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5 bad scams
Victims' stories shed light on tactics con artists use to defraud the public, veterinarians


YOUR DVM CAREER


CONSULTANT CON ARTISTS

FREDERICKSBURG, VA. — When Dr. Gerri Reid saw an ad for a consultant in 2003, she called his references, conducted an interview and, at age 28, hired him to negotiate construction of her own practice.

The consultant secured funding, negotiated the building contract and hired an architect. But after construction started, Reid noticed no one was getting paid. The consultant allegedly embezzled her bank-loaned funds.

"Just when we were about to open, things started getting fishy," she recalls. "He would never answer my calls. He would come up with lies. I paid for equipment I never received."

In order to open, Reid took out a home equity loan. She's since lost her practice.

"My landlord sued me because I didn't open on time and didn't give him rent. I counted pennies to pay this man back. Now lenders won't touch me. I've lost $100,000 or more, I guess."

Trying to catch the consultant "is like nailing Jell-O to the wall," Reid says. "He's got several driver's licenses and several Social Security numbers. It's a shame that authorities have not caught up with him."

Dr. Tammy Hux, who practices in Evans, Ga., feels Reid's pain. She conducted just as much background research before hiring the same consultant to develop her first practice.

"I needed someone to help me negotiate contracts and look out for my best interests," she recalls. "He would say, 'I'm going to buy you X-ray equipment, and then would pad the bills. I started getting suspicious and called the loan companies. The X-ray machine would cost $5,000, for example, and he would charge me $9,000. The exam tables, surgical equipment — everything was padded."

The consultant also pocketed a $40,000 loan in Hux's name. "They sent him the money, and he never gave it to me. I would make payments for the loan on my personal credit card."

She was out $200,000 in bank loans and $25,000 on credit cards. That forced Hux into personal and business bankruptcy. Her attempts to contact the consultant were in vain.

"In the middle of all this, he moves to Phoenix. He bought himself a $350,000 house, which I like to say I built for him," she says. "I would clearly love to go after this guy. I didn't have the personal wherewithal to do it. I've tried to go to the police, and they say no crime has occurred. Civilly, I don't have the money to do it."

DRUG DIVERSION, THEFT

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two teenagers were arrested Jan. 18 for allegedly breaking in to a Raleigh, N.C., veterinary practice and stealing more than $4,000 worth of controlled substances. Authorities reportedly found the accused, one of whom worked in the practice's kennel, in possession of clonazepam, morphine, Fentanyl, ketamine, Telazol, phenobarbital, diazepam and butorphanol tartrate upon their arrest, police records show.

It's a crime many practices face when narcotics are stored on site. While break-ins appear on the rise, inside jobs are just as common. Last month, a veterinary technician from a Denver suburb admitted to using syringes to steal morphine from bottles and replacing the drug with saline solution. Pain expert Dr. Robin Downing says a Colorado State University research program recently dealt with the same situation.

"It's a reminder that we need to be cautious," she says. "There is no doubt we as veterinarians are targets. We keep drugs on our premises."

Drug shoppers also can be a problem, although Downing, who co-owns Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo., admits she's never encountered the situation. Emergency veterinarians are especially vulnerable, she says, because by the nature of their work, they rarely have long-term client relationships.

Downing advises veterinarians to lock up all drugs in unmarked boxes that are bolted to the wall and limit those with access to the key. Proper-record keeping can act as an early alert to theft, she adds.

To assure owners aren't using their pet's medication, Downing reassesses pain-management cases at least every 60 days.

"I never Rx morphine for longer than a 30-day treatment period. We take the same sort of precautions for seizure patients," she says.

TELEPHONE TRICKS

LANCASTER, N.Y. — When Dr. Greg Upton noticed his phone bill was a little higher than in previous months, it was already too late. Charges listed as "enhanced services" for an Internet service provider tacked on a monthly fee of $29.95 from a company he'd never dealt with.

"It wasn't easy to find since I have my DSL and ISP fees charged on my phone bill," the Houston-area practitioner says. "I checked previous month's bill, and it was there, too."

Authorities call it phone "cramming," and it appears a growing consumer scam. Companies apparently sneak unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on telephone bills, hoping customers aren't paying attention. Most recently, Upton's also been billed $24 a month by a publisher's business service that claims it received phone authorization for five-year's worth of various magazine subscriptions. Small businesses are especially vulnerable, authorities say, because they receive number invoices that often contain multiple charges, making it more confusing to weed out fraudulent charges.

When Upton called the Internet services company, it played back an "obviously fabricated" recording in which his employee supposedly OK'd the services. "They claimed this was a valid authorization for their fees."

Some harsh words from the veterinarian eventually resulted in a refund. He advises other practitioners to check their bills each month and warn employees who answer the telephone. The publisher's business service, which claims Upton's practice manager gave voice authorization, likely used the same tactic as the Internet services provider, he says.

"If the solicitor asks, 'Is this ABC Animal Clinic?' tell them to respond 'This is ABC Animal Clinic,' rather than saying 'yes.' Once they recognize this is a solicitor and not a client or regular company you deal with, tell them to say 'no thanks' and hang up," he says.


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