The Con's Con: An FBI Warning

April 27, 2010

The story below is reprinted from the referenced Federal Bureau of Investigation Press Release .  I found the tale so compelling that I just had to reprint it in


The Case of the Con Turned Con Artist

He was already in jail for fraud and other crimes, yet he managed to lead a massive, two-year identity theft and bribery scheme that earned him a separate 309-year prison sentence-more than twice that of crooked financier Bernie Madoff, and reportedly the fourth-longest in the history of U.S. white-collar crime.

His name is Robert Thompson, and his story is an eye-opening one for consumers and businesses who take the risk of sharing personal information over the telephone.

It began in a Louisiana state prison, where Thompson began stealing a raft of personal information-dates of birth, social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit cards numbers, etc.-from more than 61 individuals, churches, financial institutions, and businesses. That information enabled him to steal from the victims' bank accounts and use their credit to buy big-ticket items-like appliances, cell phones, and big-screen TVs. He even attempted to purchase a luxury SUV. Most of these items ended up with his partners in crime-accomplices inside and outside prison.

The ruses: Thompson used various methods to gather personal information, but one of his tried-and-true ploys involved calling a bank and pretending to be an elderly stroke victim who had been hospitalized. "I don't have my checkbook with me and need access to my bank account," he would claim. Most banks didn't fall for it, but some did. Thompson also called individual victims directly-sometimes saying he was a state trooper who needed to verify personal details after an identity theft arrest.

The operation: Thompson initially made his calls on prison phones. Knowing he could only make collect calls-in accordance with prison rules-he had his outside accomplices obtain three-way calling services on their personal phones, accept collect calls from Thompson, and dial whatever number he wanted. Since many of the calls were long-distance, he also contacted phone companies-using a phony identity-and had those calls charged to the accounts of various churches.

Eventually, prison officials got wind from us of what Thompson was doing, and he was transferred to a special lockdown area in order to keep him away from the phones. But he paid a $10,000 bribe to a corrections officer assigned to his cell block to use the officer's personal cell phone. So his shenanigans continued.

Thompson also had his accomplices-including a former guard he met at another prison-withdraw money from the phony bank accounts he had set up, pick up merchandise he had ordered, and/or let their home addresses be the delivery points. 

The FBI entered the picture in mid-2006 after being contacted by a car dealership that had $50,000 stolen from its bank account. After an extensive investigation, we identified Thompson as the culprit. At least eight of his co-conspirators also have been charged as part of the overall investigation, which was worked closely with state and local law enforcement and corrections officials. 

But old habits die hard-after pleading guilty and expressing remorse for his crimes during a 2009 court appearance, Thompson was back working the phones the very next week. The judge had little sympathy during Thompson's sentencing.

The case is a lesson for us all.  "Be crime smart" when it comes to sharing personal information-yours or someone else's. Don't give it out over the telephone unless you have verified the identity of the caller.


Silly season is now if full bloom among Wall Street's regulators.  Following the testimony of Goldman Sachs' executives before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, we learn that the industry's cops are still up to their old shenanigans.  Bungling and fumbling!

================================================================ New FINRA Cases Analyzed by Bill Singer

Regulatory lawyer Bill Singer has analyzed and posted the latest crop of FINRA disciplinary cases.   

  • If you want to steal a half a million bucks from a bank, just write "At the Customer's Request" on a deposit slip.  Think I'm kidding?  CLICK HERE.
  • These bank cases are getting annoying -- I mean, c'mon now, it can't be that easy to steal money -- can it? Read about one enterprising employee who embezzled $1,452,158, and then enjoy a hilarious Woody Allen clip. CLICK HERE
  • How about the broker how sold $2.5 million of promissory notes to individuals, for which he received commissions of approximately $157,000. His investors ultimately lost more than $2.2 million of the $2.5 million that they had invested. CLICK HERE
  • You heard about the Merrill Lynch caper that seems straight out of a Marx Brothers' movie?  Ya got yer disappearing facsimile machine. Ya got yer lawyer who's not a lawyer but has a business card that says he is. Ya got some odd shenanigans involving the Office of General Counsel. CLICK HERE
  • What's up with Equity-Indexed Annuties (EIA)?  Looks like FINRA is cracking down. Read these cases for guidance. CLICK HERE