Scammer targets Arizona police sergeant in phone call

It's a classic scam with a new twist. 

Joe Lewis is a Scottsdale Police sergeant. He works in financial crimes, so when he answered the phone last week, he knew immediately he was being scammed.

"I picked it up, and I answered, and i answer just like I do normally - Scottsdale Police Department, Sergeant Lewis - and I heard on the other end of the line 'Grandpa? Grandpa?" Sgt. Lewis recounted.

While Sgt. Lewis said he is a grandfather, it was actually not his grandson who was in trouble.

"The grandparent they got ahold of was a financial crimes detective," said Sgt. Lewis.

A transcript of the call between the scammer and Sgt. Lewis

Caller: "Grandpa?"

Sgt. Lewis: "Yeah?"

Caller: "You do know who this is, right?"

Sgt. Lewis: "Yeah. Are you OK?"

Caller: "I had a terrible car accident."

Sgt. Lewis: "Are you OK?"

Caller: "I was rushed down to the hospital. I've been treated, but the lady in the other vehicle, she told the officers that I took the red light."

Sgt. Lewis: "OK."

Caller: "They are charging me for reckless endangerment. I need your help! I was interviewed by a court-appointed attorney. His name is (redacted). His contact number is (redacted)."

Sgt. Lewis: "OK. OK."

Caller: "He also gave me a case number. He said I'm arraigned to see the judge in about two hours."

Sgt. Lewis: "OK."

Caller: "And I have a bail pending. It's just a cash bail. I haven't told mom anything about it. I'm just very embarrassed. Promise me you'll keep it between us, OK?"

Sgt. Lewis: "When you first called, did you hear how I answered it? Scottsdale Police Department."

Caller: Hangs up.

"The suspect on the line was very good," Sgt. Lewis said. "A very good actor. What I mean is emotional hooks, the right words, the desperation in the voice.

Sgt. Lewis said he started recording the call, because it had all the hallmarks of a scam.

Financial crimes on the rise, according to figures

According to the FBI's Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3), Arizona ranks 10th nationally for elder fraud, with 3,175 victims in 2021. In all, $54,441,279 was lost.

"Big dollars," said Sgt. Lewis. "Big dollars."

Sgt. Lewis said every week, the department receives calls from victims saying they're embarrassed that they gave money to a scammer. Sgt. Lewis said they shouldn't be embarrassed because these are intricate scams.

Arrests, according to Sgt. Lewis, are rare, and getting money back is very challenging. Police officials say they are using the scammer call not to just alert the public, but to also train their officers.

"The more we can get it out there, the better," said Sgt. Lewis.