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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, April 10, 1959

April 10, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Confidential File

Con Men Live High When Going's Tough

Paul_coatesPaul Coates is back on the local scene. He'll take another look at the explosive Caribbean situation beginning Monday.

It's a simple economic fact. When times get tough, the con men live good.

Paradoxical, but that's the way it works.

A household blighted by recession becomes a fertile field for those who make their living fleecing the little guy.

And maybe it makes sense.

Those who need, want.

And the con artist holds out a glowing dream of plenty.

Too often, the dream becomes a nightmare.

A nightmare which drains American pocketbooks of an estimated $500,000,000 annually.

 Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Lamb, an English-born couple now living in Sherman Oaks, hold the purse strings on one of those pocketbooks.

The racket they succumbed to has a generic name -- "homework."

1959_0410_cover"Make big money at home in your spare time," the pitchmen promise.

Specifically, Mr. and Mrs. Lamb fell victim to the knitting machine con.

And they signed a contract which obligated them to pay $364 for a knitting machine which can be purchased "wholesale" for far less than half that figure.

In return for their investment, secured for the company by a chattel mortgage on their furniture, the Lambs were promised that any acceptable item manufactured on their machine would be purchased by the firm which sold it to them.

I talked to the couple yesterday.

"I know we're hooked," Mr. Lamb told me in a voice colored by both British accent and resignation. "But maybe if someone exposes this racket, other people won't be taken."

"Being English, we didn't know about things like this," his wife interjected. "We believed them. We trusted them."

 "Maybe we're kind of foolish," she added.

"How did you get mixed up in a deal like this?" I asked.

"We wanted to make a bit of extra cash, you know. So my wife and I answered an ad regarding work at home. It was knitting garments at our house and selling them to this company," Mr. Lamb explained.

1959_0410_dodgers"And did you ever sell anything?" I wanted to know.

"No," Mr. Lamb said bitterly. "My wife kept making garments and taking them down to the company's office. But the people down there always said they weren't good enough.

"I don't think they ever really planned to buy anything from us," he concluded hopelessly.

And I don't think so either.

Now the Lambs are stuck with their $364 knitting machine. That is, unless they want to pay it off, then sell it back to the company for $75.

"We couldn't possibly sell it that cheap," Mr. Lamb said.

"And besides," his wife added, "they'd probably turn right around and sell it to some other poor sucker."

She's undoubtedly right. That's the usual MO.

But in a way, the Lambs are luckier than some. Other knit-at-home pitchmen operating in and around Los Angeles are getting as much as $418 for their machines.

A Cruel, Vicious Racket

And always, they demand a chattel mortgage on the family furniture.

You can see it's a vicious racket. One that law enforcement agencies are working overtime to stamp out.

But the going is tough. Some of the firms involved do buy finished garments. Just enough to prove some sort of proper intent.

Many others don't bother. They place their ads, open their doors, fleece the sheep, then fold up and disappear to start again in another community where the pickings are good.

Where some economic disaster has worked a hardship on residents.

Where opportunity, when it knocks, is always answered.

Even when it's only a thinly disguised con man's pitch.