Con Turned Con Artist
Crime from Behind Bars
The Case of the Con Turned Con Artist
He was already in jail for fraud and other crimes, yet he managed to lead a massive, two-year identity theft and bribery scheme that earned him a separate 309-year prison sentence—more than twice that of crooked financier Bernie Madoff and reportedly the fourth-longest in the history of U.S. white-collar crime.
His name is Robert Thompson, and his story is an eye-opening one for consumers and businesses who take the risk of sharing personal information over the telephone.
It began in a Louisiana state prison, where Thompson started stealing a raft of personal information—dates of birth, social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit cards numbers, etc.—from more than 61 individuals, churches, financial institutions, and businesses. That information enabled him to steal from the victims’ bank accounts and use their credit to buy big-ticket items—like appliances, cell phones, and big-screen TVs. He even attempted to purchase a luxury SUV. Most of these items ended up with his partners in crime—accomplices inside and outside prison.
ID Theft Prevention Tips
The ruses: Thompson used various methods to gather personal information, but one of his tried-and-true ploys involved calling a bank and pretending to be an elderly stroke victim who had been hospitalized. “I don’t have my checkbook with me and need access to my bank account,” he would claim. Most banks didn’t fall for it, but some did. Thompson also called individual victims directly—sometimes saying he was a state trooper who needed to verify personal details after an identity theft arrest.
The operation: Thompson initially made his calls on prison phones. Knowing he could only make collect calls—in accordance with prison rules—he had his outside accomplices obtain three-way calling services on their personal phones, accept collect calls from Thompson, and dial whatever number he wanted. Since many of the calls were long-distance, he also contacted phone companies—using a phony identity—and had those calls charged to the accounts of various churches.
Eventually, prison officials got wind from us of what Thompson was doing, and he was transferred to a special lockdown area in order to keep him away from the phones. But he paid a $10,000 bribe to a corrections officer assigned to his cell block to use the officer’s personal cell phone. So his shenanigans continued.
Thompson also had his accomplices—including a former guard he met at another prison—withdraw money from the phony bank accounts he had set up, pick up merchandise he had ordered, and/or let their home addresses be the delivery points.
The FBI entered the picture in mid-2006 after being contacted by a car dealership that had $50,000 stolen from its bank account. After an extensive investigation, we identified Thompson as the culprit. At least eight of his co-conspirators also have been charged as part of the overall investigation, which was worked closely with state and local law enforcement and corrections officials.
But old habits die hard—after pleading guilty and expressing remorse for his crimes during a 2009 court appearance, Thompson was back working the phones the very next week. The judge had little sympathy during Thompson’s sentencing.
The case is a lesson for us all. “Be crime smart” when it comes to sharing personal information—yours or someone else’s. Don’t give it out over the telephone unless you have verified the identity of the caller.