Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a book called Your Evil Twin – Behind the Identity Theft Epidemic. At the time, many consumers hadn’t even heard of identity theft. Criminal imposters were just getting started. Today, it feels like ID theft is everywhere, hitting millions of consumers every year, roughly one in 20 US consumers annually costing 16 billion dollars, according to Javelin Strategy and Research.
Fortunately, when it comes to credit card fraud, most consumers are refunded when fraud happens, but that doesn’t mean this is a victimless crime, not at all. Imposters can wreck people’s credit, cause endless paperwork hassles, and inflict emotional trauma. It’s incredible how far criminals will go to impersonate their victims, and today, you’re going to hear exactly what that sounds like.
Lisa Reid is not your typical ID theft. She is a master of verbal disguises, and used all her acting skills to fool consumers, banks, and retailers into selling her millions of dollars of pricey merchandise, one $5,000 pair of shoes at a time. We have the audio to show you.
Here is our story of the credit card con queen, an actress who didn’t play Broadway, instead, she played the financial system.
Listen to this podcast by clicking the play button below, or visiting AARP’s The Perfect Scam website, or get it wherever you get podcasts.
[00:08:19] Bob: She can then take that information from the bank operator and use it to convince consumers that she’s really calling from their bank. There is no really intact, no tech wizardry involved in Lisa Reid’s crimes. Her con game is straight forward. She picks numbers out of a phone book, and then calls victims to ask for personal information like credit card numbers. To gain their trust, she plays various roles, like claiming she’s transferring the victim to a security expert, and then she changes her voice, tricking victims into letting their guard down.
[00:08:51] Lauren Vumbaco: She changed her voice at any given time. She could, was able to pretend to be somebody from various countries to male/female. She could change and pretend to be a victim versus an employee of a credit card company, so it was really, really impressive, the difference in tone or the inflection that she would use, really to change her voice. It was very impressive.
[00:09:17] Bob: She was a master actress it sounds like.
[00:09:20] Lauren Vumbaco: Yes, yes.
[00:09:22] Bob: Did she have a cast of characters that were sort of her go-to. Did you recognize any patterns after listening to a bunch of these calls?
[00:09:28] Lauren Vumbaco: When she had, she had a similar voice when she pretended to be a male, so that voice was usually very similar. Um, there were definitely go-to patterns when looking back where at times she would be very charming on the phone with the credit card company. Just really trying to engage, and that’s what a lot of fraudsters do during their telemarketing schemes is, they have the gift of gab.
[00:09:50] Bob: The gift of gab, like keeping victims on the phone, prolonging the conversation. She keeps probing away at different angles until she finds a way in, Pierpont says. Appearing to transfer people to a third party is a really persuasive technique.
[00:10:04] John Pierpont: And in this way, she really was able, I think, to build some trust and credibility with people who might otherwise be having to provide information because she was disclaiming from the very beginning that she wouldn’t be able to receive it. She would actually sort of use a function on her cellphone to do a three-way dialing, and actually dial in the real American Express 1-800 number, so you would hear the, you know, the welcome music, “This is American Express, please hold for a representative.” She would then hang up on that three-way call to the American Express line, and then using a different voice, she would say, “Hello, my name is Denise. How can I help you?” Um, and so the victim, from the victim’s perspective the call has been fully transferred to American Express, and they’re now speaking to a, an American Express representative, and then, of course, the victim would say something, “Well, I just heard there was fraud on my account,” and Ms. Reid, pretending to be somebody else, would then be off to the races in terms of obtaining personal, identifying information.
[00:11:03] Bob: Wow, so this is like a, a one-person show where she was playing two characters on the phone, right?
[00:11:10] John Pierpont: Yeah, two uh, sometimes three. You know, we heard, we heard instances where, you know, if someone asked to speak to a supervisor or if someone was hesitant to provide information, you know, she’d offer to transfer them to somebody else, and, you know, she could do a third voice. It was hard to believe listening to some of these recordings that she really was able to use multiple different voices to great effect.
[00:11:31] Bob: When law enforcement starts to close in on Lisa Reid, executing a search warrant of her home in Long Island, New York, she manages to slip through their hands, escaping to Florida, leaving behind a really expensive closet.
[00:11:44] Lauren Vumbaco: So we had to break into the closet to then obviously see all of these items in there. There was definitely over 400 pieces of evidence that we took while executing the search warrant, and dozens and dozens and dozens of pairs of shoes, jewelry, purses, I mean garbage bags full of stuff that we, we had. And I, I believe at the end when we did the estimate of the, it was half a million dollars’ worth of items. I certainly do not claim to be a fashionista, or fashion plate, by any means. I was looking at these items with AUSA Pierpont and my team leader at the time and trying to educate them on yes, I know you see a pair of shoes, but these, this one pair of shoes is worth $5,000.
[00:12:32] Bob: Lisa Reid seemed to like to pamper herself with expensive things, but she also bought luxury items for a purpose. They were easier to sell. Fencing one $5,000 purse is more lucrative and less work than selling dozens of hundred dollar items online, Vumbaco says.
[00:12:49] Lauren Vumbaco: She did have some individuals, I’ll say clients, that would purchase items from her. I mean she lived off of this. This was basically her job. So then once she receives the cash for the items from whoever she sold it to, she would, you know, go to the post office, buy a postal money order, and pay her mortgage with it, or buy a postal money order and pay, you know, pay her bills with it, not all the time, but she definitely did that as well as use the finances just to live, to, you know, party. She had children. I’m sure she used it, you know, to put food on the table.