Telephone scam targets Southland families


The swindle starts with a phone call: a grandson, it seems, is in trouble overseas.

"His story was, 'Oh Grandma, I'm in Barcelona and I was on leave and I'm in a car wreck and they won't take my insurance," said Mary Orcutt, a victim of the phone scam.

Other victims, similar story.

"He says, 'I can only talk for a minute, here's the public defender,'" said victim Robert Reese.

"'I had a car wreck with the rental and they were asking $4,000,' or he was going to be thrown in jail," said victim Julie Tulette.

Following the caller's instructions they wire thousands if dikkars to foreign destinations. But the receiver it turns out is not a loved one, but an impersonator.

Victims later tried to trace the phone number on the Internet only to find others were fleeced.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office say Southland senior citizens are getting bombarded in this scheme.

"This is a target-rich environment, at least in the perception of criminals," said Steve Martinez, FBI.

How do the con men even know you have a grandson and what his name is? Investigators say families of service members who use social media are frequent targets

"Whether it's Facebook pages, the Internet, phone books," said Andre Birotte, U.S. Attorney's Office. "In some cases they may not have accurate information, but if you can spin a story of 'I'm hurt, I'm in distress,' these people take advantage of the fear and the emotion."

The scammers make thousands of calls, many times to the wrong people with the wrong information or the wrong voice, a dead end for many attempted cons. But occasionally it works.

"The voice truly sounded like him that's what caught me into the whole scenario," said Orcutt.

All told, these three victims lost $30,000.

Investigators say it happens to people who are smart and educated. They advise you to ask questions and verify.

"If one person gets our collective story and doesn't make the same mistake, I'm happy," said Orcutt.

Another common characteristic of these callers is they tell the recipient not to tell police or anyone else. Investigators say you should do just the opposite and report the call.

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