At a business meeting in 2018, Anthony Gignac ate a pork pie.
Ordinarily, this would have been utterly unremarkable, but for Gignac it would bring down a near 20-year deception that saw him pose as a Saudi prince to defraud high net worth individuals to the tune of £6.3m ($8.3m, €6.9m).
The Prince’s pork penchant was noticed by Jeffrey Soffer, a billionaire financier who was meeting with Gignac to discuss buying a 30% stake in the famed Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach for £339m.
And while it might stretch the bounds of credibility, the pie was enough to convince the FBI to investigate, writes Philip Sinel, founder of Jersey-based law firm Sinels Advocates.
It’s the small things
There is more to the Gignac case than an amusing anecdote, however.
In truth, his case is broadly indicative: fraudsters are all too often betrayed by the little details, which are often enough to breach the walls of deceit, built overs years.
Given the covid-induced economic turmoil is likely to propel a rise in fraud – the last recession driving a 10% increase, for instance – it is apt for HNWI investors, and their advisers, to familiarise themselves with the key indicators of fraud.
It’s actually surprisingly easy to spot a conman: theirs are the loudest voices in the restaurant, often shod in equally loud clothing.
Their keynote is ostentation, be it flashy suits or gaudy gewgaws.
Expensive, overstated watches are a staple, as are personalised, handmade shirts – always, it seems, with initials on the cuffs and pocket.
How many wives of arrested embezzlers, for example, have huge handbag collections?
Too good to be true
Importantly, these items are often purely for show, designed to create the impression of positive credit or trading records.
Scratch behind the surface and, like the schemes the fraudsters are often seeking to sell, these items will usually turn out to be fakes.
Gignac’s Rolexes, for instance, turned out to be imitations, with inexpensive diamonds glued to otherwise cheap watches.
The ‘Trillion Dollar Man’ Russell King, meanwhile, convicted in 2008 on 25 counts of fraud, owned a helicopter that, it turned out, couldn’t actually carry a man of his not insignificant carriage.
So, when meeting with any prospective business partner, take a note not just of what they are saying, but what they are wearing or the items they profess to own.
Crucially, these details are key pieces of evidence for eventual court proceedings, as any witness that cannot provide a legitimate source of their finances under cross examination will struggle to win their case.
Put it another way: the more ostentatious the lifestyle, the more there is to account for.
And take careful note of their behaviour when you do meet.
Typically, a fraudster’s behaviour will fall into a pattern of ‘false strokes’.
You’ll find that nothing is too much trouble, they could not be more polite when they are trying to get payment on an account or to nourish a relationship.
Another tell-tale is the use of an acquired accent, often with more rounded vowels and a higher class-bracket than the fraudster’s origins would suggest.
It seemed, for example, that Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes affected a deep baritone, doubtless hoping it enhanced her credibility, when footage of her ‘normal’ higher-pitched speaking voice emerged.
Ultimately, if you are at the stage of suspicion, then don’t hesitate to check where they went to school.
If birth and school do not fit their current speaking voice, it is a sign to proceed with caution.
This too is a key facet of court proceedings, as demonstrating someone’s accent is affected is easy to do and highlights their duplicity.
Fluff with no substance
Inevitably, given the lockdown, it is not necessarily possible to meet every single potential new business partner.
However, it is impossible to do business with someone without receiving an email or letter from them, and correspondence itself often reveals much.
All fraudsters make a point of taking kernels of truth and embellishing them, dissembling to create seemingly realistic stories out of falsehoods.
If you receive a five-paragraph letter, or longer, which either has no real point or makes a false allegation with some cladding around it, you are probably dealing with a fraudster who has done it before.
Their letters fit into a methodology and pattern in relation to obligations, promising much without a set delivery date, and asking for much in return – preferably now.
There are a number of tell-tale signs that almost always betray a fraudster, and a keen eye for detail is paramount to shatter the carefully spun illusions.
It is the behaviours that mimic success that tend to betray a conman, so if your new ‘business partner’ is keen on the public flashes of luxury, whilst pushing for a quick deal with no timeline in mind, be sure to take note, as it is possible you are dealing with a fraudster.
This article was written for International Adviser by Philip Sinel, founder of Sinels Advocates.