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Monique Brady's Friends Learn of Ponzi Scheme

In part 2 of this podcast, the Savastanos find out the real estate business is a scam

Website graphic for episode 77 of the Perfect Scam - Scammer Targets Friends in Real Estate Ponzi Scheme Part 2

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Over several years the Savastanos poured nearly a million dollars into a real estate endeavor of their close friend Monique Brady, and they are shocked to learn the business is a scam. Monique is not flipping foreclosed houses as she claims to be—she’s actually running a Ponzi scheme. Concerned for their friend of two decades and worried about getting their money back, the Savastanos reach out to Monique, but she stops taking their calls. As more details come forward about the scheme, the Savastanos learn that Monique has stolen more than $10 million from her close friends and family.  

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[00:00:00] Michelle: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] I think once she got a taste of that money, she liked it.

[00:00:06] Scam was masterfully designed. Masterfully. It took a long, long, long, long time. She picked and choose the people that she knew, and she waited until there was incredible amounts of bond and trust, and then when she had it, it was easy for her to manipulate.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:27] Michelle: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Michelle Kosinski. Last week we took you through the chilling story of a scam in the most unlikely of places. Monique Brady was one of those superwomen that a lot of us wish we could be more like, a dynamo who started her day at like 4 a.m. A mother of four, the center of the social world, a lawyer, a wildly successful real estate entrepreneur, married to a salt of the earth local firefighter. She was this put together, smart, pretty, funny, self-made woman. Monique Brady, once a refugee child escaping Vietnam on a sinking boat now lived in a stately, spotless white mansion in the loveliest part of the rarified world of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Her many friends there adored her. She was like family. Always generous, always in motion. Where we left off last week, and you need to listen to that episode if you haven't, her closest friends and neighbors, Kim and Sal Savastano, had just been floored by a visit from IRS investigators. They broke the news to Sal who'd invested at least a million dollars with Monique's property renovation company over several years, that the whole thing was nothing more than smoke and mirrors, a Ponzi scheme, and that the woman who claimed to be working for major banks fixing up foreclosed homes so they could sell at higher prices had built the picture perfect life for herself on these projects that never existed at all. Well, believe it or not, this story gets even worse. So Sal Savastano was there in his office feeling dizzy from all the emotions, having just been told all of this. He picked up his phone. He was now calling Monique to confront her.

[00:02:25] Sal Savastano: And I said, "Monique," and she's like, "What's up?" I said, "Nothing." I said, "The IRS just left here." And then she's like, "What were they doing at your office?" I'm like, "They're here for you." She's like, "Why are they there for me?"

[00:02:35] Michelle: Oh my gosh.

[00:02:37] Sal Savastano: And she goes, "I'm going through an audit, but what does my audit have anything to do with you?" Now she was lying, 'cause she completely knew she was under investigation. And I said, "No, no, these were criminal investigators, and they're coming after you for criminal offenses." She goes, "What?" She's like "I gotta go, I gotta call my lawyer." And she hung the phone up. So now, I'm like this is crazy. Now, I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa. She owes me a ton of money, right, so now I'm like, oh, this is unbelievable. I said, this is crazy, this is crazy, and I'm trying to reach her. And she won't return my call. We did some texting, she's like, "I'll call you later, I'm trying to figure this out." And then I'm like, you know, I'm just like, "Mo, listen, you're in trouble. Call me, let's figure it out. I'm sure I can help you." I'm like, "We can definitely work this out," And nothing. No response.

[00:03:23] Michelle: Over and over again he tries to reach her and eerie silence.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:03:31] Sal Savastano: I really, I'd had it, and I finally got her on the phone. She had a different phone number. She's like, "Call me on this number." So I'm like, "What are you..." and she just said, "Yeah, I can't help you. Call my lawyer." Click and hung up the phone. And that was it. That was the last time I ever spoke to her.

[00:03:44] Michelle: This is so sad.

[00:03:45] Sal Savastano: Yeah.

[00:03:46] Michelle: That was the real Monique right there. Like hanging up on you.

[00:03:51] Michelle: Sal and his wife, Kim, keep in mind, had known and loved Monique as their closest friend for nearly two decades. Their families had vacationed together, celebrated the special days and milestones, watched each other's children grow up. Kim was godmother to one of Monique's kids. Now they were calling a lawyer. The family was currently out around $300,000.

[00:04:16] Kim Savastano: I mean we have, at the time and still have, a child in college, and a young one still coming, and it's very hurtful. I mean it's not like we just came into this money on, you know a trust fund. My husband's worked his whole life.

