Rank #1: Alex Goldman’s Call Center Scam
Alex Goldman is the host of the Reply All podcast. When he gets a peculiar phone call from someone claiming to be from Apple tech support, Alex quickly realizes it’s a scam — and he wants to learn more about the scam artist and the industry he works in. Alex goes on a deep dive into the shady world of call centers and makes some startling discoveries.
Apr 06 2018
Rank #2: Grace’s Gold and Silver Scam
After her father dies, Grace is in charge of investing his lifetime savings. She decides to put the money into gold and silver. Along the way, she realizes the investment isn’t what she had thought it was.
Apr 27 2018
Rank #3: Sweetheart Swindler: Part 1
Jim spent much of his life building a real estate empire on the West Coast. In the process he became a millionaire, profiled in newspapers and on television. But in 2007, when the recession hit, Jim lost his vast fortune. At 76, Jim is running a small resort in Lake Tahoe, working to slowly rebuild his finances, when he receives a mysterious call. The woman on the other end of the line asks for Jim by name. She introduces herself as Desiree and asks if Jim remembers her. He doesn’t, but Desiree is unfazed, claiming to have met Jim at the resort while she was a guest. She wants to get to know him better and before the call ends, Desiree has arranged another trip to the resort to visit a flattered Jim. Desiree arrives with a business opportunity for Jim, who quickly realizes she thinks he’s still wealthy. She’s visibly disappointed to find that Jim’s house is no longer a mansion but a renovated Airstream trailer. At every turn of the visit, Desiree finds a reason to ask Jim for money — she needs investors for a new business and money to pay a family member’s mortgage — but Jim isn’t in a position to lend or invest money. Desiree decides it’s time to go home. When Jim returns from taking her to the airport, he has an uneasy feeling. He looks to make sure the checkbook the resort keeps to pay vendors is still there. It is, but the stash of cash he keeps in the same drawer, the little savings he has left, is gone. Jim immediately contacts the authorities, but Desiree, who will eventually come to be known as the “Sweetheart Swindler,” is just getting started.
May 24 2019
Rank #4: A Hiker’s Trail of Lies: Part 1
When Melissa met Jeff Cantwell online, the two connected immediately. He was friendly, well spoken and shared her love of the outdoors. Jeff told Melissa stories of the daunting hikes he’d completed and shared the tragic loss of his family in a car accident. But these were just stories: In reality, Jeff “Cantwell” was Jeff Caldwell, a con man who’d spent decades ripping off members of the close-knit outdoor community.
Sep 14 2018
Rank #5: Sweetheart Swindler Part 2
Desiree, the “Sweetheart Swindler,” has made off with $15,000 of 76-year-old Jim’s money. Once a millionaire, Jim lost his real estate empire during the recession, and now thanks to Desiree he has also lost the savings he worked tirelessly to rebuild. Desiree has moved on to a new mark, Doug, a veteran living in Nevada. This time around Desiree’s husband joins her in the con, approaching Doug in a parking lot and offering to come to his home to fix dents in his car. On one such visit, Desiree tags along. Eventually she starts to visit Doug on her own. Each time she enters Doug’s house she gathers information, stealing his Social Security number and other personal information. Doug, who has always been close with his sister Patty, calls her when things start to go missing from his home. Patty arrives to find Doug’s life in complete disarray. There are papers and unopened mail covering every surface of his house. Patty digs in, finding multiple credit cards in Doug’s name that he knows nothing about. There are bills for women’s clothes, dinners, cash advances and even a car. Wracked with debt that he can’t account for, Doug is on the verge of losing his house. After talking to Doug’s home health care worker, Patty figures out that the bills may be connected to a woman who makes frequent visits to the house. Patty tries to track down this woman. Meanwhile, authorities in Texas, where Desiree has a home, are also on the hunt for her, but she’s skipped town. Little does Desiree know that her crime spree is coming to an end: Authorities in Texas have tracked her to an address in Nevada — Doug’s.
Jun 03 2019
Rank #6: Prince Charming Behind Bars: Part 1
Sara thought she knew everything about the Army major and single father she met online. After months talking she found herself falling for him. But what Sara didn’t know was that the man she’d fallen in love with was actually the ringleader of a romance scam that bilked nearly $2 million from its victims.
