Telephone scams are so common that Garden Grove Police Sgt. Richard Burillo receives scam reports daily.
Someone calls and says you owe money. They say they’re from the IRS or your water company, or that you’ve won a contest with a big payout. Other times they say they’ve taken a relative hostage and you’ll need to cough up cash to set them free.
They sound legitimate. They know your name or your water district, or your cousin’s name.
But they want access to your bank account, or they ask you to pay thousands of dollars, by MoneyGram or entirely in gift cards.
“Unfortunately, they make it sound so real and people believe it,” Garden Grove PD Community Service Officer Shelby Keuilian said.
Usually, by the time a person figures out they’ve been scammed, their bank accounts or gift cards are empty, and almost impossible to trace.
It’s unusual to get that money back.
But that’s exactly what the Garden Grove Police Department, specifically Det. Evan Beresford, did for Don and Betty Heilman, who came to the station asking for help on Aug. 15.
The police seized funds from one of the scammers’ three accounts — one which hadn’t been emptied yet — and returned about $8,675 to the Heilmans, in addition to $5,000 the couple had recovered earlier.
Keuilian, Beresford, and Burillo recently surprised the Heilmans with the news.
Betty cried tears of joy.
“Miracles do happen, I guess,” said Don, her husband of 65 years.
It helped that the Heilmans, both in their 80s, had collected all the documentation the police needed to start working the case right away, Keuilian said.
“This is more than we ever expected back,” Betty said. “We just figured it’s gone. You have to live with it and we accepted it. This is fantastic.”
In the Heilmans’ case, someone with an accent called saying they were with a company called JustWeb and would clean their computer remotely for a $150 fee, the Garden Grove Police Department stated.
The person did remotely access the computer, and the next day called to say JustWeb overcharged the Heilmans’ credit card by $1,500 and would need bank account information, scanned driver’s licenses, and social security numbers in order to reimburse the money, police said.
Over the next several weeks, the scammers took nearly $35,000 from the couple’s account.
That’s when they went to the police.
Beresford met with the Heilmans, and promised he’d do everything he could to help.
“He really impressed me, so I didn’t give up on him,” Betty said.
About three months later, Beresford was able to recover about a third of the funds, and has a suspect named — another rarity in international scams.
“People get frustrated because they think we’re not working on their cases, but we are. It just takes time,” Burillo said.
These cases often take many months, Burillo said.
“Evan was able to work fast enough to where he was able to at least freeze one account,” Burillo said. “The other two were already swiped clean.”
It’s been a tough lesson for the Heilmans, who get calls from telemarketers daily.
“We just don’t answer the phones anymore,” Betty said. “If it’s somebody that really wants to talk to us, they’ll leave a message. They know we’ll call back. Most of them just hang up.”
Burillo suggests never giving out personal information over the phone, and if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“It’s hard for me to believe we were scammed this way,” Betty said.
“You don’t know how much you’ve done for us,” she told the officers.