By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
Tonight on the news I heard where a local Arkansas non-profit had been scammed for over $100,000 by an employee. It is not uncommon in today’s news to hear such things.
I recently came into contact with someone involved with a non-profit group that I will call “ABC.org” because I do not believe the management of this group was in any way involved with what I think is the dishonesty of one of its employees. Here’s how I became involved with this group’s Texas representative.
In the effort to get support for my protest of my son William Patrick Alexander’s parole release, I decided to contact every “murder victim’s support” group in Texas or nationally. I Googled and found several groups that I thought would be appropriate to approach for help.
I sent each of these groups a cover letter by e-mail and attached the official police report from Ft. Worth, Texas, describing the vicious nature of the execution-style murder committed by my son when he killed 17-year old Jessica Witt in January, 1992. I asked each group to please send protest letters and gave my telephone number and a post office box address for them to contact me if they could be of any other assistance. Okay, I admit that this was probably not wise, but I did give these groups my telephone number. It was probably about midnight on a Sunday night when I sent out these e-mails.
About 12:30 a.m., my telephone rang. It was a man named “John Doe” calling from ABC.org. He had received my e mail and wanted to discuss my situation and how he could be of help. Even though I was half asleep when I answered the phone and my “gut” told me that there had to be something wrong, I spoke to him.
Red Flag Number One: A telephone call at an inappropriate time of day (or night, as the case may be).
The next day he called me again a couple of times and e-mailed me. I sent him an e-mail requesting that he not call me at that hour of the night any more. I also gave him some information about where he could obtain therapy for his PTSD that he said he had because his mother had been murdered.
Red Flag Number Two: Poor baby had PTSD … the pity ploy.
But being the helpful, compassionate person I am, I ignored this red flag as well. I suggested that he might want to read several books that we regularly recommend here for people to learn about psychopaths, Without Conscience by Bob Hare, The Sociopath Next Door, etc.
Then Red Flag Number Three: I received the following e-mail with a different e-mail address than John.Doe@ABC.org:
Please send all future emails to this address John.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about such a sensitive subject.
toll free 1-800-XXX-XXX
P.S. I am a trained journalist. I was wondering if you would consider selling me the book and movie rights to your story at a reduced rate. (Red flag number four, but this time I was starting to listen to my gut.)
I asked him why the change in e-mail addresses and I received this answer.
I just want to keep all our business out of ABC.org business so please use the aol account only.
Yep, the red flags are starting to get my attention by now. So I started to ask him what his motives were. When I questioned him about why he wanted to keep information away from his boss at ABC.org, what his “private PR firm” could do for me, why he was trying to get “expense” money from me, either directly or indirectly, through the “book and movie rights” to my story, I got this response by e-mail:
I wanted to explain something. I – whether you believe it or not – am an honest man. And try to do things on the up and up. But not everyone is honest, as you have learned. And I have one fear. I don’t want my boss to say it is a conflict of interest for my company to represent you.
We have conflict of interest clauses in place so make sure we don’t do anything wrong. I am am afraid he will see something wrong with me representing you if you join ABC.org. I don’t know why I think this, but I have an inkling.
I honestly just want to help you and yes maybe make some of my money back and pay my expenses, but I am not and never have been motivated by money and greed. I was going to run this by my boss and see what he says. If he says I can’t represent you I was going to do it on the side and do everything through my legal name James John Doe. Everyone calls me John, but I was born with the name James – that is another story.
So you see, this has nothing to do with a scam but my fear that my boss will say that there is a conflict of interest regarding me representing you. I hope this makes sense to you, because I really want to help you even if I don’t make a dime. I want to do the right thing.
I wouldn’t get involved otherwise. We are talking many, many hours of work without pay and me bringing in other people and asking them to work without pay as well.
That is the truth. I will take a lie detector and pay for the expense if you like. But that is what I am worried about and why I don’t want any paper trial to my biz e-mail account. Because if my boss sees a conflict of interest I don’t want him to tell me “no I can’t represent you.” I am willing to take that chance. And work for you behind his back – I don’t want to do that but I will, because I think we can work together and I think I can help you.
That is all for now. And, God knows that is the truth. I will call you later today at a normal hour to discuss this further.
Thank you for your attention.
