As I pulled up to the light at Third and Linden, a man started walking across the street in front of me. He stopped halfway and pointed at the front of my car. I lowered my window, and he said, "Man, your front tire is really low. You better get some air in there quick."
"Thanks," I said. "I appreciate it." I started to get out of the car to look at the tire. That's when the guy hit me up for money. And that's when I realized his Good Samaritan act was a scam. I pulled away, shaking my head. What a jackass, I thought. My tire, needless to say, was fine.
It's not unlike the scam the Stanford Financial Group pulled on its unsuspecting victims (see Cover Story, page 19). First, they created goodwill by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Memphis nonprofit organizations, politicians, and charities, then they exploited their image as a good corporate citizen to con their victims into investing in fraudulant certificates of deposit — to the tune of $8 billion worldwide.
The difference between the millionaire jackass Sir Allen Stanford and the jackass bum downtown was only a matter of scale. But what a scale! You can still go to StanfordFinancial.com and see the incredible trappings of this international sting. Here's the pitch for their "investment model":
"The objective of the Stanford Investment Model (SIM) is to provide consistent returns regardless of market volatility. ... We target a consistent yield or income stream as agreed upon with our clients, while monitoring risk and managing the overall volatility of the portfolio. Our strategy for diversification to minimize the effects of market volatility is sophisticated and far-reaching."
I'll say. The site also details the company's massive charitable operations — their strategy for "investing in communities" — and the slick Eagle magazine, with articles on the PGA-affiliated "Eagles for St. Jude" program and "Educating Children About Family Wealth."
Stanford's scam was brilliantly executed, and I have no doubt most of the company's employees knew nothing about it. And I do have some sympathy for those who were taken in. After all, if my tire really had been low, I probably would have given that jackass a buck.