Being a responsible consumer in the year 2019 means educating yourself—not just on the products and services—but of the ways scammers and thieves exploit consumer behavior for their own financial gain. As technology advances with the convenience of SMS text messaging as a security feature, financial applications that put your finances at your fingertips, and the tangled world wide web, consumer fraud scams will only continue to mutate and evolve. Here are five of the most common types of consumer fraud scams to avoid in 2019.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Financial Fraud Unit, mortgage fraud exploits a consumer’s fear of losing their home to make a quick buck. Mortgage fraud schemes come in many forms, including but not limited to equity skimming, loan modifications, and foreclosure rescue schemes. The perpetrators behind these schemes are often former real estate professionals who use their intimate knowledge of mortgages to swindle homeowners in distress. Real estate agents who are currently employed can exploit their authority to bolster the validity of their scheme. The FBI and FTC advise that consumers should be wary of any unsolicited phone calls, emails, regarding their home finances, and never sign any paperwork or documentation that they do not fully comprehend.
Debit Card Fraud
Debit card fraud occurs when an individual’s debit card information is obtained to make fraudulent purchases. Debit card fraud is one of the most difficult schemes to avoid in day-to-day life, because so many Americans have gradually transitioned from carrying cash to carrying only their debit card as means of legal tender. Anyone with access to the debit card’s information—including the businesses and vendors we trust every day—can pull this information to commit a fraud. Unfortunately, the only recourse consumers have in protecting themselves is to avoid letting their card ever leave their sight, and to keep a watchful eye on their accounts and report any suspicious activity.
Perhaps one of the most despicable types of consumer fraud is charity fraud. Scammers set up shell organizations to receive donations that do not go to those in need, but rather line the scammer’s pockets. Frauds of these type spike significantly during the holidays and in the wake of natural disasters in order to exploit humankind’s benevolence. The name of the game with charities is research. Any charity worth its salt is going to stand up to a great deal of due-diligence and fact-finding. Part of being a responsible consumer is knowing where your money is going.
Winning the lottery is a dream of many Americans, with fantasies of kicking back and never having to put in another hard day’s work for the rest of their lives. Despite the wide range of demographics with these dreams, lottery fraud scams usually effect senior citizens in the United States. The scam usually begins with a letter or email letting the individual know they have won. The correspondence usually includes details about fees that are involved with receiving their winnings. The FTC warns that individuals who have won a legitimate lottery prize of any kind should never have to pay a fee to collect their winnings, and consumers should be suspect of any unsolicited correspondence stating as such. Consumers should also be advised that United States law does not support the sale and transference of international lottery tickets, so any correspondence from international lotteries is most certainly a scam.
Studies by Javelin Strategy & Research conducted over the last seven years indicate that in 2017, there were as many as 16.7 million Americans impacted by identity fraud, with $16.8 million in stolen funds and assets. Identity theft can be committed for a number of reasons. Perpetrators can steal an individual’s information with the purpose of starting over again under a different name, or to escape their creditors. Most commonly, however, identity fraud is simply committed with the explicit purpose of stealing money from American consumers. Once a scammer has an individual’s identifying information, like dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and their mother’s maiden name, they can use that data to make fraudulent purchases in the victim’s name, withdraw funds from their bank accounts, and destroy their credit, leaving them financially arrested. The aftermath of identity fraud is devastating and can cause shockwaves across decades with exponential consequences.
If you have been the victim of a consumer fraud scam, contact a private investigator today to learn how their unique set of skills and professional autonomy can help you locate the scammer in your midst. Call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation (317-951-1100) and a simple solution to your consumer crisis.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigation, fraud, and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.
After the Recovery of Jayme Closs,
Parents Concerned for Own Children’s Safety
Jayme Closs vanished October 15, 2018 and found alive 88-days later in rural Wisconsin. Photo courtesy WOKV TV.
The recent disappearance of Jayme Closs, 13, and the brutal murder of her parents, gripped the nation for nearly 3 months. Jayme’s abduction, and eventual recovery, has parents now wondering how safe their own children are when traveling to and from school.
On October 15, 2018, Barron Sheriff’s Department received a cell phone call from a local residence but were unable to make contact with the caller. We now know that urgent call came from Denise Closs, 46, just moments before she was brutally murdered in front of her own daughter and just following the murder of her husband James, 56.
Police arrived within minutes of the 911 call made from the home.
When police arrived at the Closs home, outside of Barron, WI, they found both parents deceased from gunshot wounds. Jayme was missing.
For months, law enforcement conducted searches looking for the missing 13-year old, puzzled as to why the perpetrator had murdered both of Jayme’s parents in the home, but not Jayme.
According to Jack Levin, professor and co-director of Northeastern University’s Center on Violence and Conflict, it’s unusual for a double murder to be linked to a missing child case. “You almost never see this,” Levin said.