P.S. Feel free to phone me at XXX-XXXX. That is my home line. I have a 9 a.m. appointment that should last an hour and some afternoon and night meeting, but otherwise I am free.
Notice the various RED FLAGS in his communications … trying to convince me he is “honest” and this is “not a scam,” just to “make back his expenses.” In another e-mail, he says that the profits from my story can be used to set up a scholarship in Jessica Witt’s name. How altruistic of him.
In several telephone conversations with me, John mentioned a man who has a very high level position in the office of a politician in Texas. This man, I’ll call him Fred Smith, was suggested to me by Parents of Murdered Children as a “go to” person to get some publicity for my “cause.” Then my attorney also mentioned this man as a “go to” person. I had actually talked to him on the phone before John Doe mentioned Fred as his “close friend.” By now I realized that John is a scammer and that he is slinging around the name of this legitimate man, Fred Smith, and I was at a bit of a quandry about how to handle this.
I really didn’t “know” Fred Smith, except for just the one telephone call, but I wanted to let him know that his name was being bandied around by a scammer. I also figured that if John is trying to scam me, he is probably also trying to scam other survivors of murders. I hesitated to report him now, because I was afraid he would sabotage my efforts in Patrick’s parole protest somehow—maybe with Fred Smith and who knows who else. But I finally decided to go ahead. I wrote a letter to Fred Smith explaining the sequence of it all, and sent it to him, along with copies of the e-mails from John Doe.
I also contacted the national office of ABC.org and spoke to the new executive director about the problem. I sent him copies of the e-mails, and a copy of the letter I had sent to Fred Smith. I wanted the executive director to know that I was not going to hide this problem and I wasn’t going to allow him to either.
I got back an e mail saying that this was probably just a “misunderstanding.”
I spoke for over an hour the other day with Mr. Executive Director. After he had had time to completely review the e-mails, he agreed with me that this was dishonesty. He would “handle the situation” and let me know in a week how it was “handled.” I informed Mr. Executive Director that if John Doe did not lose his job, then I would be forced to go to the media, along with Fred Smith’s assistance. Fred Smith is not happy at all about his name being bandied about by someone who is trying to con money from victims via a non-profit. I don’t think ABC.org wants this kind of negative publicity.
The RED FLAGS of a con are apparent in looking at this case in retrospect:
- The man called me on the telephone at an inappropriate time of day for a business-type call.
- His assurances to me when I questioned him about the different e-mail address, the hiding things from his boss, etc.
- The Pity Ploy of “I have PTSD.”
- “I’m going to help you even if my boss says I can’t.”
Though this particular con job was an apparent attempt to find some way to gain financially from me, the basic types of red flags are the same in any kind of psychopathic con job. Whether it is business or love, the red flags are the same: The attempts to get you to trust them, even though there is evidence that they are doing something not quite on the up and up. The explaining away their dishonesty for the “greater good.” The attempts to get you to pity them or identify with them as victims, or to get you to help them. The promises to help you.
Donna’s book The Red Flags of Love Fraud outlines the various ways in which we can identify a potential lover’s psychopathic attempts at conning us. These red flags should not just be limited to romantic relationships, but applied to every relationship in all business or personal parts of our lives. Who would have thought a con man would be representing a legitimate victim’s advocate group?
I had a “gut feeling” from the first telephone call due, to the hour he called, and I should have listened to my gut then. At least, because I am familiar with the red flags, I did pick up on his con a lot sooner than I would have if I hadn’t been “tuned in.” Who knows? Without my understanding of the red flags of a con job, I might have been desperate enough to have given this man money to “help” me … after all, he was willing to take a lie detector test to prove to me how “honest” he was.
I am a bit further along in the healing process than many of the survivors of murder victims may be and I didn’t fall for the ruse that John Doe presented. Still, it sets my teeth on edge to think that maybe he has conned some unsuspecting and hurting survivor of a murder victim into “hiring” him to represent them with the police to try to solve their unsolved case, or some other “service” he purported to provide.
Regardless of what kind of relationship you had (personal, family, business, or romantic) with a psychopath, learn the RED FLAGS and apply them liberally to relationships of all kinds in your life. You may still get “zinged” from time to time, but the episodes will be shorter and less severe than if you didn’t pay attention to red flags and honor them when you see them.
Oh, and by the way, I got a call from Mr. Executive Director to tell me that John Doe no longer works at ABC.org.