LOS ALAMITOS, CA -- A Canadian man accused of a scheme to dupe local grandparents into believing their grandchildren or other relatives were in danger in foreign countries and needed money immediately was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, the FBI announced Friday.
Pascal Goyer, 29, was taken into custody late Thursday afternoon after his flight landed from Mexico, authorities said. Goyer is suspected of duping seniors in Orange County, including Mission Viejo, Newport Beach and Irvine. This ploy, popular among scammers, has also been repeatedly reported in Seal Beach, Los Alamitos and Laguna Woods.
This type of fraud targeting seniors is increasingly popular among scammers, said Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman.
Goyer, whose last known residence was Montreal, is one of a half-dozen people named in a Sept. 25 federal grand jury indictment charging them with wire fraud, attempted wire fraud and aiding and abetting. He was expected to make an initial court appearance later Friday in downtown Los Angeles.
The 23-count indictment alleges that Goyer and five other defendants contacted numerous grandparents and falsely claimed they needed money to be sent to resolve a relative's purported problem, such as a car accident, in which bail money or repair expenses were immediately needed. The defendants -- who had no actual association with the relatives -- allegedly instructed the grandparents to use wire transfers, according to the indictment.
In some cases, the alleged victims were contacted again to send additional money to fully resolve their relative's problem, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that wire transfers were sent from victims in cities such as Newport Beach, Mission Viejo and Irvine. The transfers involved amounts ranging from $1,000 to nearly $3,000, according to the indictment.
Investigators said the alleged victims were identified through mass-produced lead lists that targeted a specific demographic, authorities said.
The key is to educate the targeted community, said Eimiller. The No. 1 thing they should do before sending money to help a relative is to call the relative or other family members to verify their grandchild really is out of the country, she said. The ploy only works if they don’t verify, and the scammers try to convince the victims to keep it a secret by pretending to be embarrassed or scared, Eimiller said.
The charges stem from an ongoing joint investigation by multiple agencies in the United States and Canada that participate in Project Colt, a binational task force dedicated to combating cross-border and mass marketing fraud, officials said.
Agencies involved in the investigation included the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Local law enforcement has been grappling with the scam increasingly over the last few years.
“People take advantage of our elderly population," Seal Beach police Sgt. Steve Bowles said following a recent case in which a Leisure World woman was victimized. "They call and say, ‘Grandma, I am in jail,' or 'I am stuck on the side of the road. Can you wire me money?’ ”
“We call it the grandson scheme,” said Seal Beach Detective Joe Hardin. “They call and wait for the victim to volunteer information. It’s called fishing. Unless you initiate the phone call, don’t give out any information. Ask the grandchild to identify themselves before you say their name.”
One woman wired a large sum of money to a man she thought was her grandson, said Hardin. “She saw him three days later at a function and asked him if everything was OK. For a while, she thought, ‘I helped him, and now my grandson is being very rude.’ After a bit, they figured out what happened.”
The money is sent by wire to places such as Texas or Canada, but it can be collected from locations such as New York without having to provide much identification, making it very difficult to catch the scammers, said Hardin.
“We probably only get a small percentage of what goes on in Leisure World fraud-wise,” said Hardin. “People either don’t know they have been taken advantage of, or they are too embarrassed to come forward.”
- City News Service contributed to this report.