The Con: How Scams Work, Why You're Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself [NOOK Book]

Overview

No one thinks it can happen to them, but Americans are 40 times more likely to be defrauded than to have their cars stolen or their homes burgled. Con artists ruin people financially and emotionally, leaving in their wake a trail of destruction, broken hearts, and deflated dreams. The first step to combating fraud is to understand it. What do scams look like? Why are they effective? The next step is to take action. How can we protect ourselves and our families? The Con: How Scams Work, Why You're Vulnerable, and ...
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The Con: How Scams Work, Why You're Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself

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Overview

No one thinks it can happen to them, but Americans are 40 times more likely to be defrauded than to have their cars stolen or their homes burgled. Con artists ruin people financially and emotionally, leaving in their wake a trail of destruction, broken hearts, and deflated dreams. The first step to combating fraud is to understand it. What do scams look like? Why are they effective? The next step is to take action. How can we protect ourselves and our families? The Con: How Scams Work, Why You're Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself informs and engages with accessible stories of ordinary people from all walks of life thrown into unexpected and disorienting circumstances. The book goes behind the scenes of real-world cons to examine the logistics and psychology that enable scams to succeed. The goal is to help people understand and recognize deception, and in the same way that they avoid other potentially dangerous situations, take a detour. Once readers have gained a clear idea of what scams look and sound like and learned simple strategies to reduce personal risk, protecting themselves will be just as instinctive as putting on a seat belt.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Career magician and identity theft expert Munton teams with writer McLeod to deliver this fascinating, informative, and highly entertaining primer on the various ways the uninitiated may find themselves ripped off by a con artist. Filled with personal stories (told in hindsight, of course), the cautionary tales have a common thread: it could happen to anyone-be they financially struggling college student, good Samaritan, single mom, or scientist. Munton and McLeod's featured narratives include people who have been conned by a new romantic interest or led astray by greed, curiosity, or basic inattentiveness. Rather than inducing paranoia, Munton and McLeod stress the importance of critical thinking when it comes to our money, identities, and time. For example, Munton schools readers on how to recognize a Ponzi scheme and cautions against giving out a social security number without serious consideration; in most instances, the receiving party doesn't need the social security number at all. This book will help people recognize a credible opportunity when it presents itself, and avoid those "opportunities" that don't pass muster.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Foreword Reviews
Although most people believe that they're too smart or too protected to be conned, anecdotal and statistical evidence says otherwise. The scams may be small, like someone stealing a prescription drug bottle and refilling it under a fake name, or they could be vast Ponzi schemes that defraud thousands. The range of scams is staggering, and this extremely thorough and timely guide details many common cons that could fool just about anyone. More importantly, it gives concrete tips on dealing with scammers and preventing such traps at the outset. For each scenario, the authors describe a con by using a fictional character who's been duped, and the device works very well, making the material engaging, accessible and understandable....In short, straightforward sections, other cons are analyzed, such as telemarketers, emergency phone calls from fake relatives, door-to-door scams, check-bouncing tactics, and identity-theft strategies. The authors bring considerable expertise to the task. James Munton is a magician who's performed several times at the White House, and is now a speaker on the subjects of identity theft and data breaches, while Jelita McLeod's journalistic background includes stories for the Washington Post and National Public Radio. That blend works well, since so many cons are much like magic tricks, with sleight-of-hand and misdirection, and it takes a reporter's skill to really dig into why they succeed. 'For every con, there is a corresponding trait in human nature that is being targeted,' the authors warn. Understanding how cons work, why they prey on basic emotional needs, and what can be done to stop them are all vital in boosting protection against them. This compelling work goes a long way toward putting distance between scammers and their prey.
Dallas Morning News
It’s the ultimate irony that James Munton co-wrote a book on scams. That’s because Munton is a magician. And like scammers, magicians are masters of deception and illusion. But the Dallas resident said there’s a critical difference between how he uses deception and how a crook deploys it: “A magician uses his knowledge of deception to entertain people, whereas the scam artist uses that to get the person to give them something,” said Munton, co-author with Jelita McLeod of The Con: How Scams Work, Why You’re Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself.
Booklist