[00:04:30] Sal Savastano: The filings are coming in, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang because the IRS was now talking to everybody. My lawyer's like, "Hey dude," he's like, "I'm just letting you know, so far, the claims are in the millions." He's like, "the millions." I'm like, oh God. I knew then, I'm like, it's done. There's no money.

[00:04:47] Michelle: What does her husband say to you at this point?

[00:04:51] Sal Savastano: He said, "Can we meet?" I said, "Yeah, yeah, we'll meet for coffee." He came to me, started to cry, he apologized, he's like, "This is awful, it's unbelievable," like, you know, "This is crazy." The whole nine yards. He's like, "I can't repay you for anything my wife did to you." He's like, "I can't." He's like, "I don't have those monies." Like, "I'm a fireman." He's like, "I make 70 grand a year." He's like, "I can't believe it. There's nothing that I could ever do to say I'm sorry." And I said, "Well, it's really not you, it was her." And I said, "And you didn't know, right?" And he's like, "I had no idea." He's like, "Maybe I should have known..."

[00:05:23] Michelle: Monique's family is now also shattered, and then she suddenly files for divorce. She's arrested. Files for bankruptcy. Oh, and it turns out she's having an affair with her divorce attorney. But that's still not the end of it. More and more details bubble up to the surface about the extent of her Ponzi scheme that she got people to invest some 10 million dollars in. Ironic, that through her many lies about rehabbing other families' foreclosed homes, her own picture perfect New England life with her gorgeous house and designer shoes was nothing but a facade. And when that beautiful house of cards finally went up in flames that no one could put out, she owed dozens of victims millions of dollars. But all this is still not even what sets this case apart the most from other similar schemes. It's that the people Monique stole from were the people closest to her. Her friends, her babysitter, her own family whom she had once escaped poverty with. There was no bubble of inner circle loved ones that she kept insulated from her scam. And no one knows these details better than the veteran federal prosecutor who handled this case and thought he had seen it all, Lee Vilker.

[00:06:45] Lee Vilker: In the summer of 2018 things started to fall apart in the scheme. Two of the victims had given her money, and they were friends with one another, and Ms. Brady told each of them not to discuss the business with anyone else.

[00:06:58] Michelle: Oh wow. Did they start comparing notes?

[00:07:02] Lee Vilker: They had a conversation. And they started comparing notes, and they go, "Oh, you're investing with Monique. Ah, I'm investing with Monique." "Well what properties are you investing in?" And then they started to see they're investing in the same properties, which should never have been, because the nature of the scheme was that each particular individual was investing in the total cost of the supposed rehab of the property.

[00:07:23] Michelle: I find this really surprising, because as elaborate as her scheme apparently was, that's not very good insulation. She was just relying on people to keep quiet.

[00:07:34] Lee Vilker: What was really stunning about this particular case as compared to like most of the other cases I've handled in my career is that most of the victims were extremely close with her. I mean they told us over and over again how much they loved her, how much they cared about her, how much she loved them. She would watch their children. Their children would call her Auntie Mo, but they all say, you know, I cannot believe that this particular individual, who I was so close with, who I really loved, and I really felt loved me, could have done that to me. It didn't matter if they were best friends from childhood, or best friends from law school, her current good friends that she would go on vacations with, even her own stepbrother who she was very close with, lost a lot of money to her. She would just take money, whoever was willing to give it, she would take it.

[00:08:23] Michelle: Is that unusual compared to other similar crimes that you guys have handled?

[00:08:28] Lee Vilker: It's very unusual. It made this case very different than any case I've handled in my career. And the most typical pattern is the victims are either total strangers, or they may be investors who you're trying to get into false investments, but I have never seen a case where the victims were this close in personal relationships with the scammer. So that literally was very shocking for us handling the case.

[00:08:54] Sal Savastano: For my wife, it was more of just a really strong, strong betrayal. I'm like, you SOB. You took like older people's retirement funds. She took from people who had no money and they're destitute, and that's awful.

[00:09:08] Michelle: Was it amazing to you that she was able to pull this off?

[00:09:12] Sal Savastano: She's crafty. Incredibly crafty, smart. She's good with words, very, very good with words. But she never tripped over herself ever, never. My friend, he's a really, really accomplished attorney. He's got multiple businesses. He didn't see it either. And here's a guy who spends his time really analyzing all these contracts and everything else, and really having to cross "T"s and dot "I"s, and he missed it. And I just find it amazing that she could actually steal from her own family, you know, someone she grew up with, like that's when you really start to recognize that part of their soul, it's gone.

