LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The Los Angeles County District Attorney is one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in the country.
But even Jackie Lacey couldn’t prevent her mother from being targeted by con artists, who nearly pilfered $2,000 while pretending the matriarch’s grandson was in trouble.
While the prosecutor knows all too well how bold criminals can be, she tells KCAL9’s Cristy Fajardo even she was stunned scammers would be bold enough to go after her 75-year-old mother.
“This a cold-hearted person,” she said.
Lacey has since launched a public outreach and education effort with the Rotary Club of Los Angeles to train volunteer speakers who will visit community centers, nursing homes and other locations to educate seniors about so-called “grandparent scams.”
“My mother is not the only victim. You can’t tell this story in a group of people these days without somebody saying, ‘Hey, that happened to my mother,’ or, ‘That happened to someone that I know,'” she said.
Her effort began after a 2012 phone call. A man, identifying himself as a police officer, contacted her mother, Addie Phillips, telling her that her grandson was in jail and she needed to wire $2000 to get him out.
“I heard him crying, ‘Please send me money nana! Get me out of this country,'” Phillips said.
She counted down the seconds until the banks opened and wired the money.
In the meantime, Lacey and her sister learned what had happened and spoke to their nephew, who was safe at home in Florida.
The con artists had yet to pick up the money, and they were able to stop the wire transfer.
But they didn’t let up, calling Phillips again and even speaking to Lacey herself, who was then the Chief Deputy D.A.
“He didn’t give up the story – even when I got on the phone. I told him I was going to call the police and he kept saying, ‘Well, alright, if you don’t wire the money we’re not going to let your nephew go,'” she said.
Lacey believes Facebook was the reason the con artists were so convincing.
Her nephew had posted about his travels in the UK, and he was so close to his grandmother his pet name for her, “nana,” was all over his page.
“Scam artists are probably some of our most resourceful people in our community. They do know how to look for information. And there’s so much about us on the internet. We really don’t have as much privacy as we think,” Lacey said.
Although the scam artist didn’t get away with the money, they did get away with the crime. The person who made the call to Lacey’s mother remains at large.
“It’s hard to apprehend them. Often it’s an anonymous phone call that comes in,” she explained.
The prosecutor said unsuspecting seniors are often victims of crooks, some of whom have even swindled their own family members.
The D.A. recently prosecuted a police officer who had bilked his own father out of his life savings.
And Lacey’s office estimates one in five seniors have been the victim of a financial scam.
“Seniors have about 70 percent of the nation’s wealth. They are some of the most trusting people,” Lacey said.
That’s why she is determined to use her office to go after criminals who prey on the elderly, launching a campaign to educate the public, but more importantly to send a message to con artists and to victims, who she urges to follow in her mother’s footsteps and contact police.
“The idea that someone would try to misuse her in that fashion means we that we have someone that just has a cold-heart,” Lacey said.
For more information about how to avoid telemarketing scams, visit the D.A.’s website.