The Closs home sits along Highway 8, a two-lane highway outside of Barron, surrounded by woods. The highway is the main road through the city and then extends to surrounding areas.
Day, weeks, and months went by with no sign of Jayme, then 88 days after her disappearance Jayme made her escape.
Former Attorney General and Judge Brad Schimel, who led the Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation of the Closs case, says investigators always had reason to believe Jayme was alive.
After her recovery, Jayme told police she could hear sirens seconds after being bound, gagged and kidnapped from her home. We find out now, the suspect, Jake Patterson, 21, even yielded to sheriff deputies when they were speeding to the Closs home. While Police Responded to the crime scene, Patterson made an 80-mile drive back to his home in Gordon, with Jayme in the trunk of his vehicle.
Immediately, Barron County Sheriff called in the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation for help. “Within a matter of a couple hours, we can have 40 to 50 agents at the scene of a major investigation,” said Judge Brad Schimel.
CBS 58 Investigates sat down with Judge Schimel, who left office only four days before Jayme was found. “At what point did you stop thinking she might have been killed that night too?” CBS 58 Investigates asked Judge Schimel. “Well, when she didn’t turn up somewhere in a matter of couple days, then we had great hope,” Judge Schimel replied. He added after two people are so brutally murdered, taking the teen alive would be a liability and only made sense if the perpetrator intended on keeping her.
In addition, with hunting season and thousands of Wisconsin residents in the woods hunting, they had even more hope when there were no discoveries of bodies in the woods.
“We believed someone was holding her, which is not good,” said Judge Schimel. We knew that meant this was a very difficult life for her but being alive is a very good thing.”
According to a criminal complaint filed by investigators, Jayme’s kidnapper decided to abduct her after watching her get on a school bus. He was planning on hiding her at a remote cabin until she escaped on January 12, 2018.
Remote cabin where kidnapper Jake Patterson held Jayme Closs for 88 days. Photo courtesy Fox 11 News.
“At that moment,” he said, “he knew that was the girl he was going to take,” the complaint said.
Patterson went to Jayme’s house two times in the days before abducting her.
On the evening Jayme was abducted, Jayme told police, she was sleeping in her room when the family dog began barking. She woke her parents when she saw a car coming up the driveway.
According to the complaint, Jayme and her mother, Denise, hid in the bathroom. They both heard a gunshot, and she knew her father, James, had been killed.
Denise began calling 911 but Patterson broke down the bathroom door, told her to hang up and directed her to tape Jayme’s mouth shut. When Denise complied, Patterson shot her. Following, Patterson taped Jayme’s hands and ankles and dragged her out to his car, throwing her in the trunk and driving away as sirens began to sound, the complaint said.
Patterson had shaved his face and head as well as showered prior to the attack in an attempt to minimize DNA evidence. He dressed in all black. He took his license plates off his car and put stolen plates on while disconnecting the dome and trunk lights.
He took her to a cabin he claims was his, ordered her into a bedroom and told to take her clothes off, the complaint goes on to say.
He put her clothes in a bag and talked about having no evidence. Whenever he had friends over, he made clear that no one could know she was there or “bad things could happen to her,” so she had to hide under the bed.
He would stack totes, laundry bins and barbell weights around her so she could not move without him noticing. The complaint says Jayme was kept up to 12 hours at a time with no food, water or bathroom breaks.
Jayme escaped after Patterson made her go under the bed and told her he would be gone for five or six hours. Once gone, she pushed the bins away, crawled out, put on a pair of Patterson’s shoes and fled the house.
Barron County Sheriff holds picture of Jake Patterson, arrested for the kidnapping of Jayme Closs. Photo courtesy Mercury News.
Once found, Jayme described Patterson’s vehicle to police, and he was apprehended within 10 minutes of her escape being reported.
What Jayme went through while held, we may never know exactly, as the Douglas County District Attorney Mark Fruehauf said he does not anticipate filing charges against Patterson for crimes committed during her time in captivity.
“A prosecutor’s decision whether to file criminal charges involves the consideration of multiple factors, including the existence of other charges and victim-related concerns.”
Patterson faces two counts of intentional homicide, each carrying a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release. Patterson will be back in court Feb 6, for a preliminary hearing.
Estimates of Missing Children Abducted by Strangers
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates approximately 100 children are abducted by strangers every year. Referred to as a “stereotypical kidnapping,” the United States Department of Justice defines this type of kidnapping as 1) the victim is under the age of 18-years old, 2) the kidnapper is either a stranger or “slight acquaintance,” 3) the abduction involves moving the victim at least 20 feet or detaining them for at least one hour, and 4) the victim is either held for ransom, transported at least 50 miles, detained overnight, held with an intent to keep permanently, or killed.
While this may seem like a relatively low number of children abducted by strangers, it still amounts to thousands of children who, over the years, have been entered into the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and never been found.
