How do you tell if someone might be conning you?

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’d like to address some things upfront.

  • Is this post about Gary James of A4cwsn? Yes; but it’s equally applicable to a hundred other situations you may encounter with a romantic partner, a business colleague even someone you meet on the street.
  • Won’t Gary threaten to sue you for libel in relation to this post? Probably. What do you want me to do though? Stay silent? The only thing I can categorically say that I know to be true about Gary is that he is unprofessional and consequently I would not do business with him under any circumstances. There is so much evidence of his unprofessional behaviour that I don’t understand how anyone could consider that statement as constituting libel. He insults and threatens individuals using his corporate Facebook and twitter account. I’ve been in the business world for 23 years and have never encountered anyone who would suggest that this is anything other than unprofessional conduct. Here’s a couple of examples:

Threatening a mother on twitter, telling her not to answer her phone or door:

On the Big Grips Facebook page, intimating that numerous other app-related pages were involved in ripping off Big Grips:
  • Are you asserting that Gary has done anything fraudulent? No. I’m not in a position to do that, but the Connecticut Attorney General’s office is, and they are actively investigating him on charges relating to fraud.
  • Are you saying that Gary is a sociopath/psychopath? No. I am not a psychiatrist and even if I were, I don’t believe you can accurately diagnose someone from a distance. I am saying that if you are trying to determine whether to align yourself with him professionally or to trust him with your money, let his behaviours speak for themselves.
  • Isn’t this just professional jealousy because you are an admin on other app-related Facebook sites? No. I actively support and promote other app-related sites and pages – the iTeach Special Education group on Facebook, the iMums, Digital Storytime, Technology in Special Education… the list goes on.
  • Don’t you just hate the A4 community and want to see it destroyed? I have 65 Facebook friends that still ‘Like’ the A4 page. I have A4 members who ‘Like’ my blog page on Facebook. I interact with these folks on other pages and other sites with no problems. If you read my prior posts in relation to Gary, it will become clear that I loved the A4 community, which is why I became so involved in it and participated with ample amounts of both my time and money.
  • Why don’t you just let it go and move on? Well, I pretty much have. I haven’t mentioned either Gary or A4cwsn anywhere in quite some time. The reason for this post is because Gary is again starting to solicit funds from both developers and the special needs community. There are people out there who are getting involved because they aren’t aware of his history. I have a duty of care to these people to say something and at least ensure that they make informed decisions.

So, having addressed those questions, let’s consider how you can tell if someone might be conning you. One of the things you learn as the parent of an autistic child is that behaviour is communication. You may not have a smoking gun that proves someone is trying to defraud you, but in personal and business relationships how someone behaves is an excellent way of discerning whether or not they are someone you can trust. I recently read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson and am embarking on The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us by Dr. Martha Stout. Here are a few character traits to watch out for together with comments regarding whether or not Gary has exhibited these behaviours or not.

  • Honouring some commitments is not conclusive proof that someone is above-board. The ‘con’ in con-artist stands for confidence – what’s being referred to here is the confidence they are generating in you. People have said to me “I have an iPad from Gary James” as if that explains away everyone’s concerns. The issue here is not whether or not Gary has given people iPads; because he clearly has. The issue is three-fold:
  • Are all commitments being met? I don’t believe so. For example, individuals in only 48 states received an iPad as part of the “50 iPad” campaign. A couple other examples are:

Android reviews were coming ‘soon’ – on April 6, 2011 and never transpired.

