GREENVILLE CO., SC (WSPA) – An Upstate family endured one of the most alarming scams the Greenville Sheriff’s Office says it has ever seen. They should know. A deputy and several local businesses were unwittingly pulled into it.
This 7News special report, Relentless Scammer, is not just a warning about the lengths that scammers may go to, but also a wake-up call for families dealing with loved ones with dementia.
Brandi Ward showed us the phone that now holds the evidence of a scam that just wouldn’t let up. The scammer had been calling and texting her grandfather, Bob Johnson, for months, convincing the 82-year-old he had won the lottery, and needed to pay one fee after another to receive his $2 million dollar prize and brand new Mercedes.
‘We know he definitely sent $1200 to them, but $50,000 is missing and we’re still trying to figure out where that’s been, he does not remember so we’re trying to find that,” she said.
Johnson doesn’t remember because he has dementia.
“But his mind is still good enough to know that he wants to leave his family something one day.” And so the scammers will use that to manipulate the situation,” she said.
By the time the family intervened, the scammer was calling many times a day. They changed Johnson’s phone number and thought that was it. But soon they got their first taste of how far this scammer was willing to go.
“They called Verizon pretending to be my grandfather, and saying that they needed the number changed back. But thank goodness my mother intercepted that,” said Ward.
Wedgy’s Pizza was next in the scammer’s arsenal. He ordered a pie to be sent to Johnson’s house, with instructions to call on arrival.
“People trying to use us, it’s terrible. Terrible terrible,” said Scott Spence the manager at Wedgy’s.
The scammer had hoped to use the delivery guy’s cell to talk to Johnson, but Ward and her husband, who lived next door saw the pizza driver approach and told the scammer by phone to cut it out.
“So we thought, well maybe this is the end,” said Ward.
The next day the scammers called Corley Plumbing Air Electric to send a plumber to Johnson’s house. The company confirms they were given the same instructions: “Call when you get there.”
The Better Business Bureau of the Upstate sees a lot of scams, but never one so brash as to involved now three innocent businesses.
“I mean we were blown away by it, I mean, it’s something you don’t see every day. You just wonder what’s going to happen next,” said President Vee Daniel.
That’s when the scammer called the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was just calling to get a checkup on my Grandad,” said the scammer on a recorded line, as he requested a wellness check.
“The call in general is very disturbing but the fact that they were trying to utilize us to help aid them in their criminal activity was very alarming,” said Ryan Flood with the Sheriff’s Office.
With no way to know, at first, a deputy was dispatched to check on Mr. Johnson. He called the scammer on the way.
“I did want to speak with him because I just don’t heard from him a couple of days now,” the scammer told the Deputy.
Once again, Ward saw the deputy pull up, and went to do her own investigation.
“He talked to us first and figured out what all was going on, and he was so sweet to us and he said OK, we’re going to call him back and just put him on the spot,” she said.
And here is the audio recording when the deputy called the scammer back.
‘Listen dude, I’m here with the whole family. You dont’ have a clue what you’re talking about. You’re lying through your teeth. You’re trying to scam him for money. We got a report filed, we got all your phone numbers. OK,” said the deputy.
“Well you can’t do nothing because I already asked the FBI to come at your house, if you keep talking I will just capture your wife and I won’t call. OK I know where you live,” said the scammer.
The scammer went on to threaten the deputy:
“I know where you work. Capture you,” said the scammer.
“You’re going to come to my work and capture me?” said the deputy?
“That’s right,” said the scammer.
“OK, good luck,” said the deputy.
“I mean the fact that he would call the police department and get them involved, was shocking,” said Ward.
Investigators believe the caller may be overseas, and manipulated phone numbers through spoofing, which makes him virtually untraceable. Ward says the scammer seems to have finally moved on. Meanwhile her Grandad has moved to a secure retirement home.
“We’ve just had to really take the reigns unfortunately from him, so that he can enjoy the rest of his life, because otherwise they would take everything from him and leave him with nothing,” said Ward.