The popular cultural depiction of a con shows an ingenious bit of skulduggery pulled off by a charming schemer or schemers. Think The Sting and Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. But the prevalence of cons—40 times more common than car theft and burglary—and the range of its perpetrators, from family members to global Internet scammers, demand more vigilance than do other crimes. Magician and expert on deception Munton, abetted by writer McLeod, goes behind the scenes to present stories of ordinary con victims to dissect how scams are perpetrated and the elements and tactics of typical cons. The authors go on to detail seven categories of con, from foreign lottery and sweepstakes scams to reshipping schemes to fraudulent home repair. From telemarketing tricks to crimeware, they describe how scammers use technology to gain access to potential victims. They also detail how to protect against the cons, identify possible setups, and reduce the likelihood of falling into conning traps. Finally, they advise readers on recovering from identity theft. Completely fascinating and insightful.
ForeWord Reviews
Although most people believe that they're too smart or too protected to be conned, anecdotal and statistical evidence says otherwise. The scams may be small, like someone stealing a prescription drug bottle and refilling it under a fake name, or they could be vast Ponzi schemes that defraud thousands. The range of scams is staggering, and this extremely thorough and timely guide details many common cons that could fool just about anyone. More importantly, it gives concrete tips on dealing with scammers and preventing such traps at the outset. For each scenario, the authors describe a con by using a fictional character who's been duped, and the device works very well, making the material engaging, accessible and understandable....In short, straightforward sections, other cons are analyzed, such as telemarketers, emergency phone calls from fake relatives, door-to-door scams, check-bouncing tactics, and identity-theft strategies. The authors bring considerable expertise to the task. James Munton is a magician who's performed several times at the White House, and is now a speaker on the subjects of identity theft and data breaches, while Jelita McLeod's journalistic background includes stories for the Washington Post and National Public Radio. That blend works well, since so many cons are much like magic tricks, with sleight-of-hand and misdirection, and it takes a reporter's skill to really dig into why they succeed. 'For every con, there is a corresponding trait in human nature that is being targeted,' the authors warn. Understanding how cons work, why they prey on basic emotional needs, and what can be done to stop them are all vital in boosting protection against them. This compelling work goes a long way toward putting distance between scammers and their prey.
Michael B. Dana
It is unfortunate but in my 20 years in law enforcement I can recall many of the same victims' stories as told in The Con. James and Jelita have provided historical and statistical information with actual accounts of these frauds through the victims and suspects perspectives. These victims' stories along with the tips and resources can help raise awareness and hopefully help individuals prevent or recover from these ever prevalent crimes.
Julieann Dimmick
This is the best book about scams I have ever read. It is a wake-up call for all those who think they can't be conned. The compelling stories show how real-world cons unfold, why they work and what we must do to protect ourselves. An essential and entertaining guide to spotting and avoiding scams in everyday life.
Glenn Hester
I have had the honor of reviewing Jelita McLeod and James Munton's manuscript on con games, titled The Con; How scams work, Why you are vulnerable and How to Protect Yourself. Looking over each of the chapters of the collection of con games played on unsuspecting victims and the personalized stories, I am reminded of many of the reports I have taken on a variety of scams. As a law enforcement officer and a magician, I have lectured on flim flam to many groups over the years. Jelita and James book is an interesting collection of many of the more popular cons played out throughout the world.
The sad part is, how this affects the victim. Suicides have been a part of how the victim dealt with being swindled. Some, of older age, have been confined to a nursing home as their children felt their parents could not cope in the world after being scammed and losing everything they had. I am most impressed with the Warning Signs and Tips to Protect Yourself at the end, along with a vast array of Resources a person can contact should the unthinkable occur. Overall, I recommend this to everyone as a training guide to alert them as to the seedy side of people. I recommend this book to citizens and law enforcement personnel who want to educate themselves on many of the scams that are occuring daily. Jelita and James have performed a great service by writing this book and putting it out so all can understand the mechanics of the con and how to protect yourself. As the old adage goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is.
Marta Zaricznyj
This book is a must read. Well written, informational and entertaining, it is full of interesting stories that drive home the number and variety of scams in operation, how intelligent people fall for these scams and how to protect yourself. There were scams that I had not heard of even after being in the security business for over 15 years.
Grand Forks Herald
“Real-world cons examine the logistics and psychology that enable scams to succeed”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442207332
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/22/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 190
  • File size: 765 KB

