Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

"It's Me!"- Relative in Distress Airlift Grandparent Scams - Fake Grandchild Scam ( Grandson, Granddaughter ) in Trouble Seeking Emergency Bail Money Fraud - Japanese "Ore Ore" Swindle

Grandma, I'm In Trouble!

In Japan many elderly people are contacted by strangers pretending to be a relative in distress.

Known there as the "It's me!" scam, the perpetrator calls up an elderly person pretending to be a relative in distress in need of some quick cash, and asks that money be transferred into a phony bank account.

One person was recently charged with establishing and reselling hundreds of bank accounts in his own name, then claiming he couldn't be responsible for their misuse.

Some banks send out notices by mail to verify the identity of someone who is trying to set up a new account but there has also been an influx of fake change of address notices whereby victims have had their mail redirected to another address without their consent. It is presumed that this identity theft would lead to new accounts being opened without their knowledge.

Scam Alert: Grandmother falls prey to fake bail bondsman

By Edgar Sanchez -- Sac Bee Staff Writer

05/11/04 CA - Bessie Lofton accepted a collect phone call recently from a man claiming to be Sean, her 22-year-old grandson.

"Grandma, I need your help," the caller told the Woodland woman, asking her to remain on the line.

"It really sounded like my grandson," said Lofton, 75, explaining why she kept her ear to the phone.

Next, she heard the voices of two other men telling her that Sean, of Davis, had been arrested in Modesto in connection with a hit-and-run accident.

One of the men, who identified himself as Juan Garcia Jr., claimed to be a bail bondsman.

He requested $840 so he could bail Sean out of jail.

At that point, "Sean" got back on the line and said jailers had refused to accept his personal check to cover the bail.

"Please send the money, Grandma ... I'll pay you back," the man pleaded.

Within minutes, Lofton wired $840 to Garcia via Western Union.

When Lofton contacted her grandson the next day, he knew nothing about his having been "arrested."

"That's when I realized I had walked into a scam, and I started to cry," Lofton said. "It was a terrible scam."

Lofton was one of five Woodland grandmothers recently targeted for the bail scam, Woodland police said last week.

While two of the intended victims wired money to the con men, Lofton was the only one to lose her cash, police Sgt. Susan Lundquist said.

"Another lady did send the money, but her family found out and said, 'This doesn't sound right,' " Lundquist said. "They put a stop-payment on it, and the money was never picked up."

The other grandmothers had become suspicious and hung up on the con men, she said.

The incidents served as a reminder to beware of phone scams, police said.

Citizens should never "blindly follow the directions of people who call them on the phone," Lundquist said.

"If someone calls you from jail, you can get the jail's main number from the phone book or directory assistance," she said. "Then, you can call the jail yourself.

"Or call a reputable bail-bond company, and it can confirm" whether someone has been arrested, she added.

The bail scam is usually pulled by traveling con artists, Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla said.

"These are con artists who run around the state, hitting different cities at different times," he said.

Each successful scam hurts the image of legitimate bail-bond agents, all of whom seek to stop the crooks, Padilla said.

"Local bail-bond companies don't want anyone to think that their companies are involved in this," he said.

Lofton, meanwhile, said she's out more than $900 - including a $78 fee that Western Union charged to wire the $840.

Before wiring the cash to a Western Union office in Modesto, Lofton provided a secret code to "Garcia" so he could claim the money.

For Lofton, the greatest mystery is how the phony "Sean" managed to emulate the voice of her real grandson and obtain his name.

"I really did think I was talking to my grandson," she said.

Her grandson, Lofton said, is an outstanding young man who's never been in trouble with the law.

"They were brilliant," Lofton said of the con men. "I just hope they get caught.

"If I ever faced them in court, the bailiffs would have to handcuff me, because I would want to choke these people to death."

Give a Prayer, Not Money

Using church directories, someone is calling clergy at different times throughout the day and night claiming to live in the area of the church, police said.

The person claims to be stranded in Florida or another state after attending a family funeral.

Typically, the scam artists continue and say because of an accident or problem with the family car, they need money wired to them by Western Union.

Church Lady Mugged

A secretary at a church in Atlanta, Georgia was new on the job. She got a call from a man who said he was a church member and he was calling from Toronto, Canada.

He needed money because he had been mugged and left with a broken nose. The church secretary didn't exactly know who the man was, but he sounded like a specific church member she knew.

She asked if the man was that church member. Yes, the man said, adding that he sounded different because of his broken nose. The church secretary wired the man $400 via Western Union.

Turns out, the man was posing as a church member. The church is out $400, and the church treasurer wants other churches to be aware of the scam.


"It's me, send money!" Scams

Yokohama, Japan, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A man was swindled out of $450,000 in the latest of a spate of "It's me, send money" scams that have been sweeping Japan, police said Wednesday.

