5 bad scams


5 bad scams

Victims' stories shed light on tactics con artists use to defraud the public, veterinarians
Feb 01, 2008

Fast Fact
LOS GATOS, CALIF. — Plain-clothes police entered Dr. Ian Stone's practice the morning of his office's Christmas party, quietly identified a receptionist and arrested her in front of the entire staff.

To the small-animal veterinarian's surprise, the receptionist was accused of stealing clients' credit-card information, which she allegedly forwarded to a boyfriend who was racking up bills totaling an estimated $400,000.

Since then, Stone contacted clients he believes could have been affected, sent personal letters to every client and wrote an open letter to the rural, affluent community of Los Gatos, where he practices.

"I've had two interactions where clients have threatened to sue me, but for the most part, everyone's pretty understanding," he says.

Stone continued with the party, which served as a team-building event, he says. Still, the practitioner now insists on background checks and drug tests for all employees. The office no longer records clients' driver's license and Social Security numbers and keeps all credit-card information under wraps, he says.

"I would tell other veterinarians to eliminate their liability this way," Stone says. "This one person tried to ruin the faith I had in my staff. I see this as a blessing. It's like an act of God. No one ever plans to have this happen."


NATIONAL REPORT — Diploma mills date back to the 14th century, but modern technological advancements now churn out more sophisticated players, turning fraudulent education into an estimated $500-billion business. Online outfits sell diplomas from virtual schools such as Belford University, where a counselor explains to DVM Newsmagazine that students earn degrees based on "life experience." One can purchase a degree in veterinary medicine (albeit research) for roughly $700, he says.

Other companies produce counterfeit diplomas from legitimate universities, explains John Bear, author of several books on the diploma-mill craze. In 1985, U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper bought a fake doctorate in psychology to show how easy it was to proclaim himself Dr. Pepper. At the time, he asserted that more than 500,000 Americans obtained false credentials, estimating 1,000 of them to be phony veterinarians.

"Absolutely nothing happened as a result of those congressional hearings," recalls Bear. "I'm not aware of any more recent numbers concerning the veterinary profession, but this has become huge business, and it's especially rampant in the medical professions."

While former FBI investigator Allen Ezell has no DVM degrees, he does have credentials to show he's a lawyer and medical doctor, twice over. His phony diplomas come with transcripts and a verification entity. When reviewing the credentials of veterinarians and technicians, he advises owners to take time to verify that contact numbers and addresses match the program's legitimate information.

"Ask to see lots of identification, too," Ezell suggests. "You can buy documents to show that you're anybody. It's very scary out there."