Case study: The supermodel banking scam

Recently, while investigating a fraud case, I stumbled upon a wide-ranging bank scam that sounds like it could be the next Leonardo DiCaprio movie. A senior source at Citibank told me about the ‘Supermodel Visa Scam’, nicknamed because the women who open the fraudulent accounts are often Eastern European women in town on short-term visas.

‘These women look like supermodels,’ my source told me. ‘They walk into the bank in these little sundresses and long legs, smile, open an account, then leave. That’s the their real job.’

The New York Times has reported that many small business owners can be wiped out by malware and wire fraud since banks often not take responsibility for unauthorized debits from business accounts. But the techniques of this scam are mostly old-school.

Like former spy turned model Anna Chapman (pictured), many of these women use their charm to help seal the deal and get the information they want. Once the initial paperwork is filled out, all they have to do is wait.

Within a few weeks, they receive a sizeable deposit, usually from a) a single paycheck diverted from a high net worth individual or b) a small business payment. At a minimum there are three people involved: The sexy decoy, the plant inside select companies and the person who does the actual online transactions.

Then, my source adds: ‘They only come back once – to take out a suitcase full of money.’

The faceless person behind the computer knows exactly when the payroll or transfer will be processed – so if, for example, the money comes through at 2 am on a Sunday night, the woman comes back on Monday morning first thing to clean out the account.

Her work is now done. By the time the individual or business figures out that the money is missing, the woman – like a hotter version of Keyser Soze – has vanished.

My source said that the scammers are often able to net around $20,000, but says that there have been thefts for over $500,000 using this method. And there is no easy way to track these guys (and girls) down: The information on the initial paperwork was fraudulent, and the woman who came to the bank isn’t the person who masterminded the scam.

Business bank accounts are ripe for fraud because they use EIN numbers, rather than social security numbers, to open the account. Anyone can request an EIN for free online in about 30 seconds. Individuals may get compensated, but very often small business bank accounts do not offer the same level of FDIC protection – and a $20,000 loss could put a fledgling new business out of business.

It’s scary stuff, but a good reminder to trust but verify, check bank accounts often, and always remember – if a person or business seems too good to be true, call a PI to check it out.

The Case of the Fake General: How to Verify Military Personnel

The case of Michael McDowell, the fake military man in Fort Worth, Texas charged with bigamy and impersonating a public servant after wearing bogus uniforms and a Purple Heart, brought up a good question from a potential client: How does a person verify military records? Fifty-seven year-old McDowell claimed for years that he was a General who had earned a Purple Heart for bravery – but he lied to his second wife and married her before divorcing his first one. McDowell was sentenced to 10 years probation, which many consider a slap on the wrist considering his decade of deception.

Verifying a soldier’s story can be especially important considering that a huge number of catfishing cases and other love scams use photos of hunky military men as bait. A career in the armed services can provide a perfect cover story for a scammer: The man can claim to be unavailable to meet because he is stationed overseas, or stuck in a hospital awaiting a life-saving liver transplant that only your $25,000 wired via a courier in Nigeria can provide.

Defense Manpower Data Center’s (DMDC) has a military verification service  that can tell members of the public if a person is currently serving in the military. The site is available 24 hours a day. When you perform a check, based on the Social Security Number and other personal information furnished, the system will indicate that the Department either does not possess information regarding the individual or that the individual is in the military.

But what if someone is already retired? The public has access to certain military service information via the Freedom of Information Act without the veteran’s authorization or that of the next-of-kin (the un-remarried widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister) of deceased veterans.

According to the National Archives website, examples of information which may be available from Federal (non-archival) Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) without an unwarranted invasion of privacy include:

  • Name
  • Service Number
  • Dates of Service
  • Branch of Service
  • Final Duty Status
  • Final Rank
  • Military Education Level
  • Awards and decorations (eligibility only, not actual medals)
  • Photograph

Former military personnel records can be requested by mail using a Standard Form 180. All requests must be in writing, signed and mailed to the following address:

National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138

Websites like The Fake Warriors Project also publish a list of scams and work to expose military fraudsters.


Case Study: The Fake Doctor

My client, ‘Amy’, believed that she had found her very own Dr McDreamy: A handsome, wealthy and well-educated doctor who adored her – and was talking marriage within weeks. Amy is beautiful, intelligent and at the top of her game in her career – but being too trusting in her private life has gotten her burned in the past. When she invited me to be her ‘wingwoman’ and tag along on a group date, I had the perfect opportunity to spot red flags.  Read more

Case Study: Prince Charming

Girls grow up dreaming about finding their Prince Charming, but taking an adult look at our favorite fairy tales illustrates the importance of a pre-marital background check. As an investigator I need to verify (at a minimum) identity, marital status, financial information, and moral character for my client, Cinderella. How much does she know about her knight in shining armor? And what really happens to princesses after they ride off into the sunset?

Read more

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