A couple from Georgia posed as Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies in a telephone fraud scheme and scammed six people out of $16,000 in gift cards, the department said Monday.
Nicolas Brady Kennedy, 29, and Ashley Marie Walker, 28, both of Loganville, Georgia, made a series of phone calls mostly targeting the elderly in Northern Los Angeles County, Sheriff's Chief Patrick Nelson said at a news conference.
They told the victims that there were warrants out for their arrest and that the way to fix that would be to pay a fine in the form of gift cards, the chief said.
Six out of nine victims identified by the department complied with the scammers' request and sent gift cards loaded with around $4,000 each, the chief said.
The department's investigation into the calls began after they received an email from one victim who was from out of state.
The victim reported receiving a call from someone claiming to be an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy who told him he had failed to appear for jury duty and that there was an arrest warrant out for him.
"The imposter lied about the jury summonses, and used a fraudulent sense of emergency and pressure to coerce hard-earned money from unsuspecting people," the department said in a news release.
The scam calls investigated in L.A. County happened between March and April this year, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. The investigation was particularly complicated because the callers used numbers spoofs and different IP addresses, authorities said.
"As the investigation proceeded, it became clear the imposter used a sophisticated set of techniques to hide his location and identity," the department said.
Investigators ultimately traced the calls back to a home in Georgia, and identified Kennedy as a suspect, according to the news release.
He was in custody in Georgia for a parole violation, but is expected to be extradited to California, authorities said.
At the Georgia home, detectives found additional evidence and identified Walker as a second suspect in the case. She is not in custody, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest, the department said.
Kennedy was charged with six counts of extortion and three counts of attempted extortion, while Walker faces three counts each of extortion and attempted extortion, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office said.
The Sheriff's Department said phone schemes are not uncommon, and scammers are known to pose as officials from various law enforcement agencies and pressure victims to send money.
Officials said they believe the scammers in this case researched online to find which L.A. County communities have large concentrations of elderly residents. The scammers might have felt that the elderly are less prone to question government authority, more trusting or less aware of popular scams, officials said.
The department told residents to be weary of calls from a source claiming to be from a law enforcement agency and asking for funds in the form of bitcoin or gift cards.
“The L.A. County Sheriff's Office will never ask you to provide money in the form of gift cards," the chief said.
Authorities believe there may be additional scammers, and more unidentified victims.
Officials encouraged anyone who believes they might have been a victim of a phone scam to call their local law enforcement agency.