Indianapolis, Indiana is home to many impressive things. The city of over 800,000 is most famous throughout the country as home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of the Indianapolis 500. In addition to a rich visual and performing arts culture, it’s also home to the nation’s largest children’s museum. Families across the United States cheer for one of two major sports franchises based in Indianapolis: the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, and the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. It’s also home to one of the country’s best private investigators.
Family-owned and operated for more than 30 years, Lauth Investigations International has specialized in complex corporate, financial, and private investigations worldwide. It is one of many private investigation firms based in Indiana’s capital. Given recent crime data, Indianapolis is a city where a well of clientele may never run dry. One of the areas of criminal investigation most associated with private investigators is missing persons and violent crime, so it’s no a wonder why so many private investigators have set up shop in Indianapolis, with violent crime on the rise.
Relative to its size and population, Indianapolis is comparable to Portland, Oregon or Charlotte, North Carolina. Portland has a crime rate of 227 per every 100,000 people, which is lower than the national average crime rate. North Carolina experiences a higher than average crime rate of 441 per every 100,000 people. As of 2016, Indianapolis’ reported crime rate was 823.2 per every 100,000 people. A CBS News report ranking dangerous cities placed Indianapolis as the 12th in the nation, citing the violent crime rate at more than three times the national average.
News media is saturated with headlines concerning violent crimes committed against Hoosiers, so it was a surprise to most when the FBI reported crime was actually down 10% from 2016 to 2017, especially burglaries and robberies which were down 17%. Violence—especially gun violence—however, is climbing. As of October 1st, 2018, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department had investigated 127 homicides and 109 murders, with 12% of those cases attributed to robbery. The recent murder of Tykece Mike-Jones is a tragic example. He was killed over a cell phone he was attempting to sell to a person he contacted through the internet—another in a string of killings IMPD has been putting on blast to warn citizens. According to the FBI, 2017 was the third record-breaking year for crime statistics in Indianapolis, and stats from the first half of this year have projected 2018 will be no different. Law enforcement attributes the overall drop in crime to the increased ubiquity of surveillance cameras in the metropolitan area.
Firms like Lauth Investigations International can assist in many types of criminal investigation. Just as in the case of violent crimes, private investigators combine the skills of law enforcement and the autonomy of a private citizen to conduct concurrent or independent investigations into a person who vanishes under any circumstances. But not all missing persons cases are the result of a person meeting a violent end. As “the crossroads of America,” Indianapolis experiences a moderate to high level of human trafficking. One of the most complex issues in human trafficking is tracking traffickers across multiple jurisdictions as they transport victims from city to city. Law enforcement can often be handcuffed by jurisdictional issues, but private investigators use their autonomy to pole vault over this red tape in pursuit of leads that might otherwise go cold. Due to his experience in complex missing persons investigations, private investigator, Thomas Lauth has worked with Interpol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Consulate and other foreign embassies on a myriad of cases, including human trafficking.
Indianapolis private investigators are not limited to cases of violent crime and missing persons, however. Every major metropolitan area will always have cases dealing with infidelity or child custody, but private investigators based in Indianapolis have ample opportunity to service local businesses with their skill-set. Indianapolis is home to a diversified body of businesses, but its five top industries are:
- Real estate
Many business owners—especially small business owners—often are not aware of how a private investigator’s services can protect, or even save, their companies. Every business needs valued employees, and finding the right person can often be an arduous task. The candidate might be qualified, but how much about their record can be independently verified? Hiring a private investigator to do background checks for employees will ensure that any verification of their qualifications will be vetted. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many employers are making independent background checks a regular step of their hiring process in order to weed out potential predators in their workforce. All types of business can experience the full spectrum of employee theft (from vanishing office supplies to full-on embezzlement), violation of non-compete agreements, and offenses under the umbrella of employee malingering, including FMLA abuse. The independent involvement of a private investigator in the investigation of any employee misconduct will lay a strong foundation for any HR or legal consequences, ensuring that the investigation is thorough and objective from beginning to end. Kristen Justis, the Managing Director of Client Relations for Lauth Investigations International, commented on the role Lauth can play in bolstering local business, “We have a wealth of opportunities to help private citizens every day. We help frantic parents find their missing child, or put a spouse’s suspicions of infidelity at ease, but those are the cases that sensationalize this industry. Many business owners are not aware of how the services we offer can go a long way towards extending the longevity of their businesses.”
Every major industry operating in Indianapolis can rely on the services of a private investigator to protect their business—not just from its own workforce, but potential consumers as well. Finance, insurance, and real estate of all kinds can benefit from a comprehensive vetting of a consumer after their request for services. Financial institutions and insurance brokers may check a consumer’s credit, but a full background check on an applicant can sharpen the big picture when making a cost-benefit analysis regarding any transaction. In the housing industry, any landlord renting or leasing their property can be fully informed about their tenants when they employ a private investigator to run a background check. An analysis of Indianapolis’s economy by the Indianapolis Business Journal concluded that the apartment booms the city experienced were driven largely by empty-nesters and childless millennials, projecting that it would only continue to grow.
