A “grandchild” needs bail money. The “police department” requires personal information to rule out identity theft. Now add “EMT helps gang members demand cash” to the ever-growing list of scams locals have grappled with.
A Los Altos woman last week found herself the intended victim of scammers who sought $6,500 to cover expenses related to a vehicle accident they claimed her septuagenarian mother caused.
“I knew it was all off and wrong, but there was a shadow of a doubt,” said the woman in an interview last week.
The Town Crier is withholding her name to protect her privacy and to prevent retaliation.
The woman managed to outsmart the scammers before parting with any money, and she reported the incident to the Los Altos Police Department. She said she was surprised to hear a 911 dispatcher say the department has fielded many similar complaints in recent months.
Reached by email Friday, Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea said he is unfamiliar with the so-called EMT scam, but he noted that there have been numerous variations of similar scams over the years – including one in which the perpetrators represent themselves as Los Altos Police Department employees.
Anatomy of a scam
In this case, the call came to the intended victim’s cellphone at approximately 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Her caller ID indicated that it originated in Los Altos, and the man on the other end of the line claimed to be an emergency medical technician.
“He said, ‘I’m at the scene of an accident, and I need some information from you,’” she said.
The “EMT” was vague about the identity of the person who had given him the woman’s number. She said she realizes now that he teased information from her to glean who among her loved ones might be involved in a car versus motorcycle accident, and he eventually settled on her mother, whose name she provided.
Yes, it was the woman’s mother, and she was too upset to speak, the man told her. Her mother had struck a young gang member’s motorcycle with her car.
“He redirected me again and again,” the woman said. “And here’s where it got weird: He dropped his voice to a whisper and said, ‘Listen to me. We are waiting for the police to arrive.”
Then the “EMT’ handed the phone to another man, presumably the motorcyclist’s father.
The motorcyclist’s “father” desperately wanted to avoid police, and she could settle her mother’s involvement in the accident by withdrawing $6,500 and giving it to him to cover medical and other expenses. He alternated between trying to reason with his intended victim and shouting expletives at her. He wouldn’t let her speak to her mother. And he demanded she stay on the phone and speak to no one as she drove to her bank.
The woman said she did stay on the phone en route to the bank, but the second man rambled so much that she had the opportunity to text her husband during the call and ask him to check on her (real) mother.
“He said, ‘Your mom’s at the DMV, and she’s fine. What’s going on?’” the woman said.
Relieved, she hung up on the scammers.
The woman said she knows it’s unlikely police officers will ever be able to identify the perpetrators, but she has gained some satisfaction from the ordeal.
“To be honest, I’m embarrassed it went on that long, but today I’m telling myself I’m happy I burned up 40 minutes of their time, and they got nothing,” she said. “That’s my solace.”