These app party promises never materialized:
This was a “plan” he had in relation to the 2011 Buddy Cruise that never happened:
In June of 2011, we were excited to hear the name of someone who would get his help for “1 YEAR”. You’ll notice that Holly Stillwagon, Cynthia Gregory and myself all liked that comment – all three of us were later ostracized from the community and blocked from the Facebook page, precisely because we asked questions regarding commitments like this one:
Then there was of course these extravagant claims in September 2011. This comment was liked by Virginia Dorrell and Teriann Morgan – also individuals who have now been blocked from the community and page.
  • Are all donations and expenses correctly accounted for? Gary has consistently stated that he does not need to publicly account for donations and expenses because he is just ‘a man and a computer’.
  • Are all charitable activities legal and compliant with the law? This is for the authorities to determine. What we do know is that Very Special People (VSP) is set up as a non-profit but it’s unclear whether donations for the 40 iPad campaign are going to go through VSP or not. (VSP does not yet have tax-exempt status so any donations will not be tax deductible unless the 501(c)(3) application is approved).
  • Credentials and prior experience are exaggerated or falsified. I’ve heard people suggest that in Gary’s case, this is irrelevant. Well, don’t try telling a historian that what happened in the past is irrelevant because past IS prologue. The best indicator of future actions is prior behaviour. To give you just one example of Gary exaggerating his prior experience – he frequently claimed that he had worked for Rolling Stone magazine when in fact he was a butler, hired by Wenner Media (the parent company of Rolling Stone). I have no problem with him being a butler, but he consistently mis-represented what he did for Wenner.
  • Claims expertise they don’t have. At different times Gary has claimed to have a Masters in Psychology, taught at the High School level, been a contender for the Olympics and a computer programmer. Does it seem likely to you that he has done all these things, given he was born in 1968 and has worked at a Colorado hotel, been a butler for several wealthy individuals, ran a dog kennel, a nanny business and now runs A4?
  • As you discover loose ends and inconsistencies, when you question the person about them, they will either respond glibly (you’re told to just take things on trust) or angrily and defensively. Remember, there were 10 of us who were ‘blacklisted’ and blocked from the A4cwsn page because we had the audacity to ask questions. Here’s him yesterday tweeting to one mother who has had the temerity to ask questions:
Turning statements back on people is a common tactic of Gary’s. Lois donated iPads and money to A4 totalling thousands of dollars. Here he is saying that he should be invoicing her for his visit…
… and the ever-present threat of being taken to court. These threats are often made together with his trademark passive-aggressive smiley:

  • Isolation of people from the influence of others. Gary behaves like other app pages or organizations are threats rather than potential collaborators. I can attest to the fact that when Gary was choosing iPad recipients in relation to the 50 iPad campaign, he required active participation on and promotion of A4 and saw it as disloyal when individuals were active on other pages. When the Technology in Education page got mentioned on CNN, the A4 website was briefly shown on screen, but not mentioned. Here’s Gary trying to take credit for the achievements of another page:

  • Use of charm and flattery. Gary routinely talks about how ‘amazing’ the A4 community is. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this in isolation, but in the context of all the other behaviours demonstrated, it comes across as manipulative.
  • Fluent talkers. Gary has appeared numerous times in print and on radio and television for a reason – he sounds good!
  • Use of manipulation. For me, the biggest manipulative tactic Gary has used was telling a select few of us that he only had 3 to 6 months left to live. 10 months has passed since he told us that.
  • Egocentric; and make grandiose claims and plans – usually funded with other people’s money. He announced the 40 iPad campaign with a big splash and encouraged people to enter and share. He seems to be short on details though…
A couple of weeks after all the 40 iPad hoopla started, he has now announced he needs money from the community in order to make it happen – he’s charging email subscribers so he can hire staff, create a new website, develop apps… yes, making grandiose plans with other people’s money seems to describe this pretty well:
  • Exhibit poor behaviour control.
Calling a mother on twitter a “pussy”:
We’re not sure if this blog comment was from him or (as is implied) his wife, but the comment came from his IP address:

  • Acts impulsively. Let’s not forget his decision earlier this year to forever abandon A4 on Facebook and Twitter (that lasted about a couple of weeks):

  • Makes appeals for sympathy and plays for pity. Remember, this comment was made on a page for an entity that is ostensibly a business:

  • Targeting decent, trusting people. The special needs community is a very vulnerable one because we rely so much on each other.
  • Seeks to erode the confidence and reputation of those who stand up to them. The email below is one that he sent to a number of people involved with both Smart Apps for Kids and AppAble. Personal email addresses have been blocked out. He enclosed a copy of a status from my personal Facebook page (in which neither he nor A4 were mentioned) and his subject heading reads “Going out to developers who support your sites.”
His continual threats to sue people have been going on for months now. Here’s a recent one from his A4 twitter account – given that this special needs mother of 4 children reviews apps on her site, it’s pretty clear what he’s trying to do here. (She hasn’t been served papers however, just been sent a letter on legal letterhead.)

  • Constant need for excitement. Gary loves to create drama – here he is on the Smart Apps for Kids Facebook page. The comment he is referring to is one I made on the Social Express Facebook page in response to their post encouraging people to enter the A4cwsn “40 iPad giveaway”. I don’t see anything defamatory or factually inaccurate in what I said, I merely recommended that people do some due diligence before getting involved with A4.

