Country gets once over by international fraud expert

An international expert on fraud is visiting Costa Rica as part of research on the safety of foreign investments.

She is Leslie Kim, executive editor of The John Cooke Fraud Reports and director of the Web site Fight Fraud She is comparing Costa Rica and Central America to China and Russia because she believes these three areas maintain different cultural beliefs that affect business and investing.

Ms. Kim also said she is interested in learning more about the Villalobos Brothers investment scam and the case of Luis Milanes, the country’s casino king, who is trying
to buy his way out of a fraud trial.

Ms. Kim founded the Fraud Report in 1994, in part because her own family had been savaged by fraudsters, she said. She has a strong background in insurance fraud, but she said her Web site tries to help everyone who has been a victim even if the case is an unsophisticated street scam.

The Web site is basically Fraud 101 with a lot of case studies, descriptions of crimes and even a section to do basic Internet checks on banks, lawyer licenses and disciplinary actions.

Ms. Kim also expressed some fascination with the variety of frauds that take place in Costa Rica. In addition to investment ponzi schemes there are land
frauds, insurance scams, informational technology crimes, credit card theft and pension fraud. She said she expects such crimes to increase. “As people get hungry and your family needs food, you do what you have to,” she said.

Her interest in the three geographical areas stems from her belief that each has a unique national culture. For example, Costa Rica is family-centered and Russia has what she calls a tribal mentality.

Consequently, the way citizens approach crime is different, she said. Costa Ricans work to protect the family, but Russians protect those who are part of their daily social group, such as residents of the same apartment building, she explained.

But the basic question for Costa Rica and the other countries remains: Is it safe to invest here, said Ms. Kim. She said she seeks to determine the degree of accountability by government officials and others to potential frauds.

Ms. Kim confronts fraud by reporting on cases for the Fraud Reports and now the Web site, as well as the regional overviews. She does a lot of in-person interviews, as she is doing now in Costa Rica. She has been all over the world and even has participated in fraud discussions with government officials in Nigeria, the seat of much Internet crime.

She is not kind to employees of institutions. She said that banks are lethargic in fighting fraud and that even some of the law enforcement agencies have to be spurred to act. That partly is because the prisons are full and white collar crime is beyond the scope of some investigators, she said.

And she said she believes that a common denominator in every fraud case is some aspect of illegal drugs. She has been involved in medical fraud cases where the small-time players are paid off in prescription medication.

She said one of her goals is education of employees in fraud-prone agencies, of those in law enforcement and of private citizens.

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