Indianapolis already has a national economical reputation for developing and sustaining niche markets, such as the market around motorsports and auto-racing. As the metropolis continues to grow in population and economy, so will the opportunities for Indy-based private investigators to support their community.
Carie McMichael is the Communications and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on missing person and investigation topics. For more information, please visit our website.
Elizabeth Holmes was once the shooting star of Silicon Valley. With a lifelong hatred of needles, she set out to turn the world of healthcare on its ear by developing a more efficient and inexpensive way to draw and test blood in order to screen for serious diseases. In a world where access to affordable healthcare is a hot-button issue, Holmes was slated to become a revolutionary of her own making, with Forbes magazine dubbing her the “youngest self-made woman billionaire.” Now, Holmes is a pariah in Silicon Valley and heads are left spinning in the wake of the Securities and Exchanges Commission having issued a 24-page document revealing just how her duplicity left investors in Theranos’ research out $9 billion dollars.
To litigators and legal commentators, Holmes’ fall from grace is a familiar narrative. Intention to defraud aside, they say the roads in Silicon Valley are paved with ambitious young entrepreneurs who are more than willing to stretch the truth in order to sell their business. They have the determination to succeed and the naivety their deception will be forgiven once their investors are flush with wealth from returns. Since this has happened before and will likely happen again, how was Holmes able to mislead investors under the radar of Theranos’ board of directors? A breakdown of the board’s composition might hold the answer.
Prior to the release of the SEC complaint, the members of the Theranos board of directors had impressive backgrounds that might leave little doubt in their abilities to supervise the good of the company. There were former politicians such as U.S. senators and former cabinet members, who dealt with high-stakes situations every day in their capacities. There were former executives with previous experience in making decisions and placing trust in competent individuals. But despite their differences in resume, they all had one glaring similarity: They were all white men, over the age of 65. Research has shown while their backgrounds might have been impressive, their homogenous nature may have played a huge role in preventing them from identifying Holmes’ fraud before it was too late.
According to Prof. Andras Tilcsik, who holds the Canada Research Chair in strategy, organizations, and society at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, diverse boards are what prevent problems in large companies, “Companies with more gender diversity on their boards, for example, are less likely to reissue financial statements because of error or fraud. Diverse groups also tend to consider more factors when making a decision. Racially mixed juries deliberate longer, share more information, discuss a wider range of relevant factors and even make fewer mistakes when recalling facts about a case. Ironically, lab experiments show that while homogeneous groups do less well on complex tasks, they report feeling more confident about their decisions.” What the research is telling us is this: The more a person looks like us, the more we are willing to trust them. The attention to detail that might have been shown by a more outwardly diverse board was not shown by the Theranos board of directors in the case of Elizabeth Holmes. The similarities shared between members of the Theranos board likely created a false sense of security and allowed Holmes’ deceptions to go unnoticed.
Diversity in expertise prevents boards from becoming too comfortable with business practices and makes them open to new ideas. Given the research on homogenized groups, it is reasonable to think this group of white men with an average age of 76 may never have questioned the veracity of Holmes’ research and her promises to deliver the next big thing in medical technology. This has happened before and is likely to happen again, because while the source of the fraud is often dealt with and forgotten, there is no examination of how board composition can enable fraud.
Carie McMichael is the Communications and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, writing about investigative topics such as missing persons and corporate investigations. To learn more about what we do, please visit our website.
By: Kym Pasqualini, Lauth Investigations Feature Crime Writer
You receive a phone call and hear the voice of someone you don’t recognize. They tell you they have your child and will kill them unless you pay a ransom. They direct you not to call police or you will never see your child again.
What would you do?
You tell the person on the other end of the phone not to hang up. You don’t want to disconnect with the one person that can reunite you with your child. You plead for your child’s safe return. “Please don’t hurt her. I will do whatever you want,” you cry.
They demand you go to the bank and wire a ransom of several thousand dollars. Do you call the police? Do you pay the ransom and hope some thug will return your child to you safe?
A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare. For those who do have a missing child, living with such ambiguity is said to be the most traumatic of human experiences.
Sounds like a situation that only happens in the movies, right? Or, something only happening to the wealthy.
According to Newsweek, the Seattle Police Department is issuing warnings to parents advising scammers are targeting parents and demanding a ransom in exchange for the safe return of children they kidnapped . . . well, virtually kidnapped. Police throughout the country are following suit.
