SAN DIEGO -- Local officials Monday announced the results of an investigation into a transnational scam that cost victims hundreds of millions of dollars,including a local woman who was cheated out of more than $64,000.
The scam involved at least 20 people in the United States and 32 people working in call centers in India, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said at a 10 a,m. news conference.
The callers from India targeted elderly people in the United States using a variety of ruses and got them to transfer money to them. Members of the criminal organization in the United States liquidated and laundered the extorted funds, Dumanis said.
The scammers in the Indian call centers impersonated officials with the Internal Revenue Service, immigration officials and officials of foreign governments. In some cases, they told the victims that they owed back taxes or tax penalties and faced arrest or deportation if they didn't pay immediately.
San Diego officials got involved in the investigation when a local man came forward and revealed that his mother, 86-year-old Beth Baker, had lost $64,000 in a ruse called "the Grandma scam." In that case, a caller told Baker that he was an official with the U.S. Embassy in Peru, and that her grandson had been arrested for a car accident in Peru. He told Baker that a gag order had been placed on the case and her grandson would get in even more trouble if she told anyone about the situation.
Over a period of several days, Baker purchased a series of Green Dot money cards, first to pay for bail, then to pay for a lawyer. She quickly exhausted her savings. The scam came to light when Baker went to her bank and tried to take out a personal load to continue paying the scammer. Her banker became suspicious and under questioning, Baker explained what had been going on. The banker contacted Baker's son, a former deputy district attorney, who then contacted the District Attorney's Office.
Jim Baker urged people to watch out so their parents don't get ripped off.
"I feel badly. I didn't protect my mom," he told reporters.
The DA's Elder Abuse Unit has been investigating Baker's case for almost two years. Investigators used bank records to follow her money and eventually they identified Dilip-kuma Patel, an Indian citizen living in Corona, Calif., who they say laundered much of the money stolen from Baker. Investigators found bank documents, computers and cell phones that show he launderd more than $4 million from the Indian-based criminal organization in just one year. Patel was one of the 20 people in the U.S. indicted by the Department of Justice last week, Dumanis said.
"I want to commend our District Attorney Investigators, especially Mr. Holman, for their excellent work and outstanding coordination with federal authorities," Dumanis said. “They followed the money and were determined to stop the criminals who were targeting elderly victims in San Diego.”