Meet the Author

James Munton is an expert in deception and misdirection. A successful magician, James provides entertainment, marketing and training for corporations and organizations. He has performed for Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Cheney and three times at the White House. He is an in-demand speaker on the subjects of identity theft and data breaches. He has appeared on Fox 5 News and ABC Morning News (Washington, D.C.) and in a National Geographic Television documentary special. He has been featured in articles in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He is a past president of the National Capital chapters of both the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians. Jelita McLeod is an award-winning writer who has worked in marketing, advocacy and public relations for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, International Educator, The College Board Review and Vital Speeches of the Day. Her commentary has aired on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered. Currently a freelance writer, she has served as a full-time speechwriter and as director of external relations at the Fulbright Association. She previously worked at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University, and overseas in England and Japan.
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Read an Excerpt

THE CON

How Scams Work, Why You're Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself
By James Munton Jelita McLeod

ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.

Copyright © 2011 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4422-0731-8


Chapter One

SCAMS 101 Admitting There's a Problem

"When I tell you that it started with a glass of wine at a Christmas party, you may think you know where the story's going. I can tell you for a fact that you're wrong."

Scott had a good working relationship with his boss, Nick, who was also owner and founder of the company where they worked. The two men were close in age and agreed on most aspects of the business. Scott never doubted that Nick was a talented entrepreneur and straight shooter.

"We work in a small office," says Scott. "Nick decided to have the company holiday party at his place. He had this neat bachelor pad in the city. During the party, I spilled a little wine on my shirt and I wanted to clean up, so I went into the bathroom. I looked around to see if I could find something to dab my shirt with. There was a cabinet with towels and washcloths on one shelf, and on the second, higher shelf was a collection of prescription bottles. And it really was a collection, maybe 20 or 30 bottles. I was taken aback, because I'd never known Nick to be sick. I did think it was a lot of medicine, but I also thought it was none of my business. As I was about to close the door, I took one more look up there and something caught my eye."

Scott thought he saw something familiar on one of the pill bottles. To satisfy his curiosity, he took it down and was stunned to find his own name on the label.

"It was very, very weird. The prescription was for Vicodin, which I've never taken. I grabbed another bottle. It had some other person's name on it, not Nick's. It was also for Vicodin. I ended up taking them all down. I found seven bottles with my name on them. There were prescriptions for Xanax, OxyContin, and other things I'd never heard of. I didn't know what to think. It didn't make any sense to me. Obviously there was something screwy going on, but I still didn't get why or how he would have these prescriptions in my name. So I looked at the name of the pharmacy on one of the bottles and decided to ask the pharmacist there. Then I put everything back on the shelf, went back out to the party, and tried to act normal."

What Scott discovered when he visited the pharmacy the next day was that someone, presumably Nick, had been filling prescriptions in his name for over a year. Scott contacted his insurance company, which verified that the prescriptions had been processed through his insurance policy. At first, Scott didn't know what to do with this information.

"I was completely blindsided. It was just such an odd thing to happen. I always liked Nick. He was a good boss. Obviously he had some kind of problem, and he had appropriated my identity to get these pills, which was without a doubt illegal and definitely immoral. But if I turned him in to the police, what would it mean for my job? He was not only my boss; he was the owner of the company."