In fact, during the months of January 2018 and May 2018, there were 3,468 children entered into NCIC as Involuntary. This missing person category includes cases of children who police have determined were taken involuntarily, but not enough evidence to make a determination if they were taken by strangers. *Source FBI NCIC Report
According to the FBI NCIC Report for May 31, 2018, there were 14,714 active missing child cases in the United States. Some of these cases date back 30 years and remain active because the missing child has never been found.
The Closs case may be unique in many respects but is not alone.
The Disappearance of Jaycee Dugard
It was June 10, 1991, in the peaceful town of Meyers, California, an unincorporated community in El Dorado County. Meyers sits along Route 50 in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains just 6 miles south of Lake Tahoe.
Jaycee Dugard vanished from her northern California bus stop on June 10, 1991 and found alive 18 years later. Photo courtesy of NMCO
Jaycee Dugard, 11, sporting pink tights and a white shirt with a printed “kitty cat” on the front, was walking from her home to a school bus stop when she was abducted.
As her stepfather, Carl Probyn, watched Jaycee walk up the hill to the bus stop something horrifying happened. Suddenly, a gray car stopped next to Jaycee. Through the window, Probyn saw an unidentified man roll down his car window and begin speaking to his stepdaughter.
Suddenly, Jaycee fell to the ground while a woman jumped out of the car and carried the fifth-grader into the car.
Probyn would tell police he had witnessed Jaycee’s kidnapping and actually gave chase with his mountain bike. Searches began immediately after Jaycee’s disappearance but generated no reliable leads despite the abduction being witnessed by a family member and the vehicle being described as a Mercury Monarch.
El Dorado Sheriff’s deputies, along with California Highway Patrol search for Jaycee after she was abducted by strangers while walking to her school bus stop in 1991. Photo courtesy CBS News.
Years passed, but Jaycee’s family never gave up hope they would find her, passing out tens of thousands of fliers and extensive national news coverage. The town of Meyers was even covered in pink ribbons to honor Jaycee’s favorite color.
In August 2009, convicted sex offender Philip Garrido, visited the Berkeley Campus at the University of California, accompanied by two young children. He was there to lobby for permission to lead a special event at the campus as part of his “God’s Desire Church” program. His unusual behavior at the meeting sparked an investigation that led Garrido’s parole officer to order him to take the two young girls to a parole office in Concord, Calif., on August 26, 2009. It was later ordered Garrido’s house be searched by police.
Area behind kidnapper Philip Garrido’s home where missing child Jaycee Dugard was found 18 years after her disappearance. Photo courtesy NY Daily News.
Police searched Garrido’s home in Antioch, Calif., near Oakland, approximately 3 hours southwest of Meyers, where Jaycee had vanished from 18 years earlier.
That incident led to the discovery of Jaycee who had been kidnapped by Garrido and his wife Nancy Garrido in 1991. For 18 years, Jaycee, age 29 when found, had been kept in concealed tents, a shed, and lean-tos, in an area behind the Garrido’s house in Antioch, Calif.
Garrido, a sociopath, and pedophile had kidnapped and raped a woman named Katherine Callaway Hall in 1976. He had also abducted Katherine from South Salt Lake Tahoe in a very similar manner to Jaycee’s kidnapping. Garrido was on parole for Katherine’s kidnapping when police stumbled upon Jaycee. She was alive.
In 1991, at Jaycee’s bus stop, Garrido had shocked Jaycee with a stun gun, she remembers feeling a tingling sensation and falling to the ground. Nancy Garrido acted as her husband’s accomplice scouting for young girls for her husband and the one who picked Jaycee up off the ground transporting her to the car on the day they abducted her.
During the 3-hour ride to Garrido’s home, Jaycee remembers falling in and out of consciousness and heard Nancy laughing saying, “I can’t believe we got away with this!” Knowing she was in danger, Jaycee had no way of knowing the hell, life was about to become.
Soundproof shed where missing child Jaycee Dugard was held captive in for 18 years, in Antioch, California. Photo courtesy BBC.
Once they arrived at the Garrido’s home, the pair forced Dugard to strip naked, with the exception of a butterfly ring she was wearing. They then blindfolded Jaycee and placed her in a soundproof shed he had in the backyard where he raped her for the first time, just 11 years old.
For the first week, Jaycee was kept handcuffed in the isolated shed, but things would get much worse.
A few weeks into the ordeal, Garrido brought Jaycee a TV but she was never allowed to watch the news because they did not want her to see the news frenzy surrounding her disappearance. She was only allowed to watch shows of people selling jewelry and found their voices calming, helping her sleep.
Frequently, Garrido would go on 24-hour methamphetamine binges which resulted in rape marathons. He would tell Jaycee dogs were outside the shed to scare her or tell her he was going to place her inside of a cage to keep her fearful of escaping.