The 60-year-old man in Yokohama received a phone call Monday from a sobbing man posing as his son, who said he had hit two people in his car. Four men, claiming to be police officers and lawyers, talked to him in subsequent phone calls, demanding he remit funds to two bank accounts.

During the phone calls, one of the men told the man his son had run over a couple, and another threatened, "He'll be jailed."

All the money was withdrawn from both accounts after the man sent it, the Mainichi Shimbun reported Wednesday.

Though the victim was suspicious, he followed the men's demands after they hinted that an out-of-court settlement would be impossible if he faltered. Later the man realized it was a scam when he contacted the bar association to which the "lawyer" claimed to belong.

Reports have surfaced of a wave of similar frauds involving people posing as relatives and demanding money in recent months.

01/05 -OSAKA, Japan --A former cabinet minister said Saturday he was almost duped by a swindler who phoned to say his lawmaker son had caused a traffic accident and demanded that he pay money into a designated bank account.

Former Construction Minister Masaaki Nakayama, 72, said the caller, who reached him at his cell phone on Oct. 4, claimed he was a police officer.

"Your son has caused a traffic accident," the caller said, and went on to ask Nakayama to immediately transfer 1.98 million yen to a bank account into which he said the other party in the accident had been supposed to deposit the same sum by that hour--a typical claim used in what was known as the "ore, ore" (It's me) phone scam that has victimized hundreds of unsuspecting elderly people across the nation.

Willing to Give a Scammer Anything for her Mom

WEST PALM BEACH: A south Florida woman is trying to inform the public about a scam that plays on people's emotions. The woman gave her credit card information over the phone because she thought it was a matter of life or death.

It took me to such a place I just thought the worst."

Sherrye Fenton and her friend Cathy Catanzaro were headed to the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina Sunday when Sherrye's cell phone rang.

"It's a man saying he was with a woman who was in a major car accident and that she was unconscious and she had a lot of injuries, did I have a family member traveling," Fenton said.

The man on the phone identified himself as a Lieutenant and said the accident was in Juno Beach...where Fenton's mother lives.

"She had been hit by a bread truck and the driver was intoxicated and the driver was in custody," said Fenton.

The man on the phone never gave Fenton an exact location. She was then connected with a dispatcher to provide her mother's medical history.

"She said well, she has insurance, but the insurance will not cover a Trauma Hawk transport," said Fenton.

Fenton became hysterical and gave the phone to her friend. The woman told her they needed payment before Fenton's mother could be transported.

"I got the credit card, gave them the info," said Catanzaro.

She asked about the location of Fenton's mother.

"Where is she now? And she said, Juno Medical Center. And I said there is no Juno Medical Center. She said Jupiter Medical Center," said Fenton.

When she hung up after about 30 minutes, Catanzaro was skeptical. Fenton called her mother's house, and she answered the phone. That's when they realized it was all a scam.

"To make me think my mother's laying in the street, that she's badly hurt, that she's possibly going to die, it was horrible," said Fenton.

All for a mere $86 charge on Fenton's credit card at a cell phone store in Ohio. Fenton says what those people did was unforgivable.

"I was willing to do whatever I had to do to help my mother," said Fenton.

Fenton has filed a police report with the Juno Beach Police Department. Her credit card company is also investigating.

Relative in an Accident Scam Victims

05/06 - (IL)  Lake Forest police are warning senior citizens of a new telephone scam that has shown up in their city where a caller uses a fake story about a grandson in trouble.

The caller states that he is the grandson of the person on the telephone and states that he was in an accident in Canada and needs $3,000 to $4,000 to get out of jail.

"We've had seven people contacted, and one person sent $3,000," said Deputy Chief Dave Field.

That person went to the Vernon Hills Wal-Mart and had a Moneygram sent to an address in Toronto where it was picked up, he said.

"The other people have called their grandson to find out if it was real and others realized it was bogus," he said.

"They must be working off some kind of list because everyone they have contacted has been elderly," said Field. He believes other people along the North Shore may also be getting these calls.

One person who received a call told police that "Privado Origan" showed up on their caller ID when the call was made. But no telephone number was listed.

Celebrity Gays Used in Ploy to Dupe Helpful Business

06/06 - Police are investigating after a local business owner fell victim Tuesday to a telephone scam that targets gays and lesbians in metro.

But Jim Bain, advertising manager of Wayves, a local gay newsmagazine, said the fraud artists have been at it for the past three years, but someone finally admitted to falling for it.

Each year, the criminals seem to pick a different group to target, Mr. Bain said. This year, they re using Wayves because the publication s staff are widely known in the gay community and their names are published in the paper and online, said Mr. Bain, whose own name was used in recent attempted scams.

A man claiming to be a writer for Wayves phoned the Blue Moon Bistro on Gottingen Street on Tuesday night and spoke with a staff member who knew the writer. The man said that he and Mr. Bain had been beaten and robbed of their ID in Toronto and they needed someone to wire them money so they could get back to Halifax.

