November 7, 2009
Scam costly for local woman
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Dorothy Bilodeau of McGraw was the victim of a recent scam by a Toronto man who is now charged by Canadian police for scamming other United States citizens out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
McGRAW — The phone call seemed innocent and convincing to Dorothy Bilodeau at the time. A man claiming he was her 20-year-old grandson Ethan said he was in jail for a drunken driving accident in Canada and needed her to wire bail money.
He pleaded with her not to tell his mother about it because he did not want to get into any more trouble than he already was in. After several phone calls, Bilodeau wired him money he needed for bail and other expenses related to the crash — a total of $8,670 according to state police reports.
What Bilodeau, 76, of McGraw, didn’t know was she was among an as-yet undetermined number of Americans allegedly scammed by a 41-year-old Toronto man now in the custody of Canadian police and facing 27 felony fraud charges.
Anthony Oluwole, of Morningview Trail, was arrested Oct. 28 by officers from the Durham Regional Police Service in Ontario, who linked him to defrauding people across the United States out of hundreds of thousands of dollars through wire transfers – most recently an elderly Pennsylvania woman.
Ontario police said Oluwole is believed to have accomplices who have yet to be identified. His alleged victims have been mostly elderly people whom he asked for money to pay for expenses like bail money, legal bills or fines, according to a report on the Durham Regional Police Web site. Oluwole was believed to be linked with an organized crime group in western Africa, to whom he sent the money, according to a police report.
Recalling on Thursday what had happened, Bilodeau said she is angered she was scammed, but says Oluwole was very convincing.
“They had answers for everything,” said Bilodeau, whose son is a state trooper stationed at the Homer barracks.
Oluwole, or possibly an accomplice, called her Oct. 28 and identified himself as her grandson Ethan, Bilodeau said. It did not sound quite like his voice, but he was coughing and said he was sick, she said.
“I did question him a couple of times,” she said.
“Ethan” claimed he and a friend were at a wedding and using a rented car that crashed into another car. They were arrested because they had been drinking at the wedding, she said. “Ethan” said the insurance would not cover the repairs because the car was rented and alcohol was involved.
“I really scolded him, I was so upset with him,” Bilodeau said.
She nevertheless felt compelled to help her grandson because he was in trouble and sounded like he was sick. “Ethan” then had his lawyer call Bilodeau, asking her to wire $5,200 from two locations and omit listing a street address in the transfer. The lawyer, whom Bilodeau now believes was an accomplice, claimed this was to fix the transaction so there would not be a paper trail or record of Ethan’s criminal charge, Bilodeau said, adding she gave them the code number needed to access the wired money. She was asked the next day to wire an additional $4,800 because the driver of the other car wanted payment for damages. She told them she could only afford to wire another $3,000. The lawyer called back, Bilodeau said, and “miraculously” he had talked the other driver down to $2,750.
After transferring the funds, Bilodeau decided to call her grandson’s mother about what happened and discovered Ethan had been home the whole time. State police were called and notified about what happened.
Bilodeau said she felt foolish, that she is well-aware of computer-related scams and knows to avoid them, but this one seemed different. In hindsight, there were red flags, she said, because it seemed out of character for her grandson to be in trouble.
“I feel really upset and angry at myself for not asking more questions,” Bilodeau said. “I don’t know what else I could have asked him –– but I should have done something different, that’s for sure.”
Bilodeau said it is unlikely she will recover the money she lost.
“I’m thrilled that they’ve got him and he can’t do it to anyone else,” she said, later praising state police investigators for helping with her case.
Bilodeau said she hopes others learn from her experience, adding she has doubts that police hear about every case involving a money scam.
“I have a feeling people don’t report it because they feel ashamed,” Bilodeau said.
Oluwole was caught after the employee of a check-cashing outlet in Oshawa recognized him as someone flagged by police for possible fraudulent money transactions.
Ontario police said Oluwole was discovered while trying to receive wired money from an 84-year-old Pennsylvania woman, to whom an accomplice had told the same story as Bilodeau: he was her grandson and he was in trouble. The woman wired more than $120,000 in 42 transactions over four weeks, police said.
Police found Oluwole had forged driver licenses, insurance cards and debit and credit cards.
Ontario police say they are investigating to determine if more charges will be filed. They are working with law enforcement agencies, including Pennsylvania State Police. Oluwole is being held in jail with no bail set as the investigation continues.
Money scams like this one are common and work well because they play on emotions, said Assistant New York State Attorney General Michael Danaher, who said he urges people to use their reasoning when confronted with such a situation.
Scams are a persistent problem, one which is made difficult to investigate and trace because the scam artist is most often operating from outside the country and sometimes is calling from stolen cell phones, Danaher said. It is difficult to recover money because scam artists usually spend it almost immediately, he said.
Seniors are less likely to report being victimized, often due to embarrassment, said Danaher. He urged people to report money scams and keep good documentation of messages left or items sent through the mail to help authorities investigate.
“You’re not the first victim and you’re not going to be the last, these people are very good at what they do,” Danaher said.
People can report money scams to the Attorney General’s hotline at 800-771-7755.
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