“Obama Utility Bill” Scam Leads to Discovery of Much Larger Swindle
By Rachel Zapata-Guevara Sheinblatz, Associated Press staff writer
(AP) – Authorities across the nation are searching for the culprits behind a scam that has bilked tens of thousands of people out of money and private information. As reported by MSNBC:
The criminals have been marching across the country, making their way from state to state, persuading victims that a special federal government bailout authorized by President Barack Obama is available to pay their utility bills. Victims are given bank account and routing numbers to use when paying their bills online, but only after they “register” by surrendering their Social Security numbers and other personal information. The continued spread of the “Obama utility bill scam,” as some have dubbed it, means it’s likely coming to a neighborhood near you. So far, over 10,000 people have reported being victimized by the scam.
However, as various state officials and agencies have been investigating this scam, details of a far greater and much more damaging one have emerged.
“It seems to have been going on for about four years now,” said Georgia Department of Consumer Affairs Director Ken Lyles. “We’ve traced it as far back as 2008. And it’s happened in all 50 states. Apparently, a man, arguably one of the greatest scam artists my department has ever encountered, was promising people that he could find them jobs and lavish them with free things like healthcare, all without increasing their debt or costing them a penny. But after giving this con man money and support, his victims end up with no jobs, no money, and crippling debt.”
Florida bunko squad detective Albert Arroyo says that the worst part of this scam is that it targets children. “This man has no conscience,” Arroyo told the AP. “He takes money that hard-working people earn, and then he creates massive debt that the children of his victims will be forced to pay. It’s cruel. This man is a sadist.”
Jobretta McDaniels, who lives in a blue-collar, predominantly-black neighborhood in Sacramento, CA, was one of the scammer’s early victims. “He’d promise you the world, he’d promise you everything. I’d been out of work for over a year. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘you give me money, you help me out, you support me, and I’ll bring jobs back to your community by the thousands.’ So I did. I helped him. I took money that I was saving for food and I donated it to him. And then he took my money and vanished. Four years later, our community hasn’t heard anything except more beggin’ for money. More folks out of work than ever before. He don’t care. He’s just runnin’ a fraud.”
The scam cuts across racial and socio-economic lines. Amy and Paul Giordano are a middle class couple in Racine, Wisconsin. They, too, were taken by the scammer. “He promised us incredible change. He said we could believe in him, that he’d deliver. So we gave him everything he wanted,” Mrs. Giordano told the AP. “My husband and I have a small business. We’d been hoping to expand. But because of the damage done by this scam artist, we had to close. At one point, we had ten employees. They’re out of work now, because of this con man’s empty promises. All his pledges to help small businesses were as empty as his promises about revitalizing the private sector. It’s worse now than it’s ever been.”
Mr. Giordano feels that the victims must shoulder at least some of the blame. “Look, we fell for it. We supported a guy with absolutely no experience doing any of the things he swore he’d do. We never demanded to see a resume, or references, or anything. We were dumb. But still, that doesn’t mean what he did was right. He should still be stopped before even more people are hurt.”
It’s unclear how many Americans have fallen for the scam. It’s estimated that 69,498,516 fell for it in 2008 alone. And not content with that devastating tally, the scammer is still hard at work finding victims.
“He’s still making the same false, empty promises,” Houston fraud investigator James van Meeren told the AP. “The guy is shameless, totally shameless. If you’re poor, he’ll ask for as little as $3. He’ll promise you a fancy dinner. He’ll promise you a job. He’ll promise you great times. But all he ever does is take your money and spend it on lavish vacations and his golfing fetish. The only way to stop him is to let the public know he’s out there, and that they need to be vigilant.”
The scam artist is described as a black male of mixed-race parentage. He’s six-foot-one, with short hair and a mole on his face, near his nose. He is rumored to have several names, and several Social Security numbers. He’s infamous for his composed, professional delivery when reciting the details of his con, owing to the fact that he is never without a teleprompter.
The sheer magnitude of this individual’s swindle has some professional scam artists up in arms. Suraj Kapoor, who works for the company that calls your house pretending to represent the Windows security team, feels that this scammer is giving the profession a bad name. “It is appalling, it is greed,” Kapoor told the AP. “The magnitude of this man’s lies would dwarf even the mighty Ganesha. Yes, we will claim to help you with your computer when all we really do is install malware. But him? This monster? He claims he will help the world. And yet he only destroys. He will put us all in the poorhouse.”
Oluremi Musa Adesiji runs an Internet scam in which he pretends to be lonely Russian women. He says he is disturbed by reports that the scammer is Kenyan, or has Kenyan ancestry. “That this man is perhaps African is shameful,” Adesiji told the AP. “I come from a village that is destroyed by poverty. There are no real jobs, so we fend for ourselves. This horrid man seems to want to make cities in the U.S. look like my village. And why? It can’t be about money, as surely he has much of that. Is it ego? Is it lust for power? Who can understand the brain of a person like that?”
“It’s all about getting the word out,” says Arizona Consumer Affairs investigator Ben Sawitski. “The public has to be warned. This is a man who has, for the past four years, proven that nothing he promises will actually happen. He’s going to offer you whatever he thinks you want. It might be a job, it might be medical care, it might be free contraception, it might even be a dinner with George Clooney. But no matter what he says, you have to know – in the end, it won’t be free. You and your kids will be paying for decades for the lies this man tells. If we can just alert enough people, we might be able to put a stop to him, hopefully by the end of this year.”