Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On the Bonehead Express to Scamville

Recent news stories have noted that Napa County is statistically the scam capital of the US and A. The Napa Valley Register reported on it, as did the CoCo Times, CNN Money, and countless others. Not only did we have the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft ("We're number 1! We're number 1!") but Napa was third in per capita fraud cases. The stats are from reports to the FTC. (There's a fresh fraud story in today's Register.)

Consideration #1: anytime you see a statistic, peek under the hood. With this one, keep in mind it is a tally of reports to the FTC. There may be places where more fraud occurs but people don't report it.

Consideration #2: despite skepticism of statistics, I think it may in fact be possible that Napa is home to a disproportionate number of wide-eyed, slack-jawed, just-fell-off-the-turnip-truck rubes who have safe deposit boxes stuffed with deeds to swamp land in Florida and WebVan stock certificates. (By the way, did you know the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary? Try to look it up.)

I do not come to this theory in haste. It's based on 20 years of living here and watching some smooth operators scam up lot of cash in no time, using really basic pyramid scheme techniques. And here we are only talking about cases that are confirmed, because the bastards got caught.

It happened at least twice in the late 1980s and early 1990s. First came the Lendvest Mortgage scam that blew up when the "drug tug" was busted in the Bay. Lots of locals lost lots of shekels. The story at the time was that the "investment" was paying off so well, upstanding local citizens were promoting it to each other like crazy, talking it up in civic clubs and churches. Ouch. Businesses failed, reputations were ruined, people went to jail. (If you Google "Lendvest" you will find a passel of entertaining reading, including some items from the tinfoil-hat people. Careful, pilgrim.)

In no time, another scam was running in town. The Savage Program was the brainchild of Mike Savage, at that time the notorious local talk show host on KVON. (Note: this is not the same guy who is now nationally syndicated on radio, nor is it the guy who manages the Lincoln Theater.) Many of the "investors" who lost their shirts in the Savage Program were not locals, but the intricate web of lies spun by the perp took in lots of Napans. They (and, to be honest, I include myself in this group) were gullible enough to believe his ever-changing stories that explained his sudden wealth. He stole $6 million, spent it all, and went to the graybar hotel for a nice long rest.

Maybe there was some kind of virus going around back then that made everybody stupid. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Napa was Scamtown USA back then, and we're still getting ripped off today, albeit in new, impersonal ways. Maybe our ability to be taken is just indicative of our fresh-faced innocence, our trusting nature, our uniquely Napa belief that people are basically good and honest. You make the call. I've got to run now, I just got an email and apparently there's a man in Nigeria who needs my help transfering some funds...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't feel bad about believing Mike. Another Martin in town thought he was going to become the Register editor after Mike said he was going to buy the newspaper. Now there's a guy who knows that some people will believe anything.

hillbilly deluxe said...

You mean that Nigerian government official isn't going to deposit a large sum of money in my account after all? Dang! Next thing you'll tell me is I can't eat all I want and still lose weight. Hornswaggled again...

Anonymous said...

For a small town we sure have a lot of different Banks---I was just going to give all of my INFO to that new one that just requested it (via an email)--have you heard of it yet..."The Fifth-Third Bank"? (Or was that "The Third Fifth Bank"?)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone think that 17.5 years in prison was a bit much for Mike Savage? We all act as though we have never done anything wrong and seem to forget that Mike did a lot of good for our community. The crime he did was certainly wrong but, Barry, are you really so shallow as to have treated him so shabbily then and then continue to do so now? Shame on you.

Barry Martin said...

To anonymous of 3/19/08: I'm not a judge, and I wasn't on the jury, so I don't know if Mike Savage got a fair or harsh sentence. I do know he was a liar who hurt a lot of people by stealing their money. I imagine many of those victims think he got what he deserved. As far as me treating him shabbily, you'd have to clue me in. Mike and I actually got along pretty well, and did some funny radio shows together. It bugged me later to learn how much he was lying to me and others, but they were little lies and he didn't steal any of my money.

And as far as you trying to cast shame on me - I reject it. Save your shaming for someone else.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm just tired of the flippant attitude everyone in media seems to have towards bashing others. When Mike was on the air, and later with you, there was a newness, a freshness, to the sarcasm and put downs but now it seems to be just plain mean. Perhaps you can take a look at this. I don't really expect you to accept my opinion as valid or even worth considering but I really do have compassion for people like Mike and I hope he gets out one day and is able to move on. Regarding his victims . . . I did a little research and found out that most of the people he was involved with had done that kind of thing many time before. Mike was actually the only one who was involved for the first time in the scam. When I learned this it changed my perspective of him slightly. Maybe it will your too. Sorry for the shame comment. I was a bit emotional.

Barry Martin said...

Well, Anonymous of 3/20, I agree with you on the compassion part. I think people who are compelled to tell lies probably have just as much of a "disease" as drug addicts who are compelled to consume a substance. I am most definitely flippant and enjoy throwing a few barbs, but it's just for fun. In my heart of hearts I don't believe in being judgmental.

And that goes for you, too. Why would I not "accept (your) opinion as valid or even worth considering"? Why is your opinion less valid than mine? To me, opinions are not like facts - there's not a right one and a wrong one...