  • They want, above all costs, to win:

…says the man who didn’t have the $850 to file for VSP to have tax-exempt status:

Dr. Robert Hare, the Canadian psychologist who devised the test to determine whether someone is a psychopath/sociopath said in his book Without Conscience:

“[Subcriminal psychopaths] appear to function reasonably well—as lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, academics, mercenaries, police officers, cult leaders, military personnel, businesspeople, writers, artists, entertainers and so forth—without breaking the law, or at least without being caught and convicted. These individuals are every bit as egocentric, callous and manipulative as the average criminal psychopath; however, their intelligence, family background, social skills and circumstances permit them to construct a façade of normalcy and to get what they want with relative impunity.”

Being a psychopath doesn’t mean you’re a criminal. It is possible to be one and not break the law, but these individuals cheat on spouses, act unethically, lie easily and often commit “white-collar” crime undetected.

Again, I want to reiterate, I am neither saying, nor implying, that Gary James is a psychopath. I am not saying he has done anything illegal. What I am saying is that he behaves in ways that should give people pause for thought. He is unprofessional and if you’re a developer you’re going to want to consider whether the messages from his twitter and Facebook business accounts are ones you feel comfortable being associated with. He has made promises that he hasn’t kept, so if you’re a member of the special needs community thinking of giving him money, or hoping to receive an iPad from him, weigh the evidence and decide whether you feel he is trustworthy or not. What do his behaviours tell you?

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25 Comments on “How do you tell if someone might be conning you?”

  1. Teriann Morgan June 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    This is why we love you SBKM…Thank you for helping people make an informed decision before handing over their money.

  2. Holly Stillwagon June 27, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Well done. Thank you.

  3. las June 28, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    A very well written blog. It really makes one think! I wish I had saved the screen shot of him stating that he has some kind of endorsement from Oprah. When you watch the video he posted with this statement it is of a woman who is trying to get Oprah’s attention by doing a wacky youtube video. The only possible link to A4 and Gary is one of the people who helped with this video is an active A4 member. Yes, the guy has delusions of grandeur!

  4. Rivkah (@themaccabi) June 28, 2012 at 3:46 am #

    Thank you Deanne for letting the sn community know from another Blog and another perspective exactly what this man is like.He has also gone out of his way to threaten me and iHelp sn kids with legal action simply because of tweets made on my own private account as a private citizen. He doesn’t like to share the limelight. He hates it when members of his FB page go over and like another Special needs page that is admined by ex A4 members. That speaks volumes for me.

  5. cmarieg June 28, 2012 at 5:44 am #

    This post is so well written! It is an excellent reference to help people evaluate ANYONE who is presenting a “product” and making claims for what will be delivered. Yes, CHARACTER DOES MATTER. You have to be able to trust the person or business; without trust it is a house of cards. My biggest concern in all this is the people that give their hard-earned money to this, fully expecting something in return. The old adage is true: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”. Thank you Deanne for having the moral courage to speak the truth in order to help protect others from being taken advantage of.

  6. FourMonkeys4me June 28, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    A small correction. He did indeed hire a process server to serve me Cease & Desist papers.

    • OMum22 June 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Thank you for you confirming that – my wording was not as clear as it could have been. I was trying to get across that he was implying that he has brought a claim against you. In order to actually commence a lawsuit however, he needs to have a statement of claim issued by the court. As you say, all he has in fact done is sent you a cease and desist letter.

  7. FourMonkeys4me June 28, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Yes, sorry for the short comment too. I had crazy kids yelling, and hit submit when I wasn’t really done. lol

    Yes, he would need to serve me a statement of claim as you’ve said. He has done no such thing, and in fact, has been promising he would sue me since January. It’s now almost 8 months later and all I’ve gotten is this C&D.

    I agree, that folks should not walk cautiously slowly away from this man, but run. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Just get the heck out of dodge.

  8. Trish Reeve June 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    You also neglected to mention his “extra-marital affair” and the “damning video of the bracelet he is well known for wearing”… Yeah, we know the kind of scum this man is.

    • OMum22 June 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      I have no evidence of that and I believe there’s no need to mention things that are gossip and hearsay given that his public pronouncements speak for themselves.

  9. cmarieg June 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    I totally agree. He shall eventually hang himself by his own noose.

