with the FBI, I
Abagnale: Oh yeah, and I mean who can watch television for 30 minutes without
having an ad come on about buying gold or buying silver?
[00:01:05] HOST: Well you're absolutely right. The advertising is actually
working, because people are in some cases investing wisely, and hopefully it's
going well for them, and then in some cases, falling into situations where they
don't feel they're getting what they paid for.
[00:01:22] HOST: Hi,
Grace, it's Will Johnson, at AARP. How are you?
[00:01:26] Grace: Hi,
Will. How are you?
[00:01:27] HOST: I'm
[00:01:28] HOST: This
is Grace. She has an MBA, describes herself as well-educated and has some
experience dealing with investment scams in the past. When Grace's 90-year-old
father passed away and his IRA rolled over, she was looking for a safe place to
invest her father's lifelong savings.
[00:01:43] Grace: I
had seen many, many television programs about rolling over your IRA into gold
and silver, and so I decided to review it and it sounded like a good deal.
[00:01:58] HOST: So
Grace, let me ask you then, it sounds like you just so I understand, you had a
good amount of money that after your father died that you wanted to invest. You
didn't want to take a payout and also you had, it sounds like you have some
experience in the world of investing and money ... enough to sort of know your
way around and to start asking, ask the right questions.
Well, I have been taking care of my parents as a family caregiver since 2005,
and my father never taught us anything about his finances, and but I have an
MBA and it took me 10 years to figure out quite a few things and talk to many
financial planners over the years, so it's been a learn as I go school of hard
[00:02:45] HOST: So,
what did you do next? You decided to invest and how did you go back doing that?
[00:02:48] Grace: So
basically, I called, I got an email, I believe, on my Facebook about this
company and I called them, talked to them, very nice, they kept calling me,
under--, saying that they understood about my mother and, and you know, so I
felt like I was building a trusting relationship with them.
[00:03:16] HOST: And
can you tell us then what the initial investment was, and how that went and
your, sort of your conversations back and forth with this company that you were
[00:03:25] Grace: You
mean the amount or...
Sure, yeah if you're willing to share.
Okay, it was 220,000.
[00:03:33] HOST: How
much advice did they give you, or guidance in where they were going to put
this? Did you want to play a big role in that or were you letting them sort
[00:03:38] Grace: I
really deferred to them because I didn't know anything about gold or silver, I
just saw a lot of commercial ads and it sounded like it made sense because
there's a lot of fear about putting your money in the banks.
[00:03:54] HOST: So
you, you invested a good chunk of money that was saved over your father's
lifetime, really, right?
Uh-huh. I did see that the prices were going up, so I was really excited. The
first red flag was when I got the first IRA statement and I had put in 200,000
but it said it was worth 147,000.
[00:04:17] HOST: That
the investment that you made was, had already dropped over $50,000, 55,
Right. So I called the company and started screaming. I said I'd never heard of
an IRA rollover where you put 200, on the other side should be 200, you know.
And I said how could have it gone down because I've been noticing gold and
silver has been going up. She goes, well because it's a semi-numismatic, we
don't really know the value of that. I started to think, how do I know what,
how do I, how can I prove that actually the coins that they said that they put
me in, are actually the coins that I got? So I called them, and he goes, well
you'd have to go where it's the, the vault is and go check it out for yourself.
Where's the vault?
[00:05:15] Grace: It,
the vault's, I believe in Utah.
[00:05:19] HOST: And
There’s many of these all over the place.
[00:05:21] HOST: But
did he tell you where a specific vault was for you?
Yeah, he did, uh, huh.
[00:05:25] HOST: Wow.
[00:05:27] Grace: So,
I was like, I'm not going to go all the way there, so instead, I called the,
the IRA that was holding it, then she called the vault, and it turned out the
actual coins were different from the ones that he told me he'd put me in.
[00:05:42] HOST: And
they, and how did they differentiate? Are they numbered?
They were different years, and they were different types.
Okay, so somewhere in Utah, there's a vault with your money, with your coins
that they said they got for you, but they're actually not your coins.
Right. So that was another red flag.
[00:05:59] HOST: Were
they less value?
[00:06:02] HOST: And
what makes them less value? Less gold, less weight?
[00:06:05] Grace: No,
they were, they were newer. They were brand, brand new for that year. That sent
a big flag and I called, the company fixed it, but it just gave me a funny
feeling about really what do I, you know have here?
