The frantic calls would come into residents at any time of the day.
The mostly-Spanish speaking victims would hurriedly be told that a family member had been in a car accident with a violent criminal; that the violent criminal was upset and had a gun to the relative’s head and would kill them if they didn’t wire money to an account immediately.
One would immediately think it was a scam.
However, the callers knew the names of relatives; they had personal information that made the situation all too believable.
And in the end, many people throughout Greater Boston – including one Revere woman – lost thousands of dollars and gained numerous grey hairs as a result of a nationwide “Kidnap Scam” based in Puerto Rico.
The legions of “soliders” in the scam, however, is a little bit lighter in Massachusetts as Revere Police doggedly pursued the Revere woman’s scammers and, last week, arrested them in Springfield.
“It was really good police work by the Criminal Investigation Unit,” said Lt. Amy O’Hara. “They did great work in following-up on their leads and being relentless in pursuing the alleged scammers. It’s a really big scheme and it’s nationwide. There are a lot of people involved. These suspects were just two in a larger organization, but they were one part of the problem, we believe.”
Jose Carrasquillo, 32, and Jennifer Rodriguez, 30, both of Springfield, were arrested on warrants charging extortion by threat of bodily injury. They were arraigned the next day in Chelsea District Court, where Suffolk prosecutors recommended that they be held on $10,000 cash bail each. Judge D. Dunbar Livingston imposed $5,000 each. Both are expected back in court next month.
After the arrest, District Attorney Dan Conley warned residents of Revere and all of Greater Boston about the scam.
“The investigation suggests possible links to similar scams in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett, and Lynn,” Conley said. “Whether these defendants were acting alone or as part of a larger enterprise, they followed a pattern we’ve seen several times over the past few years. The caller says a family member is hurt, in jail, or being held captive. The caller sometimes has general information such as name, age, and residence that can appear convincing to a panicked relative, but could easily have come from social media websites such as Facebook. Victims have wired tens of thousands of dollars overseas to satisfy these ransoms, only to find that their loved ones have been safe at home the whole time.”
Evidence developed during the ongoing investigation suggests that a Revere mother received a phone call from a stranger last month. The male caller stated that the victim’s daughter, who was away at college, had been in a car accident with the caller’s cousin, who was a violent fugitive. The fugitive had a gun to the daughter’s head, the caller said, and would kill her if the Revere mother didn’t do as she was told.
After instructing her not to hang up or contact police, the victim was ordered to send $1,000 through Western Union to Jennifer Rodriguez in Springfield. Because of a $500 limit on her bankcard, the victim was forced to drive across town and cash a check while remaining on the phone in order to complete a second $500 wire transfer.
Revere Police detectives were able to identify the two separate locations at which the wire transfers were picked up. They reviewed the surveillance footage from those locations and obtained the identification information that the locations required of people receiving wire transfers. The footage showed Rodriguez, escorted by Carrasquillo, picking up the cash.
Revere Police then obtained warrants for their arrests.
Persons who may have received such a call in the past are asked to call their local police to file a report. Anyone who receives such a call in the future should call 9-1-1 immediately.
“If a loved one is in danger, police can help,” Conley said. “In almost every case like this that we’ve seen, the danger is imaginary – but the financial losses are very real and can’t be recovered.”