The Campaign For DA

10.28.2014

I've Said Before "I Couldn't Possibly Be Scammed" aka "I Had A Crazy Morning And Almost Got Scammed"


Ever heard of MoneyPak? Me neither until this morning. Those four cards (attached to the back) are on my desk at a value of $500 each. So how did they get there? Holy cow.

My dad urgently called me this morning and tells me that he had received some bad news from my nephew. One of his best friends had been killed in California and he had flown out there over the weekend.   He was picked up by a friend of that deceased friend who he didn't know at the airport , a traffic stop by California's finest had subsequently occurred, and a small amount of marijuana had been found in the guy's car. Unfortunately, both were arrested.  My nephew had called my dad, crying and distraught, and told him he didn't want to call his parents or tell his wife because the situation was so embarrassing and he didn't want them to worry.  He dropped some personal info as well. He said he had been appointed a lawyer (Eric Matthews 442-237-1781)* who was working at the Escondido Police Department building that day.  So what gives?

Bond was at $2,000. A cash bond only. And the lawyer had made reference to a cash card which you could load and then scratch off to get a code from the back. Give him the codes and the nephew would be out of jail today.   Dad felt the deal was legit but wanted me to talk to the lawyer. I obliged. (Dad thought about calling my nephew to let him on his cell to let him know we were working on it but I assure him that since he's in jail, he wouldn't have access to that phone.)

I called the number the lawyer gave dad and a nice gentleman answered the phone "Escondido Police Department." Odd, but the guy was a public defender and some of those guys work in government buildings. I asked for Eric Matthews and was transferred. I spoke with the guy and, man, he was convincing. I hit him with some criminal law questions and the answers were legitimate. He said a surety bond wasn't possible and that a credit card wouldn't work because "all of the phone lines are recorded." OK, that's a little weird, but the guy DIDN'T want a credit card number.  We also said we could also wire the money but that could take a couple of days. He explained how MoneyPak works and that would be the way to get him out of jail today. Once the case was disposed over, I'd get the money back -- which is exactly the way a cash bond works. He ended the call saying that he didn't expect the charges to stick since my nephew was in a car with a stranger and the marijuana was found stashed in an area of the car that wasn't open and obvious. He's right. That would be a crappy criminal case. I like the way this guy thinks.

I called dad back. Everything seemed legit we agreed. A little weird, but legit. Who knows how California works. "That's why I called you to get your opinion on this thing," he said. We've got a family member in jail in California and we need to get the kid out. He's got to be panicked. We're a little panicked ourselves.

I had to run to docket in Decatur so I got the money to my assistant, Darla, to go down to CVS to buy the cards. (The lawyer had been kind enough to inform me that the cards are available at CVS.)  When she later handed them to me, she told me the clerk told her that once the card was used, the money is gone. There wasn't any type protection.  In fact, some customer had come back last week trying to get his money back.  I looked at the back of the card which read: "Use your MoneyPak Number only for the accounts and only with partners listed at www. moneypak.com. If anyone else asks for your MoneyPak Number, it's a scam and we are not responsible for paying you back." Ummkayy.

Ok, now I'm suspicious again.  I google the Escondido Police Department and don't see the number that I used to call the lawyer.  I checked out the California Bar Association and searched for Eric Matthews and got nothing. Hmm. I dialed the number that I used to talk to him the last time and I hear "Escondido Police Department."  I ask the guy who Eric Matthews was and he tells me he's a public defender who will be at an office at the police department that day.  He transfers me to Matthews and I asked him straight up, "Hey, I don't want to offend you but can you verify for me in some way who you are?"  He is evasive at this point. I tell him his name doesn't show up at the Bar Association website. "Do they list public defenders?" he asked. He then says he's with Clarks Law Firm out of San Diego (he certainly could be a part time public defender). I'm trying to google and talk at the same time. I'm close to giving him the numbers. But, I pause, and tell him to give me thirty minutes. Oh, he actually said, "You're going to just have to trust me a little bit in this deal."

I called dad back to ask him how he got in contact with Matthews in the first place.  He tells me that my nephew called him (dad), knew personal information, and then he was transferred to the court appointed lawyer.  Sheesh. He talked to my nephew? However, it sounded like a quick and panicky call so I'm still worried.

At this point, I put my best person on the job: My assistant.  She called the Escondido Police Department with their listed number from their website to verify my nephew was in jail and to verify Eric Matthews identity. She was barely able to speak two sentences before the nice lady asked her, "Is this about someone being in jail after a marijuana arrest and a lawyer wants you to send him money for bond? It's a scam. We've been dealing with this for weeks."

Holy cow.

She said the calls appear to be via VOIP and are probably coming from Canada. She also said they seem to be targeting the midwest over the last couple of weeks.

Holy cow again.

I thanked her and hung up. Wait a second. I was watching the Cowboy game last night and didn't I see my nephew throw out a couple of tweets about Colt McCoy?  I double checked. Yep, he did. So now I come up with an obvious problem solver: Call my nephew.  "Where are you?" I ask. "Waco," he says. "You're not in a jail in California?" I ask. He replied with, "This is the craziest conversation I've ever had."

I should have know Google would have been my friend . . .


Upon reflection, yeah, it seems like an obvious scam.  But someone was able to trick dad into thinking he was talking to my nephew.  And then once dad calls me to tell me he's talked to my nephew who is in jail, I'm biting hard.
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*I didn't post a comment because of, uh, colorful language, but it was suggested that everyone call that number just to screw with them. Be my guest.

Edit: I found that earlier this year a similar scam involved a "Sergeant Eric Matthews"