See the video on the WZZM website here.
WZZM 13 On Your Side, March 16, 2023
MUSKEGON, Mich. — A Muskegon County task force said they were able to catch two West Palm Beach suspects accused of defrauding three elderly residents over the phone.
The Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office said their investigation started on Wednesday when an elderly Blue Lake Township woman called to report fraud, but noted the investigation could well extend beyond its jurisdiction.
“I truly believe this isn’t just Michigan, this is bigger,” Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin related. “This is probably a bigger network that’s happening.”
She told detectives that on Monday a man called her and impersonated her grandson. The fraudster said he was in jail because of a car crash and would need $9,000 to bond out.
Detectives said the woman is hard of hearing and believed the caller really was her grandson.
Later in the day, a different person called her claiming to be her grandson’s attorney. He said he could get her son out of jail with the bond money, so she got the cash out of the bank and met up with the suspect to give him the money.
The next day, one of the suspects called the woman claiming to be the judge presiding over her grandson’s case. The suspect told her that the other person involved in her grandson’s crash had died and that the insurance company was requesting $25,000 to settle the matter out of court.
The Muskegon County woman told the scammer she didn’t have that much money, so they agreed on $18,000.
The caller told her to get the money and mail it via UPS to an address in Atlanta, Georgia. She followed his orders.
But after she sent it, she had second thoughts and called police.
Authorities were able to talk to UPS to request that the shipment of cash be returned. Detectives with the recently-established Safe Seniors Task Force were made aware of the situation and launched their own investigation.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, a Michigan State Police trooper from the Grand Rapids Post was sent to a home in Cedar Creek Township for a fraud complaint.
While taking the report, this trooper realized this complaint was similar to the other fraud complaint.
In this case, the elderly victim told police they got a call from their grandson who said he got in a car crash and was in jail. The scammer claimed he injured a politician and said there was a gag order so he couldn’t talk about it.
Then, the phone was handed to someone else claiming to be the grandson’s attorney. This person said they needed $25,000 to allow the grandson to bond out of jail.
In a Thursday interview with 13 OYS, investigators identified the victims in the second case as Elaine and Kenneth Duylea, who went on to detail the ordeal. The imposter, Elaine said, called and claimed to be her eldest grandson. He then passed the phone to another individual he claimed was his lawyer:
“He said that he had been arrested and was going to jail for being on a cell phone and he hit a politician and that they needed a gag order on it. So we couldn’t tell anyone,” Elaine noted. “The guy was beautiful. He really could talk. And I so I said, what can we do? I go into Grandma panic mode, you know, and I handed the phone to him and, and he said, well, I need you to go and get money.”
His voice, she said, sounded strange. When she pointed it out, the caller told her he’d contracted strep throat.
Following the call, her husband, Kenneth told WZZM 13 On Your Side he began to entertain second thoughts:
“In that whole thing, I went to the bank,” Kenneth paused. “And I said, I’m calling my grandson and when I did that, he answered, clear voice, no strep throat, no nothing. I call her [and said] Ma, this is a scam.”
The victim worked with Task Force detectives to lure the suspects to a home to pick up what they believed would be $25,000.
“That’s when the guy behind me,” Elaine gestured to the investigator standing behind her, alongside a group of detectives, members of the task force and other officials. “Took him down like a Brahma bull.”
“It was great to watch,” she noted as the room erupted into laughter. “But thank goodness, somebody came to our rescue and I don’t want it to happen to anybody else.”
Instead, authorities arrested one suspect who came to the door, and took another suspect into custody who was parked in a rental car nearby.
“We volunteered to go through with it,” Kenneth said.
“We scammed him instead of him scamming us,” Elaine laughed.
Those two suspects are in the Muskegon County Jail awaiting arraignment. Both are from the West Palm Beach Florida area.
A third victim from Sullivan Township was also believed to have been contacted by these same individuals this week, but they didn’t fall for the scam.
Detectives hope phone records will tie all of these cases together.
At this point, police don’t know if there are any other victims in the West Michigan area. You’re encouraged to contact law enforcement if you think you’re a victim of a crime.
Officials lauded the work of the Task Force, recently created with funding drawn from a dedicated millage, for bringing about the successful operation:
“When we started this adventure, by creating the Safe Seniors Task Force, it was to tackle cases like this,” Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson explained. “It allowed that team to get in place quickly, set up quickly so that when these individuals came to collect what they thought was going to be some easy money, they met handcuffs instead of dollars.”
“That’s the way that we really would like to see this happen,” Hilson said. “Quite frankly, that’s the benefit that Muskegon County has by having this.”
“We talk about the collaboration and how the law enforcement agencies work in Muskegon County,” Poulin began. “It’s not like that anywhere else that I know of, how collectively we work together. That that collaboration is so important.”