While alone, Jaycee kept a journal to deal with her pain and wrote about how she wanted to see her mom. She always ended the note with her name “Jaycee” and a little heart beside. Nancy found the journal and forced Jaycee to tear out all of the pages with her name on them. It was the last time Jaycee was allowed to write or say her own name.
While in captivity Jaycee would give birth to two daughters. The first at age 13 who she named Angel. Jaycee would later explain that once giving birth she never felt alone again.
Jaycee gave birth to her second daughter “Starlit” in 1997.
She now had two daughters to protect.
Even while living in the worst of circumstances Jaycee managed to plant flowers and build a little school outside the shed where she homeschooled her daughters with her fifth-grade education.
For years, the three lived behind the 8-foot fences Garrido had built around his home to keep potential peeping neighbors at bay.
When Garrido had shown up at the campus that fateful day in August 2009 with two little girls, both “submissive and sullen,” Lisa Campbell, the special event s coordinator was concerned and asked him to return the following day. Garrido left his name on a form and left the campus. Campbell then informed an officer who conducted a background check on Garrido and discovered he was a registered sex offender on federal parole for kidnap and rape.
The wheels were now set in motion that would crack the decade’s long-missing child case wide open.
2009, the piece of paper Jaycee Dugard wrote her name on telling police officers who she is. Photo courtesy of NMCO.
Over the years, Jaycee had been directed by Garrido to tell people she was the girl’s big sister and to have Jaycee’s daughters refer to himself and Nancy as mom and dad. When questioned by officers, at first, Jaycee told them her name was Alyssa, claiming to be an abused mother from Michigan who had ran from a domestic violence situation to protect her daughters and living with the Garridos. Not buying the story, officers continued talking to her trying to glean more information. Eventually, Jaycee relaxed and would write her name on a piece of paper. Sliding it to police it said, “Jaycee Lee Dugard.”
Officers immediately asked her if she wanted to call her mom which she replied in disbelief, “Can I call my mom?” Jaycee’s first words to her mother in 18 years were “Come quick!”
Garrido pleaded guilty to kidnapping and raping Dugard and sentenced to 431 years to life at Corcoran State Prison and Nancy Garrido was sentenced to 36 years to life.
Jaycee is now the author of A Stolen Life: A Memoir and lives with her two daughters, reveling in her freedom.
While Jaycee Dugard and Jayme Closs were recovered, some children have not been so lucky.
Disappearance of Etan Patz
Etan Patz, 6, walked out of his New York City home in 1979 headed for his school bus stop just two blocks away in 1979 – and he’s never been found.
It was the last day of school before Memorial Day weekend. Etan had asked his parents to let him walk alone the short way to the bus stop for the first time. He carried his book bag and had a dollar to buy a soda at the corner deli on the way.
His parents were not aware of Etan’s disappearance until he had not returned from school. They would later find out the young boy had never made it to school.
Etan Patz vanished May 25, 1979 in NYC on his way to his school bus stop.
Police set up a Command Center at the Patz Manhattan apartment and began conducting ground searches and going door to door, but no solid leads have developed over the years that have led police closer to finding out what happened to him.
His disappearance rocked New York City and to this day haunts the law enforcement officers who have spent decades trying to find him. “Every missing child case is very important, but this was one of the oldest ones we had,” says NYPD Lieutenant Chris Zimmerman.
Etan was the first child placed on a milk carton, hundreds of thousands of fliers blanketed the country and countless new stories, all to no avail.
Etan’s disappearance became more than a missing person’s case but changed the way parents watched over their kids.
With stories like Etan’s and Jaycee, along with the recent disappearance and recovery of Jayme Closs by a predator who targeted her after watching her board a school bus, parents are again wondering what they can do to keep their children safe.
Safety 101 – Walking to and from school
Parents struggle with many things when it comes to the safety and security of their children. One question a parent may ask is how old is old enough to begin walking to and from school or to a bus stop alone.
There has been a huge drop in the number of kids who walk or ride their bike to school regularly. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, in 1969, 48% of K-8 grade walked or bicycled to school. By 2009, only 13% do.
While pedestrian injury rates are down since 1995 – mostly due to improvements made to traffic infrastructure, implementing the use of crossing guards and sidewalks, there are no statistics that allow for us to know the dangers of how many children are approached by strangers. How many predators are out there targeting our kids? Though statistically, the chances are relatively minimal your child will ever be abducted by a stranger, it does not lessen our responsibility as parents to protect them and prepare them for anything that “could” happen.
Gavin DeBeckers, author of “The Gift of Fear” and one of the leading experts on predicting and managing violence says there is no magic age when kids can walk or bike to and from school or bus stop.
You and only you can make the final decision on when your child is ready to walk alone. However, you can expect to see other children beginning this walk around age 9 to 11. DeBeckers says it depends upon cognitive skills, the ability to follow directions and reasoning, directing parents to ask themselves the following questions:
- Does your child honor his feelings? If someone makes them feel uncomfortable, that’s an important signal your child should react to.