The bar employee told the bistro s owner, John Dickinson, the story and said he knew the writer very well before asking if Mr. Dickinson could help the two men out with $600. Mr. Dickinson figured he would get the money back the next day after the two men returned to Halifax.

Because the caller claimed he had no ID, he and the bar employee agreed to a question the man would have to answer at the Western Union office in order to get the money. But as soon as they finished wiring the money to a Western Union outlet in Toronto, the employee decided to call Mr. Bain, only to discover he was fine and in Halifax.

The employee then called the police to report the fraud, but it was too late.

Mr. Dickinson said although he s a little bit angry and embarrassed about being taken, he d still help out someone in need in the future. He d just be more careful.

"If you can take advantage of my greed, I don t mind that because I deserve it," Mr. Dickinson said. "But when you take advantage of my good heart, that s where I get a little cranky."

Mr. Dickinson said he s straight and only recently bought the gay bar. He decided to lend the money to the two men because gays and lesbians support his business, and it was the right thing to do.

Before Mr. Dickinson was conned, someone claiming to be the same writer called Darren Lewis, co-owner of Chives Canadian Bistro on Barrington Street. The fraudster thought he was calling Blue Moon Bistro and told Mr. Lewis the same story.

Mr. Lewis writes a column for Wayves, which, in the most recent issue, was published next to a review of Blue Moon Bistro. The confusion of the two restaurants was just the first flag that went up for Mr. Lewis, who said he also thought the man sounded drunk or on drugs.

"None of what he was saying seemed to make any sense," Mr. Lewis said. "I said that to him."

The man replied that he was on pain medication after the attack and that he was a little bit confused.

So Mr. Lewis put the man on hold and called a mutual friend who knows the writer and Mr. Bain. The friend said he had spoken to the writer and Mr. Bain earlier in the day, and they were in Halifax, so Mr. Lewis hung up on the fraudster.

"I didn t fall for it," Mr. Lewis said. "It was just kind of weird to me."

Mr. Lewis said he heard another local gay bar was targeted by a different phone scam recently, but the bar didn t give the caller any money.

On Thursday night, three people Mr. Bain knows through his work with Wayves and who live in Fredericton, Moncton and Eastern Passage were contacted by someone claiming to be Mr. Bain.

"Last night, according to people I talked to, I was in Hamilton, Niagara Falls and Toronto. All three places, I got beat up. It s been a horrible vacation," Mr. Bain said with a laugh.

Although he can laugh now, he said, it s the nature of the gay community to protect its own, and it s terrible someone would take advantage of that.

"I know that every year, it s been reported to the police, and I m skeptical they will do anything about it this year," Mr. Bain said.

Halifax Regional Police confirmed the financial crimes section is investigating a fraud committed Tuesday but the force hasn t received any other complaints, according to police spokeswoman Theresa Brien.

"From a safety perspective, we would advise that if anyone is faced with a similar situation, (they) verify the authenticity of the request and validity of the story, and if they have any suspicions whatsoever, do not send the money," Ms. Brien said. "We would also ask they report the incident to police."

Halifax Herald

`Grandson scam' hits Fairlawn couple

Fake, frantic phone call asks for money by wire

07/06 - FAIRLAWN - A Bunker Drive couple who thought they were helping a grandson in trouble instead were scammed out of nearly $3,000.

And they're not alone, said Fairlawn Detective David Zampelli.

Zampelli said Irene Kellerman, 76, thought she was talking to her grandson -- who lives in Vermont -- when she received a frantic call for help on July 7.

"He said he was at a bachelor party in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, at a strip joint," Zampelli said. "He said things got out of hand and he got arrested and needed bail money."

The story sounded plausible to the Kellermans, because their grandson is getting married in three weeks. The woman and her husband, Edward, went to Wal-Mart and wired nearly $3,000 to Canada.

"The guy called back and said, `Thanks, Grandma, I got your money,"' Zampelli said.

The next day, the couple's grandson, Brian Kellerman, called from Connecticut, where he was visiting his fiancee's family.

"She started asking him about his adventure in Canada, and he didn't know what she was talking about," Zampelli said.

Citing privacy concerns, the Canadian company that facilitated the transaction has been reluctant to give police information about the person who picked up the money, Zampelli said. The detective holds out little hope of getting back the couple's money.

Zampelli thinks that there may be more people in the area who either have gotten the fake frantic phone call and disregarded it or have fallen for the scam as the Kellermans did.

A search of the Internet found the same scam -- called the "grandson scam" or "it's me!" scam -- pulled on senior citizens as far away as California and Japan, according to a Web site called

Zampelli said that despite the apparent urgent nature, these kind of calls need to be verified before sending money or giving out personal information.

"If someone wants you to wire money to Canada or overseas, that should raise a red flag." Irene Kellerman has a warning for other grandparents.

