When I set out to chronicle my adventures representing a con man and his crooked corporation, little did I know the publication date would coincide with contemporaneous, Wall Street Ponzi schemes of an epic magnitude.
A skilled con man is one who identifies a need in his mark and convinces the mark that he can meet that need.
The reality is that the con man seldom has the intent, ability or desire to deliver on his promises, but does have the ability to string along his mark in believing that a big payday is a certainty in the near future.
Fully 90% of this book is factual. Ironically, the real life person upon which the book's protagonist is based recently surfaced in Los Angeles, California, foisting yet another con upon the unsuspecting gliterati of Hollywood. He will be addressed in future musings. The book's 10% infusion of fiction allowed me creative license to add humor, continuity and justice to an otherwise tragic, highly complex and sordid financial investor scam.
My sincere hope is that this book will both entertain and educate. For the astute reader, the novel is a how-to-guide in identifying and avoiding con men, Ponzi schemes and shareholder fraud. As helpful, it is a primer on throwing a lifeline to clients, family members and friends that are currently caught up in the vortex of an ongoing con. Sitting a victim down with a trusted financial manager, accountant or attorney and telling him to cut ties with a con man is seldom sufficient or effective if not substantiated with exhaustive research and documentation on both the Ponzi scheme and the con man.
If the con man is accomplished in his dark arts, there has often been a literal brainwashing that occurs with his mark. Rationale does not enter into the formula, so it's near impossible to appeal to the victim's sense of logic, as that has long since been fatally compromised . . . along with the victim's bank account. Con men are masters of social engineering, deceit and psychological manipulation. Depending upon how deep the victim has been drawn into the con, their perception of the relationship differs markedly from that of an objective person external to the con that has not been manipulated.
Compounding their detachment from reality, the investor is also victim of his own self-delusion: after parting with his money, the mark now has a vested interested in the success of the Ponzi scheme and works hard -- to his own detriment -- to convince himself of the venture's legitimacy and the legitimacy of its architect.
The formidable challenge of undoing this damage is very similar to the deprogramming steps that cult members are subjected to in helping them reconnect with family and reality. In order to successfully extract a victim from the deluded mindset and Svengali clutches of the confidence man, a sort of intervention is typically required, not unlike that technique used in confronting those with alcohol and drug abuse problems. Here, the intervention is more methodical but often just as messy as forcing an addict to acknowledge his demons.
Typically what is required for the deprogramming is thorough research and documentation of the con man and his history with investors, as well as a meticulous and exacting dissection of the financial scam on paper. If the con man is accomplished, there will not necessarily be a criminal history -- or even a history of civil suits by bilked investors. This makes it that much more imperative to perform an exhaustive background check of the con man and all known associates principal to the financial scam. Also necessary is a systematic breakdown and outline of the business model employed -- the bogus investment venture used to entrap unwitting marks. Depending upon the complexity of the con, this preparatory work can often take months by trained professionals: forensic accountants, transactional attorneys and skilled financial analysts.
An apt analogy would be the prosecution of a man for murder. It's rare that the prosecuting attorney is able to present a smoking gun to the jury of twelve men and women. Just as most murders are solved and convictions obtained through the careful collection, presentation and prosecution of circumstantial evidence to persuade a jury of a defendant's guilt, circumstantial evidence is more often than not the only way to prove a financial con.
This evidence is then best presented in a formal setting outside the mark's comfort zone. An accountant, lawyer or broker's office can serve this purpose. The material must then be presented calmly but aggressively to the victim in order to peel away the distorted thought processes, impaired reasoning and altered reality instilled and nurtured by the con man to perpetuate the fraud. In short, to reconnect the victim with facts and logic. To give the mark the tool kit he needs to attain a self-awareness of his predicament and exploitation.
Financial frauds take many different forms, from Bernard Madoff Wall Street heists to the more innocuous multilevel marketing scams. Regardless of stripe, there are more common denominators than differences shared by these get rich quick schemes. In musings to come, I'll explore both.
Read, enjoy and learn! Virtual Vice will be available at retailers April 30, 2009.
Virtual Vice - where fiction blurs reality
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