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Documentary Helps Viewers Avoid Becoming Victims

September 9, 2010

George Smaragdis

PITTSBURGH — Bernie Madoff. Everyone knows his name. He conned investors out of billions of dollars. But how did he do it? How did this man get otherwise intelligent, rational and sometimes wealthy people to turn over their life savings? Amazingly, con criminals and “fraudsters” like Madoff are able to trick people into buying phantom investments that are nothing more than Ponzi schemes.

Premiering on WQED Friday, October 8 at 10 p.m. and encoring Sunday, October 10 at 5 p.m., Tricks of the Trade is a new documentary that finally opens up the con criminal playbook and shows viewers how it’s done — and then shows them how to avoid becoming the criminal’s next easy mark. Featuring profiles of convicted criminals, fraud victims, academic experts and securities regulators, this new public television documentary unravels the mysteries of investment fraud to reveal how these fraudsters psychologically manipulate their victims.

As Tricks of the Trade explains, an investment fraud victim is not the stereotypical frail, little old woman living alone. A fraud victim is likely to be a man who is self-reliant, optimistic, college-educated and, surprisingly enough, financially literate. As Jim Vitale, a con criminal featured in Tricks of the Trade boasts, "I would say that the educated person is an easier target than the uneducated person. That very ignorance, of thinking that he can't get taken, is what I would use against him to take him."

Last year, consumers reported losing over $1.7 billion to fraud. As the nation prepares for a wave of retiring baby boomers, fraudsters are working on ways to crack into boomers’ 401(k) nest eggs and turn retirement dreams into retirement nightmares.

Tricks of the Trade empowers viewers and shows them the simple steps they can take to protect themselves from financial ruin. By turning the tables on con criminals and then checking those answers with state or federal regulators, viewers can avoid the worst forms of investment fraud.
The truth is, regardless of age or circumstance, anyone with money is bound to hear from a fraudster. Anyone.

Tricks of the Trade is presented by WQED Pittsburgh and distributed nationally through American Public Television (APT).

WQED Pittsburgh, honored with the 2007 and 2006 Mid-Atlantic Emmy® Award for Station Excellence, was founded in 1954 as the nation’s first community-supported broadcaster. WQED creates, produces and distributes quality programs, products and services to engage, inform, educate and entertain the public within its community and around the world. WQED Pittsburgh is one of the first broadcasters in the country to be fully high-definition (HD) in its studio and field production capabilities. It is the parent company of WQED-TV (PBS); WQED: The Neighborhood Channel; WQED: The Create Channel; WQEX-TV (A ShopNBC affiliate); Classical WQED-FM 89.3/Pittsburgh; Classical WQEJ-FM 89.7/Johnstown; local and national television and radio productions; WQED Interactive (www.wqed.org); and The WQED Education Department.

American Public Television (APT) has been a leading distributor of high-quality, top-rated programming to America’s public television stations since 1961. In 2009, APT distributed 56 of the top 100 highest-rated public television titles. Among its 300 new program titles per year are prominent documentaries, news and current affairs programs, dramatic series, how-to programs, children’s series and classic movies, including For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots, A Ripple of Hope, Rick Steves' Europe, Newsline, Globe Trekker, Simply Ming, America's Test Kitchen From Cook’s Illustrated, Lidia's Italy, P. Allen Smith's Garden Home, Murdoch Mysteries, Doc Martin, Rosemary and Thyme, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, The Great American Songbook and John Denver: The Wildlife Concert. APT also licenses programs internationally through its APT Worldwide service. In 2006, APT launched Create™ – the TV channel featuring the best of public television's lifestyle programming. For more information about APT’s programs and services, visit APTonline.org.

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation supports innovative research and educational projects that give underserved Americans the knowledge, skills and tools necessary for financial success throughout life. For details about grant programs and other FINRA Foundation initiatives, visit www.finrafoundation.org.

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing businesses in the United States. FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation.


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Additional documents:
Gerri Walsh Biography -

John Gannon Biography -

Doug Shadel Biography -



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