MCP Reminds Residents: Beware of Grandparent Scam

Within the last two weeks, Financial Crimes detectives have received two cases where residents have fallen victim to what is commonly referred to as the “Grandparent Scam” and have given funds ($5,000 each) to a scammer.

During these two Montgomery County cases, the scammer posed as the victim’s grandchild and stated that he (the “grandchild”) was in jail in another state and needed money from the grandparent to secure a bond appearance.  One of the victims was instructed to wire money to a bank account.  The other victim received a call from the “grandchild” and then a second call from a scammer posing as the child’s attorney.  The “attorney” instructed the victim to go to Best Buy, purchase gift cards, and read the gift cards number to the “attorney” to satisfy payment.

The “Grandparent Scam” is a version of a fraud during which the suspect tells the victim that a family member or friend is in trouble or needs help. Scammers present a variety of emergency situations in these calls, to include a loved one who is in jail, has been in an accident, has been kidnapped, or has been physically hurt. The suspect often states that the event has occurred in another area and that the loved one is unable to talk. To assist in helping the family member or friend, the suspect says that the victim must send money via wire transfer or other fund transfer (ie: pre-paid cards, internet transaction, gift card purchase).

These types of phone scams are not unique to Montgomery County and have been reported in neighboring jurisdictions and around the country.

Please read the following tips on what to do if you receive a telephone call that you believe is a scam:

  • Do not provide information over the phone.  Scammers often ask leading questions to retrieve information from you.  Often, you do not realize that you are giving them valuable information.  In both of these recent cases, the scammer began the telephone call with, “Hello Grandma” and, “Do you know who this is?”

 

  • Scammers create a sense of urgency; they state that they are in distress and need money immediately.  Slow down and ask the caller for detailed information and a contact number.  Tell the caller you will call them back after you verify information.

 

  • Then, attempt to verify the caller’s story by calling family and/or friends.  Scammers will often tell the loved one not to tell anyone because he/she is embarrassed about being in the situation.
  • Remember that scammers often use a technique called “spoofing.”  Spoofing provides a fictitious number to a Caller ID display.
  • Do not send money.  Beware of anyone asking you to wire money or buy gift cards and provide them with the cards’ information.
  • Most importantly, contact police immediately if you believe you are a victim of a telephone scam.

RLI

MCP Warns of Gold Scam Targeting Chinese Residents; One Resident Loses $20,000

Detectives from the Montgomery County Police Department – Financial Crimes Section are warning residents of a gold scam which has been reported as occurring in other parts of the country and is now occurring in this area.

Affinity fraud is a type of financial scheme that relies on building trust with victims based on shared affiliations and characteristics such as age, race, religion, occupation, etc.  In the gold scam, a type of affinity fraud, the suspect(s) work to build trust with victims who are of Chinese descent .

During this type of scam, the suspect(s), who are Chinese and who often work in a group, contact the potential victim (also of Chinese descent) via phone.  The incoming call to the victim often shows a phone number originating from China.  The scammer, speaking in a dialect of Chinese, states that he needs the victim’s help in some way, like finding a job for someone or needing some other type of support.  The scammer arranges to meet the victim to receive help and during the meeting the scammer, sometimes accompanied by a co-conspirator, presents the victim with what the scammers state is real gold (comprised of gold nuggets and Buddha figures) that he says he located while working construction.  The scammer also shows the victim a note written in Chinese that supposedly was found with the gold and explains how and why the gold was hidden.  The suspect tells the victim that he is undocumented, has no connections in this country and wants to sell the gold and use the money to return to China or help his family in China.  The scammer asks that the victim provide the scammer with cash and in return, he will give the victim all of the gold.  The scammer states that he will take less than what the gold is worth.  If the victim requests it, the scammer will provide him/her with a small gold “sample” to be tested.  The small piece of gold is often real.  At the end of the final transaction between the scammer and victim, the victim is left with worthless, fake gold and the scammer now has the victim’s cash.

The Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) has received two reports of gold scams occurring in the County.  The first incident occurred on or about April 24.  The resident gave the suspects $20,000 in cash for gold which was tested and determined to be fake. Two suspects have a warrant for their arrest in this case for theft and conspiracy to commit theft: 49-year-old Xiaoping Yang (also known as Ziaoping Yang) and 51-year-old Yinhui Huang of undetermined addresses, both previously charged in Fairfax County for committing this same scam.

In the second incident reported to the MCPD, which occurred on June 11, the potential victim became suspicious of the suspects and before conducting any type of exchange she searched articles online and learned that this was a scam.  She then reported the incident to MCPD.  Detectives have obtained photographs of the two male suspects in this case.  The photographs are from a Gaithersburg restaurant where the two suspects and victim talked about the gold while eating lunch.

The Financial Crimes Section is asking that anyone who recognizes the two unknown suspects (photographs below) or anyone with information about the whereabouts of suspects Ziapong and Huang to call detectives at 240-773-6330.  For those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Solvers of Montgomery County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the two unknown suspect(s). Tipsters can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).  Anyone who believes he/she has been a victim of this scam is asked to call detectives at 240-773-6330.