- Does your child know when it’s okay to rebuff and/or defy adults?
- Does your child know it’s okay to be assertive?
- Does your child know it’s okay to ask for help?
- Does your child know how to choose who to ask?
- Does your child know how to describe his peril?
- Does your child know it is okay to strike, even injure, someone if he believes he’s in danger?
- Does your child know it’s okay to make noise, scream and run?
- Does your child know that is someone tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, “This is not my father?”
- Does your child know if someone tells them not to scream, the thing to do is to scream?
- Does your child know to make EVERY effort to resist going anywhere with someone he doesn’t know?
These questions should apply to your children of any age, even older children are vulnerable to abduction. Keeping in mind, Jaycee Dugard was abducted within the view of her parent, it is important to evaluate the route your child will take and choose the safe route between home and the bus stop/ and or school and practice walking it with your child until he demonstrates awareness.
Remind your children to:
- Stick to well-traveled streets, using the same route every day and always avoid shortcuts.
- Don’t wear clothes or shoes that restrict movement.
- Carry backpacks and bags close to their body.
- Don’t speak to strangers and ALWAYS tell a trusted school official, teacher, store clerk, policeman or another adult if someone has made them feel uncomfortable.
- Teach them to remember specific things about cars and people.
- Let them have a cell phone for emergencies (these can also be tracked by installing a simple and free App called Life 360), which is a locator, messaging and communication app. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Having children walk to and from school or a bus stop has its risks as well as benefits. We all know the risks. However, it is an important milestone in your child’s life and with that comes a sense of independence that comes with being permitted to walk alone or with friends to school or the bus stop. A sense of independence that they will carry throughout their lives and hindering that could stunt this important growth spurt of maturity.
Remember, we can provide our children with tools to keep themselves safe but the tools we teach them early on can also get them through the hardest of times in life.
In the case of both Jayme Closs and Jaycee Dugard, they relied on their innermost strength to survive the most horrific of circumstances. As parents, that’s all we can hope for.
Those who met their current significant other in an age before the internet often have a difficult time understanding courtship rituals in the year 2019. Even Gen-Xers who are navigating the single-scape are having trouble adjusting to the way social media and dating apps have changed the way relationships are formed in the United States. The internet has done wonderful things for the world of dating. It reignites old flames who haven’t seen one another since high school. It connects the dots between persons across the country. It brings together people from different walks of life for a far more interesting relationship. However, the anonymity of the internet and the potential to be whoever you want to be has fostered one of the most devastating types of scams that exist in the modern world: romance scams perpetrated by “catfish”.
If you follow internet culture, you’re likely aware of a television program called Catfish: The TV Show. The series is a continuation of creator Nev Schulman’s 2010 documentary simply called Catfish. The film followed Schulman’s journey through his own romance scam, in which he met a woman online named Megan through the internet. Megan claimed to be many things: a singer, songwriter, recording artist, photographer, rancher, and part of an equally-talented family. Through their online communications, Megan led Schulman to believe that her life was very picturesque, but tragically, she has cancer. After several attempts to finally meet Megan fall apart, Schulman and his production team make the trip to finally meet her and begin to realize along the way she may not be truthful about her identity. At the end of the film, Schulman and his team realize that there was never really a Megan. “Megan” was actually a middle-aged woman, Angela, who used the internet as a way of connecting with others in her insular life. The online identity of “Megan” was not entirely fiction—Angela did have a daughter named Megan, who was a photographer, and she used that piece of personal information to craft a persona that endeared her to men and garnered their attention on the internet.
Schulman’s story is unfortunately a common thread in today’s dating world. In 2011, a year or so after the documentary first premiered, studies showed that males between the ages of 40-49 and females between the ages of 50-59, made up the largest age groups effected by romance scams or “catfishing,” 28% and 35% respectively. In most confidence tricks, frauds, or scams, the goal is simply to rob an individual of their finances for personal gain. Catfish scams are particularly ugly, because it’s not just about money. A catfish’s target is often a trusting person, a benevolent person who might experience low self-esteem, and is often isolated from others for a myriad of reasons. That person makes a real emotional investment in the catfish with the intention and belief that they will spend the rest of their lives with that person when they finally meet.
“Catfish” is an appropriate name for this particular type of scammer, according to Special Agent Christine Beining, a seasoned financial fraud agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Houston Division. Even as recently as 2017, she says, romance scams were on the rise. According to the FBI’s website, in 2016, almost 15,000 complaints which fell under the umbrella of romance or confidence frauds were reported, which is 2,500 more than 2015. Beining characterizes a catfish in search of their next victim as throwing a fishing line, “The internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be. You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people. The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target. Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop.” She offers the example of a Texas woman who ended up sending a cumulative $2 million to a man she met over the internet who “said all the right things.” This catfish targeted the woman’s strong Christian faith, and capitalized on it to pull her into his web of deception. When scammers are using social media maliciously, how are we supposed to protect ourselves in a digital age?