[00:09:46] Michelle: Happy, fun, smiley, sociable Monique seemed to prey specifically on people she was close with, like that was her MO.

[00:09:56] Sal Savastano: I've been doing business for a really, really, really long time, and you know what, the scam was masterfully designed. Masterfully. It took a long, long, long, long time. She picked and choose the people that she knew, and she waited until there was incredible amounts of bond and trust, and she must have had her own litmus test of what she did to see what that trust was, and then once she had it, it was easy for her to manipulate. And that's where it came in, right, it was never about trying to bring somebody in, because you know, the funny thing is, I tried to get other people in. I mentioned that many times, 'cause I was trying to help others, like my cousin who lived down in Arizona. I had friends in Florida, and we would be talking, and I'd be like, where else do you have the opportunity to do this? But every time I tried to make that connection, not realizing there was always an excuse, there was always a reason why things weren't getting off the ground or we never got to the next level. Of course, because she didn't have the trust proposition. And if she didn't have it, it was just an easy exposure to her. So she was never going to let it happen. It was masterfully designed, it really, really was.

[00:11:01] Michelle: And federal prosecutors think Monique had been pulling this off for at least several years.

[00:11:06] Michelle: Do you think that any of her business in property rehabbing or management was legit before the Ponzi scheme, and at what point was there a turn in her life towards the scheme?

[00:11:20] Lee Vilker: Well from what we can gather, she did have a legitimate business for a period of time. And so if banks were going to foreclose on a property, she would get jobs, small jobs like making sure the lawns were mowed, or the house was waterproofed for the winter, or snow was removed if there was a storm, to keep the house from completely falling apart before the bank could resell it.

[00:11:41] Michelle: So pretty minor jobs.

[00:11:43] Lee Vilker: Right, there were some jobs as low as like $25 to at most, I think there was one job that was maybe $1000 or so. So at some point she got the idea that instead of telling people that she's doing these little jobs, she should tell people that the banks were paying her much larger quantities to do full rehabs of the houses before they sold them.

[00:12:04] Michelle: Got it.

[00:12:06] Michelle: What might have lit the match and sparked the scheme, Monique did like to gamble, a lot... a whole, whole lot. It's something her best friends, the Savastanos saw up close when they would travel with her to a local casino and even to Vegas where she would be comped spectacular penthouse suites and incredible dinners. She would be at the slot machines in the middle of the night. They just thought since it was out in the open, it was merely a hobby, and Monique always had money to burn.

[00:12:38] Sal Savastano: Spending my money, and everyone else's money.

[00:12:41] Kim Savastano: I did ask her, I, I said, "Really, you enjoy this?" And she goes, "Oh yeah." It was just her personality, you know, and she would light her cigarette and sit there for hours and just gamble.

[00:12:53] Sal Savastano: It's just a shame, she put all of that in front of her own family, single-handedly destroyed them.

[00:12:58] Michelle: Yeah.

[00:12:59] Sal Savastano: And there's no way, no way she couldn't have seen that the road was going to end in disaster. She's smart, she knew eventually this will pop. She knew it, but she didn't care. She really didn't care. That's the thing that really, really, really bothers you when you know that, and especially towards the end, I think she just, she full-throttled. She doubled down. I mean, that last year or two, London, San Francisco, Super Bowls, I mean, crazy, like just private jets down to Florida, and just...

[00:13:31] Michelle: No way.

[00:13:32] Sal Savastano: Oh yeah, and not even with her family, with her friends, you know, oh yeah, just, just ridiculous. I heard her husband say things like, "Oh Monique, all she does is work." He's like, "I tell her all the time, why do we have to live this lifestyle?" He's like, "Why can't we just sell the house and go back to the way we used to live and work, a simple life, not worrying about it with no bills and not some giant house and $40,000 in taxes and the cars and everything else. He's like, she doesn't listen to me." And I think, you know what, she probably could have gotten out a little bit, but I don't know that she could get free of her addiction.

[00:14:03] Kim Savastano: I think once she got a taste of that money, she liked it.

[00:14:07] Michelle: And so when she was finally busted by the feds, how much money did she have? Did she have a pile of money in a bank account somewhere?

