I Put a Spell on You, and Now Your Money is Mine



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!”

The Not So Obvious Fraud Threats: Friends and Family


Mandy Moody, CFE
ACFE Content Manager

As they say, "the truth is often stranger than fiction." This Halloween, that quote rings ever so true when reading some of latest fraud news stories to pop up on my social media feeds. While many of the tales I recently read tell of hackers sneaking in to bank accounts from overseas and outsiders stealing personal information and data, we can't forget to be just as wary of the people we DO know. 

Here is just a sampling of the top news articles that left me in stitches, scared and a little creeped out this Halloween:

In stitches: A man in eastern China is suspected of fraud after he allegedly signed an IOU for a loan for 110,000 yuan ($126,135) using ink that quickly faded. The man, surnamed Ru, had borrowed more than 120,000 yuan since 2013 from his friend, surnamed Ruan, and repaid 10,000 yuan in May 2015 and requested a new receipt, which he allegedly signed using the disappearing ink. Read more.

Scared: Nearly everyone who loses money in a scam says they missed red flags that could have saved them from being taken for a ride. But those signs are sometimes hard for people to see, especially when they're dealing with someone they believe in and who promises to make them money. "They are silver-tongued devils," says Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber. "Utah fraudsters are pretty good at what they do." Read more. 

Creeped out: An Arizona woman claims a fortune teller hypnotized her and talked her into leaving $1,400. The psychic denied the allegations when confronted by CBS 5 Investigates. But the situation is an example of how difficult it can be for law enforcement officials to investigate accusations of fortune teller fraud. Read more.

For more fraud news, follow the ACFE on Twitter.

Don't Allow Crooks to "Ghost" Your Loved Ones


Courtney Babin
ACFE Communications Coordinator

It’s almost All Hallows’ Eve. Your pumpkins have been carved, decorations displayed and candy has been purchased for neighborhood trick-or-treaters. Whether you’re passing out candy, dressing up or people-watching at a local pub, you will be sure to encounter a few authentic costumes. You could almost do a scavenger hunt of sorts: find a vampire, ghost and zombie. Not only do these characters have Halloween in common, they also can be categorized as the living dead.

Much like a vampire, ghost or zombie in a movie, fraud can be rampant and unforgiving. Fraud preys on anyone, even the dead. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), identity thieves can obtain information about deceased individuals in various ways such as obituaries, death certificates and websites that offer the Social Security Death Index. This abuse of a deceased individual’s identity is referred to as “ghosting.” The University of Texas’ Center for Identity estimates that “approximately 2.5 million identities are stolen each year from deceased victims.”

Ghosting occurs partly because accounts in a deceased individual’s name will remain active until the financial institution is made aware that the customer has passed. According to the ITRC this is because it takes time for the Social Security Administration to transmit the Death Master File to the financial industry. Also, the Death Master File is not always accurate since it is based on information provided by consumers and governmental agencies.

With identity thieves lurking, here are some steps to protect your deceased loved one’s identity so that its “ghost” does not haunt your family:

  • The IRS recommends that families “avoid putting too much information in an obituary, such as birth date, address, mother’s maiden name or other personally identifying information that could be useful to thieves.” Be aware that identity thieves do scan obituaries in newspapers. Leave out any information that could relate to applying for a credit card or opening a bank account.
  • If there is a surviving spouse or other joint account holders, the ITRC notes for them to “immediately notify relevant credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders and mortgage companies of the death.
  • The ITRC also recommends contacting all credit reporting agencies, credit issuers, collection agencies and other financial institutions that need to know of the death. There might be different mandatory procedures for each agency. Here is information that the ITRC says to include in all letters  to these agencies:
    • Name and SSN of the deceased
    • Last known address and last five years of addresses
    • Date of birth
    • Date of death

Send all mail as certified mail and request the return receipt. Also keep any correspondences, noting the date sent and any responses you receive. Request a credit report as well. This report will tell you of any accounts with which you need to follow through. Once you receive the credit report, ask that it is flagged as “Deceased.”

Whether this information is helpful now or in the future, make sure that your family is protected from criminals whose only intent is to resurrect your loved one’s identity for their profit.

The Bizarre, the Gross and the Just Plain Weird


Mandy Moody
ACFE Social Media Specialist

I didn’t have to look any further than my Twitter feed this Halloween to find some truly disturbing and eerie fraud news. From the stranger-than-fiction characters to the Hollywood-like dramatic plots, stories of fraud can leave you feeling many different emotions: shocked, angry, sad or, as fitting for today, really creeped out.

Here are the top three new stories that made me cringe, slightly uncomfortable and even a little nauseous:

Bizarre: An interview with Conrad Black, the Canadian media mogul turned convicted fraudster, began to derail almost as soon as the cameras began rolling last week on the BBC. Reporter Jeremy Paxman repeatedly attempted to make sense of the madness but unfortunately instead had to endure an interview in which Black denied any wrongdoing, praised his own ability to withstand prison and took pride in his control over not “smashing [Paxman] in the head.” Hopefully Black can channel his urges into smashing some pumpkins this holiday.

Gross: Spreading possum urine around your home might not deter eager trick or treaters, but it will keep potential home-buyers a safe distance away. This unsavory practice is typical of a new mortgage fraud scheme: flopping. Homeowners make properties look as unappealing as possible for potential buyers by tactics like preparing fake repair estimates, tearing out cabinets and, yes, even splashing a little rodent urine around the house in hopes of an accomplice buying it at a low price. The accomplice can then flip it in a short amount of time and make a hefty profit to split with the original seller.

Just plain weird: I had to reread this story about a bank robbery case in Austria before it actually sank in. After pleading guilty to a bank robbery almost 20 years ago and serving three and half years in jail, Otto Neuman was returned 51 pounds. Yes, you read that correctly. The bank robber was returned some of the money he stole. And the reason he was returned the money? Wait for it…apparently no one else wanted it! The bank was insured for the money, and the insurance company “had no entitlement to it.” Weird, yes. Ethical, no.

For more fraud news and commentary, follow the ACFE on Twitter or check out our news blog at FraudInfo.com. Happy Halloween!