Note to Media: A Financial Crimes detective is available this afternoon to speak about this scam. Please call the Public Information Office at 240-773-5030 (press 4) to make arrangements for an interview.

Two Suspects

 

Suspect One

Suspect Two

Sample of Fake Gold Given to Victim

Detectives Investigate Counterfeit “Movie Money” Scam

The Montgomery County Police Department is investigating reports of a scam that involves suspects becoming involved in private online transactions via social media apps and websites and using fake, prop money to pay for items.  The prop money, which can be purchased online, is used in movies and is usually marked, “For Motion Picture Use Only”.

During a prop money scam that occurred in Montgomery County on May 15, the 18-year-old female victim placed an advertisement to sell her iPhone 6 on the app “Letgo”.  The suspect, who identified himself as “Xavier on his “Letgo” profile and in text messages to the victim, agreed to purchase the victim’s cellular phone for $450.  The suspect told the victim that he only had five $100 bills and would give her the $500 if she would give him $50 in return.  The victim agreed to meet the suspect in the parking lot of the Milestone Shopping center located at 20900 Frederick Road in Germantown to sell him the phone.

During the transaction, the suspect gave the victim a bank envelope that appeared to contain five, $100 bills.  The victim then gave the suspect her iPhone 6 and $50 in cash.

Later that evening, the victim attempted to deposit the money into her bank.  The bank rejected the deposit.  Upon further inspection of the money, the victim discovered the words “For Motion Picture Use Only” written across the top of the five $100 bills.  The victim then reported the incident to the police department.

The suspect in this case is described as an approximately 15 to 16-year-old African American male who is tall and thin.  Anyone who has information about this suspect is asked to call the 5th District Investigative Section at 240-773-6237. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to an arrest in this case.

The Montgomery County Police Department has designated Exchange Zones for residents to complete online transactions.  These Exchange Zones are located at each of the six police district station’s lobbies and parking lots (with the exception of the Second District parking lot):  For more information about these Exchange Zones, please follow the link:

MCP Designates Exchange Zones for Online Transactions

When selling or purchasing items from an unknown person, the Montgomery County Police Department offers the following safety tips:

  • Always meet the buyer or seller at an exchange zone that is well populated, well lit, and preferably at a designated police exchange zone.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you’re going to meet someone and when possible, take a friend with you.
  • Inform the buyer/seller that you will not be alone.
  • Do not invite strangers into your home.
  • Never give out any personal or financial information.
  • When dealing with large sums of cash, don’t be afraid to tell the buyer that you will want to check the bills for authenticity.
  • It is OK to show a buyer that you have an item, but do not surrender it until you have checked the validity of the currency.
  • Look for the denomination specific security features. Each bill has a specific watermark and security thread.
  • Trust your instincts – if it sounds like a scam or too good to be true, it probably is.

RLG

Front of the counterfeit “Movie Money” currency

Rear of the counterfeit “Movie Money” currency

Police Investigate Scam Targeting Former Montgomery County Government Employee

The Montgomery County Police Department is investigating the report of a scam that targeted a former Montgomery County Government employee.

On Tuesday, December 20, 3rd District officers responded to a residence in Silver Spring for the report of a scam.  The investigation revealed that a former Montgomery County Government employee (who last worked for the county government approximately one year ago) received a letter in the mail with Montgomery County Government letterhead stating that the Montgomery County Government would cease mailing pay slips to its employees.  The letter instructed the employee to register for an online service called “Oracle ESS” by using her email account.  The letter further instructed the county employee to call 1-877-613-5121 if further assistance was required.

When the letter recipient called the telephone number that was provided in the email, a male answered the phone and informed the caller that she was the winner of an “energy credit” and all that was needed was for her to pay a shipping and handling cost.  The male then requested a credit card number.  The former employee refused to provide her credit card information and believing this was a scam, hung up the phone and contacted the police.  Investigating officers called the same telephone number and determined that the information and instructions provided in the letter was not part of a legitimate Montgomery County Government service.

MCP urges any individual who receives a scam letter in the mail that is similar to the scam letter reported in this incident to call the police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000.

Please read the following tips on what to do if you receive a letter, email, or a telephone call that you believe is a scam:

  • Do not provide information over the phone.  Scammers often ask leading questions to retrieve information from you.  Often, you do not realize that you are giving them valuable information.
  • Scammers create a sense of urgency.  Slow down and ask the caller for detailed information and a contact number.  Tell the caller you will call them back.  Then, attempt to verify the caller’s story by calling family and/or friends.
  • Remember that scammers often use a technique called “spoofing”.  Spoofing provides a fictitious number to a Caller ID display.
  • Do not send money.
  • Most importantly, contact police immediately if you believe you are the victim of a telephone scam.

