In November 2014, our Project Founder, Jeffrey Westeman, received a phone call from a family member, we’ll call “Sheila”. She said her 82-year-old mother, “Jane” lives 300 miles away, but they talk several times a week on the phone. In the last few weeks, Jane has told Sheila she couldn’t be on the phone very long because she was expecting a call from an FBI agent. When Sheila pressed her Mom for more information, Jane became vague and less than forthcoming. Sheila suspected a scam and cautioned her mother. But Jane was insistent the person she was talking to was a real FBI agent.
Sheila wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, and was concerned about being disrespectful to her Mother. Sheila felt that her Mother would open up more to a neutral person, and knew about Westeman’s background in security and law enforcement, and asked him to check in with her Mom.
Within 10 minutes of initial contact with Sheila’s Mother, Westeman determined the calls from the alleged FBI agent, “Mark Castle,” were part of a larger scam, and scheduled a trip to visit Sheila personally.
Once he was at Jane’s home, Westeman and Sheila poured over phone records, emails, and bank transactions; and determined Jane had been defrauded of more than $33,000 by multiple “offshore” suspects. He contacted local law enforcement; but found them to be ill-equipped for the case because the fraud was being committed by offshore suspects.
To obtain more information about the suspects and their methods, Westeman setup traps for phone calls made to Jane, and within a few hours was talking with the suspects, impersonating Jane’s 85-year-old husband, Fred.
The suspect who was posing as “FBI agent Mark Castle,” had been promising Jane he would help collect the money she had previously sent to “collect a lottery she had won.”
With the scammers now talking to Westeman, Sheila and her siblings changed their parent’s phone numbers so they could no longer be contacted. Sheila counselled her Mom and Dad about the scam, and made them promise to stop the behavior. Jane and Fred finally admitted “Mark Castle” was not an FBI agent, and they had been scammed.
For several weeks, Westeman continued to talk to the scammers, documenting 6 different individuals, and multiple methods of fraud. In some cases, the caller resorted to intimidation and even threats against Jane and Fred. Westeman was especially concerned about the level of information that had been shared by Jane in the past with the various callers. The scammers knew the names of Jane and Fred’s children, their spouse’s names, grandchildren’s names, and where everyone lived. It was alarming that Jane had shared so much personal information with someone she had never met.
Given the amount of information the callers had, Westeman recommended to Sheila and her siblings that they purchase fraud protection.
Within a few weeks, the scammers became impatient in their conversations with “Fred”, and stopped calling.
A few days later, Sheila called Westeman and told him that her Mom had called and said that Sheila had been wrong about the FBI agent being a fake, because she had talked to him that morning, and he assured her he was legitimate.
Westeman checked the records of the new phone number Sheila had setup for her Mom, and found a single outbound call made to “305-511-1212” – Florida. After that single call, there were 20 incoming calls from a blocked number in the next 6 hours. Westeman and Sheila got on a call with Jane, and found out that someone had sent Jane a flower bouquet, with a card that read “Please call me. Mark Castle, FBI. 305-511-1212”.
Westeman setup another trap on the second phone number, and Sheila once again purchased another phone number for her parents.
A few weeks later, Westeman received a call from Fred saying a Taxi had been sent to their house, and the driver was standing there saying he was supposed to take them to a Walgreens to refill a prescription. Westeman talk to the taxi driver, who told Westeman he received a phone call from someone asking him to pick up Fred and Jane at their address and take them to the Walgreens. Once they got to the Walgreens, the driver was supposed to give Jane a phone number to call – 305-511-1212. Westeman sent the driver away, and made phone calls to the other taxi companies in the area warning them about the scam.
The fraud eventually stopped; but only by brute force: Sheila and her siblings had to resort to closing out all the bank accounts, credit cards, and retirement funds, and moving those over to a trust under their control.
Westeman shared all of the information he had obtained during the investigation with local law enforcement, but nothing could be done because the suspects were all offshore.
Westeman was shocked at the various methods of fraud that had been perpetrated against Jane and Fred, and the level of sophistication. This was a business being ran with metrics in place for performance, and handoffs based on human psyche. The operation was intelligent, using techniques to limit detection by family members of the victims; thus enabling the continuation of the scam and the increase in revenue.
Once the scam had been stopped, the family encouraged Westeman to do something to help other seniors – noting most families don’t have someone to help, especially with a background in technology, security, and law enforcement.
As the months passed, the family continued to encourage Westeman to do something more for other seniors. In early Spring of 2016, Westeman agreed, and started setting up the infrastructure required to support the initiative.
And, the Stop Senior Thefts Project was created.
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Additional resources for elder financial fraud can be found here.