"The first thing you want to do is save your children," she said. "But whenever there's a problem, always make sure you check it out."

Beacon Journal

Airlift Scam Operator Goes to Prison

11/06 - (AP) A man pleaded guilty to stealing about $40,000 by telling people over the phone that a member of their family was critically ill and asking them to wire him money to transport their loved one by helicopter.

Billy John Edwards, 44, pleaded guilty in Macomb County Circuit Court to a charge of running a criminal enterprise. He was accused of operating a nationwide "airlift scam" in which he and alleged accomplices stole about $40,000 from 28 people across the country.

The offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

In exchange for the plea, a second count of the same charge and a habitual offender charge will be dismissed. Under a sentencing agreement, he will be sentenced to 10 to 20 years.

"The victims are pleased with this resolution," assistant prosecutor Kim Mitseff said.

Warning: Bail-money scam surfaces in county

The Hillsboro Argus

03/06 - (Oregon) Since Feb. 14, deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Office have taken four fraud reports involving the same scam.

An unknown man is calling people purporting to be their grandson and asking for bail money.

Sheriff's deputies took fraud reports on Feb. 14, 15, 16 and 18. The reports involved a man calling and telling the victim he was their grandson and he had been arrested in Canada.

The caller then asked for money to be wired to Canada so he could post bail. Many of the grandparents fell victim to this scam, resulting in a total loss of over $14,000.

The Washington County Fraud and Identity Theft Enforcement Team forwarded this information to the U.S. Secret Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an effort to catch the person or persons responsible for these crimes.

The FITE team wants the public to be aware of this scam. They advise people to verify to whom they are sending money, If wiring money, make sure it is going to a location that requires identification at the time of receipt.

Call the Washington County FITE team at 503-615-3483 if you or anyone you know has fallen victim to this scam.

Fake relatives bilk grandmas of thousands

GEORGE HESSELBERG - Wisconsin State Journal

01/06 - (Wisconsin) Fake grandsons are contacting real grandmothers in Baraboo, asking for bail money.

Three such fake-relative-in- distress swindles were reported to police Monday. In two of them, the trusting grandparent wired thousands of dollars to a Canadian address to get a grandson out of jail.

In none of the cases was a grandchild in trouble. In some places, it is called the "It's me!" swindle.

The calls were made in the afternoon Monday, said Lt. Robert Sinden of the Baraboo police. Though there are several versions of the scam, the one attempted with success in Baraboo involved a call from someone identifying himself as a jail staff member in Toronto.

"They purport to be a law enforcement official, and that would get the attention of anybody," said Sinden.

The caller says the swindle- victim's grandson has been arrested and needs bail money to be released. The caller then identifies a location to wire the money.

In the Baraboo cases, though it was unclear if the pattern was intentional, all three victims were grandmothers, said Sinden.

The cases were similar in that the catalyzing event for the call was a vehicle crash a long way from home.

"In some cases, (the victim) asked to speak with the grandson and even felt they were speaking to the grandson," he said.

Two of the victims wired money, between $3,000 and $4,000, to Canada, said Sinden. In one case, the bank refused to send the money and contacted police, he said.

"The calls were all made in the span of about three hours (Monday) afternoon," he said.

The Baraboo Police Department would like to hear from anyone else who may have received a telephone call from someone claiming to be a bail bondsman or jailer or grandchild in trouble, said Sinden. "The more calls we get, the more we can pinpoint what we can do about it," he said. Sinden can be contacted at 608- 355-2720.

Madison police said they had not received any complaints, though media across the country have carried articles describing similar successful swindles targeting elderly victims. Experts on elderly abuse include the "relative in distress" fraud as one of the top swindles aimed at elderly victims. The National Consumers League last year named wire transfer as the most common way scammers have received money from victims and as the favored method of payment in telemarketing fraud.

The "relative in distress" swindle even has a Japanese derivative, called the "It's me, It's me" swindle, after a popular fraud related to stolen cellular phones used to call unsuspecting relatives.

Police recommend that if approached for money in an emergency situation, a person should confirm it is really a relative - for example, by asking a question only a relative would know. Another recommendation is to confirm with another relative that the relative in question is in town (or Canada).

The final recommendation, from the Washington, D.C., Police Department's fraud unit: "Go with your gut - if you don't feel comfortable with the situation, say no and hang up the telephone."

Swindler posing as mayor in telephone begging scam - Imposter asks for money to help Sutherland’s ‘family situation’

by Sylvie Paillard - Squamish Chief

11/06 -(British Columbia) Mayor Ian Sutherland is not calling people up to solicit financial help for his family – but someone else is apparently doing so as part of a bizarre scam.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” said Sutherland after hearing that a man impersonating him was using a hard luck story to solicit funds. “I guess what it shows is that there are people who are willing to do almost anything to get money out of other people.”

