The urge to assist a loved one in a dire situation is overwhelming.
For scammers, though, it is an easy way to target their prey. A Fallon woman fell victim Saturday to such a con, and it cost her $1,500, although she was fortunate it wasn’t more.
Evie Regan, 77, was duped when a man called from Mexico, identified himself from an embassy and passed the phone to an alleged police sergeant named Ralph Ward. Ward, who also gave Regan a badge number and case number, said her grandson had been arrested. Regan questioned the man about the offense and why her grandson was in Mexico.
Allegedly, Regan’s grandson was booked after he and his friends were found with marijuana in their car.
Regan said she is spreading the word about the scam and hopes her story can protect others from falling into the same trap.
“He (Ward) said his best buddy had died,” she said. “The sergeant came on and said not to worry and we will get him home as soon as we can.”
Regan also spoke to her grandson, who was actually another man acting and said he had strep throat, which is why his voice sounded different.
The hook came when the original caller said he wanted to resolve the situation quickly so Regan’s grandson could return home to be with his pregnant wife. Regan said very few people knew of the pregnancy, so she reasoned the person she spoke with was indeed her grandson.
“I thought, well, this is legit,” she added.
The grandson was being held on drug charges and Ward requested $1,500 to secure his release from a Mexican jail.
“He (Ward) said we need bail money,” Regan said. “He said if we don’t get the bail money he will be in jail for another three months.”
Regan rushed to Safeway, wired the money through Western Union and phoned Ward back with a control order number. That number, according to Fallon Police Capt. Vern Ulrich, allows the recipient to claim the funds with no identification.
Ward said an additional $3,000 was necessary to pay the attorney plus court fees and fines.
Regan, though, told the man she did not have that amount but could wire $1,450.
The caller’s mistake, though, came when he told Regan not to use Western Union for the second payment. Regan went to Jeff’s Digitex/Postage Plus to wire the money, but something didn’t sit right with one of the employees.
After a discussion with the employee, Regan’s second deposit was detected by Western Union, where a representative spoke with Regan and discovered she was the victim of a scam. As a result, Western Union was able to stop the transaction and refund Regan’s $1,450, although she was out the initial $1,500.
“Western Union had caught it because it was the second large sum to the same person in a very short period of time,” Postage Plus Manager Kim Hamman said.
Since most scams originate in foreign countries, Ulrich said there is a zero percent chance to recover the money.
Ulrich said scams such as the ones victimizing Regan are increasing. He urged individuals contacted by someone from a foreign country to gather as much information from the caller as possible.
In addition, Ulrich said the best option is to contact the U.S. Consulate in that country. The consulate will then track down whether an individual has been arrested or suffered a severe injury and report back.
“One of the first things they could do is contact the facility, entity, agency where they are supposedly at,” Ulrich said. “They need to do their own due diligence in reference on where they are checking off money to.”
Ulrich added individuals from foreign jails or police departments do not contact friends or relatives in custody, just as American authorities do not. He said if a person presents themselves as a person of authority, a person should get their phone number and the contact info for the entity they work for.
In addition, suspected victims should also track down the organization’s phone number online or through a phone company if possible to determine the authenticity of the suspected claim.
“If something sounds far fetched, it usually is,” Ulrich said. “They don’t want them to take time and think. They just want them to act and send money quickly. If people start checking, it starts to unravel.”
Also, keeping in contact with close friends and family members is crucial, Ulrich said. In Regan’s case, she could not reach her grandson or his wife, which led her to believe he was in Mexico.
But Ulrich said people should make numerous calls and inquiries about the suspected “victim” to ascertain their whereabouts.
While the victim or arrest scam is gaining in frequency, Hamman said online scams are another way to target people.
To combat the rising number of scams, Hamman said her employees are trained to ask questions once the amount is more than $500. Her goal is not to invade privacy, but to protect her customers from possible fradulent claims.
“Most of the time we can get the answer out of them,” Hamman said.
For example, Hamman said people will be sent an email informing they won a lottery, prize money or an inheritance.
As a result, the scammer will ask the recipient to pay taxes or fees to claim the prize.
“Western Union’s policy is you don’t pay for any fees, prizes, gifts or anything like that,” Hamman said. “They know how to keep going and going to really make you doubt yourself.”