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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Be careful of deals too good to be true

Friday, December 5, 2003

"The lesson here is a simple one. If it looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

As far as scams go, this one was not the best nor the brightest. Yet amazingly, a combination of greed and religion combined to dupe thousands out of more than $20 million. The happy ending to the story is that the bad guys were sentenced to lengthy jail sentences this week. What will happen to the millions still missing remains in doubt.

The scam started in California and quickly spread to the Kansas City area. Here's how it worked. People were called by the scammers and told that as a reward for their strong religious faith, they could buy cheap automobiles from a man who left a multi-million dollar estate and wanted to reward people for their religious faith. The "miracle cars" - which never existed - were "sold" for as little as $1,000 to the faithful who were more than willing to pay that small price for a new vehicle.

Of course, the vehicles never existed, the multi-million dollar estate never existed and the "faithful" were left holding the bag. A California man was sentenced this week to 25 years in prison and ordered to repay $12.5 million for his role in the fraud. Other defendants received smaller but similar sentences. What remains, of course, is the push to recover the money. That I doubt will ever occur.

The lesson here is a simple one. If it looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But human nature is an amazing thing. Add the element of religious faith and you have the formula for a major fraud. And that's exactly what happened.

You would think that a normal, logical person would see through this scam in a second. But people's appetite for greed is equally amazing. Apparently told you can get something for virtually nothing, thousands upon thousands respond by sending a check. And now they're left holding the bag.

We're pleased that the courts put these scam artists behind bars. It may not send a strong enough signal but you can only hope it will.

In the meantime - especially around the holidays - beware of those offering something for nothing. You'll come out way ahead in the long run.

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