[00:06:20] HOST: I'm
sure it did. Yeah. When Grace's 90-year-old mother needed a hip replacement,
she was nervous about being able to cover everything, so she started looking
into the buyback rate of the coins if she needed to free up the money.
[00:06:33] Grace: So,
I was starting to get concerned that there might be, I might have to liquidate
from somewhere, and they told me their number one thing is that they guaranteed
the highest buy back rate, so I talked to them, one of the guys, and it kept
going up to a higher level and the guy told me, okay. We promised that we
guaranteed that we'll buy it back and I had purchased this one coin for 508.
$508? 508 dollars.
[00:07:06] Grace: For
a .25-ounce coin, a quarter ounce coin. So this is where you know, I'm starting
to like really probe with this man, and I said I want out of this. And he goes
fine, we'll buy it back for $300. And I said, are you kidding me? I just bought
these things. This is February. I bought them in December.
[00:07:29] HOST: And
we're not talking about one coin, we're talking about a large investment and a
Yes, yes. And then I also talked about the silver coin. I had purchased it at a
higher rate and what he was willing to back--, pay it back was less than half.
[00:07:47] HOST: So,
did you feel like he was just throwing out this 300 rate kind of casually
[00:07:52] Grace: No,
that was what his buy back, he looked up something and he says, our buy back
rate for today is $300. And I went ballistic because I said, what crazy person
would buy a coin for 508 and find out it's worth only $300? So I finally got
one person one person who was knowledgeable and the correct agency that
oversees coins is the Commodities and Futures and Trading Commission.
Enter Dan Rutherford. He is Director of the Office of Customer Education and Outreach
Office of the Executive Director with U.S. Commodities Future Trading
Rutherford: The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission basically has
jurisdiction over commodity futures markets, as well as other derivative
markets and financial instruments, so you know, when people talk about trading
futures contracts in gold or in other forms of commodities, those are the
markets that we regulate.
[00:08:46] HOST: To
back up a little more for those of us who may not be very experienced in the
world of investment, a commodity future is what?
Rutherford: So commodity, when you think about commodities you can think about
things like corn, oil, gas, and again precious metals or even inert metals,
like copper and things.
[00:09:05] HOST: And
because we're talking about investments here, we have this quick disclaimer
Rutherford: The views I'm about to express are my own and do not necessarily
reflect those of the commission, or any individual commissioner. Also, this
information is for educational and informational purposes only and should not
be construed as legal or investment advice.
Alright, back to the show. The fact is that gold and silver investing is not so
simple. We could take an entire show to cover just the basics. Grace definitely
learned that along the way. The bottom line is that if you're thinking about
investments like gold and silver, do your research. As with any business where
a lot of money's involved, there are bad actors out there. Dan's office works
with dealers who are registered only. If businesses are not registered, they
are actually operating illegally.
[00:09:51] HOST: So
some of this then falls outside of what you guys manage. So if it's outside of
that, anecdotally or otherwise, have you heard how scammers then go about
making themselves seem legit?
Rutherford: Uh, yes, so a lot of times, and you'll see the advertisements,
advertising online and sometimes on television or on the radio, you know
they'll promise coins or bullion and a lot of times you know they'll, they may
even cold call you or market you via email. And in those sorts of situations
any time you're getting a cold call or receiving an email offering an
investment, you should pretty much just say no, if you will, because the
chances of those offers being legitimate is pretty slim. You know, we've seen
cases where investors have been sold large lots of gold for a small down
payment. The money was actually then used to purchase futures contracts. There
was never any real physical gold but you know the customers were told that
their gold was in vaults in secured locations around the world, that you know,
they were paying insurance on gold that didn't exist. So there's a lot of
different stories and a lot of different methods that you know these scammers
would utilize. It just depends on how they, how they pushed the right buttons.
When they get you on the phone, they do what's called probing, and they may ask
you a couple of questions. If they get the sense that you're interested in big
returns, they'll walk you down that path until, you know, you're convinced that
this is the right investment for you. If they get the sense on the other hand
that you're interested in safety and security, they'll walk you down that path.
And the whole effort is really intended to, to get you believing in what
they're selling. And they'll change their stories, depending on who they're
talking to or how often they talk to you. And a lot of times what they'll do is
they may get you to make a small initial investment, and think that it's no big
deal. But over time, they'll call you back, they'll be telling you what great
returns you've had so far, and how you should be investing more with them, and
they'll continue to pressure you to invest more and more and more over time.