[00:14:16] Lee Vilker: Yeah, unfortunately very, very little, at least almost nothing that we can find. That beautiful house I mentioned was heavily mortgaged. The money was gone. She had a very serious affinity for gambling. She gambled away a lot of the money. And two, she lived a very lavish lifestyle, and so the money went to shoes, and vacations, and cars, and the house. And by the end of the day the time we intervened, and we discovered it, there's unfortunately like next to nothing that we were able to recover to give back to the victims, which is one of the saddest parts in this.

[00:14:49] Michelle: So for all of that beautiful dream house and manicured lawn and nice car and great wardrobe and great vacations, she, she was actually living pretty on the edge.

[00:15:02] Lee Vilker: Yeah, I mean her day, her almost entire day would be spent basically trying to lull one victim and get money from another victim, and to give a fake update on what's going on on one project to another victim, and, and you know, people questioning and wanting reassurance and wanting some of the money back, and you know it took a lot of, you know, nerve and a lot of intelligence; she's a very smart woman, to keep the balls in the air with this many people and particularly since a lot of these people knew one another. But to keep it going for so long was, you know, sadly impressive. It was a fulltime job. You know, all day, all you can do running this kind of scheme is run the scheme. I think there were close to 200 different properties that she was claiming that she was rehabbing. Eventually she's not going to have money to give back to the people, so eventually it's going to fall apart, but it was ingenious in a lot of ways. You know, one of the things that really struck me is the amount of returns that she was promising were high, but they weren't so ridiculously high that smart people would think, you know, that is just too good to be true.

[00:16:07] Michelle: Got it.

[00:16:08] Lee Vilker: And they would typically be like you can make 15% of your money like in 6 months, and people think, you know, that's good, that's very good, but it's not, it's not so good that it, it raises all kinds of alarms in your head that this is going to be a scam. So she was very good at hitting the right sweet spot to get people to give her money without them being suspicious. And part of this is the giving off an aura of wealth, of success, you know, dressing well, going on nice vacations, having a nice house and nice cars, and all of this gives the impression to the victims that this is legitimate and you know, the thought doesn't even cross their minds, you know.

[00:16:47] Michelle: Like I think subconsciously it makes people think, oh, they must know something I don't. Or they've been able to capture some elusive success. They must know something.

[00:16:57] Lee Vilker: Yeah. Right, like a lot of the victims she would bring to her house which is this beautiful house and have parties there.

[00:17:03] Michelle: Right.

[00:17:04] Lee Vilker: And huge amounts of food and they'd go, they'd go to restaurants and she would always pay, and you know, give, you know, the impression that this is a very, very successful woman. And she would tell people, "Look, I don't let everybody invest with me, but because of our relationship, you know, if you want in, you know, I can let you in. I have some room for a new investor.

[00:17:25] Michelle: That's very Madoff-esque.

[00:17:27] Lee Vilker: Right. She would make the victims feel fortunate that she was taking their money and that she was going to get them rich like she was. We would show them documents that would show that, look, there was no work that was ever done on this property. Do you understand that? And they still couldn't believe it. So, you know, I don't know how much longer this would have kept going if we hadn't figured it out and investigated the case, but you know she was good enough to keep it going for many years and really, there was no end in sight.

[00:17:56] Michelle: The last time Kim Savastano heard from her best friend Monique was shortly after all this came to a head. Sadly, Kim's sister had died. Monique had also known her, and she sent Kim a text saying how sorry she was for her loss. Kim, though, couldn't bring herself to respond. There was just so much pain. Monique Brady was not quite finished yet though. Prosecutors found out that she and her lawyer lover had bought one-way tickets for themselves to Vietnam.

[00:18:26] Michelle: I find it, you know, really sad and disturbing that her whole life was really spent trying to get away from her difficult past in Vietnam, and when this all came crashing down, it was like, I'll just go back to Vietnam.

[00:18:45] Lee Vilker: Yeah, well, you know, she's, she's a lawyer, and she's very smart, and I'm sure she discovered that Vietnam has no extradition treaty with the United States.

[00:18:54] Michelle: Right.

[00:18:55] Lee Vilker: So if she had gone to Vietnam, there's absolutely nothing we could have done to get her back here. So it was a rational, logical decision, in my view, to go back to a place and live out the rest of her life in a place that, you know, she never has to worry about getting extradited to the United States.

