Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
A California man who participated in a large criminal enterprise centered on conning elderly victims out of tens of thousands of dollars will spend the next 46 months in prison.
Jack Owuor, 25, of Paramount, California, was sentenced Wednesday. He previously pled guilty to a single charge under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. He faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Despite the relatively lax sentence of less than four years, compared to the possible maximum of 20, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California praised the decision.
“Today’s sentence, including prison time, demonstrates the gravity of the defendant’s egregious behavior to steal from the elders of our community,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California said in a statement. “It is despicable that these fraudsters preyed on a grandparent’s care and concern for their loved ones to line their own pockets. This important effort to bring these unscrupulous wrongdoers to justice helps protect victims and send the message that crime doesn’t pay.”
Owuor was one of at least 20 people who took part in the scheme. Eight of the 20, Owuor included, were the effective brain trust of the scam, identified by prosecutors as “the enterprise,” with an additional dozen individuals serving as “mules,” or runners. Most members of the group lived in either California or Florida, but victims were located across the nation.
The case, while galling on its own, serves as an example of a larger societal problem: the growing prevalence of so-called “grandparent scams.”
Under such a scam, a caller will contact an elderly victim, pretend to be a grandchild or child in distress, and attempt to induce the victim to withdraw thousands of dollars from his or her bank account.
According to the indictment, the FBI had previously accused the enterprise of having convinced an 82-year-old woman in Texas to send some $50,000 over multiple payments. She was one of many individuals victimized by the scam.
“Owuor and the criminal enterprise he was a part of preyed upon our elderly population, defrauding some of our most vulnerable and often most trusting citizens,” Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office said.
Today’s sentencing demonstrates the effectiveness of San Diego’s Elder Justice Task Force and the criminals we can stop when working in tandem with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners who make up this collaborative team. This coordinated response is paramount to addressing elder fraud and the task force will continue to aggressively investigate those who operate these criminal enterprises and seek justice for the elderly victims they intend to exploit.
The AARP has a useful webpage with more details about how “grandparent scams” work and how to respond, including what to do If you believe you’ve been victimized.
Among the more pertinent steps to take are hanging up and immediately calling your actual grandchild on a number you know belongs to them. By doing this, grandparents can confirm that an emergency actually exists or, more often, be comforted that the emergency was a hoax.
There are numerous warning signs for “grandparent scams,” but the telltale calling card of the modern-day fraudster is asking for cash, wire transfers, or gift cards. These methods of money exchange are particularly difficult — although as Owuor discovered, not impossible — for authorities to trace.