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Seniors hear about fraud at workshop

August 31, 2012
By Casey Houser - Staff Writer ( , The Inter-Mountain

The Campaign for Wise and Safe Investing made a stop Thursday at the Randolph County Senior Center, offering area seniors the opportunity to learn about a range of possible frauds that often target older folks.

Speakers at the Seniors Against Investment Fraud meeting included Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong, Sgt. G.L. Stalnaker of the West Virginia State Police and Larry Pnakovich, senior investigator at the State Auditor's Office.

During Pnakovich's presentation, he specifically mentioned affinity fraud

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"Affinity fraud operates on the principle that people are all the same. You are like me and I am like you," he said.

The Greater Ministry, an affinity fraud ponzi scheme, was Pnakovich's leading example. Based in Tampa, Fla., it was created in 1993 and received donations from church members that reached a total of $500 million. Church members were promised a return of their investment that was double the initial amount, supposedly based on Biblical scripture.

Much of the donated money was lost and never paid back. Eventually, government officials broke up the church and the ponzi scheme.

"People mortgaged their houses and took out loans," said Pnakovich, while discussing the amounts which were donated to the church.

His program Thursday also addressed government efforts to keep seniors safe from fraudulent schemes.

The Campaign for Wise and Safe Investing was started in 2006 as a joint effort between the Investor Protection Trust and the American Association of Retired Persons. The organization works with state regulators in 35 states to provide information to citizens about making wise investment choices.

Speakers in their programs reach out to older investors about the risks and pitfalls involved in making investments. Different types of fraudulent practices are covered at length.

Two other programs directed by the West Virginia State Auditor's Office are the Money Matters and the Internet Safety and Scams projects.

Money Matters is a program that involves schools, where children discuss fraud, saving and investing, debt and credit card usage. It has been used in Tygart Valley schools.

Internet Safety and Scams is attended by people of all ages. The program topics include computer use and how to avoid identity theft and investment scams.

Seniors Against Investment Fraud and the West Virginia State Auditor's Office can be reached at 1-888-724-3982 or

Contact Casey Houser by email at



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