Mar 15 2019
Rank #7: Darren Berg: A Ponzi Scheme Mastermind Escapes: Part 1
It’s 2009 and Bernie Madoff has pleaded guilty to stock and securities fraud in New York. Covered heavily by the media, Madoff’s Ponzi scheme is front of mind for many Americans. It also has a group of investors on the West Coast concerned. They’ve placed their hard-earned savings with the Meridian Group, a company operating out of downtown Seattle. Its founder, Darren Berg, a well-known and respected businessman, reassures his investors that their retirement savings are safe. His firm has passed several audits, and Berg promises that there is no “magic” behind the company’s robust rate of returns. Besides Meridian, Berg runs a successful charter bus company with high-profile clients like Nike, the NFL and Google. In Washington state people trust Berg, and his charismatic personality has helped him assuage investors for years. But in 2010, the house of cards Berg had built begins to fall. One of Meridian’s largest investors wants to cash out, and Berg is unable to pay. Complaints roll in to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington and the FBI. The authorities take a deeper look into the Meridian Group and confirm investors’ worst fears: They are part of the largest Ponzi scheme the state has ever seen. Darren Berg’s lavish lifestyle of yachts, mansions and private planes has been fraudulently funded by his investors. With the authorities working to shut the scheme down, the end of the Meridian Group is imminent, but Berg has one more trick up his sleeve.
Apr 19 2019
Rank #8: The $2 Million Romance Scam
New Yorker Jerry Needleman was married for over 40 years when his wife passed away in 2008. The devoted couple never had children, and now in his 80s, Jerry settled into a quiet life alone as a widower. Meanwhile in Florida, a woman named Sylvia is pursuing a relationship with a retiree. The man has spent thousands of dollars on his much-younger girlfriend. When they become engaged, the man’s son steps in. In 2012, the family successfully sues Sylvia for fraud. One year later, Jerry is out for his daily walk when he comes across a distraught woman crying on a park bench. The woman is Sylvia. Jerry stops to see if she is OK, unknowingly embarking on what will be a four-year ordeal that includes a marriage, a divorce, a second marriage and annulment — and nearly $2 million lost to a romance scam.
Nov 29 2019
Rank #9: The Lottery Scam That Almost Turned Deadly Part 1
A woman in a Texas suburb is enjoying her retirement years with her husband when she gets a call that will change their lives. According to the voice on the phone, she’s won an overseas lottery. Millions of dollars and a new luxury car will be delivered to her front door. But before she can collect the cash and other prizes, she must send money to the man on the phone. At first, she’s told she needs to pay taxes, then lawyers’ fees. As the demands to send cash mount, her bank account is drained. Nine months later, the couple has lost everything and is forced to sell their home.
Lottery scams are on the rise in the U.S., with more than a half-million complaints in North America in the past three years. The island nation of Jamaica is a hotbed for this criminal activity. These scams have cost Americans millions of dollars and led to increased gang warfare in Jamaica that has upped the murder rate there. To combat this growing issue, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, along with other U.S. agencies, are dedicating resources to shut down lottery scams. One postal inspector came across a scammer’s financial trail that led back to the Texas couple who’d been drawn in by a lottery scam. When the inspector arrived in Texas, he couldn’t believe what he found: Not only had the scammer drained the couple’s savings, but he was now operating a romance scam — with the woman as his target.
Jul 26 2019
Rank #10: A Hiker’s Trail of Lies: Part 2
Jeff has lived for decades as a couch-surfing con man preying on the kindness of the outdoors community. He spins tales of hikes he’s never completed and exploits the sympathy of his marks with sad stories of his past to rip them off. Now Jeff’s lies are finally catching up with him. After stealing a car and credit cards, the con man has turned fugitive with the police hot on his trail.
Sep 21 2018
Rank #11: The Godfather of the Dark Web
Deep within the internet is the dark web, a space where criminals can anonymously buy and sell illegal goods and private information. Known as the “original internet godfather,” Brett Johnson created one of the dark web’s first online stores where criminals bought stolen credit cards, Social Security numbers, drugs and guns. After serving seven years in prison, Brett turned his back on criminal enterprise and became a consultant for the Secret Service. Brett walks us through how he became a con man, why he changed his ways and how you can protect yourself from cybercriminals.
Sep 07 2018
Rank #12: Beware the Boardwalk Psychic
Dec 27 2019
Rank #13: You’ve Got Mail, With Frank Abagnale
On this special episode of The Perfect Scam, Frank breaks down all the ways fraudsters try to scam you through voicemail and email by claiming to be everything from IRS agents to bank officials. Frank gives the skinny on each scam, who’s behind them, and what you should and shouldn’t do if you get a scam message. Plus, the show producers share their own voicemails from scammers.
