WESTMINSTER — In an era in which white-collar crime abounds, when something seems too good to be true, it probably is, an FBI special agent said last week.
People who have an idea for a new company or product or who have had past credit problems are especially vulnerable to con artists, because banks often are reluctant to lend to them, said Special Agent Robert Sidow, a white-collar crime specialist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the past seven years.
"Many of the people who go for these schemes have a good idea andare desperate to get the thing off the ground," said Sidow, who works out of the FBI's Frederick office. "There have been people who havelost their life's savings from buying into these schemes."
Sidow described several types of white-collar crimes schemes to 30 members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon meeting at the Westminster Riding Club on Wednesday.
In "bankruptcy bust-out" schemes, con artists target wholesale merchandisers.
The white-collar criminals who conduct the scheme build up credit with suppliers by buying up large quantities of merchandise and then paying it offpromptly.
Near the end of the scheme, the con artists will place a large order and then never pay after it is picked up.
"One supplier that I have worked with lost $150,000," Sidow said.
He said the scheme is usually run by two or three people who sell the merchandise to a fence, or black market dealer. Then, all but one of the con artists disappear, leaving the single person left to declare bankruptcy.
The wholesalers rarely get all of their money back because thecon artists only leave a few items behind for their creditors to repossess, he said.
To prevent against such a scheme, Sidow told chamber members to beware of new companies that hire temporary help and keep switching secretaries every few weeks, that lease trucks and office space, and that don't keep accurate records or claim the records have been destroyed in fires.
He said "bust-out" schemes have proliferated in New England states, New York City and New Jersey.
Another type of scheme is the "advance-fee scheme," Sidow said.
Con artists who use this scheme often promise "self-liquidating loans" in which people who want to borrow $5 million borrow $15 million instead.
The con artists say they will invest the other $10 million for them and the investments will pay off the loan.
In return for the investment advice, people have been required to pay up to $80,000 in advance fees before they get the loan, Sidow said.
"In one case I have worked on, 50 people paid advance fees to a con artist that added up to $500,000," said Sidow.
Sidow said that because the people who conduct these schemes are good at making up excuses to explain why their clients aren't receiving any money, the fraud goes unreported for several months.
He said that even when people think they have been a victim of a white-collar crime, they are too embarrassed to report it.
"I have had several professionals -- even a professional baseball player -- get taken," he said.