Rank #1: Robocall King Meets the FCC, Part 1
The average American is on the receiving end of more than 150 robocalls a year. Some robocalls, which are automated telephone calls placed by a computerized auto dialer, have legitimate purposes. Unfortunately, many of these calls are used to pester or scam consumers. In June 2019 alone Americans received 4.35 billion robocalls, with scams and telemarketing making up over 50 percent. Curious about the barrage of robocalls he himself receives, journalist Alex Palmer decides to look into how robocalls work and why they’ve become so popular. He finds that advances in technology and the low cost of placing robocalls—as little as 4 cents per dial—have made this nuisance a popular marketing tool for scammers. After digging deeper into the trend, Alex discovers the case of a set of illegal robocalls that temporarily stalled a Virginia-based paging provider, disrupting the ability of hospitals to get in touch with emergency services personnel. As a result, local doctors, nurses, EMTs and firefighters were at risk of missing critical pages. Due to the resulting public safety hazard, the Federal Communications Commission made tracking down the source of these robocalls a top priority. Meanwhile, travel-review website TripAdvisor is being inundated with complaints from customers that it is soliciting them through robocalls to use its travel rewards program. But TripAdvisor isn’t making the calls and doesn’t have a rewards program. With its reputation at stake, TripAdvisor puts its top fraud experts on the case. The FCC and the travel site will eventually learn that they are on the hunt for the same man, Adrian Abramovich.
Rank #2: 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.
Rank #3: Grandparent Scam
Richard is a retired journalist who receives a call from someone claiming to be his grandson in jail. The young man on the other end of the line tells Richard he needs money to help him get out. By asking the right questions and not giving in, Richard discovers the man is a con artist.
Rank #4: Martha’s Jury Duty Scam
Martha gets a message from the police department saying she's missed jury duty and there’s a warrant out for her arrest. In order to avoid being arrested, she needs to send $1,000 to the courthouse immediately. Wanting to do the right thing and not get in trouble with the law, Martha follows the instructions from the man on the phone. After a frantic chase around town — in which she purchases reloadable money cards and fears the police are following her — Martha sends the money.
Rank #5: The Lottery Scam That Almost Turned Deadly, Part 2
In a Texas suburb, a typical lottery scam has turned into something much more sinister. A scammer has promised a retired couple a fictitious lottery payout if they continue to send him money for fees and taxes. With their life savings gone, the victims are forced to sell their home. But the swindler isn’t done with them yet, as his constant calls have created a bond between him and the 70-year-old woman, who may be suffering from dementia. He realizes that she has grown fond of him and pivots from a lottery to a romance scam. He promises her a beautiful life together on the sandy beaches of Jamaica, where he’s based. The con man tells her that all he needs is money in order to start building an oceanfront dream home that they can share. To come up with the funds, he proposes a disturbing plan. He demands that she kill her husband and flee to Jamaica with the proceeds of their home sale. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which has been monitoring a trail of cash making its way from the U.S. to the scammer in Jamaica, discovers the couple in Texas and sends an agent to their home. When the agent arrives, little does he know he’s about to walk into a murder plot.
Rank #6: 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.
Rank #7: 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.
Rank #8: 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.
Rank #9: 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.
Rank #10: 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.
Rank #11: 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.
Rank #12: 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.
Rank #13: 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.
Rank #14: 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.
Rank #15: Scammers Drained the Life out of Our Mother: Part 1
Valerie, a social and energetic retiree, can’t believe her luck when she receives a letter stating that she’s won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. When Valerie shares the news with her adult daughters, they don’t think much of it. Then large sums of money start disappearing from Valerie’s bank account, her telephone rings nonstop, and she retreats from social life. Concerned, Valerie’s daughter’s launch their own investigation and discover that their mother has been sucked into a dangerous scam.