Fighting fraudsters who target homeless in scams

By Kevin Wendolowski, Student Associate Member; Edited by Colin May, CFE
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Starting Out: For new and budding fraud examiners

Con artists and fraudsters often are pathological and express little emotion or remorse about their crimes. University student Kevin Wendolowski discusses a growing trend of schemes designed to target a vulnerable and transient population: the homeless. He gives an overview of some schemes and shows how anti-fraud professionals can help prevent these crimes and educate service providers.


A growing number of loosely affiliated criminal groups across the U.S. are enticing homeless people to divulge personally identifiable information (PII) so the thieves can buy cellphones in their names and sell them across the country for handsome profits. The homeless victims get a few bucks but often end up in deep debt.

Here's how the scam works. A fraudster offers a homeless person a little cash if he or she will travel with the thief to a cellphone retail store to complete and sign a contract. The fraudster takes the phone, drops off the homeless person and sells the new phone on the street or online.

The victims probably don't understand what they just committed to — because of possible mental, physical and substance abuse issues — but they're now responsible for fees and charges on their accounts, which can accumulate to hundreds or thousands of dollars. They'll receive late charges, liens, judgments and fines. And, ultimately, what little credit they might have is destroyed.

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