One of the country’s best fraud watchdogs, the Better Business Bureau, conducted a study last year on the current climate of catfishing and other forms of romance scams. While there are some discrepancies among experts as to what defines a romance scam, four consistent stages of a scam emerge:
Contacting the victims
Like Christine Beining said, scammers use the internet as a fishing line, and create dozens of fake profiles online with stolen pictures and manufactured personas in the hopes of netting a handful of victims. They hope to form an instant connection with that person, usually though an alleged common interest based on information mined from the victim’s page or profile. A potential victim loves to ski? Suddenly that catfish also loves to ski, even if they’ve never been. After a short period of time, the catfish will often encourage the victim to move the conversation somewhere else, like texting or another instant-messaging platform. This way, if their profiles are flagged by the social media platform as a scam, they will still be able to contact victims already in the net.
Like any predator, catfish depend on grooming behavior to make the victim emotionally dependent on them. They learn about the victim’s life—their hopes, their dreams, their traumas, their family drama. This stage varies in length, but it can often go on for months as catfish attempt to build an impenetrable wall of trust around themselves and the victim. Endearing themselves so allows them to have credibility in the victim’s eyes when those around them might arch an eyebrow. In a further effort to telegraph their integrity, scammers might also send gifts to their victim as one of the hallmarks of a “real relationship.” This is the stage where scammers begin to test the limits of the victim. They ask for small favors, such as small cash amounts to buy groceries or pay the phone bill so their communication may continue. It’s also the stage where catfish begin to further isolate their victims from their friends and family so the fraud can continue unhindered.
This is where the predator’s bites out of a victim’s income become exponentially larger. In any romance scam, one of the most common plot points in the catfish’s narrative is an “emergency,” likely with themselves or a close member of their family for which they need a cash sum. It can be anything from hospital bills to a plane ticket. If the victim is always willing to send money, there’s no way to predict when the fraud will conclude. This is also where victims can find themselves in real danger. Victims who are not simply bilked out of their savings can easily get mixed up in things such as money laundering or larger scale frauds as an oblivious participant. In the most severe cases, victims get on a plane to meet the catfish and meet a violent fate at the hands of a person they thought was their sweetheart.
The fraud continues
Exposing a catfish does not mean the nightmare is over. There has been an increase in brazen catfish continuing the fraud after being unmasked, this time disguised as a good Samaritan who just wants to help the victim get their money back. They can take the form of a law enforcement officer or a private investigator. The original persona might also reach back out sheepishly—admitting that they had been caught, but what originally began as a con to get their money has now become true love. It’s not uncommon for victims to allow the fraud to continue, having acknowledged the catfish’s honesty.
If you’ve been the victim of a catfish or romance scam, contact a private investigator today to learn how they can help you expose the culprit. A private investigator’s skill set and lack of any bureaucratic ladder will allow the case to move swiftly and efficiently, as time can be of the essence when chasing a scammer, who can quickly pack up their tent and move on to another social media platform before law enforcement pins them down. Private investigators also have no jurisdictional restrictions within their cases, which is particularly crucial to exposing scammers who are operating outside of the United States. They can also empower you with crucial knowledge to prevent the cycle of fraud from continuing. While it may sound callous to some, the best rule of thumb is to never send money to an individual you have never met in real life. After all, the internet is not a substitution for face-to-face interactions. If you’ve connected with someone over the internet, and the chemistry is there, a genuine person will not have the resistance and excuses that catfish often do when the jig is up.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information, please visit our website.
As the Western idealization of a family unit continues to grow and change, more and more parents are either opting to place their child for adoption or adopt themselves rather than have a biological child. As such, adoptions are on the rise. The Adoption Network estimates the number of children in foster care at any given time in the United States is around 428,000. Of that staggering number, about 135,000 are adopted every year. Children are put up for adoption under a wide umbrella of circumstances in varying degrees of frequency, but what is not uncommon is a child’s adolescent or adult curiosity about the exact nature of where they came from. Because adoption agencies have their own privacy restrictions regarding birth parents, adopted children are often left with only a few meager details and options. Private investigators, however, are well-equipped to find a child’s birth parents; with a comprehensive tool chest and a wealth of experience in searching for persons who may or may not want to be found.
The rate at which information technology is developing has been denoted by some as Orwellian, but the ubiquity of public databases and fact-finding software available to the public is higher than ever. Hiring a private investigator may be costlier to the individual than conducting the search oneself, but without the proper tools and expertise, individuals can follow false leads and dead ends for years at the cost of their time and personal finances. Private investigators, especially ones who specialize in locating biological relatives, can cut down the time and expense individuals would ultimately incur during their search. The complexity of adoption laws and procedures (often varying state-to-state) is a knot of cable wires that is difficult for any private citizen to untangle.