Scott discussed the dilemma with his wife, who advised him to call the police. Instead, Scott decided to try confronting Nick first, thinking that if his boss was abusing drugs, the discussion might serve as a wake-up call.

"Nick tried pleading ignorance at first, but I had seen the evidence with my own eyes. Then he began to get emotional. He was all teary eyed and apologetic, said it was all a big mistake, promised he would never do it again. I took him at his word."

Scott thought he and Nick had come to an acceptable resolution. His job and the company were unaffected. When Scott went back to the insurance company, though, he found clearing up the confusion more difficult than he had anticipated. As far as the insurance company was concerned, Scott had been prescribed and had purchased the drugs in question. Without a written admission from Nick that he had stolen Scott's identification, there was no reason to think otherwise. The prescriptions were now included in Scott's medical records as part of his medical history. During one of the many phone conversations he had with insurance representatives, Scott wondered aloud how Nick had come by those prescriptions in the first place. Had a real doctor prescribed them? And if so, had the doctor known Nick's real identity?

"The customer rep said that, worst-case scenario, Nick had gone into a doctor's office as me and had been treated and prescribed as me. Or he could have falsified a prescription. It seemed like the further I got into it, the more convoluted it got. But I was still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, right up until I got a call from the pharmacy asking for Davy, my three-year-old son."

Con men and women vary in approach, motivation, and experience. Some are professional, long-time scam artists. Others have fallen into the con game as a result of circumstance and are not as practiced. They may have taken up a life of crime to support a drug habit. They may project an image of wealth and refinement. They may be aggressive or smooth talking or both. A conner may look like the girl next door or the scary hitchhiker from a horror movie. There is no way to know just by looking.

They may also look very familiar. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because you know someone or because you have something in common with someone, that he or she is trustworthy. There are dishonest folks among our neighbors, acquaintances, and even family. Why would someone you know try to scam you? It's less work. They already have your trust, or think they do. They have easy access. Your guard is down. You're more likely to say yes to whatever they ask, especially if they claim to be in need or in trouble. If it's a relative, he or she may use guilt to manipulate your emotions. People who share something in common with you—a member of the same club or congregation, a classmate—can also trade on that association to gain your trust. The perpetrator may turn out to be someone you have known for years, such as a close friend, a relative, a confidante. These relationships can make it harder for victims to differentiate between a crime and a simple mistake or bad judgment on the part of the perpetrator.

The pharmacist who called Scott was filling a prescription for Davy and had found a discrepancy. The prescription was for a sleeping pill, but it conflicted with another medication he had already been prescribed. From the way the pharmacist was talking, it was clear he believed Davy was an adult. Scott was horrified.

"Davy's not on any prescriptions. He's a toddler. I couldn't believe it. I thought, it can't be. Nick wouldn't do that to me, to my family. But he had. Now he was using my baby's name to get drugs. I was furious. My wife went ballistic. This time I knew I had to go straight to the police. I couldn't go back to Nick because obviously he was a liar and a thief and he had no intention of stopping. What shocked me the most was that he was not at all the person I thought he was. It was chilling."

When Scott finally went to the authorities, they found that Nick had been poaching from dozens of people, not only employees, but relatives as well. With access to all his employees' personnel files, he was able to obtain Social Security and insurance information that allowed him to impersonate them. Most of the pills were for personal consumption, but Nick also occasionally sold prescription painkillers.

"I was surprised at how easy it was for him to co-opt someone else's identity," says Scott. "These systems define us; it's not who we are as people. Apparently as long as you have the right numbers and cards to plug into the system, no one is going to question you."

Scott left his job, and the company eventually folded, but it took him months to rectify the mistakes in his and Davy's medical records.

