The Santa Monica Police Department has issued a warning to residents to be aware of email and phone scams.
Several residents have reported scam attempts recently and some have found the ploys so convincing that they have sent cash to the scammers.
Joanna Bloem, an elderly, thirty-year Santa Monica resident, recently fell victim to a telephone scam that resulted in the loss of over $1,500. About a month ago, Bloem answered a call to her home from a man who identified himself as Rick Brown, a “Junior Officer with the IRS.”
The man threatened her with “arrest within the hour” due to a violation of federal tax law. Armed with some of her personal information, including the numbers from Bloem’s previous tax filings, and fictitious arrest warrant information, Brown and an accomplice continued to threaten and harass Bloem until she agreed to send money via the service Moneygram to avoid jail time.
“When I cried, he threatened, ‘Jail now!’ for as much as 15 months, without bail,” recounted Bloem. “They terrorized me into submission.”
Bloem sent the money from a local liquor store while being continuously threatened on her cellphone. “I inadvertently hung up and Rick called me back, screaming at me,” said Bloem. “They paralyzed my will, they kept threatening me … it was hell.”
Bloem reported the experience to the Santa Monica Police Department as soon as she was let off the phone by the scammers, and is stuck in the painful process of waiting for detectives to try and recover her money.
According to Bloem, a detective currently assigned to her case is working with the Milpitas Police to acquire video footage of the suspect picking up the money, which will hopefully be used to identify the thief.
Bloem’s experience highlights the vulnerability of the elderly to scams.
“They used my age against me,” admits Bloem, “I am afraid they’ll try something else, since they know I am an elder and alone.”
Although information about this particular IRS scam is being distributed online and on the news, elderly residents do not benefit if they are disconnected from these resources.
“I don’t watch the news,” said Bloem, who hopes that sharing her story will help others avoid misfortune.
While Bloem’s case centered on a phone call, SMPD said email scams are also ongoing, particularly a tactic known as “phishing.”
Phishing is a method used to acquire personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Scammers employ a variety of techniques to make requests seem legitimate, such as falsifying images, documents, or links in an email, or using official-sounding jargon to intimidate and coerce. As they did to Bloem, they often warn of imminent, dire actions that will take place against their victim unless money is sent right away.
In a recent press release, the Santa Monica Police Department offered these preventative tips for handling suspicious telephone or email requests:
– Do not click on any links in a suspicious email message. Instead go to the institution’s website and login directly or call a telephone number you know is genuine.
– Do not reply to any messages that request your personal information and do not send financial and/or personal information in an email.
– Be cautious about opening attachments or downloading files, regardless of the sender. Attachments and downloadable files often contain viruses that can compromise your computer system’s security and personal information.
– Be aware that fraudulent email messages often contain spelling errors and use poor grammar.
– Be skeptical of any unsolicited calls.
Anyone with information regarding a telephone or email scam is urged to contact the Santa Monica Police Department by calling the non-emergency number at (310) 458-8491.