LBPD say scammers impersonated police; additional suspect at large

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lbpd-impersonator-suspectsAs the result of a two-month investigation, Long Beach Police Fraud investigators, with the assistance of the Night Auto Theft Unit, arrested a known con artist at his home in Los Angeles. They have also identified a second suspect, and are looking for the public’s help in identifying two additional suspects.

On January 12, detectives arrested 48-year-old Reginald Ford of Los Angeles. He has been charged with impersonating a police officer, kidnapping for robbery, grand theft, and residential burglary. Additionally, an arrest warrant has been issued for 54-year-old George Gordon of Los Angeles. Upon his arrest, he will be charged with one felony count of grand theft. Both suspects, along with an unknown African-American male and female, are believed to have planned a well thought-out scheme, which preyed on elderly residents in Long Beach and possibly other cities.

The eight known incidents, which occurred beginning in February 2009 to December 2009, resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars from victims. The incidents occurred when victims were approached near their senior residential complexes and in busy shopping centers.

The scam, commonly known as the “South African Switch,” also included a secondary scam, and the subsequent deception by the suspects impersonating police officers. The scam worked by one suspect posing as an “African” with a foreign accent. The suspect would state they were here from Africa and needed to return to their country. The suspect would show the victim a letter from Africa stating that their family would be persecuted if they did not donate a large sum of money to a charitable organization prior to their return.

The suspect would then show the victim a large sum of money that was usually contained within a fanny pack.

The second suspect, playing the role of a “good Samaritan,” who overheard the conversation, would intervene and say that they would be willing to prove that they could be trusted by driving to their own bank to pull out money. The victims were then challenged in a sense, to see if they would be willing to go to their bank and pull out money. The suspects would then drive the victim to their bank so the victim could withdraw cash to prove their trustworthiness. The initial suspect would then put the bundle of money in a handkerchief and pray over it. The suspect would then “switch” the real money with fake money and return it to the victim. Once the suspects left the victims, the victims would open the “money bindle” and find out it was fake money or rolled/shredded paper.

In a few incidents, after the victim’s fell prey to the scam, they were visited at their homes by police impostors who were supposedly investigating the initial scam. The suspects displayed badges, handcuffs, and told the victims they were police detectives. They were described as wearing business suits and threatened that if they did not cooperate with the investigation, they would be sent to jail and their houses ransacked. Fearing for their safety, the victims complied with the suspect’s demands.

The ruse the impostors used during the second part of the scam was to claim that during the initial scam, the victim had given the suspects counterfeit money. They were coerced to go back to their bank and withdrawal more money which would be scanned to verify that it was not counterfeit. Once the victim withdrew and handed over the large sum of money, they were told by the police impersonators that they would be updated on the status of the investigation. The impersonators then fled with the money.

Long Beach Police Forgery/Fraud Detail presented their case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Elder Abuse Unit who formally charged Ford and Gordon. Ford is due to be arraigned today, January 15, 2010. The Los Angeles County Probation Department also placed a hold on Ford since he violated probation instated in Alameda County for similar offenses.

Detectives are attempting to identify additional victims, as well as the male and female accomplices. The male suspect is described as 40-50 years-old, approximately 6’1” and 190-200 lbs., with a thin mustache and possibly wearing a flat cap similar to a paperboy cap. The female suspect is described as being in her 50’s, approximately 5’9” and wearing a wig.

Police are warning the public to never agree to any financial transactions unless they consult a trusted professional, family member or friend, especially if they just met the other party, and to never allow strangers to enter their vehicle or offer them a ride.

Anyone who may have information on the identity or whereabouts of the outstanding suspects, or believe they may have been a victim of the scam should contact Long Beach Police Forgery/Fraud Detective Jesse Macias or Investigator Sokona Chap at (562) 570-7330.

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