Sutherland discovered the telephone scam only after two targeted businesses phoned him with suspicions and to ask if he “was okay”, concerned that his family was somehow facing difficulties.

The imposter said the funds were to “aid a family situation,” according to an RCMP report. “This fraudulent male, who is not Mayor Ian Sutherland, has requested that monies be deposited in a Western Union or Money Mart account.”

The scam is similar to one attempted last year when an imposter posed as a First Nations Chief to get hard luck money out of Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe. Lowe wasn’t as suspicious as most recent targets, and did send money before discovering he’d been defrauded.

“It’s unfortunate that people take advantage of people’s good nature and goodwill,” said Sutherland. “It makes it that when people really are in need of something, people would hesitate to help because they hear stories like this one.”

RCMP is reminding residents to be aware of telephone scams and to be wary if the individual addresses you by your first name and asks personal questions.

Anyone with information relating to this scam is asked to contact Squamish RCMP Cst. John Marinis at 604-892-6100.

Fraud artist masquerades as mayor, police say

by Carolyn Heiman - Times Colonist (Victoria)

07/06 (British Columbia) Little old ladies aren't the only ones susceptible to the charms and tear-jerking stories of scam artists.

Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe and Esquimalt Mayor Chris Clement, along with staff at several prominent hotels, were targeted this year by a phone scammer whose convincing story elicited a total of $900 from Lowe and The Empress hotel.

Victoria police Det. Dan Cottingham said the fraud artist is still targeting prominent businesses and people throughout the province.

In the new variation, the scammer is impersonating Lowe and telling a tale indicating a family tragedy has struck while the mayor is visiting the Lower Mainland. The caller asks the person for an emergency loan to be wired to either to Western Union or Money Mart.

The persistence of the scam speaks to the challenges of bringing charges in fraud cases, said Cottingham, who works in the financial-crime area.

He said police did pick up a suspect when Money Mart alerted them to a transfer of funds that appeared suspicious. But Cottingham said it is the phone call, not the money pickup, that constitutes the fraud, a factor that makes prosecuting the cases difficult.

"Picking up at the money is helpful, but not enough to lay charges. [A suspect] has been arrested several times picking up a transfer. But you have to be able to prove he made the telephone call."

"I would sure like to shut this thing down, but it is very tough to put a lid on this."

The fraud is happening in a number of police jurisdictions, contributing to difficulties in shutting it down, said Cottingham.

He suspects several individuals are involved and that a total of $25,000 might have been collected via the calls, each netting $300 to $500.

A fraud like this can happen to anyone, Cottingham added. "Now they are targeting high-profile people."

Lowe said he lost the money when he responded to a call from someone claiming to be Esquimalt First Nation Chief Andy Thomas.

The caller said the chief's grandson had died in a boating accident in northern British Columbia and that he needed money transferred into an account so a family member could fly to the location and identify the body.

"It sounded just like him and I wanted to help him out," said Lowe, adding he learned he had been tricked the next day, when he asked a close acquaintance about Thomas.

Cottingham's advice: "Do your due diligence. Wire transfers are very popular with fraudsters."

Most fraudsters will create a story designed to make the victim believe they know each other, he said.

Scam artist hits town again

Provincetown Banner

12/06 - PROVINCETOWN, MA — A conniving con artist who had success last spring convincing local residents to send him money in Canada is apparently back at work.

Provincetown Police Officer Glenn Enos said the scammer has called at least four people in town in the past week, claiming to be local event promoter David Flowers. The calls are made from a pay phone in Canada, where the caller claims he was in a fight the night before and had all his money stolen. He then says he was in the hospital and needed money wired to him in order to purchase a plane ticket back to Provincetown.

Three of the local recipients of the scam became suspicious and called police. A fourth believed the con artist and wired $400 to Canada.

The scam is almost identical to one this past spring, where a caller identifying himself as Rosario Ebert claimed to be stranded in Canada after a mugging and needed money immediately. That scam netted the caller $500 from two guesthouse owners.

The current scam also resembles one in September 2004 and July 2003, when a series of fake calls was placed to Provincetown business owners. In the 2004 incident, the caller identified himself as a local spa owner who said he needed emergency funds wired to him at a Western Union office in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2003, the caller said he was Scott Dinsmore, owner of Scott Dinsmore Antiques on Commercial Street. At that time, two people wired the fake Dinsmore approximately $800.

State police report scam artist

by Mike Gleason - Bennington Banner

12/06 - Vermont — Several people throughout the Dorset area have been victimized by a phone scam, according to the Vermont State Police.

Allegedly, a person has been calling people, claiming to be a friend or family member of the victim. If asked why the voice is unfamiliar, the caller claims to have a broken nose or be using a damaged pay phone. The caller claims to be mugged or kidnapped in Canada, and must turn to the victim for financial help, generally around $500. The caller allegedly insists the money be sent via Western Union to a location in Canada where the money can be retrieved.