Private investigators with a variety of specialties are suited for this work because there is no chain of command in their business. Most notably, private investigators are often their own bosses, with the freedom to pick and choose the cases they want to focus on. Unlike the underpaid, overworked civil servants who work in child services, or the overwhelmed agents at an adoption agency, private investigators only handle less than a half-dozen cases at one time, so an adoption case will not just become another folder in a tall, precariously leaning pile on someone’s desk. There are no jurisdictional boundaries preventing a private investigator from going across state lines, as long as they are licensed in the state or being contracted by a private investigator who is licensed in the state. While there are limitations to what information can be gathered from the state based on the birth-parents wishes, the autonomy of a private investigator is ideal for tracking down either birth parents, or children who have been placed for adoption.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway estimates, of all parents placing their biological children for adoption, nearly half of those parents will then seek out those children after they have reached adulthood. Parents in search of a biological child always have a search advantage as the legal adult at the time of the adoption. They play a pivotal role in establishing the boundaries that might preclude this child from ever contacting them again in the future. Depending on the terms of the adoption agreement, the adoption agency may not be able to release information about anonymous birth parents to their biological children.
The privacy laws surrounding adoption in the United States date back to the beginning of the 20th century, and were put in place to protect the privacy and identity of all parties involved in an adoption. It’s only in recent years that the Adoption Information Act has made it possible for both parents and children to request information about the other in situations where all of the aforementioned parties have waived their right to privacy. Adoption laws have also gone through a metamorphosis in recent decades where parents are required to fill out detailed medical histories for the benefit of the child’s physical and mental health growing up. In addition to information about their own birth (date, location, hospital), a birth parent’s medical background might be the only information an adopted child possesses.
Locating a birth parent or child is a form of investigation known as a skip trace. “Skip” refers to the action of searching for a person, derived from an old colloquialism, “to skip town,” or leave with very little notice or instruction. Trace refers to the process and resources involved in finding the person, such as international online databases, surveillance, and location technology and services. Skip traces in adoption cases can go both ways: A child in search of their birth parents, or a birth parent in search of the child they placed. Private investigators who take adoption skip traces have a mountain of data to sift through, including adoption registries, religion-related services (such as options offered through the Catholic church) and a mountain of databases, including—but not limited to—welfare, child protective services, private adoption agency, foster care, police, court, hospital, and international records.
Depending on the level of information available to either a birth parent or biological child (and subsequently the investigator) adoption cases can have a mixed bag of possible results. In scenarios where a private investigator is unable to find a birth parent, it’s typically because there is not enough information on the record to begin with. Because of varying degrees of regulation across all adoption agencies (both state and private), the level of information and quality of record keeping is a crap-shoot, and investigators often hit dead ends in those types of investigations. In other circumstances, after many long hours of research and investigation, the private investigator is able to locate the birth child or parent, only to report back to the client the subject in question has no desire to reunite with them in any fashion. These are solutions often unsatisfactory to the client, but it is a difficult reality, and the client will have some semblance of closure regarding their questions about the subject. However, in the event private investigators locate the birth child or parent, and the subject is willing to re-initiate contact, private investigators can be ideal liaisons to bringing biological parents and children together in adulthood. They can alleviate some of the most common anxieties surrounding meeting strangers, and have experience with reconnecting displaced parties that will inform a gradual process of reestablishing contact.
Life has an infinite potential to get messy very quickly, and a child being placed for adoption is one of the consequences of the indeterminate. Fortunately, private investigators not only have the sleuth skills to find persons under all circumstances, but an acute ability to read people that benefits the precarious nature of the cases they take on. When a birth parent and child are open to meeting again under more pleasant circumstances, private investigators can build strong bridges across decades of separation, confusion, and curiosity.
Divorce and child custody are polarizing topics in the United States. Divorce itself is an ugly business. Two people who stood in front of their friends and families and promised themselves to another now find themselves in a situation where the life they built together is over. Often it is a storm of heightened emotions, personal crises, mediation, negotiation, carping, and resentment. For many, children sit in the eye of the storm, helplessly witnessing the destruction of their family unit around them. As if this were not tumultuous enough, children often become silent pawns between two parents or caregivers who seek to hurt one another. When developing a strategy for navigating a custody situation, caregivers often do not consider the possibility of hiring a private investigator to help build a credible case for sole or partial custody.
