Emily Primeaux, CFE
Associate Editor, Fraud Magazine
In my favorite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus, Winifred Sanderson, played by Bette Midler, sings to the adults of the town while at their Halloween dance. As the lines of, “I Put a Spell on You,” drift around the dance hall, the townspeople fall under Sanderson’s sinister spell to keep them dancing until they die. Winifred then leaves to “suck the lives” out of the children of Salem to keep her young and beautiful.
Sure, Winifred doesn’t quite resemble your typical fraudster. But bewitching others to escape prosecution isn’t too far outside the world of white-collar crime thanks to one Chevy Chase woman.
According to an Aug. 29 Bethesda Magazine article, Dawn J. Bennett, a 55-year-old former financial radio host, faces prosecution from both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly defrauding people out of millions of dollars in what is described as a Ponzi scheme.
According to the article, Bennett is accused of taking more than $20 million from dozens of investors for her company DJBennett. But instead of putting the investments toward the business, Bennett reportedly used much of the money to pay back earlier investors and make purchases to support an extravagant lifestyle.
Things get a bit spookier, though, when a chronology of the case showed she attempted to cast spells on authorities who were pursuing her. On Aug. 2, when FBI agents searched her Chevy Chase condo and D.C. office, they allegedly found instructions for putting people under a “Beef Tongue Shut Up Hoodoo Spell” — a spell intended to keep people from talking to her. Winifred would be proud.
Fraudsters come in many forms, not just the bewitching kind. In another case, a straightforward Halloween hoax left one Seattle woman bewildered. According to an Oct. 19 Q13 News article, Elizabeth Bender was upset when she never received a refund for a canceled “Haunted Booze Cruise.” Her $65 ticket promised food, drinks and revelry, but when it became clear that she, and others who’d signed up for the event, weren’t getting their money back, calls to the “entertainment” company went unanswered.
Veronica Craker of Better Business Bureau Northwest says in the article that there are a lot of “event scams” popping up. She explains if the event doesn’t have a specific time and location or the event’s pages have stock-looking photos, these could be red flags. Craker suggests calling the event location before signing up for the event and using your credit card when signing up, because there are more consumer fraud protections with credit card companies.
Halloween is a spooky, but fun, time of year. Don’t let tricksters ruin your fun. And if Winifred Sanderson just happens to show up in your town, do as Max, Dani and Allison suggest and “cover your ears!”