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Checking Up on a Lover's Background--Just in Case It's a Scam

February 02, 1990|EVAN CUMMINGS | Evan Cummings is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

A few months ago I was watching "Geraldo" (OK, so shoot me). The focus of the television show, Mr. Rivera announced, was men who con women and women who fall for them.

"Her" story was the stuff of which B movies are made. Middle-aged, she was not only strikingly attractive, but a savvy businesswoman as well.

He was 50ish with a slight paunch. She described him as someone at whom you wouldn't look twice. And that was the very reason she trusted him. He wasn't dashing or suave. She had dated those types and found them to be vain and selfish.

This man was different and it seemed he couldn't do enough for her. He wined and dined her and once even flew her and six of her friends to Las Vegas where he escorted them to a fancy celebrity bash. They rubbed shoulders with his "good friends" Golden Nugget owner Steve Winn and guest of honor, Frank Sinatra. The happy couple and her friends took turns posing for photographs with assorted luminaries. She was impressed.

Later he let it "slip" that he was in the middle of closing a "very big investment deal." It was probably too late, he warned, but maybe--just maybe--he could persuade his partners to cut her and her friends in for a piece of the action.

He made good on his word--she was in.

The bottom line: they lost their collective shirts--hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Later, it was learned that he had devoted a lifetime to such scams. He posed as a wealthy potentate, thereby extracting fantastic social invitations, and he was also a bigamist.

Television shows such as "Oprah," "Donahue" and "Geraldo" can lead us to believe that such scams are pandemic. But, according to Steve Busse, a private investigator and owner of the Dakota Agency in Irvine, such deliberate hoaxes are rare. "Investigations of stereotypical flimflam artists are really a very small part of my business."

The former Chicagoan says most of his clients hire him to locate lost loves--former partners, school chums, birth parents--and missing children. The most common cases are for parental kidnaping investigations; second highest are requests to check out prospective mates.

"About 85% to 90% of these clients are women. Usually they are dating or engaged and something just doesn't feel right. (There are) unexplained absences or inconsistent stories that cause them to suspect that they are being conned."

Do his male clients fear they're being conned by women?

"Generally, men aren't as concerned about money as women are. Men hire me to check up on fidelity; women want to know about money and assets."

Some women, he says, have attempted to locate wealthy men through him. "They want to use us to find out where the rich men go and how they can land one of them."

The private eye--whose work takes him around the world--says that family members frequently request his services. "Parents, grandparents or grown children hire me. These are usually families with a lot of money who want to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the person."

To begin a search, a correct and complete name is required, including current address. A Social Security or driver's license number is helpful, but not necessary.

"These are all identifiers," he explains. "The more information we have to start with, the speedier and more thorough we can be."

An uncomplicated background check costs from $250 to $400.

A typical investigation can uncover assets and liabilities, civil litigation, liens and judgments, and criminal actions. The character of an individual can be investigated by talking with former spouses, former employers and friends. "In cases involving suspected infidelity or criminal activity, surveillance may occur," Busse says.

He recounted a recent investigation conducted for a single 35-year-old Orange County woman: "She loaned her boyfriend $35,000 for a business investment, then had second thoughts. He was in his late 30s. After the money changed hands, she started to question why he hadn't already made his mark at nearly 40."

Busse checked him out and found good news and bad news.

Although he had no criminal record, his credit was bad, his employment history shaky and "he had a couple of ex-wives and a few children he forgot to mention."

Some clients have trouble believing the truth. A bride-to-be, convinced of her fiance's infidelity, hired Busse. "Unfortunately, I had to confirm her worst fears. I had all the evidence; there was no doubt that he had been cheating. I had photographs. He had even taken a weeklong cruise with the other woman. I told the client, but she married him anyway."

He says he has learned that "there are those who think with their heads and those who think with their hearts. Jung was right: In most relationships there is the one who loves and the one who is loved."

Busse says that he often mixes psychology with his detective work.

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