You know, they're professionals at what they do, and so you know, people who
are victimized really shouldn't feel ashamed and people who haven't been
victimized and think that it can't happen to them, only have to realize that
the people who are perpetrating these crimes are professionals, and it's their
business to fool you and to lie to you.
[00:12:38] HOST: Are
they completely cold calls in your experience, or do they somehow get a little
background and are able to identify people they may want to take advantage of?
Rutherford: What tends to happen and what we've seen in generally across most
financial frauds is once you get on these lists, those lists tend to be bought,
sold, and traded maybe on the dark web or elsewhere among the circle of
fraudsters, and so if you start getting calls from one, you know chances are
you'll be getting calls from others. So you know, if you haven't put your name
on the Do Not Call registry, if you haven't eliminated junk mail, those would
be a couple of good steps that you can take now to sort of turn down the volume
at least a little bit, but never respond to a cold call or a solicitation that
you didn't initiate yourself.
[00:13:34] HOST: Dan
always says avoid anyone offering guaranteed returns, anyone saying that
precious metal will not fluctuate during times of upheaval, and be wary of
anyone that doesn't tell you exactly where your coins are being held. Don't act
now. Avoid limited time offers or if they're being too pushy, and make sure
you're dealing with a registered broker.
Rutherford: Now you can check that registration by going to SmartCheck.com, and
using the National Futures Association's basic database. You can look up, you
can type in the name of the person or broker or firm that you're dealing with,
and if they don't show up in the database, you know that that person is not registered,
and you probably shouldn't be doing business with them.
[00:14:16] HOST: Over
time and with a lot of research and talking to the right people, Grace was able
to get her money back, but she regrets falling for the advertising and the hard
[00:14:26] Grace: I'm
embarrassed to say, I have an MBA and all the top education that a person can
have, but street smarts and trusting and lack of wisdom about something that
you don't know really and you're just deferring to an expert, even though I
tried to do as best as I could to research this, I could never believe, based
upon the way it was sold to me, that this was a risky venture. Definitely read
the fine print. Do not just trust people for what they say and do your own
research, and just because you have high ethics, doesn't mean the other person
on the other side has high ethics.
[00:15:13] HOST: It
sounds like a lot for anyone to learn who's getting into it, so Grace, thanks
so much for talking to us today, we really appreciate it.
Thank you. I just hope I help a lot of people.
Frank, I'm going to start with this one asking you about the dark web is
brought up. We haven't talked a lot about that. And the gentleman in the story
mentions that that's where lists can be bought and sold and I'm assuming that's
Abagnale: Yeah, but it's a lot easier than that. To give you an example, you
know I live in a part of Charleston, South Carolina, by the zip code alone,
there are no homes in that zip code under a million dollars, okay? So really,
it's just a matter of me just simply getting that zip code and then finding out
what, who lives in that zip code area knowing that they're in an area of at
least a million dollar home, so there are people of substantial wealth that are
and that becomes my list of people to solicit.
[00:16:10] HOST: So I
don't necessarily have to be surfing around on the dark web.
Abagnale: Not on the dark web to get that, you know that's very easy to find
out and there are lists you can buy of wealthy areas, wealthy neighborhoods,
wealthy people. You know, this is a lot of the old back to the scams of bait
and switch. I'm basically giving you, offering you something that's really not
what it truly is and then, or I switch it to something else. But we've had
cases where people have literally, actually bought gold coins, where the gold
coins are actually shipped to you certified, registered mail.
[00:16:41] HOST: So
they're not in a vault in...
Abagnale: Yeah, they're not in a vault or in your house now, so I get the gold
coins, so I think, wow, this is great. I bought these here, they've arrived, I
look at them, they look beautiful.
[00:16:50] HOST: And
bite them, right, is that how people test gold.
Abagnale: Yeah, I mean that doesn't work, but I mean I look at them, you know,
and I'm very impressed with them, come with all these certification papers and
all that, so obviously all I do is put it in my safe at home, or I might put it
in my safe deposit box at the bank, but then when the time comes for me to
actually sell them, it turns out that they're not real gold, that they're just
gold-plated or they're fake, and the papers that they sent me are fake.
[00:17:18] HOST: You’ve
Abagnale: Yes, so all of this really comes down to again some common sense.