On March 8, 2017, in Ravensdale, Kings County, approximately 30 miles southeast of Seattle, a mother drops her children off at the school bus. Shortly thereafter, she receives a phone call from a man who threatened to kill her child if she didn’t pay a ransom.
The mother was able to reach out to the school to make sure her children were there. The school confirmed they were safe.
King’s County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News, this was the first reported incident in their jurisdiction.
In another case, a woman called a father “hysterically crying” claiming to be his daughter and stating she had been kidnapped. A man then got on the phone and told the dad if he didn’t pay a ransom, he would hurt his daughter.
Officers in Denver have responded to several reports of kidnappings. In a press release issued by the Denver Police Department, police say the caller demands a monetary payment in exchange for the release of the victim’s child. The caller dials the parents in the afternoon and demands the ransom to be wired to a bank.
After investigating the recent incidents in Denver, they determined the kidnappings were false and all children involved in the incidents were found safe.
Virtually Kidnapped Daughter
On Monday, April 16th, Sean Hollister was at his residence in Longmont, Colorado, about 15 miles northeast of Boulder, and received a frightening call from his 11-year old daughter who he thought was at school.
“My daughter was in tears, sobbing,” Hollister told the Times-Call. “I thought she was in trouble or something. She said, ‘Dad, I’m sorry I let this happen,’ which is exactly what she would say,” Hollister said.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong,’ and I offered up her name, so he knew my kid’s name,” Hollister said a man got on the phone and told him, “I got your daughter in a truck. She is on her way to Mexico.”
When Hollister told the man he was calling the police, the girl came back on the phone screaming. “Daddy, they are cutting me. Don’t call 911.”
Hollister was able to call police on his cell phone. “The caller told Hollister to get his wallet and identification and promptly leave the house.
Victims of “virtual kidnapping” describe the incident as traumatic.
Hollister’s postman was in the yard when he walked outside. “I’m mouthing ‘Help me,’ and he is freaking out,” said Hollister.
Longmont police showed up at his home fast and they took over from there and the caller hung up. Officers quickly determined Hollister’s daughter was safe.
The traumatized father would later find out the callers were trying to pull off a “virtual kidnapping” scam.
“The gap between the cops getting there and finding out my daughter is okay was terrifying,” said Hollister. “Who would think someone would be that cruel?”
Hollister’s caller had a Mexico number, but police say it is possible the caller was local and hijacked the number to appear like the call was made from out of the country.
In yet another case, a woman received a frantic call her brother had been kidnapped, injured and bleeding out, demanding thousands of dollars through a wire to return him safely. She was able to reach her brother on another phone and never paid any money, but a clear sign anyone can be a victim of this type of horrific scam.
According to FBI kidnapping expert, Agent Eric Arbuthnot, several organizations use these scams regularly to make money.
“Thousands of dollars in ransom,” said Arbuthnot. “And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”
According to Arbuthnot many of the cases have been happening on the West coast and along the border involving criminal organizations from Mexico, some claiming to be members of the cartel.
The FBI has seen recent increases in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas.
Monroe Police Department in Connecticut said by using social media, scammers can identify a victim, look up relatives, and reference names of family members and friends to make the call appear legitimate.
FBI Supervisory Agent Christopher Johnson said his office in St. Louis, Missouri deals with these types of crimes. “Scammers will often mention specific facts about the parent or victim, likely from information they were able to obtain online.”
Authorities say about one in five kidnapping cases are successful resulting in the criminal getting their ransom and not getting caught. While extortion has been around for decades, virtual ransom kidnapping calls are increasing around the country.
FBI Special Agent Glenn Milnor warns parents about virtual kidnapping.
With this emerging scam, the FBI has launched a nationwide campaign to warn parents to fight back against “virtual kidnapping.”
If you receive a virtual kidnapping ransom call…
Unlike traditional kidnapping schemes, a “virtual kidnapper” has not actually kidnapped anyone. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if you receive a call from an individual demanding a ransom for the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is suggested you quickly evaluate the following to determine if you are receiving a legitimate ransom call:
- Caller insists you stay on the phone.
- Call does not come from your child’s cell phone.
- Caller tries to stop you from contacting the kidnap victim.
- Call includes demand for ransom to be paid via wire transfer.
- Ransom amounts may decrease quickly.
Knowing what to do
Police say it is best to hang up the phone; however, if you continue the conversation pay attention to the following:
- If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Deliberately try to slow the situation down and ask to speak to your child directly.
- Ask “proof of life” questions like, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- To gain confirmation if your child is an actual kidnapping victim, ask questions only your child would know such as the name of a pet.
- Listen very closely to the voice of the person speaking. If possible record the call.
- Have someone else try to call your child’s cell phone, school, text, social media, etc., to confirm their safety.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to make arrangements.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom: by wire or in person.
