`Scavengers Who Pick The Bones'

THE LATEST TRICK IN THE con artist's playbook is scamming victims of telemarketing fraud for the second time. In this scheme, called "the recovery room," swindlers offer to recover the victim's earlier losses on everything from phony prize promotions to fake wireless cable licenses. Some victims have forked over more than $100,000 to recovery rooms.

Con artists buy "sucker lists" from other scamsters for as much as $10 per name--mostly those of homebound seniors isolated from sound advice--who have previously been ripped off. Pocketing an advance fee that normally ranges from $400 to $4,000, the scamsters operate under such respectable-sounding names as the Bureau of Consumer Awareness and the Consumer Protection Foundation, the feds say. "They're scavengers who pick the bones of people," says Federal Trade Commission attorney David Fix.

In one case, a retiree who had lost $100,000 on a prize promotion scheme wired $250 to Steven Tinsley, a salesman with Refund Information Services in Las Vegas. The cash came from the retiree's Social Security payments. Tinsley pleaded guilty in February to mail and wire fraud and is in jail awaiting sentencing. His recovery room is no longer in business.