New reminders of the wisdom of an old truth

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

It's a tired old adage, but as true as ever:

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The latest to learn the hard way are customers of Creative Creations, which got a little too creative with travel packages back in 2014 and 2015.

PatriciaUrbanovsky of Omaha, 31, was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $4.7 million in restitution.

She was convicted of 16 counts of wire fraud after claiming to have a special relationship with another travel company and an airline that enabled her to sell airline tickets and vacation packages far below the market rate.

Urbanovsky was able to keep the scheme going by using money from new customers to buy actual tickets in time for earlier customers to use.

Like all Ponzi schemes, however, it collapsed under its own weight, cheating nine victims out of almost $4.7 million.

That included a group of 27 eight-graders and 20 adults who paid nearly $13,000 for a trip to Washington D.C. After the fraud came to light, sympathetic donors pitched in to enable the kids to make the trip three months later.

The main victim was a credit card company that suffered more than $4.6 million in losses from charge backs from Creative Creation accounts.

Travel voucher victims can find some small solace in knowing they have something in common with Steven Spielberg, Kevin Bacon, Larry King and many more celebrities.

They were victims of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, losing $65 billion to Bernie Madoff, who doesn't seem to be taking rehabilitation seriously while serving 150 years in prison.

His latest scheme involves cornering the market on hot chocolate.

Reporter Steve Fishman says Madoff hasn't lost his business touch in prison.

"At one point, he cornered the hot chocolate market. He bought up every package of Swiss Miss from the commissary and sold it for a profit in the prison yard. He monopolized hot chocolate! He made it so that if you wanted any, you had to go through Bernie."

Fishman's interviews with Madoff are part of an Audible series called "Ponzi Supernova."

Just two more reminders to stop and think before money leaves your hand in exchange for a promise of products or service.

Always try to deal with someone you trust, and even if you do, if the deal they are offering seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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