Island women duped by telephone scam

Imagine receiving a telephone call from a friend who says he just got mugged.

The friend says he is in another city and can’t get home because the thief stole his wallet and credit cards. His voice doesn’t sound quite right because he says his nose was broken in the assault. The caller is convincing because he knows about you and details about your relationship with him. Or the caller says he is a business colleague and has believable information. Then he asks for local phone numbers of friends he can contact. Even later, he calls back frantic because he was unable to contact anyone else and asks you for money.

At least two South Whidbey residents received calls from a “friend” needing money to get home. A third Northwest man also received a plea for help from a friend.

All three wired the individual hundreds of dollars. And now all three are victims of a telephone con originating in Ontario, Canada.

The most recent incident reported to the Island County Sheriff Office occurred last week.

A Greenbank woman was contacted supposedly by a friend in trouble.

“He was able to gain her confidence by using terminology of her preferred religious group,” said Deputy Rick Felici.

“The caller is very convincing,” said Felici, who is investigating the crime. “That’s why they call them confidence schemes.”

“He seems to have enough personal detail about his victim and the friend that he is able to convince them to send him money. He uses the friend’s name and details about their friendship or similar business,” Felici said.

What’s troubling to Felici is there is no way to know how the con artist is getting the personal information.

“We don’t know if he is hacking into e-mails or possibly getting information from chat rooms. And we don’t know how many people are involved,” Felici said.

The Greenbank woman trusted the caller and sent money twice.

After a period of time, when she hadn’t heard from her friend, she called him hoping he could pay her back.

“Of course her friend knew nothing about it,” he said.

In May 2005, a Langley woman was the first to report the scam.

The young woman, a local business owner, said she was contacted by a man from Ontario claiming to be an acquaintance of hers who needed money to get home.

“He was able to convince her so she also wired him money,” Felici said.

In both cases, Felici says the women are embarrassed for falling for the hoax.

The Langley woman later discovered an acquaintance in the same business in Forks had the same experience.

This man also wired money and was contacted a second time for more money.

By this time, however, he was suspicious and contacted Canadian authorities who conducted a sting when the man attempted to pick up the second payment. He was arrested, but the scam hasn’t stopped.

Authorities say he is free on bond in Canada.

“But we don’t know if he is back operating his scam or someone else is trying it,” Felici said.

Solving such crimes isn’t easy.

“Investigating and prosecuting Internet and telephone crime is tough because they usually cross boundary lines to other states and countries,” Felici said.

Felici’s advice is don’t send any money until you can absolutely verify who the recipient is.

Anyone who believes they have been contacted by scammers should contact the Island County Sheriff’s Office at 331-4400.

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