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Death Scams Arise in Wake of Costa Concordia Tragedy
A group of alleged scammers have been caught trying to fake deaths on the Costa Concordia in a sign that cons are trying to target the cruise ship disaster. New York lawyer Peter Ronai, a Hungarian speaker who is representing six Hungarian survivors from the ship wreck, discovered the scam.
The claims made by Ronai were backed up by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, which said it grew suspicious when a mother claimed her daughter was missing on the ship. The claims were found to be false when it was discovered that the missing woman’s mother was actually dead for three years.
“It was absolutely clear that it was a fake story, so we treated the request as a face action,” Jozsef Toth, the Foreign Ministry of Hungary press department head said. “We have initiated an investigation about the matter, who is this person and who made this report and what was the motivation? The investigation is ongoing.”
All of the suspects will face criminal charges in the scheme.
The public was notified of the fraud as authorities recovered another body from the wreck, bringing the death total to 16, with 16 still missing, including a couple from Minnesota. While in Budapest, Ronai was asked to take on a seventh missing person case involving the ship.
“I got an email saying, ‘Can you please help us? My daughter is missing. She was on the Concordia,’” Ronai said. “I ran out to her house and basically she told me her 5-year-old granddaughter was missing, too.”
The mother of the alleged missing daughter said she did not know what her daughter, Eva Fiedlerne Puspoki was doing on the ship. Ronai said that he would need to speak with the boyfriend, who was able to corroborate the story from the mother. The two asked Ronai how much money they could get in a settlement.
One day later, the boyfriend called Ronai to tell him the child was not missing.
“The story started changing and changing, more and more,” Ronai said. Ronai told the boyfriend that a missing person report has to be filed with police if he does not see the child. Ronai and the police went to meet the boyfriend and ask questions.
“When is the last time you saw mommy?” they asked.
The child responded ‘today’ and that the mother took her to the park.
“Are you sure you saw Mommy today?” Ronai asked.
“I saw her today. I saw Mommy today,” the girl replied.
The alleged missing woman appeared during the questioning and said that she was on the ship and that she hurt her leg when jumping off the boat but had no visible injuries.
“They confessed to everything after questioning. They confessed to pulling this scam to make money,” Ronai said. “The police arrested them. They didn’t take them away to jail, but they’ll face criminal procedures.”
“They’re called ‘jump-ons.’ It’s normal, this is just on a grander scale,” Ronai said. “People will do horrible things for money. When you think about it, I had contacts at the embassy spending money looking for these people when they could have been looking for others.”
Ronai said he spent an estimated $10,000 on the search for the alleged missing woman for a plane ticket, a private investigator, countless taxis and cell phone bills.
“In 20 years of doing this stuff, I’ve seen a lot of deaths and a lot of tragedies, but I’ve never met one family after losing a loved one that says, ‘How much?’” Ronai said. “They always want to know, ‘What happened? How did it happen?’ These people wanted to know, ‘How much?’”