[00:19:12] Michelle: Monique denied that this was an attempt to escape, or that she would ever leave her four children, one of whom has severe autism. For a while she also still denied that her business was anything but legitimate. Prosecutors disagreed with all of that. She was jailed and months later, she pleaded guilty to orchestrating this Ponzi scheme. Investigators say she showed no remorse until her sentencing when crying she apologized to the judge and her victims saying that this was not who she really is. Kim Savastano was there in court that day along with rows of other victims. Her one time best friend in the world for going on 20 years, she was now testifying against in this massive fraud. Here, now, they didn't even make eye contact.

[00:20:07] Michelle: Wow, that must have felt, it must have been surreal like, it's hard to imagine this happening where someone you feel you know so well and then all of a sudden, they're in court and you're a witness because they took from you.

[00:20:23] Kim Savastano: Hmm-hmm. There were definitely some high emotions that day. I was extremely nervous, first time that I've seen her in a year and a half, almost two years, and you know you're, you’re hurt, you're angry, you're saddened. I felt horrible for her children, and that was the first time that I had seen her kids; her children were there that day. It was, it was, it was, it was really emotional.

[00:20:49] Michelle: But she says never, not once, did Monique even try to apologize directly to her or Sal. They now no longer have a relationship with Monique's husband, Tom, either or her children. When not so long ago they all felt like one big extended family.

[00:21:05] Kim Savastano: I just, I wonder sometimes what she must be thinking. Was it worth it in the end?

[00:21:11] Sal Savastano: She knows where I am, she knows what she did. Are you kidding me? How remorseful can you possibly be? Everything that you did to your close family and friends, brother, and everyone, and you can't pen a letter and say I'm sorry?

[00:21:22] Michelle: That sentencing day for Monique was just this past February. It was awful, wrenching for everyone involved.

[00:21:30] Lee Vilker: Some of the victims were destitute, and there was a woman who, she's in her late 60s and she's at home fulltime taking care of her quadriplegic husband and her parents with dementia. And she basically lost all of her money, all of her parents' money. She told Monique that, you know, she couldn't afford to give her parents' money to her, but she needed it to, to help pay for their care, and Monique then told her, "Well look, I can make you more money than you can make in the bank, so give it to me and you'll be able to afford whatever kind of care you need."

[00:22:03] Michelle: Oh. Wow.

[00:22:05] Lee Vilker: So it was devastating, and this woman is the nicest woman you will ever meet in your life. One of the victims who was very, very close, who was like a nanny to her children and, you know, was almost like a mother to, to Monique, she gave a victim impact statement talking about how she lost her life savings, which were not very much to begin with, to Monique, and then as she was walking off, she was sobbing and went over to Monique crying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," as if she had something to be sorry for. So it really, it was devastating what happened to these people. So many people just lost, you know, their life savings and they told us like even beyond the money what really hurt the most was betrayal by someone they really were so close with.

[00:22:49] Michelle: How sad.

[00:22:50] Lee Vilker: So it's just some like heartbreaking, heartbreaking stories. I mean you're just in, in tears. People were in tears. I had a tear in my eye in court listening to them.

[00:22:58] Michelle: I can imagine.

[00:23:00] Michelle: There was also a recent immigrant from Vietnam who lost the family's life savings to Monique just as they were about to start a new life, a chance that Monique herself had gotten so many years ago. Other victims included her husband's fellow firefighters. Prosecutors told the court that Monique Brady had no other motive here than "pure unadulterated greed with an exceptional level of depravity." They said she simply stole to support her extravagant lifestyle, all those international trips, the gambling, the designer wardrobe, and plastic surgery. They also dismissed any blame Monique might try to place on her gambling. They called that an insult to people who have addictions saying gambling is not the problem, she is the problem. Even while Monique was in jail, she made hundreds of unauthorized phone calls with the ID numbers of other inmates, and the warden said she helped inmates were considered a security risk communicate with each other. For all of these reasons the judge sentenced her to nearly what prosecutors had asked for, 8 years behind bars.

[00:24:13] Lee Vilker: She deserves it and I hope other people paying attention to this case know that if they participate in any kind of activity like this, eventually it's going to fall apart, eventually we're going to figure it out, and the same fate is going to await them.

[00:24:28] Michelle: The Rhode Island Attorney General, Peter Neronha agrees. A former federal prosecutor himself, he's tangled with Ponzi schemes which are still very much a thing in scam world.

[00:24:39] Peter Neronha: In fact, there was an electronics Ponzi scheme where no electronics were actually ever delivered to anybody but it's that case which led us to the Google investigation that we did when I was US Attorney and, and, and led to, I think it was the fifth largest forfeiture in the United States at the time for the way Google was running its AdWords program on foreign pharmaceuticals. But what led us to that case was a cooperator who was involved in an enormous electronics Ponzi scheme, which we also prosecuted. So it's been on, and that case goes back to, you know 2010.