According to police, the caller has information about the victims, and is able to come up with a variety of convincing stories.

The state police termed the scam as "very clever" in a release and warned: "The scam artist has and uses information about you, your family and your friends to assist in convincing you he is who he says."

Area woman loses $7,000 in bail money phone scam

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

12/31/2007 - DOVER -- An 80-year-old woman in rural Dover was swindled out of $7,000, according to the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office.

The increasingly common scam involves people posing as grandchildren who need money to get out of jail, according to detective Brad Nelson. He said the scams happen over the phone with swindlers claiming to be calling from Canada.

Nelson said a man called the rural Dover woman Dec. 4 and said he was her grandson. The man said he had been arrested for a fishing violation in Canada and needed $3,800 for bail. The woman sent the money, and the next day the man asked her for $3,200 more, which the woman also sent, Nelson said.

No arrests have been made. Such cases can be difficult to track because different jurisdictions are involved, said Rochester police Lt. Dan Muyres.

Israeli-Run "Stranded Traveler" Scam Targeted Muslims

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- (OfficialWire) -- 01/06 -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today announced that an alleged con artist who targeted Muslims has been extradited from Canada to the United States to face federal charges. CAIR also called on victims of the "stranded traveler" scam to provide any information that may be useful to prosecutors in the case.

Mohammed Agbareia made an initial appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Alabama on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. FBI officials say a co-defendant, Zouhair Hissy, was arrested in Canada on January 4. The two men were indicted by a federal grand jury in Mobile, Ala., for trying to bilk a local Islamic center out of $1500 using a scam that relied on the Islamic tradition of helping travelers in distress.

The alleged con-artist's primary method of operation was to place phone calls claiming to be a well-known Muslim leader, official or scholar stranded at an airport after his money, passport and tickets had been stolen or lost. He would ask the intended victim, typically a leader or activist in a local Muslim community, to wire cash through MoneyGram or Western Union to help him out of the crisis. After receiving the funds, he would disappear.

In May of last year, CAIR called on Canadian authorities to apprehend and extradite Agbareia and Hissy. CAIR said it has been receiving reports about Agbareia's scam for many years and had issued a number of alerts to the Muslim community in this country and worldwide. Agbareia, who is apparently an Israeli citizen, was arrested in 2002 by Canadian authorities but was later released.

"All those individuals and institutions targeted in the 'stranded traveler' con should now provide information to prosecutors so they can build their case based on the evidence built up over almost 20 years," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.

Over the years, Awad and CAIR worked with law enforcement authorities in a number of countries in an effort to bring the alleged con artists to justice. He said Muslims worldwide have been defrauded of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars.

03/06 - MOBILE, Ala. -- AP -An international wire fraud scheme targeting Islamic institutions with a phony stranded-traveler plea, netting only small sums but hitting multiple victims over many years, has been disrupted by the arrest of its mastermind, the FBI says.

Islamic advocates say Mohammed Mustafa Agbareia, who was arrested in Canada and pleaded guilty March 1 in Alabama to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, may have scammed more than $1 million from mosques and Islamic groups over nearly two decades.

He will be sentenced July 10 by U.S. District Judge Charles Butler in Mobile, where he is in the custody of federal marshals.

Agbareia is accused of claiming to be with a Saudi development bank investing in local Islamic society projects. Eventually he would contact Islamic leaders asking for money, saying he was stranded at an airport in Canada or another distant location and needed money wired.

Agbareia manipulated the Islamic tenet of lending aid to a stranded traveler, the FBI says.

He would always ask for $1,000 to $1,500 -- amounts small enough to "pass under the radar" of local authorities, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, D.C.

"This guy was really unique," Hooper said in an interview Wednesday.

Agbareia, whose guilty plea was first reported by the Mobile Register, faces a possible 5-year prison sentence, a $250,000 fine and 3 years of federal supervision after his prison release. But penalties could vary because a religious institution was a victim and the court's sentencing guidelines are only advisory in this case, according to the plea agreement.

The scheme dates to the 1990s and had at least 45 victims in the United States before being halted. It involved over 10,000 solicitations for money, according to the FBI.

Agbareia was indicted in Mobile and Vermont on the fraud charges about a year ago. A second man, Zouhair Youssei Hissy, also was indicted in Mobile for an alleged role in the scheme and awaits extradition to the United States from Canada.

Agbareia, 40, was arrested in Canada pending his unrelated deportation to Israel. Records show he's from Nazareth in Israel.

The FBI probe of Agbareia began in Vermont where two victims were defrauded, an FBI spokesman said in a March 22 statement about the case. Another complaint came in Alabama in 2004 from the Islamic Society of Mobile Mosque.

Collecting victims' phone numbers on the Internet, Islamic institutions or mosques were contacted by Agbareia and Hissy, who claimed to represent the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB).