Oct 12 2018
Rank #14: Million Dollar Movie Ponzi Scheme, Part 1
Malcom “Mac” Parker aspires to be a filmmaker. In Vermont, Mac is known as a beloved children’s entertainer, appearing on public television and performing around the state. Mac is so well respected in his community that when he begins to raise funds for his film “Birth of Innocence,” investors are quick to jump on board. His promises of high returns and a chance to be a part of the film industry sweeten the deal. Mac claims that he will need approximately $1 million and three years to complete his film. However, nearly a decade passes. The film continues to go unfinished and Mac raises well above his $1 million goal. Investors grow weary and when investigators step in to sort out the mess, they discover that Mac is embroiled in a $28 million Ponzi scheme.
Dec 13 2019
Rank #15: Threats From Home: The Chinese Consulate Scam
Chinese Americans are being targeted by scammers in schemes known as the “Chinese consulate scam” and the “blessing scam,” through which victims have lost millions. When Mandarin-language calls began to bombard residents across the U.S., authorities take a deeper look. They find that these illegal robocalls are targeting areas with large Chinese American populations. Victims of the Chinese consulate scam are told they are in legal trouble with the Chinese government. The scammers then persuade them to hand over money or personal information to resolve the phony problem. Victims lose $150,000 on average.
And, in Chinatowns across America, scammers are targeting older Chinese Americans in the blessing scam, aka the ghost scam. This scam uses some victims’ traditional beliefs to lure them into an elaborate con that involves a team of scammers who work in tandem to steal valuables and cash.
Oct 04 2019
Rank #16: A Scammer Tells All
In this episode of The Perfect Scam, we pull back the curtain on call centers and learn about the rise and fall of one call center employee who scammed victims daily. We’ve talked a lot about scams but not big-news breaches. Frank discusses major online breaches such as at Equifax, checking your credit scores, and monitoring your kids' credit/identity.
Jun 15 2018
Rank #17: True or False With Frank Abagnale
We’ll be back with new episodes in November. In the meantime, enjoy this bonus episode featuring The Perfect Scam show producers as they test their fraud-busting knowledge in a game of True or False, with questions from host Frank Abagnale’s new book, Scam Me If You Can.
Oct 11 2019
Rank #18: Brooke Astor: Famous Socialite Robbed
A prominent philanthropist and the epicenter of the New York society scene, Brooke Astor lived a tumultuous but glamourous life. Left a fortune by her third husband, Vincent Astor, Brooke planned to live out her later years at her country estate. But when Brooke’s son refuses to let her do so, then sells his mother’s favorite painting (worth over $30 million), grandson Philip decides to step in. Philip’s efforts to return his grandmother to the country home she loved would uncover one of the most prominent cases of financial elder abuse in U.S. history, with millions lost and a family torn apart.
Aug 31 2018
Rank #19: Tracy’s Romance Scam
Tracy is looking for companionship when she makes a connection online with a widower. They begin talking every day. Her new boyfriend tells her he must leave the country for work, but once he's overseas he starts asking Tracy to send money and electronics. Tracy thinks she is helping him with his business, but really she is being scammed. She sends him thousands of dollars in products before she learns the man is a known scammer. Despite her best efforts, she never gets her money back.
May 04 2018
Rank #20: Million Dollar Movie Ponzi Scheme, Part 2
Beloved Vermont children’s entertainer-turned-filmmaker Mac Parker has been raising funds for his film “Birth of Innocence” for nearly a decade. The film has yet to be completed, and what investors were promised — a three year, $1 million project — has ballooned in both time and cost. When the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation steps in to investigate irregularities in Mac’s fundraising practices, they discover he’s operating a $28 million Ponzi scheme. They dig deeper and find Mac has a silent partner named Lou Soteriou, a chiropractor in Connecticut who is being purposefully hidden from investors. Over the years, Lou has received more than $4 million in payments from Mac. Realizing the scope of the case, Vermont investigators call in the FBI. As federal agents unravel this enormous Ponzi scheme, it becomes clear that the relationship between Mac and Lou is a complicated one. The investigators are left wondering, who really is the mastermind behind this crime?
Dec 20 2019