Film on financial fraud, featuring Maryland victims, wins award

The human cost of the financial scams that brought the the U.S. economy to its knees is the subject of a documentary – starring Maryland victims – that is receiving a prestigious award on Friday in Washington.

“Stealing Trust,” was a collaboration between the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition and Baltimore Megaphone Project, a longtime local maker of films for social justice causes.

Banks that refused to offer loan modifications, abusive debt settlement firms and unscrupulous home contractors are the villains in this story and the victims are Maryland families who lost their homes, savings and, in some cases the movie-makers say, ability to trust.

Along with the familiar institutional bad actors in the film, the government comes off badly as well, for its failure to protect people with regulations and enforcement.

Watch Stealing Trust on PBS. See more from MPT Specials.

Earlier this month, the 40-minute film, directed by John Spilane, won the 2012 Community Empowerment Film Award from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC).

It was screened by Maryland Public Television on April 11.

The award will be presented at 7 p.m. this Friday, April 20, at NCRC’s 2012 national convention at Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave., Washington.

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  • Unellu

    The yearning of many for someone else to take care of their onerous financial problems is one of the reasons scammers flourish.   Scammers told their clients, “Don’t worry babes–just give us the money, stop talking to your lenders, stop calling your banks and creditors, we will do everything for you.  We will lift your burdens off your poor shoulders.  Just send us money every month–we’ll pay your debts off.  Tighten your belts and give us the dough!” 

    Repeatedly the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition advocates said that the consumers were unwitting victims.  Doesn’t make any sense to me.  I loathe the scammers and I believe they need to rot in prison long and hard.  But the consumers baffle me.  They come from a mentality of fiscal listlessness.  Here we see smart, good people who believed some stranger, by virtue of his TV ad or his glossy brochure, could actually be a better advocate and middle man for them than they themselves.  They lacked the confidence to storm the banks, they imagined that the very financial institutions and credit card companies from which they had borrowed were impregnable fortresses that needed specialist intervention for solutions. 

    We are a nation of middle men.  There are too many of them–useless bureaucratic bean counters.  We rely on them to do our jobs for us.  The brokers, the financial services consultants, the lawyers, the mortgage lenders, in the field of medicine the insurance agents–I call folks in all these jobs parasitic–they parasitize an unregulated or weakly regulated system–a system with little oversight. 

    Why should these guys tell us the truth?  They live on commissions and live off omissions.  While some of them may be ethical, most have no incentive to be truthful.  The more customers they rope in, the more their commissions.  They promise the moon and the sun, they disseminate false research and convince customers all things financial are attainable.  It is a numbers game and the perpetrators are not necessarily consummate fraudsters, but they are dabblers in the scamming art and they cut their teeth on gullible customers, perfecting themselves along the way. 

    We create them, foster them, feed them and we finally slay them when they metamorphose to dragons.  Then we blah, blah about trust, faith and other human traits that don’t apply to the twenty first century, when social nets have gone frayed and each man is forced to fend for himself.  The scammers are greedy–the consumers are needy–an incendiary combo. 

    3 years in prison for defrauding a woman out of her life’s savings.  My God!  Is the federal govt sane?  I don’t trust our govt. anymore to promulgate and maintain a civil society.  Uncle Sam is a decrepit, corrupt, profligate and clueless master–too big to fail?  No–too big and failed.         

    • Michael

       I agree with the comment above regarding individual responsibility of the person seeking relief from financial woes. Having said that, there is little incentive for knowledgeable  professionals to do anything other than talk their book and highlight the benefits of what it is they are selling.

      While the flat out scams are obvious to those paying attention, and can be discovered by a consumer with some diligent research, in my experience people want to hand off their problems.

      There are tons of free resources for consumers struggling with bills that enable them to become part of their own solution rather than depend on others. People have to want to be participants.

  • Mar

    It’s not about individual responsibility-the folks in the film were trying to be responsible-to pay off their debts rather than declare bankruptcy and discharge them. The flat out scams aren’t obvious to people which is the point. Several consumers thought they were going to nonprofit debt management companies because debt settlement companies names and websites are often very similar to debt management firms. While some people are able to negotiate their own repayment arrangements, there is nothing wrong with paying someone to advocate on your behalf if they are actually able to accomplish something other than taking your money. And while we can disparage people who trusted others, we should also recognize what is lost if we don’t trust others.

  • Unellu

    No, don’t pay anyone to advocate for you–you are your best advocate.  Much is lost when you don’t trust others but more was lost because people trusted others–it’s a case of benefits versus risks–when you are walking a financial tightrope and you are liable to fall into an abyss by virtue of trust, then you must be all the more vigilant.  In other words those who can afford can trust and those who can’t must be skeptical–but in this world the opposite is true–the rich man hardly ever trusts although he too was tripped up in the Madoff case.

    First do your darndest to advocate for yourself–then get someone else to do it for you if you abjectly fail–then make your advocates someone licensed to do it and check out their reputation.  Don’t hand over your hard earned money to strangers.  I am sorry Mar, I sympathize with the victims but I still don’t understand what they did or why they did it.  I hate the criminals.   

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