December 19, 2003

A Scam to Remember

By Andrés Lozano

This is a personal account of a widespread fraud attempt happening throughout México. Last Saturday, December 13, at 3 PM, my distraught sister called and told me: Brother, brace yourself; I am bearing bad tidings. “FX, your son just called me from a prison where he is being held in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. The Mexican police captured him. Upset and almost unintelligibly, FX told me he was involved in a car accident whereby he killed a pregnant woman in San Diego, CA.” FX told my sister he was turning the telephone to an officer, since his allowed time to talk had expired. A new voice, identifying himself as commander Clemente Gabriel López Juárez, carried on and told my sister FX called her was because he was unable to get hold of me. He gave my sister the telephone number 33/3904-2292, suggesting her to contact me to call him.

I called the commander and asked him to put FX on line. He declined stating he was on another floor; yet, volunteered the same information already given to my sister. He added that the reason for his call, he was obeying a capture order against FX issued by the San Diego, Police Department, in whose jurisdiction the hit and run occurred and where FX is a resident. The commander told me, FX offered him two thousand dollars in exchange for erasing the incriminating information and turn him loose. By the way, the fugitive FX was carrying with him fifty thousand dollars in cash, the reason he became a suspect when going through Customs. The Mexican Customs had already registered this money and found out it legally belonged to FX and placed it in a sealed envelope. Thus, it was incumbent upon me to wire him the two thousand dollars, since it was impossible to take them from the sealed envelope in Customs’ custody and available to FX upon release. In exchange for my two thousand dollars transfer, he would erase the capture order and free FX! Consider my affliction.

Somehow, I mustered the energy to tell the commander, that “under no circumstance I was going to aid and abet a fugitive, even if he was my son,” and FX must surrender himself to the US Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, and fully cooperate with the SDPD. The commander could not hide his frustration and, half menacing, insisted in me wiring him the amount or else... I called FX’s mother to let her know what was going on and my decision not to bribe in exchange for FX’s release. FX’s mother, a fine and decent woman, totally agreed with me and we both decided to take the matter into our hands and proceed according to law and human decency. The only way to help our son was within, not outside the law. We both agreed to start calling FX’s friends and find out what had happened from sources different to the commander. She was able to get hold of a close friend of FX in San Diego. He was astounded with the account and replied that the entire caper was a fabrication. Presently, FX was getting a flu shot in a nearby clinic and suggested her to reach him at his cell phone. To make a long and nightmarish story short, she was able to speak with FX, unaware of the turmoil surrounding him and shocked of what was going on. The hoax attempt collapsed!

Three hours passed between my sister’s initial call and the moment we discovered this was a crude, but efficient fraud attempt. Fortunately, nothing was true nor were we swindled. With the benefit of hindsight, we failed to do the obvious: First thing, call our son and establish if all this was actually happening. Secondly, after clarification, my sister told me that the voice of the person posing as FX sounded familiar yet was uncertain it was his. The lesson of this story is a simple one; perpetrators rely in shocking victims out of their wits, making them compulsively wire ‘bribe monies’ while rattled.

This is not amateurish crime. Access to data base information is crucial to establish, in our case, bloodlines since information pertaining to my son, my sister and myself was accessible to them. Lozano, our last name, is very common, so malefactors dispose of more sophisticated input, available through credit bureaus and banking records. How do criminals get access to this data? Who are the insiders in cahoots?

I am finding out this type of crime is widespread. A close friend of mine underwent the same dreadful experience a few months ago. In his case, ‘the commander’s name’ was Alfredo Vázquez Hernández and the number to reach him 33/3589-6355. “His commander” requested a deposit in a checking account. Cleverly, my friend deposited the Mexican equivalent of five dollars in said account to establish the fraud attempt. My friend and I have already accused the perpetrators. Since solid evidence exists, maybe it will lead to their seizure and conviction. Names, telephone numbers and account information is real. Both Clemente and Alfredo are the real names of real criminals notoriously unconcerned about being captured. Every effort to make the public aware and catch perpetrators is a worthwhile endeavor.

Andrés Lozano, alozanoh@msn.com

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