The 93-year-old North Seattle woman thought she was helping police track down a counterfeiting organization when she agreed to withdraw $20,000 in cash from her bank and turn it over to a man who claimed to be an undercover officer as part of a sting.
“I thought it was legitimate, but I should have known I was being scammed when he promised to deputize me,” said the woman, who spoke to The Seattle Times
on the condition of anonymity. “I’m embarrassed that I was so gullible.”
Seattle police say she is one of six women who have been phoned by a con artist posing as a law-enforcement officer who claims he is investigating a counterfeiting ring operating out of the victim’s bank.
Five of those women have turned over more than $75,000 to the con man and his partner, police said.
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“This guy is good,” said fraud-unit Detective Karen Haverkate. “He knows law-enforcement language, he’s convincing and he’s patient.”
According to police, the con man calls the women at home, identifies himself as an officer with a local enforcement agency and gives a “gruff TV cop name,” police said in a news release. He’s used names like “Capt. Jack Truska” and “Sgt. Drumbowski,” police said.
The victims told police they were taken by the con man’s professional demeanor. He spent at least an hour on the phone with each victim, and several reported that it sounded like he called from a “busy-sounding office.”
A few said they were placed on hold so he could “take another call,” according to police.
He questioned the victims — all between 78 and 93 years old — about their jewelry and money, and asked whether any cash or checks had recently been stolen from them, police said.
The fake cop then convinced his victims that their bank or an employee was involved in a counterfeiting operation.
In the case of the North Seattle woman, the con man claimed to be with the King County Sheriff’s Office and asked her on the phone to read the serial numbers off some $20 bills she had on hand. Once she did, he said, “Yep, they’re fakes.”
He then told her that time was of the essence because he had one person in custody and needed to close the case quickly, recalled the woman, who is the mother of a Times employee.
The con man then asked the victims to help in a “sting operation” by withdrawing tens of thousands of dollars from their bank accounts so he could check serial numbers.
He told them to lie to bank employees if they were questioned about the withdrawals, Haverkate said. The detective said the tellers were suspicious and tried to discourage the withdrawals, but could not refuse to give the women their own money.
The victims were told to drive to a location near their bank and meet with an “undercover” officer who would give them a code word in exchange for the cash, police said.
Investigators said the caller and the man who posed as the undercover officer were not the same person.
The North Seattle woman said the fake undercover officer met her, gave her the prearranged code word — “blue” — and once he had the $20,000 in cash, he was gone in seconds.
She said she went home and the man who had originally called and identified himself as a King County cop called her back and said, “mission accomplished.”
The whole matter took less than two hours, she said
She became apprehensive a short time later while she was driving to the hospital for physical therapy.
“I was wondering if I’d just been scammed,” she said.
Her therapist took her to see police, who confirmed her fears.
“It’s a terrible lesson for me,” she said.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at email@example.com or 206-464-8983.