Agbareia usually kept 60-80 percent of the money, with Hissy getting the remainder, the FBI said.

In Mobile, FBI spokesman Special Agent Craig Dahle said it's unknown how much money the scheme collected. He said there could be victims worldwide.

In the plea agreement, Agbareia, represented by the public defender's office, agreed to forfeit any proceeds of his criminal activity and cooperate with the government's investigation under threat of additional charges.

Grandson with Broken Down Car Needs Western Union Transfer Scam

01/080 - Kansas - Wichita Police are warning seniors about a new scam that's surfaced in the Wichita area. Lieutenant Hassan Ramzah with the Wichita Police Department Financial Crimes unit says the department has received eight calls from senior citizens since late December.

The potential victims include seven women and one man ages 54-86.

The caller tells the victim that he was their grandson and that his car broke down in Kansas City. The caller asked for them to send some money through Western Union to help.

The man would then give the name of a friend, J.D. Taylor, to wire the money. Two of the reported eight seniors wired the money. One of the wire transfers was for $871 and was picked up in Kansas City. The other transaction was also around $800.

Wichita Police are working with Kansas City Police on the case.

Kansas CW

More Elderly Senior Victims in Grandson Scam

02/08 - It's been dubbed the "Grandson Scam" and some in the Wichita area have fallen victim.

Dorothy Burden got a phone call from a man who claimed to be her grandson. He said he was calling from Kansas City and his wallet had been stolen. He needed money for car repairs and would pay her back the next day.

"It made sense at the time," says Burden. "I just felt sorry for him." Burden is no easy victim. The 83-year-old surfs the internet and keeps up on the latest scams.

"I was all prepared not to give account numbers or credit card numbers or anything like that over the phone." However, convinced the caller was her grandson, she followed his instructions on how to wire money through Western Union. She sent $800.

"It just makes me mad that I bit on it."

In the past month, Wichita police say 14 people have filed police reports about the same scam. Investigators think more people were probably called and some were likely reluctant to admit they were victimized. For Burden and her family, it was just the beginning.

After sending the money, Burden's phone kept ringing. Her daughter, Carol Carter, believes the same criminals were calling back with a different scheme.

"Could it be someone that knew they got her once that could come back again?"

Carter wanted to end the calls for good. She confronted the person on the line and the calls have stopped for now.

"It just goes to show no matter who you are there's someone out there that can pull your strings," says Carter.

The family hopes their experience makes others aware of how criminals will use heart strings to get to your purse strings.


Police warn of telephone scammer posing as grandson

01/08 - The phone rang moments after Edna Baker returned from Bible study Jan. 20.

The caller told her he was her favorite grandson, and his car had broken down while he was in Kansas City. Could he send her $800 for the repairs?

His words made sense to Baker. She did have a grandson she liked to call her favorite, and he had a Jeep that broke down if he drove it too much.

But the more they talked, the less things made sense. He never used his name, and all he really seemed to care about was her credit card number.

"He never did tell me his name or anything," Baker said Tuesday. "That's when I began to say to him, 'Is this on the up-and-up?' "

It wasn't. Baker was one of more than a half-dozen people in Wichita to be called over the past month by someone posing as a grandson needing money, police said Tuesday.

Two of those people did as they were told and wired more than $800 each via Western Union. Baker would have been another victim.

However, she called her daughter to come over and help sort out the situation, and Western Union refused to send the money when herdaughter could not correctly answer a security question.

The next morning, Baker's son-in-law called her grandson. He was home in bed in Wichita, baffled as to why anyone thought he was in Kansas City.

Lt. Hassan Ramzah, who heads the financial crimes section of the Police Department, said the caller has been picking on elderly residents and gives them the name of someone he claims is a friend to send the money to.

The scam is particularly dangerous because it preys on a victim's natural willingness to help a family member in a crisis, he said.

To protect themselves from the scammer, people should ask the caller lots of personal questions that only real family members would know.

That would likely be enough to scare the scammers away, police said.

Wichita Eagle

Police warn seniors to be wary of ‘family’members in trouble phone scam.

It’s a call any grandmother would love to get — at least she believes so when she answers the phone.

“Hi, Grandma, how are you?”

“Is that you, Jimmy?"

“Yea, grandma, it’s your grandson Jimmy.”

It’s the grandson she hasn’t heard from for a long time — or so she thinks.

But Jimmy has a problem. He says he has a car in the shop, is getting held up at the bus station or whatever lie a scammer wants to float out there. Jimmy needs money to get home, and has no I.D.

“It’s I got myself into a fix. I lost my billfold, I’m in Kansas City and want to get back home. Could you send me some money?” Newton Police Detective T. Walton said.

And because Jimmy has lost anything with his identification on it, if Grandma would wire the money to Western Union and use the name of his good friend Ed Bailey, Bailey can get the money and give it to Jimmy.