MANY FACES OF FRAUD

Scam, sham, con, grift, bunco, flimflam, swindle, fiddle, hustle. The English language has no shortage of words to describe fraud, many of which make it sound playful, almost like a child's card game. But make no mistake. Fraud is a serious crime and it is rampant.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that more than 30 million Americans a year fall victim to fraud, with nearly 50 million reported incidents of consumer fraud, including fake foreign lotteries, prize promotions, work-at-home programs, and pyramid schemes. No one thinks it can happen to them, but Americans are 40 times more likely to be defrauded than to have their cars stolen or their homes burgled. Con artists ruin people financially and emotionally, leaving in their wake a trail of destruction, broken hearts, and deflated dreams.

The declining housing market, financial collapse of 2008, and subsequent recession highlighted an epidemic of financial scams that both precipitated and made use of deteriorating economic conditions. In response, President Barack Obama established the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, a broad coalition of law enforcement, investigatory, and regulatory government agencies and departments charged with investigating and prosecuting significant financial crimes, including mortgage and tax fraud, credit card theft, and Ponzi schemes. The FTC created "Operation Short Change" to target criminals taking advantage of the economic crisis to fleece people through employment scams, get rich quick schemes, and fraudulent benefits or debt reduction services.

The epidemic shows no signs of abating. An Associated Press analysis of scams across the country found that 150 Ponzi schemes collapsed in 2009, as compared with approximately 40 the year before. These failed schemes, based on fraudulent investments, represent a loss of $16.5 billion to investors. This includes only Ponzi schemes that were detected and prosecuted. Untold numbers continue under the radar of law enforcement. Identity theft, one of the most highly publicized forms of fraud, has been steadily increasing year over year. An annual identity theft survey conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research reveals that in 2009, 11 million Americans were victims of identity theft, to the tune of $54 billion. Fraud involving checking accounts is also on the rise. The American Bankers Association reported increases in nearly every area of fraud covered in its annual survey, including more than 760,000 cases of check fraud and debit card fraud totaling $788 million.

Advances in technology have made it easier for scams to flourish, reaching millions of potential victims at once through avenues such as e-mail, texting, short message service (SMS), instant messaging (IM), robocalls, and social networking. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, solicits complaints in the area of cybercrime and, when appropriate, refers them to the relevant law enforcement or regulatory agencies. In its most recent annual Internet Crime Report, IC3 noted that complaint submissions had increased by more than 22 percent, with losses reported at nearly $560 million.

These statistics involve only reported instances of fraud. There is no way of knowing exactly how many cons are attempted in any given time period. Many scam victims are hesitant to report the crimes because they are embarrassed at having been duped. As one victim put it, she felt like the "dummy of the year" after falling for a swindle. Many people don't want to admit having been taken in by a con. In cases where the victim is related to or acquainted with the perpetrator, there may be an increased reluctance to report the person to the police. In such instances, the swindlers may also attempt to negotiate with their victims in order to avoid police attention. People scammed by family members may not even consider the act a crime. Others blame themselves and view the loss as their own fault.

Some victims feel remorse because the money stolen was not theirs. One woman borrowed money from her ill mother and was devastated when she lost it to a con man posing as a suitor. A man who tapped into his daughter's college savings fund to invest in a "sure thing" without his family's knowledge attempted to keep the loss a secret. In such cases, feelings of anger are compounded by deep guilt. All these factors keep the number of reported fraud cases to only a fraction of the actual amount.

Even though the crime is underreported, existing figures are alarming enough to cause concern. Unfortunately, scams are still often viewed as peripheral crimes. Becoming a victim of fraud doesn't seem as scary as being mugged. If someone tried to mug you every time you went to the store, you would probably change your behavior or vary your routine. Yet people are bombarded by scam solicitations on a near daily basis and do nothing. In an ideal world, you would never encounter a con artist, but the likelihood is that you already have, on more occasions than you can count. Anyone with an e-mail address has read a phishing message. Anyone with a phone can receive a phony alert call. The simple act of walking on the street can attract strangers peddling scams.

