When Stephanie Lozano realized she was the victim of a scam, it was just seconds too late.
Two weeks ago, a man called and told Lozano she needed to pay her bills, plus penalties, or face jail time.
She was a little more than a week overdue on two of her accounts.
Fearing arrest, Lozano did what the caller demanded and put $1,600 on a Green Dot card to pay the bills.
Green Dot cards are debit-type cards that can be loaded with cash to pay bills.
Aggressive scammers have recently been using these cards to swindle people out of money by posing as bill collectors, the Internal Revenue Service or Orange County Superior Court employees.
Lozano, a manager of a Santa Ana mobile home park, did what she was asked but her suspicions were raised during the conversation.
After giving the caller access to the Green Dot card, she asked what account the money would go to, but the caller couldn’t answer.
“I’m being scammed, right?” she asked.
“I was in shock,” Lozano said. “These people are just cold-hearted.”
The Christmas money she saved to buy her four young boys presents, along with her December rent — gone.
Lozano called police to report the crime and learned she was not alone in being targeted by this type of scam.
“Everything changed after I met with the (Cypress) officers,” she said. “It felt so good to know I had someone who was on my side.”
Lozano’s appreciation for the Cypress Police Department deepened when the detectives working her case told her they would make sure Christmas wasn’t ruined.
Cypress police on Thursday took Lozano’s four sons, along with four children from the Boys & Girls Club of Cypress, shopping at Target as part of the department’s Shop with a Cop program.
“It is the best feeling in the world,” Lozano said. “That money they took was all of our Christmas money. This made the situation a lot easier.”
In year’s past, Cypress police have participated in various holiday charity events but this is the first year they volunteered to take eight children on a Christmas shopping spree.
The Lozano boys — Daniel, 10; Samuel, 8; Alexander, 7; and Junnie, 3 — were surprised by officers outside the Boys & Girls Club.
“We thought we would find a couple of good boys who need an extra treat this Christmas,” Det. Paul Ruiz told the boys before he announced they would be picking out several presents.
“What do you want?” Ruiz asked.
They stared back at him silent for a minute before Samuel finally announced: “I want a football.”
“Done,” Ruiz told him.
The children piled in to patrol cars and the officers drove to Target, turning on their lights and sirens as they pulled in to the parking lot.
Each child was given $125 to spend, and they had no trouble filling their carts.
Junnie was shy at first.
He humbly picked up a motorcycle toy off the shelf and handed it to Officer Erik Carlson to place in the shopping cart.
It didn’t take long before Junnie had a wide grin and was quickly grabbing items off the shelf to take home.
Samuel got his football and grabbed with a ball pump and gloves to go with it.
The Lozano children filled their carts with Minecraft toys, board games and super hero gear.
“This is awesome,” Daniel said as he watched his gifts get loaded into a giant red Target bag.
The Lozano boys carried their bags out of the store before hopping back in to the patrol cars.
Ruiz said choosing the Lozanos to participate in the event with the Boys & Girls Club was an easy decision.
“We told them, ‘you’re the exact family we’re looking for’,” he said. “They deserve to get a break.”