Scammers nearly took a Merced woman for big cash

FRESNO, Calif.

Jackie DeSantis was in her kitchen Monday afternoon, when the phone rang.

"I said who is this," the 78-year-old woman explains. "And he says, 'grandma, it's me.' And I said 'Austin? What's wrong?' He told me he was in jail and needed bail money."

Then the man handed the phone over to someone claiming to be an officer from the Merced Police Department came on the line. DeSantis says the man identified himself as Sgt. Price. He gave her a badge number and threatened to release her grandson's arrest information to the media, if she didn't pay bail money.

"He said, 'are you willing to bail your grandson out?' and I said, 'well yeah,'" DeSantis said.

The man instructed her to go to a Wal-Mart and put $4,000 dollars into four separate Money Pak cards, with specific instruction not to tell anyone where the money was going to be used for. DeSantis went to her bank, withdrew money, and went to Wal-Mart, where she was told she would be limited to $3,000 dollars of Money Pak cards.

"When I went over there, the girl questioned me," she said. "And finally I said, 'why are you asking me all these questions?' and she said, 'well, there are scams going around.' And my mind started thinking, 'oh my gosh, I wonder.'"

That's when DeSantis called the Merced Police Department, and found out that they didn't have a Sgt. Price on staff. But Jackie says what really ended the hoax was when she made contact with her grandson.

"And I said, 'are you in jail?' and he said 'no,' DeSantis, said. "And I said, 'I think I've been scammed.'

Lt. Andre Matthews with the Merced Police Department estimate they get more than 50 reports of phone scams a year. He's heard of different variations of the scams, though this is the first time he's heard of someone pretending to be law enforcement over the phone.

"That one's a little new," Matthews said. "They're using the name police officer to gain the victim's trust."

Matthews said police do not threaten to release arrest records and reminds everyone that type of information is public information.

Andrews says DeSantis did all the right things to realize it was a scam by calling the police department and her grandson. DeSantis is relieved she figured it out when she did, and says Money Pak will put the money back into her account.

"If anything sounds real funny or weird, just go with your gut," DeSantis advised.

The scammers called from a Canada number. DeSantis wrote it down as 1-438-993-9795.

Merced Police Officers says at the local level, it's tough catch the thieves much less prosecute them. They hand these types of fraud cases to federal law enforcement.

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