Two Los Angeles County women believed to be part of a national fraud ring were arrested on suspicion of posing as employees from the Internal Revenue Service in a phone scam that may have bilked several victims out of $900,000, the Fontana Police Department said Friday.
A Fontana man received a call on Sept. 4, 2019, from a person who identified themself as an IRS employee and threatened to arrest the victim if he didn’t pay the caller $2,200 in Target gift cards, police said.
The victim complied and provided the gift cards to the caller.
He later reported the incident to Fontana police, and detectives traced the gift cards to a Target store in the Los Angeles area, where they found surveillance footage of a woman redeeming them, according to the department.
Target’s Loss Prevention Unit told the detectives they were looking into a similar incident that Indiana University police were investigating. After comparing surveillance video from both cases, detectives determined it was the same suspect seen redeeming the gift cards both times.
Police identified two 25-year-old women, Ailing Lu, of Los Angeles, and Ji Hyun Lee, of Gardena, as suspects.
Detectives served search warrants at two locations and found about $900,000 worth of new electronics, gift cards and other items purchased with gift cards, according to police. It’s unclear whether all the items and gift cards were procured through phone scams, or how many victims are believed to have paid the callers.
“It’s apparent these suspects were well organized and preyed on the victims’ fear of arrest across our nation,” Fontana police said.
On Thursday, Lu was arrested and booked on theft by false pretenses and conspiracy to commit crime charges, while Lee was booked on a conspiracy to commit crime charge, county inmate records show.
Both women were later released on bail, according to the database.
Authorities said investigators suspect there may have been more people involved in the scheme and the case is under investigation.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department identified a couple from Georgia suspected of posing as deputies and scamming six people out of $16,000 in gift cards in a similar telephone fraud scheme.
The callers in that case also threatened victims with arrest.
The Sheriff’s Department said phone schemes have become common in the state, and scammers are known to pose as officials from various law enforcement and government agencies to pressure victims to send money.
Fontana police reminded residents that no law enforcement or public agency would ask for payment in gift cards.
Those who think they may have been a victim of a similar phone scam were asked to contact their local law enforcement agency.
— IRS (@IRSnews) September 22, 2019