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Douglas County Sheriff's Office concerned over recent fraud trend

The scam starts with a computer "error message" popping up on an iPad or computer.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — The Douglas County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) issued a warning Tuesday about a fraud trend after three incidents.

DCSO said in mid-August that it had received three separate reports, between July 12 and July 31, of suspects meeting a victim in person to receive money and other valuables after a scam that starts with an error message on a computer screen or tablet.

"It tells them to contact a phone number for support," said Douglas County Sheriff Darren Weekly. "When they're contact that phone number, it's actually the suspects."

The sheriff's office said on Sept. 11 that Denver police have evidence that one of the men involved also targeted an at-risk adult in late August. 

One victim lost $125,000 in gold, another $23,000 in cash, and a third lost $36,000 in cash. All three victims in the July incidents were 70 years or older. An attempt to steal gold from another victim in early July failed.

Here's how the fraud scheme works, according to DCSO:

  1. Each victim was targeted with a scam that begins with a computer “error message" popping up on an iPad or computer.
  2. The victim calls the number on the “error message” and connects with a person who has a story to tell – that there's porn on the victim's computer, or the victim's bank is failing, or the victim needs to buy gold to protect their wealth. 
  3. The victim grants the person remote access to the victim’s computer.
  4. The victim is told to keep the conversations a secret and is instructed to either purchase gold or go withdraw large amounts of cash.
  5. The scammer arranges to meet with the victim to receive cash or gold in exchange for a check – that is never provided.
  6. At the face-to-face meetings, the scammer wears a medical face mask and sunglasses and has minimal contact with the victim.

"To you and me, this seems like a no brainer, we would never fall for this," Weekly said. "But our seniors are being specifically targeted, and they are falling for it."

According to the sheriff's office, in one case, an 83-year-old woman received an alert on her iPad advising her to contact support after her iPad locked up. She called the provided number and began communicating with several men.

The people on the phone claimed to be with a bank and started contacting the victim daily. They told her not to contact anyone else or to include her family or law enforcement.

The scammer told her that her bank account had been comprised and to go to Walmart and purchase a cellphone. Once she purchased the cellphone, they began communicating with her on it.

The man told her to go to the bank and withdraw as much cash as possible because the bank couldn't be trusted and was going to be closing. The victim withdrew $22,000 from two banks, according to DCSO.

A male suspect arrived at the victim's residence to pick up the cash. He gave her a code word they had agreed on, and she gave him the cash and the recently purchased cellphone.

Credit: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said the suspect in that case was an Indian male in his 30s or 40s with an average to heavy build and short black hair. The suspect drove a silver minivan with no wheel covers on the passenger side of the vehicle.

Weekly said the descriptions of scammers in each of the cases is different and that investigators are not sure whether they are part of the same group.

"What makes this even more heart-wrenching is the fact that these fraudsters are preying on our vulnerable members, often parents and grandparents, and deceiving them into withdrawing their hard-earned life savings," Weekly said. "The scammers are using elaborate schemes to gain the trust of their victims, taking advantage of their emotions and vulnerabilities.

"I urge each and every one of you to remain vigilant for yourself and your older loved ones," Weekly said. "Always take a moment to verify the identity and credentials of anyone seeking financial transactions or sensitive information. If you encounter any suspicious activity or if you or someone you know has fallen victim to a scam, please reach out to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office immediately."

Anyone with information should contact DCSO Detective Herring at mherring@dcsheriff.net.

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