First of all, I'm not going to buy anything from anybody that's soliciting me
when it comes to me investing large sums of money. So if I get an email or I see
a pop-up ad or something like that, I'm not going to do business with that type
of company. I'm going to research out a legitimate company through my bank,
someone my bank may recommend, a company that they know, they've checked out,
they've done business with, my financial advisor. If I have a trusted financial
advisor. I'm going to deal with a legitimate, absolutely registered company,
that, that has some experience and background before I would go invest like
$200,000 into those companies, so again, you just start off by being,
understanding that I didn't, I'm not going to do business with someone that's
solicited me, that I know very little about or some ad I saw just because it
looks like an impressive ad online, or even on TV or radio until I've gone to
the proper people and asked and checked, and again, you can, you could call the
Commodities and Exchange, and they can tell you that's not a legitimate
company, not a registered company with us. We'd advise not doing business with
that company, or yes, ma'am, this is a very legitimate company, been in
business many years and we've never had any complaints from that company, so
again, you do a little research, but again, I'd be very leery about sending
anybody money and of course, as she mentioned, Grace mentioned, you need to do
your research, and you need to read the fine print because even if it's a legitimate
company, they may have ops in their fine print that allow them to devalue it or
to sell it to you at a lesser price, or charge some huge commission if you want
to get out early or you want to sell it early or something like that.
[00:19:06] HOST: So
this is a little different than say somebody calling you on the phone and
having a scam worked out, in that this is a legitimate business, gold and silver
is bought and sold, and it's been around a long time. But, and so it gets into
this sort of area where there may be very legitimate businesses doing it. There
may be some that while it's mostly legitimate, but maybe there's parts of it
that seem a little shady or a little fishy.
Abagnale: Yeah, and there are many, many companies that are basically
legitimate companies with employees at those companies and they may even have a
little history, but they're not ethical business people, and so they purposely
have drawn up through very sophisticated lawyers, little things in there that
then are going to work against you, that they're going to make money off the
money you give them, and you're not going to get represented the way you
should. But that's because you didn't read the fine print and you signed it.
[00:20:02] HOST: So
we talked a lot about this outside of the show, at least I did in sort of
preparing. Do you consider that a scam?
Abagnale: I consider it a scam, because they're basically scamming people they
knew up front that when they wrote those words in the contract that was the way
they were going to make money, and they were going to take people's money from
them, so it's very unethical, and you know, the bottom line is, as I remind
people all the time, and I know that people think this is simplistic, but when
you've dealt with fraud on the good side, as I have for 40 years, you realize
that we truly are living in a very, very unethical society. We don't teach ethics
at home. We don't teach ethics in school, because the teacher would be accused
of teaching morality, we don't teach ethics in the university, and we certainly
don't teach it in the workplace, so we have raised an entire generation of
people who have a lot of lack of character and ethics in their makeup, so doing
these kind of things, it's all about, how can I make money for me, and not
about whether it's right or it's wrong, and I think we're only going to see a
tremendous increase in more frauds like this until one day we wake up and
realize, you know what, we really need to bring character and ethics back into
the home, back into the school, back into the university. I've had three sons
go to graduate school. Only the one that went to law school had a course
offered on ethics. And that's ridiculous that we've come to that point. This
has nothing to do with religion. This is strictly right and wrong, so if you
don't teach it to someone somewhere along in their lifetime, they're going to
go down that unethical path.
[00:21:37] HOST: It's
interesting you bring that up and actually there's another podcast that's out
of Australia that we've shared with our son, and it's all about ethics, but I
think before we listen to that, the word "ethics" is probably one we
hadn't discussed much. He's still relatively young and so it might not make
sense, but it really is up to parents right now in the home to be able to pass
these ideas of ethics, ethical behavior along.
Abagnale: A number of years ago, I wrote a code of ethics. I put it on my
website under publications. Today 3,000 U.S. companies my code of ethics,
because I say to those companies when I lecture to them, that it is very important
that you have a code of conduct and a code of ethics so that when you hire
someone, you're saying to them, this is what we believe, this is what we
practice, and this is what we expect you to practice and believe, and you
instill that in them on an annual basis, where the CFO or the CEO goes over our
ethics. And I wrote it in very simple terms, it's not long, it's one sheet. It
has a blank space so you can fill in your company's name, and I tell people,
feel free to edit it to add to it if you don't like something in it or you want
to put something in it, but absolutely, please make sure that your employees
have a code of ethics and is a part of their job.