Art dealer and gallery owner Lawrence Salander was a prominent figure in the New York art world for 30 years. Among his clients were tennis superstar John McEnroe, the estate of artist Robert De Niro Sr., and the heirs of American artists Stuart Davis and Ralston Crawford. A 2008 profile in New York magazine describes him as "a prophet and a gambler" whose "gravitational pull" drew in both creators and collectors of fine art. The very next year, Salander was in a Manhattan courtroom facing 100 criminal charges, including forgery, fraud, and grand larceny. Salander was accused of selling artwork belonging to his clients without their consent or knowledge, and pocketing the proceeds. As the case against him unfolded, it became clear that for Salander, art was a form of currency he used to stave off creditors, as collateral to underwrite additional debt, and to defraud investors. He eventually pled guilty, expressed remorse, and received a prison sentence of 6 to 18 years. His case drew attention because of the celebrity of those involved and also because of the scale of the fraud, estimated at $120 million.

Earl Davis, son of painter Stuart Davis, was a close friend turned victim of Salander's. The theft of 90 of his father's paintings was a deeply traumatic experience for Davis. As was widely reported, he said, "Had I been robbed at gunpoint or by a thief in the night, it would have been preferable to the ruthlessly drawn out torture that he inflicted upon me."

Salander's story contains all the elements of a Hollywood movie—money, betrayal, fame—but in essence it is no different from any other scam ever perpetrated. The prosecution's characterization of Salander as a "pathological, self-absorbed con man" could apply to anyone who's conned an innocent person. High-profile cases like Salander's and that of disgraced financier Bernie Madoff generate publicity because of the immense sums and high-society figures involved, but they only serve to highlight a crime that is pervasive and destructive and can strike anyone at any time.

EASY OPENING

A mother receives a phone call saying her soldier son has been injured in Iraq. A college student finds the perfect part-time job. A prospective tenant responds to a couple's online classified ad. A man exchanges instant messages with an old friend in trouble. A company in Texas creates a miracle weight-loss powder. An office worker returning from lunch finds a lost wallet.

These seemingly innocuous events are all the opening acts to scams carried out on ordinary people far from the limelight. The circumstances and storylines vary greatly, but in each case, the intended consequence was the same—to swindle someone. In each case, there were no weapons involved, no physical intimidation, and no dark alleys. But the threat of harm, of financial ruin, and emotional devastation, was just as menacing. For those who are victimized by scams, the consequences can be even more harmful than a physical confrontation. The sentiments expressed by victim Earl Davis accurately depict the emotional and psychological violence inflicted by cons.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE CON by James Munton Jelita McLeod Copyright © 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Scams 101: Admitting there's a Problem
Chapter 2: Know the Enemy: Elements of a Con
Chapter 3: The Weakest Link: Why Scams Work
Chapter 4: Mayhem in the Mail: Avoiding Postal Pitfalls
Chapter 5: Up Close and Personal: Danger on Your Doorstep
Chapter 6: Dialing for Dollars: Fending Off Phone Fraud
Chapter 7: Fortifying the Firewall: Evading Electronic Scams
Chapter 8: Out and About: Sidestepping Street Swindles
Chapter 9: Don't Mix Business With Pleasure: Affinity Fraud & Investment Scams
Chapter 10: It Ain't Me: Identity Theft
Chapter 11: Recovering from Identity Theft
Appendix A: Cheat Sheet: Takeaway Tips
Appendix B: Resources

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 18, 2011

    Highly Reccomended

    This very well written and researched book will fill you in on everything you need to know about cons and the people who perpetrate them. From street cons like the handkercief swindle to the internet/identity theft brands of cheating people out of their money, you walk away feeling safer how not to be taken.
    A lot of the book is told from various victims point of view and many will break your heart, reading about how innocent people doing what they thought were good deads only to find their bank accounts empty.
    and, somehow they make it a fun, enjoyable book. I was up half the night reading this one.

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