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Arrests Made in International ‘Granny Scam’ Targeting SoCal Seniors

The scam has been reported in Poway at least six times in the past six months.

A Canadian man accused of a scheme to dupe grandparents into believing their grandchildren or other relatives were in danger in foreign countries and needed money immediately was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, the FBI announced Friday.

Pascal Goyer, 29, was taken into custody late Thursday afternoon after his flight landed from Mexico, authorities said. Goyer is suspected of duping seniors in Orange County, including Mission Viejo, Newport Beach and Irvine. This ploy, popular among scammers, has also been reported at least six times in Poway over the past six months.

This type of fraud targeting seniors is increasingly popular among scammers, said Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman.

Goyer, whose last known residence was Montreal, is one of a half-dozen people named in a Sept. 25 federal grand jury indictment charging them with wire fraud, attempted wire fraud and aiding and abetting.

The 23-count indictment alleges that Goyer and five other defendants contacted numerous grandparents and falsely claimed they needed money to be sent to resolve a relative’s purported problem, such as a car accident, in which bail money or repair expenses were immediately needed. The defendants—who had no actual association with the relatives—allegedly instructed the grandparents to use wire transfers, according to the indictment.

In some cases, the alleged victims were contacted again to send additional money to fully resolve their relative's problem, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that wire transfers were sent from victims in cities such as Newport Beach, Mission Viejo and Irvine. The transfers involved amounts ranging from $1,000 to nearly $3,000, according to the indictment.

The defendents have not been officialy linked to the recent cases in Poway, but the methods used to coax money from unsuspecting seniors are the same. A recent victim that lives in a senior mobile home park in Poway lost $12,000.

Investigators said the alleged victims were identified through mass-produced lead lists that targeted a specific demographic, authorities said.

The key is to educate the targeted community, said Eimiller. The No. 1 thing they should do before sending money to help a relative is to call the relative or other family members to verify their grandchild really is out of the country, she said. The ploy only works if they don’t verify, and the scammers try to convince the victims to keep it a secret by pretending to be embarrassed or scared, Eimiller said.

The charges stem from an ongoing joint investigation by multiple agencies in the United States and Canada that participate in Project Colt, a binational task force dedicated to combating cross-border and mass marketing fraud, officials said.

Agencies involved in the investigation included the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Law enforcement agencies across the region have been grappling with the scam increasingly over the last few years. The Poway Sheriff’s Station has reached out to local senior groups, warning them about the scheme. 

“They know what’s going to pull their heartstrings, a grandchild being in trouble,” said Darlene Duncan, the crime prevention specialist in Poway.

- City News Service contributed to this report.

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