[00:22:47] HOST: And
it becomes of the company culture.
Abagnale: Right, absolutely.
[00:22:52] HOST: We'd
like to welcome Jen Beam back to the podcast. She is with the Fraud Watch
Network and manages the very active and interesting Fraud Watch Network
Facebook page. Jen, how are you?
[00:23:01] Jen Beam:
Vacation rental scams are a kind of a hot area, right? Craig's List, people
posting vacation places that either maybe don't exist or they don't own?
[00:23:11] Jen Beam:
Absolutely. You know, especially if folks are like me and maybe not as
organized and do some last minute searching for some deals, you really are at
risk. Especially for those too good to be true vacation rentals, so if you see
a picture of some amazing cottage and you know, at rock bottom price, chances
are it's not a real deal.
[00:23:36] HOST: So
what are people doing? So like say on Craig's List, they'll say, oh I've got a,
you know an amazing place. The price is unbelievable. And then you're putting
down a deposit or something, or how are they, what's the scam?
[00:23:47] Jen Beam:
Yeah, so one of the things that we're seeing is that folks will, you know the
posting with have an excuse for having to drop the price, you know, so normally
I rent this for $3000 a week, but I just had a last minute cancellation, so that's
why I'm offering it for you know 500 bucks. They need a deposit, or they need
you to pay in full because it's such a low price, and they disappear. There's
actually no, that's a fake picture and that guy has taken off with your money.
You really have to slow down, go through, really try to you know look carefully
before you click that button.
Alright, so as you plan your next vacation, heed that warning and take Jen's
advice. Jen Beam, with the Fraud Watch Network and the Fraud Watch Network
Facebook page, where can people learn more?
[00:24:36] Jen Beam:
Yes, so Facebook.com/fraudwatchnetwork, we post daily there. We also have a
website, AARP.org/fraudwatchnetwork and post scam alerts, videos, blogs, all
sorts of good stuff that helps folks protect themselves from scams and frauds.
Alright, safe booking out there. Thanks again, Jen.
[00:24:53] Jen Beam:
Frank, I'm not going to let you get away without a little more chat about the
dark web. I've heard at one point that 90 percent of web traffic is on the dark
web. I think people are fascinated by it.
Abagnale: YEs, and there's a lot of information but you know, we still monitor
chatrooms at the FBI Academy, so when agents go through their 20 weeks of
training they, they get to monitor these chatrooms that have been around for
years and when I do AARP seminars, and I actually show people the chatrooms and
the information that's being given away on them, and when you look at the
screens going by, these are scrolls that go by, they're selling all kinds of
information, mother's maiden name, bank information, driver's license numbers,
Social Security numbers, security questions you would be asked if you were trying
to access your account. It's just a tremendous amount of information, so it's
not new, it's just the dark web has even a lot more information than chatrooms
do, and that the information is traded and I remind people all the time that
information is money, and so people make a lot of money with data and
information and it's very valuable, like gold or like cash. The problem today
is unlike 25 years ago, is crime now is so global because of the internet, so
you're dealing with criminals thousands of miles away in India, Pakistan,
Afghanistan, China, India. So it's very difficult for law enforcement, so even
if you track something back and say, I know this is being perpetrated out of
this apartment in Moscow, you can't go to Moscow and arrest them, so you have
to hope you go get the cooperation of the Moscow police, the Russian police to
actually go and do something, and they're not going to do that unless it
benefits them somehow, or that person is perpetrating crimes against, against
them. So thought they don't really endorse these crimes, they tend to look the
other way unless it's affecting their society and their government.
Right. A complicated web, a global web. Frank Abagnale is one of the world's
foremost experts on the topic of fraud, scams, and also my cohost here, and the
AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador. So thanks, as always, for joining us.
Abagnale: Thanks, Will. Great being with you.
[00:27:05] HOST: For
more information and resources on how to protect yourself from becoming a
victim of a scam, visit AARP's Fraud Watch Network website,
Alright, I'd like to thank producers, Julie Getz and Brook Ellis. Our audio
engineer, Julio Gonzales, and of course, my cohost, Frank Abagnale.
Abagnale: Thanks, Will.
[00:27:24] HOST: And
be sure to subscribe, download, rate, and of course, like our podcast on Apple
Podcast or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
Episode 5: Tracy's Romance Scam
Find out what happens to Tracy when she gets scammed after making a connection with a widower online.
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