In the TV series White Collar (2009-2014), Neal Caffrey, played by actor Matt Bomer, is my kind of criminal—a con artist committing scams and schemes all over the world. That is, until he’s caught by Special Agent Peter Burke, played by Tim DeKay, who has been chasing him for several years. Caffrey is convicted and sentenced for numerous charges of fraud, forgery, and theft. He is sent to federal prison for four years but escapes from a maximum-security facility near the end of his sentence to look for his missing girlfriend. Agent Burke recaptures Caffrey and offers him a deal; assist the FBI in identifying and apprehending other white-collar criminals instead of returning to prison to serve the rest of his sentence. For six action-packed seasons and eighty-one episodes, the unorthodox duo teams up to solve a wide variety of fraud and financial crimes.
The show is a dramedy, so I’m able to laugh at the usual FBI cliches and misconceptions in every episode. The white-collar crime cases investigated by Agent Burke often make use of electronic surveillance, wiretaps and consensual monitoring, typically used in white-collar cases. However, the investigations conducted are more dangerous and violent than the ones I worked on the Economic Crime Squad in the Philadelphia Division. During the series run, the number of con men casualties increased each week. Bad guys were shot, thrown out of buildings, run over by cars, and poisoned. The good guys were threatened, shot at, and kidnapped. These are not the usual activities of a fraud investigation. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching the show because of the somewhat realistic relationship between the case agent and confidential source. They have a mutual respect for each other and share a commitment to bring justice for those victimized by those motivated by greed and corruption. I also appreciated the inclusion of their home life, loved ones and friends in the storytelling. The show is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. I discovered the series toward the end of its run. Perhaps one day I’ll binge watch the episodes I missed and relive my glory days chasing fraudsters. Watch a trailer here.
How trusting are you? Would you fall for a scam? I spent most of my FBI career on an Economic Crime Squad working fraud investigations—advance fee scams, Ponzi schemes, embezzlement, and business-to-business telemarketing frauds. Fraud is when someone uses a lie or deception to gain something of value. I’ve always been amazed at the schemes con-artists devise to take other people’s money and how much they can convince victims to depart with. Think about all the cons and scams you’ve heard about, and it’s obvious that with a gun you can steal hundreds of dollars, but with a lie you can steal millions. Here’s what you should watch out for if presented with a deal that doesn’t smell right, that seems too good to be true:
1. All the cool kids are doing it. Don’t base your decisions solely on recommendations from friends. Check things out yourself.
2. The offer seems too good to pass up. Of course it does. Remember, that’s part of the seduction.
3. False sense of urgency. Don’t let anyone pressure you into making a decision. There are very few “once in a lifetime” opportunities.
4. Often victims say they had suspicions, but ignored them. Pay attention to red flags.
5. Evaluate your own weaknesses. Are you vulnerable because you’re seeking a certain lifestyle or status and willing to cut corners to get it?
Just for fun, here’s a free word search puzzle featuring economic crime. Enjoy!
For more information about how people become victims of fraud, listen to these FBI Retired Case File Review episodes featuring fraud schemes and scams.