  10. The man who is taking all of your money and spending it on my self. June 28, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Evening Deanne, I don’t have much to say to you apart from those who think A4 is a scam should leave A4 and report me to the AG and maybe file a lawsuit. If I am scamming people and stealing money and committing adultery and hacking computers and all of the other things you are claiming then you should defiantly not follow A4, i wouldn’t, I’m a father of Special Needs Children. There is nothing any of you can say or do that will stop me giving iPads and Apps and Money to Children with Special Needs. You are so far off base it actually funny. That’s what happens when you use Google as your proof. Anyway, like I said if I am a scammer please report me to the AG and get a lawyer to sue me, leave a4 and support Deanne and her amazing blog and smart Apps for Kids, the #1 App review site for kids in the world ( now that is not false advertising is it?), Thanks.

    • OMum22 June 28, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

      Wow Gary, it’s almost like you didn’t actually read my post but that can’t be true, can it? I don’t see any reference to stealing money, committing adultery or hacking computers. Perhaps that’s your conscience talking? One thing you did get right though is that I am “defiantly” not following A4.

    • Can't keep the "facts" straight! June 28, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      Special needs Children? Isn’t it just one child with autism? I don’t think you can count yourself the father of your older children that want nothing to do with you. That is, if one of them even is special needs. Seems you can’t make up your mind with that one.

  11. One of the defiants June 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    The “hatters” are such “defiant” people.

  12. Mango's Mum June 28, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Thank you for an awesome post! Every time I turn around I learn something new about ‘him’. I’m staying far the hell away from that pile of rubbish that’s claiming Sainthood.

  13. Lois Smith June 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    I wanted desperately for A4cwsn to be what they stated but found out giving thousands in donations that things clearly were not as I had believed them to be. I had two choices, I could either hang my head in shame at having been conned or I could stand up in the hopes that nobody else got taken the way that I did.
    I have seen absolutely inexcusable behavior from this man as we’ll as found numerous things in his past that are beyond disturbing. (Ironically none of the highly disturbing things are even contained in this blog post). I have handed everything to the Attorney General and am quite sure that it will all be made public at the conclusion of the investigation. For all of those that seem to want to swear that Gary James is a stand up guy that loves children and wants to help them take a moment to look into his grandiose statements that he has made about his past.
    I honestly wish I would have before donating iPads and buying raffle tickets etc…

  14. vspinc June 29, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Deane, lois and the rest of you, why don’t you just go to your local Newspaper and give them the facts, that’s what i would do. Man with Special Needs children is conning parents out of money. Why not? The reason you don’t post all of the things you have said is because you know they are defamatory, even your quote above about Fraud is wrong. Why not post All of the evidence you have about me hacking, stealing, sleeping with other women etc… on your blog??? Surely this would end A4? Just because you don’t say it on your blog post, means nothing you say it everywhere else, on twitter, Fb, etc… If I am such a fraud, con artist call the cops. Do something please. Oh wait you are doing something, you got together as a group of women and complained to the Ag in Ct that Gary James is stealing money and pretending to be a charity. Wow, 7 months later, not only have they given us papers to solicit funds but also accepted our 501 application, yep I am sure they would have done that (same office DCP) if there were a problem. But continue to do what you do, tell people whatever you want, If ppl don’t want to be on A4. After all according to Smart Apps, you are admin for the #1 childrens App site in the world and you have given away 11 iPads. You will NEVER stop A4 giving iPads to Children with Special Needs. So carry on.

    • OMum22 June 29, 2012 at 8:33 am #

      Thanks for continuing to prove my point for me – makes things so much easier. I’m just going to let your “advice” and “facts” speak for themselves.

  15. Bonnie Niewiarowska June 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Good heavenly days!!!!! The man threatened Anne Yates. Does anyone seriously need any more information than that to know they should run as fast and as far as they can in the opposite direction? Threatening someone’s safety and well-being is emotional abuse. I don’t even know who Anne Yates is, and I have no idea what she supposedly said or did, but none of that matters one whit. That chilling tweet is absolutely inexcusable. Absolutely. Inexcusable. I don’t care if he promises to give away a thousand iPads to a thousand special needs children every day for the next thousand years. No amount of “good works” excuses or erases or diminishes even a single act of abusive behavior one iota. 