But it’s all a scam, and hundreds of older women have been taken in by the scam.

“They were targeting the elderly, and they were targeting families where the husband was a World War II vet, and a lot of those guys are gone now so it’s widows that are getting taken,” Walton said. “These guys got thousands upon thousands of dollars.”

Until now.

Walton said an investigator in Johnson County has identified who is making those calls and is working to put them behind bars.

And while there is an open case in Newton that is going to be forwarded to Johnson County as part of their case, Walton wonders if there are not more people in the area who got a call and lost some cash.

“They might have been too embarrassed about this to call us,” Walton said. “But if you did get these calls and sent them money, please contact me. I want to help.”

Walton said there is a possibility, though slight, money can be returned. He’s not making any promises.

But he did say the scammers will be prosecuted.

“We want to put these guys away,” Walton said. “We are going to gather up all of our cases and all of Sedgwick County’s cases and send it to Johnson County so they can work it as one large case — which makes sense.”


Relative in Distress Scam Targets Elderly Chinese Victims

02/080- California - A San Francisco resident was arrested this morning in connection with a scam that lasted at least 14 months and targeted elderly Chinese victims.

Police said 42-year-old Ken Hue Hua is suspected of calling victims, pretending to be a doctor, relative or friend.

He would then allegedly tell the victims that a family member needed money for car repairs, bail money, fees to the Chinese Embassy or to pay overdue bills.

According to police, Hua would allegedly arrange to have the victims meet him and give him money, a total of almost $11,000 over seven reported cases.

In addition to the seven charged cases, police say another 19 people were victims of the same scam and lost a total of $16,000.

All of the victims were of Chinese descent and most were over 65 years old, police said. The most recent incident took place Monday.

Hua was charged with 24 counts of elder financial abuse and grand and petty theft, including 14 felony counts.

Police urge anyone who may have been a victim of Hua’s to call the San Francisco Fraud Section (415) 553-1521.

San Fransisco Sentinel

Daughter in Distress Scam

04/08 - (Singapore) - It seemed his daughter had gone to meet a friend whom she had met online in the US state of Ohio when she got robbed, said the retiree, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chan.

His daughter, Karen, works as a lawyer in London.

As the hotel would not let her leave unless she paid the bill, she needed him to transfer £2,600 ($7,000) through Western Union within 24 hours.

It was only after a few frantic calls and upon closer reading that he realised it was a scam, and that someone had actually hacked into his daughter's e-mail account.

Mr Chan, 64, told The New Paper that he was at home on 15 Apr when he read the e-mail.

'I was surprised that she would send a message asking for help over e-mail. What if I didn't check my e-mails for a few days?'

He also wondered why his daughter didn't just call using her handphone, as she usually does.

His wife also read it. Said Mrs Chan: 'I scanned quickly through it and my instant reaction was to get worried.'

The Chans said it was plausible because their daughter was due to travel to Morocco around that time.

'It was possible that she had got into some trouble, although we did wonder why she was suddenly going to the US,' Mrs Chan said.

They quickly called their 32-year-old daughter in London, but she did not answer as it was late at night there.

They then contacted their son in Hong Kong, and forwarded the e-mail to him. He told them it was 'sheer nonsense'.


Mrs Chan said they were 'not thinking straight' at first. 'Logic just flew out of our heads because we thought she was in trouble,' she said.

'A Western Union transfer is immediate, so can you imagine if we had rushed off to send the money?'

Mrs Chan said the biggest giveaway was their daughter supposedly signing off as 'Karen'.

'She usually signs off as Mei, which is what we call her. Her Chinese name is Li Mei,' said Mrs Chan.

She felt the story was amateurish. 'It's lame that she had gone to the US just to meet someone whom she had met over the Internet,' she said.

Mr Chan said he also noticed spelling and grammatical errors in the e-mail, which his daughter was unlikely to make.

Still, they were concerned that someone had actually hacked into their daughter's e-mail account.

'Someone read through her e-mails and knew she would be making a trip, and that she e-mails her father,' said Mrs Chan.

Their daughter told The New Paper over the phone that she was alarmed when she received an urgent SMS from her parents asking her to call them.

She said she was angry and felt violated when she found out what had happened.

There were tell-tale signs that something was not right even before that, she said.

Just the day before her parents had read the e-mail, Miss Chan said she had trouble logging in to her account, which comes under a free e-mail service provided by British Telecommunications.

'I thought it was strange as I had not changed my password in more than 10 years,' she said.

She then called the provider and had her password reset but did not think much of it after that.

After this incident, Miss Chan said she will close her account once she has copied her contact list and cleared her e-mails. And she won't be buying things on the web any more, and will do her online banking only at work.

'It's sad that we have to be so distrustful, but frauds are becoming more prevalent,' she said.

(The Electric New Paper)

Grandparent Scam, Fake Family Scam

Minor Losses Victim Scams