Do you think that fraud only involves multi-million dollar scams? Do you imagine that fraud only involves the elaborate plans of a ring of fraudsters? If you commit fraud and are caught, you might expect to lose your license or be fired. We all know this, and yet, it's not a deterrent for everyone in this business.
Why don't we all put the kibosh on every tenuous situation? Is it because we don't think we will ever be caught? Do we think that what we are doing is actually "fraud lite?"
By December of 1998 I had amassed many titles during my 32 years. To name the major ones, I was a son, brother, father and husband. On the top of my professional list of titles was president of my own mortgage broker company. However, during that cold, wintry month of 1998, my professional title changed.
On Dec. 18, 1998, I was indicted for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering--a crime that took place four years earlier, when I was a lowly little loan officer. I lost my title as president of Mayne Mortgage and I gained the title of felon. Over the next nine months--pre-trial, guilty plea, sentencing and reporting to federal prison--my title changed again to inmate number 08657-041.
Here are some things I learned about committing fraud: if you cross the line and are caught, you still have a mother and a father. But, if, God forbid, something happens to them while you're in prison, you won't be able to go to their aid. If you cross the line, you'll still be someone's spouse, but you won't be able to do anything about it when they tell you they've met someone else. If you cross the line you'll still be a parent, but you'll miss the first day of kindergarten, the first loose tooth and the first bike ride. The judge doesn't deliver the stigma and the extra hell associated with an indictment and conviction. The real punishment doesn't appear in the federal sentencing guidelines. Sure, it lists a 21-24 month sentence, restitution and revocation of voting rights. But, the judge will never tell you that your entire family will have to pay the price, too. You wouldn't know this by reading the newspaper, but the harshest part of the sentence has very little to do with prison and much more to do with life.
As a society, we have become numb to the reports of crime and punishment. We hear in the news that someone received three or 10 years for their involvement in a fraud scheme. Unless you know one of the parties involved in the scheme (or if it's you), the response is typically, "Oh," and then it's off to the next meeting. Aside from the fact that most of us can't fathom losing our freedom for more than a day or two, we also don't think about that unwritten sentence.
Everyone in this business, every day, has the opportunity to commit fraud, to omit facts or to look the other way. Some of us might be unaware of what we are doing. Maybe we were trained that way--as if certain acts or omissions are just "business as usual." But fraud is fraud. And let me assure you, the consequences are much greater than a "title" change from letters to numbers. So, the next time you have that funny feeling in your stomach or the next time you say to yourself, "Everybody does it," think twice. It isn't worth losing the "titles" in life that we take for granted every day. Do the right thing, and don't risk having to hear your little boy refer to someone else as "Daddy."
Jerome Mayne is a professional public speaker, dedicated to raising fraud awareness among finance industry professionals through presentations, including "Fraud and Consequence." Jerome is currently writing a book about his experiences to be published by The Mortgage Press Ltd. Advanced copies may be reserved online through MortgageProShop, www.mortgageproshop.com. He may be reached by phone at (612) 919-3007, by e-mail at [email protected] or visit www.fraudcon.com.