    Deanne, I am totally in agreement with you that  it is crucially important to know the signs that someone in your life may be conning you. My comments are certainly not intended to diminish your wonderful contribution in any way. You have my utmost admiration for speaking out so courageously and so eloquently, as well as for defiantly not following A4 since 2011. My point is simply that it is also vitally important to know the signs of emotional abuse, directed either at oneself or others, and to refuse to tolerate, condone, excuse, or overlook emotional abuse on any level for any reason. Abusers know full well that many people are willing to ignore or excuse abusive behavior as long as the abuser has something grand enough to offer in exchange. Abusers are extremely knowledgable in the ways of abuse, which means that all of us need to be knowledgeable about the ways of abuse as well, not only to avoid becoming victims ourselves, but also so that we don’t inadvertently condone or participate in the emotional abuse of others.

    I know that I may catch some flak for saying that I don’t care if he promises iPads to special needs children. I know that there are thousands of special needs children who could benefit from the use of an iPad and yet have no way of obtaining one. I know that there are thousands of parents who would give almost anything to provide their children with the best opportunities available. It is a sad fact that our current societies often don’t provide what our children need, thereby making parents vulnerable to cons and abuse. But, I would ask your readers to consider this: Is giving an iPad to a special needs child always an act of caring? Or, is it possible that our special needs children are being used as a shield to deflect questions, comments, and criticism? And, if it is possible that our children are at risk for being abused in this manner, do we really want to offer them up, even if an iPad is at stake?

    While it is not my intent to write an entire dissertation on the signs of emotional abuse here, I would like to make one final observation regarding abusive relationships: When called on their behavior, abusers often try to turn the tables, claiming that they themselves are the ones being emotionally abused. So, we might reasonably prepare for this sort of reaction and exercise great care in not falling for it.  While it is admirable to show compassion for someone in distress, in some cases it is wisest to feel compassion from afar. From way, way, way afar. 

    • OMum22 June 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      Bonnie, thank you so much for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully. I agree with you – the ends don’t justify the means and I appreciate those businesses who have decided not to hold their noses and collaborate with Gary and in the process, ignoring or making excuses for the things he has said and done. There are other ways to help our kids and if anyone has questions about how they can help or where they can turn for help, they can always contact me.

    • rubysslippers June 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

      Very well said. I have also been victim to the “All in the name of the kids” reasoning. I organized a fundraiser that raised 10k for A4. Throught the months before and after, Id find myself pushing thoughts out of my head. “is that true?” “there must be a good reason he said that” “he can’t be bad, he’s helping our kids…he helped my kid!” “I can’t be this bad a judge of character” “did that just happen?” “he’s dying, maybe it’s traveled to his rain ad he can’t help it” “he’s surrounded by good people who will make sure everything is on the up and up”….Well I, along with all but 2 of those people saw the truth behind the scenes and couldn’t ignore it anymore. If your trying to find a justification for his behavior in your head, there is something wrong. I was constantly pushing those thoughts out of my head for the “greater good.” But, let me tell you, as soon as I did the right thing and stopped ignoring the way he manipulations parents in the name of their children, I never had one doubt it was the right thing. There’s was never a time where I had to push a thought out of my head saying “are you sure?” I could sleep at night knowing my expressing what I knew would SAVE parents and their special needs kids from being conned, manipulated, and used. No amount of abuse is acceptable. And if you have to push a thought or question out of your mind, there’s a reason. Listen to it.

      • OMum22 June 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

        Bravo rubysslippers, you hit the nail on the head. The months I was involved with A4 were an increasingly anxious time full of rationalizing conversations – with myself and others. When I realized I had to listen to myself and my conscience, I found clarity and peace. Thanks for commenting.

  16. Defiant1 July 1, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    So this was posted on the a4cwsn site:

    Jennifer Rogers Rice: Kris, that’s the chance he’ll have to take. I know someone else was given an iPad to help run A4/VSP, but then they left and kept the iPad.

    The nerve!!! What a liar.

    • OMum22 July 1, 2012 at 11:25 am #

      I assume that’s a reference to rubyslippers – the woman who donated countless hours of time to A4, donated money and of course raised $10,000 at an event so that the 50 iPad campaign was able to happen. Gary made her head of fundraising for VSP and gave her an iPad. He then proceeded to ignore her advice and sideline her when she raised concerns about making sure that VSP was on a solid footing before any further fundraising took place. She never received a penny for her A4/VSP work but yes, she is now villified for having kept the iPad.

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