Many couples who are on the brink of divorce, or already treading in the harsh current of proceedings, default to the advice of lawyers, the court system, and child services when it comes to issues of custody. There is a myriad of reasons for this, including a parent’s financial means, work schedule, health issues, and ignorance. What’s problematic about leaving issues of custody in the hands of lawyers and the courts is families in turmoil become files in a drawer. The decisions made on behalf of the legal system often rest on the review of a mountain of paperwork; courts relying on police reports, financial/asset summaries, psychological evaluations, et cetera. What’s on paper becomes the load bearing beam for any decision made regarding custody, because caregivers in conflict are both subject to scrutiny in their statements against the other.
Private investigators have a tool chest similar to that of law enforcement allowing them to document a subject’s movements, behavior, and treatment of their children—both prior to divorce proceedings and after. Members of law enforcement are often the most credible investigators in the eyes of the court. However, unless a criminal act is reported, such as domestic violence or child neglect, law enforcement has little to no involvement in custody cases. Parents without those tools at hand are left with little recourse. Any evidence they document themselves is subject to scrutiny by the courts and by opposing counsel as misrepresented, inaccurate, or downright false. In those cases, those parents trying to build a credible case against their co-parent or caregiver can be maligned as malicious by opposing counsel, and those details may prove to be to their detriment.
The number one advantage of hiring a private investigator to document a questionable parent’s behavior is their ability to move through any environment undetected. Despite the fact a study determined there was an excess of 78,000 private investigators employed in the United States alone in 2017, you’ll never see a good one in the field. Private investigators are trained to blend into the crowd and surveil inconspicuously in order to ensure the subject does not modify their behavior for the benefit of being watched. In addition to hiding in plain sight, part of maintaining success in their profession means staying up to date on the best available surveillance technology on the market in order to gather evidence for their cases. Things like cameras disguised as ink pens, or drones with quiet motors that will not be easily detected. Parents are on their very best behavior when in mediation or appearing before a judge, but private investigators can completely upset the current state of a custody case with evidence they uncover in the field. They can document things like abuse and neglect through photographs, video, audio recordings, witness testimony, and the same examination of vital documents that would be performed by the courts. Their training has equipped them to be on the lookout for things like substance dependency, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or gambling problems. They can also document the opposing caregiver’s living conditions, whether or not the child is clean and well-fed, and their emotional wellness while in the care of said person. What makes a private investigator a particularly valuable asset is they are an objective third-party. Even if they have in fact been paid by one party in a custody case, misrepresentation of facts on their part may mollify their client in the moment, but will ultimately hurt their integrity with future business. Due to this, private investigators can become unimpeachable witnesses to behavior they’ve seen on the part of the opposing side that would damage the child’s well-being.
Private investigators can take on child custody cases at many different levels, all of which can be beneficial to the parent who wishes to establish a case against another parent or caregiver who they perceive to have questionable integrity. As with any investigation, the sooner the process of documenting and gathering evidence starts, the stronger a foundation the parent will have when they present their case before a judge. Parents who are considering divorcing a co-parent or caregiver and intend to establish a pattern of unfitness should consult a private investigator right away. The subject is more likely to proceed as they would normally prior to news that their partner is taking them to court. While the subject may not suspect they are being legally surveilled during a divorce proceeding, they are aware of the fact that—at a minimum—their behavior and actions during that time will be taken under consideration by the courts. The time to start collecting evidence is before divorce papers are drawn up and served.
However, it’s no mystery circumstances may not allow for this. Events prompting divorce proceedings may be very sudden, allowing no time for a hyper-covert investigation on behalf of the client. Parents who are in abusive relationships may not have access to the financial resources for this kind of initiative. As such, many private investigators enter the case when divorce is already a reality and custody proceedings are in full swing. One of the major criticisms of the court system in custody cases is children are often defaulted to the custody of their mothers, leaving fit fathers or other caregivers with few options. In one such example, an investigator from Indianapolis, IN was hired to investigate the parental fitness of a mother fighting her ex-husband and his parents for custody of their eight-year-old daughter. The child was shuttled back and forth between her mother and father’s respective homes for a few months while family court proceedings moved at a glacial pace. The father became increasingly concerned about his daughter while she was in her mother’s custody, and hired a private investigator to find answers. The investigator uncovered the mother’s place of residence on the record was dilapidated, dirty, and not at all a suitable environment for a child. Additionally, the investigator found the mother’s new husband had a criminal record, regularly used drugs, and had questionable judgement when it came to things like social media interaction and encounters with law enforcement. This led to the father retaining full custody of his daughter, with the mother being allowed only supervised visits. This investigative strategy is a two-way street, meaning that a parent who has been falsely accused of abuse or neglect in order to limit access to their child can hire a private investigator to disprove these claims, document the proper living conditions for the child in question, and secure evidence of malicious intent on behalf of the caregiver making false allegations.
Children should never be used as chess pawns in a messy divorce. Ultimately, any child custody investigation should be about the child’s safety and well-being—not about which parent is righteous in their indignation. A private investigator’s expertise, testimony, and lack of bias can shine a crisp, contextual light on the muddied waters of a child custody case.