Note: This fraud scheme, the basis of which has been around for years, is presented in detail to provide insight as to how the scammers cultivate and use their victims. The case documented here is a little different as a major investment firm was also scammed in the process.
In late June of this year, deputies met with a 66-year-old Dewey man who requested to report a fraud. The victim told deputies he had received a letter from his financial firm thanking him for opening a wire transfer. He immediately contacted his financial advisor based in California who confirmed a wire transfer of $65,000 into a Wells Fargo bank account. The victim knew at this time something was wrong because he never requested the money transfer. The financial advisor provided emails that appeared to originate from the victim’s true email address requesting the transfer. The victim also obtained a copy of the wire transfer distribution form from the advisor showing a request for the $65,000 transfer with his signature.
The case was forwarded to a YCSO detective specializing in complex fraud schemes. He confirmed that suspects were able to hack the victim’s email address, gain the trust of the financial advisor and request a $65,000 transfer to the Wells Fargo account provided. The detective also learned another $52,500 transfer was attempted but stopped by the victim after learning about the first transfer. A review of the emails purportedly from the victim showed the chain of events that authorized the $65,000 transfer to a new Wells Fargo account and then attempt to transfer another $52,500 into a different account.
The detective completed a search warrant for details on the completed $65,000 transaction. In early July, the records were received and showing identification of the account holder who was based out of North Carolina. A transaction history revealed numerous purchases of ‘Green Dot’ cards at $508 each visit and following each transaction, the money was transferred or wired to a specifically named individual. The detective contacted a police agency having jurisdiction at the business where the ‘Green Dot’ card purchases were taking place and they were able to access security video and identified the purchaser. The follow-up also showed wire transfers to Nigeria by the same person.
From the detective – “This is common for scammers to get innocent victims to open bank accounts and stolen funds will either be wired to the account or they will have victims deposit the checks and then are later instructed where to wire or send the money from there. They will use this person until fraud is detected by the banking institution or Law Enforcement and the funds are frozen, or in most cases by the time the fraud is detected the money has already been cleaned out of the account.’
On July 13, 2020, the detective was able to speak with the female-identified in the video as the account holder in North Carolina. She claimed meeting a person online (most of these connections occur on dating sites) who identified himself as ‘Johnny Depp’ and requested to hire her to handle some financial transactions. He instructed her to open a Wells Fargo account and told her he would be depositing funds in this account for distribution to his business associates. She opened the account and provided him with the routing numbers and told her he was from the United States but was currently stuck in Italy. The suspect stated he needed her to send him money so that he could get back home to the United States and they could meet. She complied and over the last few months, she sent money to Italy and Nigeria but became suspicious when Wells Fargo froze the account. What followed was threatening text messages from an east coast phone number in which ‘men would be sent over to pick her up and interrogate her.’
During the investigation, the detective found additional victims and ‘go-between’ victims involved with the same financial institution and shared this information with their investigators.
The detective concludes his report as follows (edited) – ‘It is pretty clear that the scammers are using unsuspected victims to launder fraudulently acquired funds. The scammers have them withdraw or wire the money in forms that are extremely hard to trace. Throughout the entire time, the victims are made to believe they are in a relationship with someone that they have never met or will meet. Once they clean out the account, the victims are directed to open new accounts, or the bank has closed or frozen those accounts and the scammers move on to the next victim.’
The ongoing effort by the fraud detective resulted in the scam account being frozen by court order. On September 8, 2020, and more than $62,000 was received by the cashier’s check and will be returned to the financial services company as they suffered the loss on behalf of the reporting party.
Please see the following link to the FBI for further details on this scam –
Citizens can contact the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office with information or questions at 928-771-3260
or the YCSO website: www.ycsoaz.gov