That headline had me, too, and I hope it grabs you. This post is a little different: I’m here to share the exciting news that I am the new co-host of AARP’s The Perfect Scam podcast. Frank “Catch Me if You Can” Abagnale will share hosting duties with me as we tell crazy stories of crimes and scams committed against some of the world’s most vulnerable people. You can visit the podcast’s home page here, or just find The Perfect Scam wherever you listen to podcasts. Or, click play on the image below, if that works for you.
I’m so excited for the opportunity; I feel like I’ve been training for it for 25 years or so (Thanks Alia Tavakolian and Spoke Media for the podcast training wheels).
The first episode is a doozy. To give you a flavor, below is a short excerpt. But really, you should listen to the story. Click the play button below or follow this link. Jonathan is a great storyteller. And Frank is still cranking out wisdom decades after the release of that famous movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT (Full transcript at AARP’s The Perfect Scam page)
Jonathan Walton: She paints herself as new in town, so she takes my husband and I out for dinner at this really expensive restaurant, Drago Centro, and the bill comes to like almost $600. And she pays the bill. Like she immediately comes off as a woman of means, as a woman of wealth.
Bob: Pretty soon, Jonathan and Mair are best friends. They text almost every day. He’s involved in her life. And Mair, it turns out, has some pretty great life stories to tell.
Jonathan Walton: She tells me that she comes from a wealthy family in Ireland, uh, and she has this Irish inheritance coming. She says there’s a 25 million euro estate being divided up, and she’s going to get 5 million euros. When she tells me this story, I believe her because by then, she had laid out the breadcrumbs of her wealth.
Bob: There’s wining and there’s dining and lots of gifts. Mair even convinces Jonathan that her family holds an important place in Irish history.
Jonathan Walton: She had, in her apartment, she had a framed, um, picture, she said it was the Irish Constitution, she pointed out, and she said her great uncle is one of the signatories. So, you know, when someone points out that, you just take them at face value, like who would lie about something so specific?
Bob: Their intimacy was cemented when Mair found a way to deeply connect. First, it was a common enemy over building management and the pool. But now, there was a deeper common enemy that bonded them. Family issues.
Jonathan Walton: She quickly realized I was gay. I confided in her that, you know, part of my family had disowned me for being gay. I hadn’t been home for Christmas at that point in almost seven years, and I was kind of raw from that. So she pounces, and she says, “Well my family disowned me, too. They’re trying to get me disinherited, so, you know, I’m out here by myself in Los Angeles, you know, fending for myself.” So I immediately bonded with her. Here we are, two discarded souls living in Los Angeles, you know, and she quickly became like a sister to me. I was as close to her as any gay man can be to a woman. I loved her. We would end our phone calls with, “I love you; I love you.” You know, she was like family.
Bob: They didn’t just hang out in LA’s hotspots. Mair loved to travel, and she took friends along in fancy vacations too.
Jonathan Walton: She took us to this house she said one of her clients rented for her in Palm Springs. It was a Palm Springs home and a pool, and she took us out to dinner there, and it was a lot of fun, and she paid for everything. I would offer to pay, but she would always say, no, no, no, no. I have a lot of money. Let me pay.
Bob: Fourteen months pass with all the expensive dinners and shoes, and “I love yous.” Jonathan now believes Mair is his best friend. She has other plans. So often there is a small hint along the way that something is wrong, a shy queasy feeling from somewhere deep inside that, the kind of little voice we’re all too quick to ignore. The first time the idea of a scam popped into Jonathan’s head was more subtle, more subconscious than most.
Jonathan Walton: So, she’s working at Pacific Islands Travel, and she’s fighting with her family to get her inheritance, and she says her family does a lot of business with Pacific Islands Travel. She’s brilliantly laying out the elements of her con so much so that she gets me to tell her what the con is. Listen to this. At one point she tells me, “Listen, my barristers are warning me that there’s a clause in the will, if any heir is ever convicted of a felony, they forfeit the inheritance.” So, I immediately put two and two together. You know, I used to be a TV news reporter. I’ve read countless stories in the news about husbands who knock their wives off for a million dollar insurance policy. So here we are talking about 7½ million US dollars, so I quickly warn her, I’m like, “Listen, your family, they might set you up to make it look like you stole and get convicted of a felony, so they’ll keep, you know, their inheritance for yourself.”
Bob: Mair protests. “No, that could never happen,” she tells Jonathan. But he couldn’t be more primed for what’s about to happen next.
Jonathan Walton: They were already threatening her in emails and text messages, she was showing that they hated her. Lo and behold, I get a collect call from jail. It’s those automatic recordings, “This is (inaudible), and you have a collect call from the Century Regional Detention Facility in Los Angeles. Will you accept from inmate Mair Smyth?” It was her. She tells me, you were right. She’s crying, uh, “I got arrested. My family set me up to make it look like I stole $200,000 from the travel agency. Oh my God, what am I going to do? Help!”
Bob: Jonathan says he remembers getting so emotional at his desk at work that he started yelling into the phone. “I told you this would happen!” Coworkers are staring. He didn’t think twice about what to do next.
Jonathan Walton: I bailed her out of jail immediately. It was $4200. And she paid me back the next day.
Bob: In that first ask, that first bit of money was kind of a test, a confidence builder. Since Mair paid him back the next day, Jonathan didn’t really think much about the money. He just helped his rich friend in a pinch and that was that. A few more months of fun go by until the stakes suddenly get much higher.