- Don’t deliver money in person.
- Immediately call your local FBI office and police.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), as of March 31, 2017, there were 86,618 active missing person cases in the FBI database, with 8,792 entered as involuntary.
Experts agree an actual kidnapping with a ransom demand is quite rare but all experts urge parents to be vigilant.
To read the FBI warning, please click here.
From Latin, it means “buyer beware.” It’s a phrase that conjures scenes from the famous tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Young Jack’s mother, filled with shame and frustration, regrets sending her son to market after finding out he’d sold their most valuable possession—their cow—for a handful of beans. Jack’s mother feared her son had been a victim of consumer fraud, and unfortunately, it is far from fiction.
In many ways, capitalist America is the perfect hunting ground for the man with the magic beans. America is one of the largest consumer nations on the globe. Securing an excellent deal on goods and services means bragging to your friends about how you got the new lawnmower for a song. The consumer feels intelligent and capable, as if they managed to somehow trick the store or salesperson into giving it to them at an attractive price. American consumers chase this feeling by attending special sales, racking up credit card debt, and turning coupon-clipping into an Olympic sport—all in the interest of outsmarting the man with the magic beans.
Luckily for American consumers, there are institutions that help protect them from consumer fraud, such as the Better Business Bureau, which identifies problematic businesses that might swindle American consumers out of their hard-earned money. There’s the Federal Trade Commission, a government agency policing business practices and policies to protect American consumers and regulate competition within industries to maintain a healthy, well-balanced economy. In the long century since both of these institutions were established, the man with the magic beans has also changed and evolved, just like any predator.
One of the most common types of consumer fraud in America is mortgage fraud. Owning one’s home is still very much a part of the American dream. Americans shop for homes for months, searching for the certainty they will not overpay for their homes. Those who have morbidly derelict credit are afraid to answer the phone, desperate to evade bill collectors, petrified of losing their home. They are perfect targets for criminals running foreclosure-rescue schemes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines it as “perpetrators profit by selling the property to an investor or straw borrower, creating equity using a fraudulent appraisal, and stealing the seller proceeds or fees paid by the homeowners.” Perpetrators convince the debtor they can transfer their poor credit into the name of a third-party investor (i.e. the perpetrator), renting their property until such a time their credit is once again in sufficient standing. The perpetrator fails to make the mortgage payments on behalf of the victim and pockets the profit.
As technology advances, there are more convenient ways to pay for goods and services with the rise of electronic pay, using applications and online services to pay bills. It might be the best way to avoid another common type of consumer fraud: debit-card fraud. Many Americans are familiar with credit card fraud but might believe their debit cards are safe. Ken Stalcup, a certified fraud examiner working with Somerset in Indianapolis, identifies these types of fraud for a living, but even he is not immune to consumer fraud. He was just paying the bill at a restaurant. The waitress disappeared out of sight with his debit card to clear his bill, and when she returned, nothing was amiss. However, Stalcup’s bank was alerted when it appeared his debit card was used to purchase computer equipment almost halfway around the world. The waitress had sold his card information, enabling other criminals to steal from him. His advice to other vulnerable consumers is to “avoid letting their debit cards out of sight and check their accounts daily.”
One of the most devious forms of consumer fraud is charity frauds. Fake charities are set up with the intention of exploiting humanity’s capacity for the desire to help those less fortunate than oneself using the same system that real charities use to collect legal donations. According to a 2011 statement by the FTC, they received more than 30,000 reports of people making donations to fraudulent charities. Just as easily as Americans are vulnerable to a good deal, they are also vulnerable to putting their money towards a charitable cause, whether out of actual benevolence or the appearance of such. These predators are especially fond of slithering out of the woodwork in the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes like Katrina and Maria that devastated both New Orleans and Puerto Rico respectively. These tactics add a brand-new level of sleaze to consumer fraud, taking advantage of the American need to help their fellow man.
In addition to remaining an informed and skeptical consumer, there are other ways you can protect yourself from consumer fraud. Enlisting the help of a private investigator or a similar inquisitive entity can help you protect yourself from scams like those mentioned above and resolving these frauds after they are perpetrated. A private investigator’s job is to serve the specific needs of their client, diligently capturing the entire picture of how severely the consumer might have been affected by a particular fraud. Of course, they can be a perfect tool for exposing the agencies that claim to want your money and knowing exactly where the money is going. Local authorities are often overwhelmed by crime statistics that force them to practice triage when dealing with different types of cases. Private investigators have an invaluable list of tools at their disposal, which they can often use without the restraints legislation places on law enforcement. Whether you’re outsourcing to a third party or taking your personal consumer protection into your own hands, never let your guard down when it comes to the man with the magic beans.