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IN BRIEF

Noniction

April 17, 1994|DICK RORABACK

SCHEMES & SCAMS: A Practical Guide for Outwitting Today's Con Artists, For the 50-Plus Generation by Douglas P. Shadel and John T. (Newcastle: $12.95; 239 pp.) Let's get one thing straight. Ed McMahon is not going to come to your door tomorrow with a check for $10 million. OK, he might; but your chances are about one in a googol. Even at that, his odds are infinitely more favorable than those of that sincere, solicitous, smarmy guy on the boiler-room telephone who calls to tell you you've already won that Cadillac/trip to Paris/diamond necklace. All you have to do is send in the "gift tax" and. . . .

The shame, of course, is that a book like this has to be written at all. The fact is there are predators out there, vicious underneath the sheen, and like the four-footed raptors they emulate, they prey on the old, the sick, the feeble. And the dumb. The really, really dumb. To the tune of $40 billion annually. Douglas Shadel, a longtime fraud investigator, has teamed with "John T.," a longtime fraud perpetrator turned righteous, to describe the more popular scams, how and why they work, how to avoid them, and whom to call when you have been stung. (Among the more despicable schemes is the one where the caller ascertains, through a series of conversations, that a mark has Alzheimer's. The next call: "Sam, we haven't got that $15,000 you promised to send last Thursday.")

No model of grammatical excellence, the book could prove valuable to those fitting the victim profile, those most at risk of losing their "hard-earned life savings" (are life savings ever easy-earned?). The question, though, is whether a scamee ready to pay an itinerant tar-man in advance for new blacktop, invest in a time-share in Bhutan, or buy rare coins from a guy called Slick, is savvy enough to buy this book. We hope so.

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