Los Al Police, assisted by Cypress, arrest suspected “mule” in senior scam

When a Los Alamitos senior citizen walked into a Cypress bank asking to withdraw a large amount of cash last week, an alert bank teller suspected something was amiss.

What followed is an example of cooperative police work that resulted in an arrest in College Park West of a suspected “mule,” attempting to pick up the brown paper bag filled with what he thought would be $20,000 in cash sitting on the porch belonging to the unsuspecting senior citizen.

Instead, it was filled with newspapers but by then, it was too late, as an ad-hoc task force of Cypress and Los Alamitos detectives and other officers descended on the suspect and arrested him.

Los Al Police Chief Michael Claborn recounted the sequence of events for the City Council at their recent meeting which he suggested reflects the effectiveness of his department.
Since becoming chief, Claborn has beefed up the city’s once depleted department, hiring a full contingent of officers.

According to Los Al Detective Sgt. John Kroc, the city’s police department has a good working relationship with the nearby department in Cypress, noting that they received a call from Cypress PD altering him to the situation.

“A Detective Sergeant called me and said, hey, you know, we’ve got, we’re out at one of our banks in our city with one of your residents from Los Alamitos, who’s trying to withdraw $20,000,” said Kroc.

“We think it is part of an internet and phone-based scam,” the Cypress police official told him, “so we took over the investigation from them,” said Kroc.

“One of our detectives, Steven Smith was the head of this investigation,” said.Kroc.
“He did a great job coordinating everything and everyone,” the detective sergeant said.
Cypress police told Kroc that earlier this month, a Cypress senior citizen had been bilked out of $30,000 in cash using the same scam. Therefore, he praised the bank official and Cypress Police Department for preventing it from happening again.

Police say the unidentified woman answered an e-mail claiming to be from PayPal saying she was going to get a refund. The woman called the number and got a man on the phone who said Kroc, eventually took control of her computer and convinced her to move $30,000 from one bank account to another, then instructed her to withdraw the money and leave the cash on her porch.

Once police identified the potential scam victim, Kroc said Det. Smith got permission to enter her home.

“He went and got permission from the residents to go into their home with them, in plainclothes, to kind of direct and guide the phone conversations and communications with the fraudster,” said Kroc.

When the suspect directed her to put all the money in a brown bag and put it on the porch, Smith suggested they load the brown paper bag with newspaper to appear as money so they kind of put some newspaper in the bag.

Smith put together a team of detectives and other officers in plain clothes and took their positions near the potential victim’ss home in College Park North.

Screetshot courtesy of KCal 2
A Los Al resident senior, left, speaks with Los Alamitos Police detective Steven Smith after Los Al PD collaborated with the Cypress PD to arrange a plainclothers setup that resulted in the arrest of a suspected cash mule.

Kroc said police learned the fraudster’s name was “Jack,” what he would be wearing, and learned the timeline of when the mule would be there to pick up the cash.

“Evan Flynn and another one of our detectives were running the surveillance aspect of this and he had a view of the front porch,” said Kroc. “He (Flynn) watched the guy, the money mule get out of the car and noticed that he’s wearing gloves and a mask,” said Kroc.

“He goes up and checks the bag, and then quickly tries to get back to his car and that’s when detectives took them down without having to use any force or without really any incident,” the detective sergeant said.

Kroc said the man “claimed to be an Uber driver but he was wearing Armani shoes and a Gucci belt.” He said the man also came up with a flimsy story about simply picking up a bag for a friend he just met.

“His statement was pretty fishy,” he said.

After gaining consent to search his car, they found evidence that he had been sending what they suspected was “hundreds of thousands” of dollars overseas to different locations.
Moreover, the man’s description closely matched the suspect in the earlier Cypress case where a senor had been ripped off for $30,000.

Kroc said overseas call centers are packed with scammers who apparently, convince seniors they were accidentally refunded $30,000 instead of $300 and ask them to return the money.

Fraudulent documents provided to seniors using Photoshop and other software that allows scammers to control the mark’s computers can be tricky,” he added.

City manager Chet Simmons said at the Council meeting, “given the prevalence of these types of crimes,” that the city will be developing an educational campaign to protect seniors against these types of crimes in the city.

“It’s work well done and kudos to your officers,” the city manager said to the Chief.
Ironically, the successful sting occurred in the same neighborhood that hosted their own police appreciation pot-luck event a year ago. Council member Trisha Murphy said “thank you very much,” adding that her neighbors were “excited and enthusiastic that you guys have worked so hard on this. I was just very proud.”

The suspect was not identified, said Kroc, because the investigation continues.
Chief Claborn said the matter has also been turned over to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

According to a recent FBI Report, scams cost senior citizens across America as much as $3.7 billion every year.