[00:25:08] Michelle: These types of frauds can take; you know they can wreck people's lives. They can devastate people for generations to come. So, um, even though we all know that financial crime isn't exactly top of the priority list for any law enforcement agency, how do you kind of make sure that it is getting the attention it deserves, because especially now in times of COVID, scams have just flourished.

[00:25:38] Peter Neronha: Yeah, they've skyrocketed. So there's a number of ways you do it. Yeah, and even pre-COVID. So, for example, we knew that there was a significant problem here with contractors not delivering on their promises to homeowners when they did work on their homes to the tune of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. So we brought, I think it was a case against 19 different contractors. You know, it hadn't been done in a very long time, really to accomplish two things; to hold those uh, 19 contractors to account, not civilly but criminally, but also to send a message out there to contractors that aren't doing it the right way, uh that there were consequences. You know, mortgage fraud was a big deal when I was US Attorney because we were, you know, coming out of the uh, the economic crisis and mortgage fraud was rampant, particularly in Rhode Island. We put together a mortgage taskforce, so you try to direct it in that way.           You know, some of these frauds are large scale, as you were talking about, but some of them are not, you know, some of them are, you know, a thousand dollars, five thousand dollars, eight thousand dollars, five hundred dollars, but to everyday Rhode Islanders, that's a lot of money, particularly in these times that they can't afford to lose.

[00:26:39] Michelle: For sure.

[00:26:41] Peter Neronha: I like to think that it's threat based, uh and it's, it's going after the big players, but I've also learned in this office that you know, sometimes we work in volume and, you know, for Rhode Islanders, a $20,000 fraud is a big deal, and we need to take those cases seriously too. I don't have the luxury as I had as US Attorney to just do the big ones. You know we charged over there in a given year 125 cases, and over here we charge over 6,000. So you know, we try to be threat-based, and we try to bring those cases that are going to have the impact. It's not just in terms of money, it's how it's impacting the person who's been victimized.

[00:27:16] Michelle: Right now, as we speak, Monique Brady is living in another big house, federal prison in Connecticut. And back home in East Greenwich, her victims, like the Savastanos, are still processing what they've been through. It's all still very fresh, the emotion is close to the surface.

[00:27:37] Kim Savastano: Parts of me, I do, I, I, I feel bad in the sense that she put herself in this position and you know what her family endured. I, I feel bad about that. But when you, you know, when you do something wrong, you've got to pay the price, and she did something nasty. And she's paying for it.

[00:28:01] Michelle: For sure.

[00:28:02] Kim Savastano: And you know, will I ever forgive her? I don't know. I don't know.

[00:28:10] Sal Savastano: I don't feel bad for her. I don't, I don't. You know, um, I don't feel bad. I almost feel like um, she got off too easy, (chuckle).

[00:28:19] Michelle: What do you think this experience does to a person long term? How, how has it affected your life and the lives of your family?

[00:28:30] Kim Savastano: You know you, you're a little more cautious now of decisions that you make financially, friendships, 'cause you think you can trust people and you really can't, and  that's kind of sad.

[00:28:41] Sal Savastano: I couldn't see it. I couldn't see it. It was a complete veil. Yep I, I, you know really, really sharp lesson that I learned, it's awful. I mean you know; you just don't want to trust people anymore. I'll never ever trust anybody that way ever again. I, I can't. It's impossible. I'd be like, you know what, I'm going to have to reread it, see it, sign it, signing that. You go to a different level of crossing your "T"s and dotting your "I"s when something like this happens. I can never ever, ever hurt to ask all of the questions to really, really, really get all the documentation because at the end of the day, it can never, never be bad. You know, if I had said to her originally, well before I get involved, I want to see your tax returns. I want to see the approval from the bank. I want to see the email. I want to see the documentation. I want to, I want to do that. I could have done that, so all I can say to somebody out there is if you do have those feelings and it is your brother or your cousin or your sister or your neighbor or whoever it is, put your feelings aside and then just say, great, I'd be more than happy to, but I'm going to do all my due diligence.

[00:29:43] Kim Savastano: I would tell people definitely keep your guard up, but yet, don't change who you are as a person and still have that faith that there are good people out there somewhere.

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[00:30:06] Michelle: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's free Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can help you know what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Michelle Kosinski.

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AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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