Major frauds exposed by federal investigators in recent years have targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and other religious groups, from $190 million lost in a three-year scam promoted by a Christian radio host in Minnesota to an estimated $1.4 billion conned from thousands of Utah Mormons.But few chose to consider it - or anything else - beyond who's going to win the Oscars tonight, or American Idol tomorrow.
Is it simply too easy for con artists to prey on people of faith?
“We’ve seen where it’s an outsider who has come into the fold, and we’ve seen some where it’s a person who has been a member of the community for decades,” said Lori Schock, director of investment education and advocacy for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“We’ve had cases where people quote Scripture, that the Lord wants you to make money. And when the house of cards comes crashing down, the victims sometimes lose more than just their money. Sometimes, they lose their faith, and it’s extremely sad.”
Why do religious groups make such easy targets? For one, a swindler who professes the same faith, or belongs to the same congregation, has an easy time earning trust, however misplaced. Duped investors, meanwhile, also hesitate to suspect or report on one of their own, Schock added.
Although the FBI’s Utah Securities Fraud Task Force has issued a warning to members of the Latter-day Saints, the SEC hasn’t examined whether religious groups are more susceptible to “affinity fraud”—scams that target specific demographics, whether evangelical Christians or the elderly. But researchers say it’s a question worth considering.
Meanwhile, this nation's dreams - and hard-earned cash - are just being frittered away,...