SALT LAKE CITY -- Mormons' respect for church connections, awe of charisma and trusting nature combine to make Utah 'fertile soil for fraud,' a panel of experts told a gathering of Mormon intellectuals.
Appearing Thursday at a theological symposium sponsored by Sunstone, a journal of Mormon thought, members of the panel discussed why Mormons have been bilked out of millions of dollars, earning Utah the distinction as the 'fraud capital of the world.'
'Mormons are made to feel they are going to get rich quick,' said Kathy Buckner, an organizational behavior specialist at Brigham Young University.
'They're instilled with guilt by those who defraud them by being told others will suffer financially if they don't invest,' Buckner said. 'The sales pitches are entwined with religious symbols and images to drag them into the fraud.
'Even investment schemes that don't start in Utah become customized to the Mormon religion when they get here,' she said.
She said the multimillion-dollar real estate investment scam for which land developer Grant Affleck is serving time in a federal prison illustrates how easily the Mormon community can be penetrated.
'Affleck persuaded investors to take out second mortgages on their homes to subsidize his failing land development business,' Buckner said. 'He closed the loans in people's homes in one sitting.'
Affleck, a Mormon, defrauded fellow church members by using his high church connections, position in the community and his charismatic charm, she said.
'We think Mormons can be taken by schemes because they seem to trust in appearances and are deeply impressed by their religious commandments,' said panel member Craig Witham, an author who has written about fraud.
'In being sensitive to appearances, they can also be fooled,' he said. 'And charisma can easily be interpreted to mean spirituality. When you prey on people's religious background, you have fertile soil for fraud.'