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Squeezing the balloon

No, I’m not referring to some crap Marcel Marceau mime so It’s probably worth explaining the title here. As I’m sure you know either from films or children’s birthdays, there is a game that involves passing a balloon between two people of the opposite sex without using your hands (completely inappropriate of course!) A balloon possesses a number of unusual qualities. The one that is relevant here, is that as you compress a balloon in one area, it bulges out in another. This is how fraudsters (including myself at one time) tend to operate.


Whiplash injuries used to be the ‘go-to’ scam for ‘accident management companies. Those I had a brushing acquaintance with were thinly veiled frauds that operated by persuading ‘victims’ of imagined injuries, following a real collision. The callers worked to a set script that focussed on reminding the victim that (a) many neurological injuries leave no physical scar and so the insurance company can’t prove you are lying, it’s effectively your word against theirs, and (b) as long as the claim is not too outrageous, it is cheaper for the other party to settle rather than fight the claim. The role of the accident management company was simply to send off a pre-formatted letter to the other party’s insurance company making a claim on behalf of their client.


The success of these claims, (based upon a paucity of evidence) and the ease at which they were made, was eventually the reason behind their downfall. Insurers began to identify common factors, including the accident management companies themselves, and successfully challenged the claims. Those sufficiently nimble moved their sights slightly rather than change them completely. They re-named their business and got together with a crash-for-cash gang, and split the profits from staged collisions. They made a fortune in a short space of time, then moved on once again as soon as this was on the radar of fraud squads, largely as a result of TV coverage.


This is essentially how fraudsters work, by watching what is happening and spotting opportunities to make money. The clever ones get out before the market collapses. They are far into a new scam before you can say ‘bitcoin' ? As soon as the authorities put pressure on the ‘balloon’ in one area, they expand into another area.


Another wheeze in the canon of scams relates to food poisoning whilst on holiday. Imagine the scene, you arrive back at home having maxed out your credit cards and all you have to show for it are a t-shirt and a rash. It is now apparent that the reason your resort is twinned with Las Vegas is that these are the only two places on earth you can exchange chips for sex. You need to be at work on Monday and the prospect of getting back into the office is about as much fun as wet sand in your underpants.


The phone rings and it is some smarmy salesman with rehearsed and cliched patter. You are just about to hang up when you hear something about ‘easy money - no risk - we do it for you.’ He explains that he knows that you have just come back from holiday (you can buy these lists quite legitimately), are probably skint and you need something to tide you over until payday. After a brief conversation he explains that he works for a ‘claims management company,’ attempting to help holidaymakers take the hassle out of claiming against their tour operator for food poisoning. He further explains that whilst the symptoms would have subsided by now, nevertheless, it must have ruined the holiday. You are eager to earn some easy cash so without further persuasion, you build upon his story by suggesting that your bowels were so loose on the aircraft home, you were scared to cough! The conversation ends with him promising to email you a form (your phone ‘pings’ during the call) where you can register your claim, explain how you were affected, and most importantly of all, agree to their exorbitant agent-handling fees.


You spend half an hour that evening filling in the form in horrible detail of how you were forced to remain in line of sight of a toilet during four nights of your 7-night stay. You allege you spoke to others at the hotel who had suffered similar symptoms and who were also going to complain and seek compensation. Having hit ‘send’ you go to bed and dream of the untold riches headed your way.


The routine of life kicks back in and you put your forthcoming fortune to the back of your mind. However, when the cheque arrives two weeks later for £90 you are somewhat disappointed. When you ring the claims management company back, the ‘agent’ you spoke to has already left the company (although the voice on the phone sounds unnervingly similar) and you have to deal with his colleague. He explains that the handling and administration fees and the legal advice obtained to validate your claim in the first place ate into your original claim for £850. You might be wrong, but you are convinced you can hear someone in the background shouting out ‘knobber’ at regular intervals.


Feeling cheated (who said irony is dead?) you resolve to drown your sorrows at the ‘Dog and Duck’ and wake up the following morning next to someone who looks like a cross between Bella Lugosi and Whistler’s Mother. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, there is a knock at the door. This is not a tentative or polite knock, but rather one that says ‘get your arse down here now because you are in the proverbial.’ You can’t remember if the officer accidentally stood on your toes before or after you were handcuffed, but what hurt more than anything were the looks they gave you having viewed your ‘companion’ upstairs.


A detective explained that you were being arrested on suspicion of fraud. When you meekly asked ‘why?’ he said that in the main it was because you were too thick to realise that your minute by minute photographic commentary of your holiday on social media gave rise to the suspicion that you are a lying scumbag. The interview was short and sweet, although slightly longer than it took to tell you were being sacked from your job. All attempts to contact the claims management company were unsuccessful, and in all fairness the judge could have sentenced you to a lot more than 3 months in jail. I understand that the two guys behind this scam cleared just short of £450,000 in three months.


The following is often attributed to Charles Darwin 'It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change'

This, more than anything else, I believe epitomises the character of the serial fraudster.


I used the word ‘nimble’ before as I think this embraces both their mindset, and their ability to disappear before the Old Bill came knocking. They could not give a toss about the half-wits who are arrested and imprisoned as a result of temptation being put in their way. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and if you thought that the food at the hotel was bad -- wait until you taste the stuff they serve up in HM Prisons.

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