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Phone scam aims at stealing money from senior citizens

Jul 22, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office asks residents to be mindful of a scam that has hit the area recently and involves phone calls about money needed for a family member in trouble.

"Multiple calls were logged with Fremont County law enforcement agencies over the past few days regarding telephone scams aimed at taking money from older citizens under the pretense that a grandson or other relative is in need of bond money to get out of jail," Sheriff's Capt. Ryan Lee said in a news release. "The criminals ask that money be wired to certain locations so they can post the funds as 'bail money' to get out of jail."

Lee said no money was wired in the reports logged with his agency.

Donn Kesselheim, of Lander, was one of several Fremont County citizens targeted by a scammer.

Kesselheim said he received a call Wednesday from a female who he believed to be his granddaughter.

"I would have bet a thousand dollars that it was her," he said. "I think somehow someone has latched on to her Facebook or some other social media and has software that mimics her voice. I was totally persuaded."

Kesselheim recounted that the girl told him she was in British Columbia attending her friend's father's funeral. She was supposed to get a ride to the airport by her friend's mother, but the mother wasn't able to, Kesselheim said.

He said the woman told him she went with a man to the airport, and on the way police stopped them because of a broken brake light. The woman said the man was driving without a license and during a search of the vehicle, police found two ounces of cocaine. The man and the "granddaughter" were taken to the police station. The "granddaughter" supposedly called Kesselheim from a police station and said she needed $3,800 for bail or would be detained until Sept. 9.

Kesselheim and his wife rushed to the bank and pulled out $4,100, which included fees to wire the money.

He said the caller told him to send the money to a man in a city in the Dominican Republic. Kesselheim attempted to send the money from two businesses in Lander but was unsuccessful because there were limitations on how much could be sent in one transaction.

"Something clicked," he said.

Kesselheim called his lawyer and learned it was a scam. He also found out the phone number that called him was based in Tibet.

He called his granddaughter in Bozeman, Mont., who told her worried grandfather that she was "perfectly fine."

"The most striking thing about this is the success in imitating her voice," Kesselheim said.

According to the sheriff's dispatch log, a Riverton woman called police Wednesday about a call she received from a "Franklin Tyler" in British Columbia stating her granddaughter was in jail and needed $1,900 for bail. The woman told police her granddaughter was in Casper and has never been to Canada. Although the woman did not give the caller information, she told officers she was "disturbed" by the phone call.

At about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff's office received a call from a woman in Riverton reporting she was called in reference to a grandchild in Italy who needed money.

Lander police chief Jim Carey said his agency received a call Wednesday from a woman who sent $2,000 to bail out her granddaughter from a Canadian jail. Carey said the woman's daughter was able to reverse the transaction before it fully went through.

"It was a very close call," he said.

Other suspected frauds reported to police Wednesday included one from a man in Riverton who said his parents were getting repeated phone calls about winning something.

"As a general rule, do not conduct business over the telephone with regards to wiring money or giving out personal information," Lee said. "The Sheriff's Office urges those who have elderly relatives or others they may know that are at risk of being targeted by these criminals to educate those citizens about these crooks and their fraudulent ways."

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