An ugly job, but it’s a living

Sheep get sheered; Pigs get fat; Hogs get slaughtered


Confidence games rely on one important factor – the greed of the “victim”. The Jamaican Switch, Pigeon Drop, Pyramid Schemes, Nigerian Email Scams, etc., all rely on a willing and greedy idiot who believes that he is getting something for nothing. Among my favorites: The “white van guys” who con marks into buying crappy stereo speakers by claiming that they are delivery men who find themselves with too many speakers due to a warehouse error; or the “warehouse” worker who is selling a brand new television – still in the box – that he lifted out of the warehouse.

Someone’s misfortune could mean a heck of a bargain for you, until you plug in the speakers to hear static or open the box and find some heavy junk and no TV.

When I was a detective and someone called to report being “victimized” by one of the something for nothing schemes, I refused to take a report.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. You thought you were buying stolen merchandise so you didn’t check it out too closely. And now that you’ve discovered that you were ripped off by a smarter crook, you want the police to get involved and look out for your interests? I think the better question here is why shouldn’t I arrest you for attempted theft by receiving.

Hello, are you still there?

So, the US stock markets just opened and all the indexes, and almost all of the stocks, are deep in the red. The Asian and European markets got the hell slugged out of them yesterday and earlier today, and the Fed just announced a 75 basis-point (.75%) cut in the fed funds rate. Billions of dollars in unrealized capital gains have evaporated, and it’s shaping up to be one of those days when either you cowboy up or you run for the hills. This is where the suckers get cleaned out and even the steel nerved veterans find themselves hanging on with white knuckles.

The stock markets are not a scam in themselves, but there are flim-flam men selling cons by the dozen. People get in the market because they want to make a profit, and there are always predators there who will try and take advantage of anyone whose desire for profit outweighs their common sense. What we’re experiencing now is the fallout from the latest con game played in the markets.

The subprime mortgage mess is just the aftermath of a scam in which someone created a new investment vehicle and announced that “this time is different and the old rules don’t apply.” Yeah, right. Everybody saw money to be made and they jumped in the water without checking for the sharks. And they were all lying to each other, and themselves.

As defaults and foreclosures rise, the various players in the housing market are all pointing fingers at each other. State prosecutors like Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, are investigating whether investment banks that packaged mortgages into securities disclosed the risks to investors and credit-rating agencies. Investment banks, in turn, are accusing lenders and mortgage brokers of shoddy business practices.”What strikes me here is that this a tainted system from A to Z,” said Tamar Frankel, a law professor at Boston University. “Everybody blames everybody else. If you look at what is being said, there isn’t one who doesn’t blame another and there is half-truth in everything.”

Anybody who didn’t see this one coming is an idiot because they didn’t understand what they were investing in. There is a reason why some people are identified as being poor credit risks – loaning them money is a risky proposition. Creating a whole industry to extend billions of dollars of credit to such people might not be a bad idea, provided that everyone involved understands the degree of risk, and that there is adequate compensation for that risk. Even then, a wise investor finds a way to hedge the bet.

Greedy people ignored common sense and extended that credit and then passed the risk on to someone else – after they took as much as 20% of the loan value in “origination fees”. Some genius came up with the idea of bundling these risky mortgages together as a kind of bond and they were sold to investors all over the world – with some nice fees and commissions attached. It didn’t hurt the sales of those bundled mortgages that credit rating and insurance companies stamped AAA ratings on paper of questionable value – after they got their commissions. And the final greedy suckers to line up were all the fools that are now stuck holding this garbage – all of whom were willing to believe that the so called “collateralized debt obligations” and “structured investment vehicles” were really sound investments – and “Oh, look at the interest rate we’re getting!”

Once again, we are learning that anybody who says “this time is different” is a lying thief or a moron. We are also learning that the new global economy and markets are not quite as decoupled from the US markets as everyone wanted to believe. Yes Virginia, when the US sneezes the rest of the world really does catch a cold.

And now, an hour after the market open, the indices have recovered a lot of ground – but the real test will be where everyone is when the market closes at the end of the trading day.

6 responses

  1. Have I got a deal for you, just hand over two hundred dollars in cash, take this check for two million dollars to that bank across the street and we will split it half for you and half for me. I’ll wait right here until you get back…

    23 January, 2008 at 13:09

  2. Liz

    My goodness, there are so many crazy scams out there. I also would get so frustrated with people for falling for them and then wanting something done. My favorite was the prospective landlord who would have a tenant contact them online and offer to send them a whole paycheck and have the landlord rebate the difference after rent was taken out and send a money order for that amount. By the time the bank rejected the first check, the other money was already well on its way. People certainly do get stupid when it comes to money and like your article says, that even includes excessively large mortgage amounts at close to nothing payments. I was glad to see the economy bounced back a little today.

    24 January, 2008 at 0:43

  3. Someone tried to scam me last week by saying that I won a thousand dollars in a contest at the bank. They made it look very offical, sending me the news in a federal express package with a return federal express envelope, “offical” paper work and a friendly lady that called me up on the phone. They were asking for my social security number and TDL number on the “offical” paperwork. It just didn’t sound right so I called the bank to ask about the contest and they said that it was a scam. I was asked to bring the paper work to the bank so that they could try and track down this elaborate scam.

    27 January, 2008 at 4:31

  4. I enjoyed your blog. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that ‘white van.’

    3 March, 2009 at 23:18

  5. Alex


    I couldn’t find any other way to contact you, so here it is.

    My name is Alex Shebar and I am a police reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio. I really respect your blog and enjoy reading it daily. Police fascinate me and I love to see other people’s take on them.

    As someone whose opinion I respect on all matters police, I figured I’d throw something your way and see what you think about it. I’ve just begun a new humorous text cop blog. Basically it’s “Things Overheard on Police Scanners.” It’s just in the start-up phase right now, so I’d love any comments/criticisms/accolades you have (mostly the last, heh).

    As far as I know, this is the first blog of its kind. Hopefully it will catch on like other “Overheard In…” blogs have. I’ve been twittering what I’ve heard on the scanner on a daily bases and people really seem to enjoy them. I really think they will like this blog as much.

    The blog can be found here:

    So thanks in advance, and hope to hear from you soon,


    24 July, 2009 at 18:29

  6. Perfect post and I definitely like the directives as well.

    23 January, 2010 at 2:39

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