RLG

Warmer Weather Brings Home Repair and Tree and Lawn Service Scammers to County

As warmer weather has come to the area, so have the home repair and tree and lawn service scammers.  These scammers target people with the intent of taking advantage of them financially.  Although these types of scams occur year-round, areas often experience an increase in these criminal acts after storms and in the spring and summer.  Since March 1, there have been 12 of these scams reported to the Police Department; the incidents have occurred throughout the County.  The cases are actively being investigated by detectives with the assistance and guidance of the Office of Consumer Protection and the State’s Attorney’s Office.  Investigators believe that there are a number of different suspects involved in these 12 cases.

A common scamming scenario: A scammer knocks on a homeowner’s door, states that he/she works for a tree service or home repair company, and says that he is doing work for a neighbor (which is a lie).  He says that he has noticed a hazardous situation at the person’s home.  He offers to fix the problem and offers a “good deal” (usually it’s work at an inflated or even sometimes exorbitant price).  The scammer conveniently has some extra materials that he can use to perform the work.  When the homeowner enters an agreement with the scammer, the scammer, who is not licensed nor properly trained to perform the work, might: (1) collect a deposit and then never return to the home, (2) take the resident’s money and perform inferior work that often creates greater problems that are costly to repair, or (3) personally cause damage to the home so that he/she can then “fix” the issue.  Sometimes, after fixing one problem, the scammer will “find” additional issues that need to be addressed; the scammers will convince homeowners to continue to hand over more money to fix the never-ending issues.

Who are these scammers?

  • While some scammers are transient and routinely travel certain routes, many scammers have an established residency but will travel great distances with the sole purpose of defrauding people.  “Woodchucks” is a name given to tree service scammers who live outside of the immediate D.C. region but who travel to this area to commit this type of fraud.
  • These criminals don’t go to every door in a neighborhood.  They target homes that appear to be in decline or where a vulnerable person may live (such as an older person with memory issues or physical limitations).  In 11 of the 12 Montgomery County cases since March, the victim was 70 years or older.
  • These criminals will attempt to quickly gain the victim’s trust.  They will create a sense of urgency and pressure a person to hire them immediately.  If a homeowner questions the quality of their completed work or refuses to pay them more money for additional services, these criminals might use intimidation or fear (“Ill sue you!”) to obtain money.

How Can I Protect Myself and Others from these Scammers?

  • Be cautious of door-to-door solicitors who state that they have extra materials or left over supplies from another job and can do the work, and they must start the work immediately.
  • Be wary of a person/company who has no printed materials – no written contracts, no business cards, no bid forms, etc.
  • When hiring someone to perform work around your home, do your homework:
    • Ask for recommendations from friends, family, and neighbors.
    • Take time to get 3 to 4 estimates.
    • Check with your local Better Business Bureau and their lists of accredited businesses and reviews.
    • Research if the company/person performing the work is required to have a license: In Maryland, home improvement companies and tree care companies must be licensed in Maryland to perform work in the state.
    • Verify a business’ license status by calling the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP)at 240-777-3636.  OCP has a record of merchant complaints online.
    • Insist on a written contract with details on what work will be done, materials to be used, etc.  If changes are made as work progresses, ask the contractor to amend the contract to reflect those changes.
    • Be mindful of your neighbors and family members, especially those who are older and may be more vulnerable to these scams.  Call police if you suspect that someone you know is about to enter into a scam.

Two Recent Scams with Arrest of Suspect in Montgomery County:

  • Suspect: Chrisopher Wade Clore, age 31, of Madison Virginia
  • Charged via Montgomery County warrant.
  • Arrested in Virginia yesterday.
  • On November 10, 2015, Clore knocked on the door of a 79-year-old Bethesda resident.  He told her that he was working on a house in the area and noticed that a large limb had fallen on her roof and punctured a hole.  Clore told the victim that the roof need to be immediately fixed to prevent water from entering the attic.  The victim paid Clore $2,132.50 to make repairs.  When one of the victim’s family members learned of the repair job, he was doubtful that a limb had fallen on the roof and damaged it; there were no tree limbs close to the house with and the roof was only a year old.  The family member inspected the roof and noted a shoddy repair job.  He also noted that the hole in the roof was most likely caused by a hammer or hatchet.  The family member repaired the roof in approximately one hour and the total cost of the materials to repair the roof was less than $30.
  • Clore faces charges to include theft, malicious destruction of property, obtaining property of a vulnerable adult, acting as a contractor without a license, and failure to perform a contract.
  • On February 27, 2016, Clore knocked on the door of a 43-year-old Kensington woman and stated that he had performed home improvement work at the home in the past.  The victim stated that she needed some work done and Clore said she could complete the work for $550.  The victim gave Clore $300 as a down payment and said he would return the next day to make the repairs.  Clore then went to the neighbor’s home and pressured his way into the home.  He told the resident, who was elderly and in poor health, that she owed him money.  She was able to convince him to leave. Clore never returned to the initial victim’s home to perform the agreed upon work.
  • Clore faces charges to include theft, acting as a contractor without a license, and failure to perform contract.

The Department urges residents to immediately call police if they believe that someone is committing this type of fraud.

*Note to media: The family member who notified police of the November 10, 2015 scam case is willing to speak to the media.  Please call the Public Information Office at 240-773-5030 (option 4) for more information.