Peter Ronai said he suspected the scam when a woman who claimed her daughter and 5-year-old grand-daughter were missing after the wreck asked how much money she would receive, ABC News reported Tuesday.
"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?'"
The woman, whose name was not reported, said she didn't know why her daughter, Eva Fiedlerne Puspoki, was on the ship, but sought help from Ronai. Ronai said the story was corroborated by Puspoki's boyfriend, whose name also was not reported, but the boyfriend later said the 5-year-old was never missing.
"The story started changing and changing, more and more," Ronai said.
Police, along with Ronai, questioned the 5-year-old, who said she last saw her mother earlier that day. Puspoki later arrived, saying she was on the ship and was injured when she jumped off the boat.
"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 estimates he spent $10,000 on plane fare, expenses and a private investigator.