Affinity fraud is as much of an intentional crime against “one’s fellow man” as fraud against the unsuspecting strangers. We all know of cyber fraud for example, where a hacker either foreign or domestic, accesses the computer network of a company and steals email addresses. That kind of fraud is indiscriminate. The fraudster casts a wide net and catches as many people in that net as possible regardless of age, gender, religion, race and income.
Affinity fraud is very specific where the criminal wants you to drop your defenses and take him or her in because they are seemingly part of your inner circle. The most famous recent example of affinity fraud is Bernie Madoff. Madoff, who purported to be a religious Jew, networked his Ponzi scheme in to the Jewish community and Jewish charitable organizations to steal as much from them as possible. He was able to gain the confidence of the community because he proclaimed he was “one of them.”
However, fraud by religious affiliation is hardly new. Numerous Christian tele-evangelists have been caught stealing from their parishioners and through tele-marketing scams. Recently there have been scams to Mormons, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to John Huber, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, and a member of the Mormon Church, stated:
“These are greedy individuals who will stop at nothing. What’s so disconcerting is that these criminals approach us at church or through associations at our work or referrals from friends. They are silver-tongued devils—wolves in sheep’s clothing who will take our money and we’ll never see it again.”
In fact, Utah has developed an affinity fraud program, the Stop Fraud Utah campaign, to prevent affinity crimes and to stop individuals from exploit trusting members of their own church or social circles. In Utah alone, there are 231 individuals listed on the registry; individuals who think nothing of ripping off a fellow church member to line their pockets.
Affinity Fraud – Expand Your Horizons
Affinity fraud need not have anything to do with religion. As long as an individual or organization has declared an affiliation of any kind, they are fair game.
Not long ago, I posted an article about a woman claiming to have breast cancer “charity” who approached women in an organization who themselves were breast cancer survivors, or who had friends who had succumbed to the disease. The woman had an ongoing fraud where periodically she would report that by some miracle she had gone into remission. She would then wait for the dust to settle, then would report the cancer had come back and she needed funds to supplement her insurance. There are a growing number of terrible scams that are targeting military families by those claiming to represent a veterans group. There are even numerous scams that target pet owners; fake charities and organizations that appeal to animal lovers.
Affinity fraud crimes, despite their differences, all have elements in common.
None of them easily stand up to the light of scrutiny. Just because they have common elements with a person’s interests or “heart-strings,” does not make them legitimate. If they claim to have a certain tax status, or mission or affiliation, those facts can easily be sorted out by just a bit of due diligence.
If an organization, for example, says that they are “like the ASPCA,” or affiliated with the ASPCA, call the ASPCA to make certain they are who they claim to be.
If you are asked to give money to anyone claiming to be affiliated with a charity, never send cash, or wire money or use an on-line means of cash transfer from your bank. If they claim a nonprofit status, that too is easily researched.
All scams operate on a need, an opportunity and a rationalization.
The need with an affinity crime is obvious: they are out to separate you from your money. Those who commit this kind of fraud have no sense of ethics. They don’t care about a person’s religious affiliation so much as exploiting that affiliation to grab money.
The opportunity aspect is fascinating. As long as they can convince you that “you’re one of them,” they have you hooked. What is more, they know it. They make themselves look legitimate but they understand that websites, “literature” and even endorsements are window dressing. For the most part, they know you won’t check up on them.
As to rationalization, a person who commits affinity fraud view their victims as no more than suckers. Whether it is a Bernie Madoff or a fake animal rescue organization, they know you are all too happy to let them have your money. They may be friendly, but they are not your friends.
-YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!