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A New York lawyer's bilingual skills and 20 years of experience in personal injury law led him to uncover an international scam by some phony survivors of the Costa Concordia disaster.
Attorney Peter Ronai traveled to Budapest, Hungary, to represent six real-life survivors of the Italian cruise ship disaster. Soon a Hungarian woman contacted him, claiming her daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter were among the missing, the New York Daily News reports.
The Hungarian woman's story grabbed headlines in Europe, because she suggested her missing kin were stowaways. But then the woman said something -- in Hungarian -- that raised Peter Ronai's suspicions.
"She's shaking, she's doing an Oscar performance," Peter Ronai told the Daily News about his meeting with the woman. Then she asked, "How much money do you think this is worth?"
"That was red flag. In 20 years of doing this, never once have I experienced a situation where someone loses a relative and they talk about money," Ronai said. "Every family just wants to know: What happened? How did it happen?"
Despite the red flag, Ronai hired investigators and passed around pictures of the supposedly missing girl. Then the woman's story quickly changed: The girl wasn't missing, but her mom still was.
So Ronai met with the no-longer-missing 5-year-old girl -- who innocently told Ronai that she and her mom had gone to a park earlier that day. Ronai called the cops, and they got everyone involved to fess up to the scam.
Peter Ronai spent about $5,000 helping the woman -- who, it turns out, was actually a neighbor pretending to be the girl's grandma, the Daily News reports. But it's not clear how the Concordia scammers will be punished for their Titanic lie.
Because Hungary has no insurance-fraud laws to deal with scammers like this, the country should enact a new law, Peter Ronai told a TV interviewer in Hungary. Call it the "Concordia law," Ronai said in fluent Hungarian.
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