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  • Writer's pictureSandee Caviness

Local Mundsies Trust is Shattered as Scammers Make Off With Almost $30,000!

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Folks, let me share a cautionary tale with you. We’re living in an age where technology has made it easier than ever to manipulate reality and take advantage of unsuspecting people. Thanks to user-friendly graphic design software, anyone can create fake documents and websites that look absolutely legitimate, fooling even the most discerning eye.

To make matters worse, the advent of AI-powered tools that simulate voices and create deep fake videos has thrown our sense of reality into the Twilight Zone. It’s a new world where we can no longer trust our own eyes or ears.

Evil con artists will stop at nothing to gain your trust and ultimately steal your hard-earned money or even worse, threaten the lives of those you love.

The community of Mundsberry, though tucked away from the hustle of the big city and known for its laid-back lifestyle and friendly people, is not immune to fraudsters seeking to steal your money.

Deanna and Ren Bascelli, esteemed owners of Kota’s Coffee House, as well as my wife Genna Caviness, have recently been swindled out of nearly $30,000. Understandably, they were hesitant to share their experience, as being duped is embarrassing. However, let me dispel a common misconception: it’s not just the elderly or the naive who are vulnerable to such crimes. In fact, anyone can be ensnared by these elaborate schemes, regardless of their age or level of sophistication.

In this day and age, where scammers have access to advanced and highly effective tools, it’s crucial to shed light on these accounts and acknowledge that deception can strike anyone.

I am going to Kill Your Grandson!

I recently received a frantic phone call from Genna, and her distress was palpable. She was nearly incoherent, but amidst her tears and trembling voice, she managed to utter the shocking words: “I was forced to empty our bank accounts!” My initial reaction was one of disbelief. What could she possibly mean?

As Genna tried to explain further, I realized she was claiming that the Mexican Cartel had coerced her into draining our personal and business accounts. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

I wish I could say that I responded with kindness and understanding, but I did not. Normally, I don’t place much importance on material wealth. In fact, I might have told her, “Honey, it’s only money. Come home, and let’s talk.” However, losing that much money could have had significant repercussions for us, and I found myself angry at Genna for being so naive.

When Genna got home, I saw the fear in her face, and my heart broke. It turned out that the scammers had psychologically tortured her for over five hours, and it all started with a Verizon Gizmo Watch that our daughter had purchased for our 10-year-old grandson.

The watch is designed for kids too young for a smartphone but too old not to have the ability to call select family members and friends. It allows parents to select up to 10 people their kids can contact and be contacted by. Further, it tracks the child’s location so that all 10 people can see where the child is at any given moment. Personally, I’m not a fan of apps that track locations, and I felt it was too intrusive, but because it was for our grandson, we downloaded the app onto our phones.

Genna went to work, and while showing the app to her boss, the phone rang. Thinking it was our grandson, she picked up the call, and that is when the horror began.

On the other end of the phone was a young boy screaming, saying there had been an accident. Genna tries to find out what’s happening through our grandson’s incoherent and terrifying pleas for help when a man with a heavy Mexican accent gets on the line and says he’s with the Mexican Cartel and they had our grandson. As Genna further tries to get a grip on what’s going on, the man gets angry and indignant, telling her to do exactly as he says or he will kill our grandson.

Genna is now in panic mode and not thinking—exactly how the scammer wants her to be. Irrational and terrified out of her mind.

The scammer tells her he has control of her phone and knows everything she is doing and not to try to contact anyone, or her grandson will die. Genna very compliantly agreed and said, “I will do anything—anything! Just please keep my grandson safe!”

Genna is now their puppet.

They knew she was in Munds Park and knew how to navigate her to Flagstaff and through the city. For over five hours, they guided her from bank to bank, from one wire transfer to another. Pulling money, sending money, dumping receipts, and terrorizing and manipulating her the entire time.

When she would ask to talk to her grandson, they would yell and scream profanities, “Do you want me to (expletive) chop his fingers off one at a time? Do you (expletive) want to hear that? Do you (expletive) think the Cartel (expletive) cares if we kill this kid? They don’t! They want their (expletive) money, so shut the (expletive) up and do as we say!”

They threatened our grandson and manipulated her the entire time they had her on the phone. As she withdrew money from the bank, she would be aggressively told, “Put the money in your right pocket. Put the receipt in the left pocket. We are watching you!”

Another man with a Mexican accent would get on the phone and nicely told Genna she was doing a good job. He even worried about her getting hungry and needing water. The scammers went back and forth from friendly to evil throughout the call. This is another one of their manipulative strategies.

The thought of being constantly monitored and tracked by the scammers kept Genna paralyzed with fear. The app she had just downloaded with tracking capabilities only heightened her terror. The idea that they could track her every move, intercept her calls and messages, and prevent her from seeking help was not an implausible scenario. Further, we live in a state where our borders are more open than at any time in history. The notion of the Mexican Cartel having our grandson? Why not? The situation was entirely plausible for Genna; thus, she emptied out our accounts.

The question of whether the scammers had access to Genna’s phone through the Verizon Gizmo Watch remains a mystery. It’s difficult to say definitively whether it was just an unfortunate coincidence or something more sinister. However, the timing of the call, coming just a few hours after the app was downloaded and opened when the call came through, certainly raises eyebrows. Were the scammers monitoring Genna’s every move? It’s impossible to know for sure, but the possibility is certainly real and very unsettling.

We are happy to report our grand-love is just fine and was in class the entire time.

The scam pulled on Genna is called an “emergency scam,” sometimes called “grandparent scams.” It all starts with the scammers trolling social media sites, looking for public profiles that provide ample information. They will use this information to create a convincing scenario that incorporates real-life details, such as travel plans and nicknames, to lure their targets into believing that their loved one is in grave danger.

Now with artificial intelligence combined with social media intel, scammers have the ultimate tools to convince anyone their loved one is in danger.

Arizona’s Family News Channel 3 recently reported on a voice cloning scam that was used to trick a mother in Arizona into believing that her daughter had been kidnapped. Jennifer DeStefano received a call from an unknown number. Initially, she thought it was her daughter, who was away skiing, but then a man’s voice came on the line and threatened to drug the teenager and take her to Mexico if DeStefano contacted the police. In reality, the daughter was safe, but the call was a “virtual kidnapping,” which uses AI-generated voice clones to convince people that their loved ones are in danger. Voice cloning technology is becoming more sophisticated, and criminals can now create a convincing clone with just a few seconds of a person’s voice.

In today’s world, the line between reality and illusion has become increasingly blurred and requires us to be hyper-vigilant.

Subtle Changes to Legitimate Business Names Trick Unsuspecting Customers

Like many businesses in the Park, Kota’s Coffee House was hit hard by recent snowstorms. The owners, Deanna and Ren Bascelli, found themselves unable to open their doors because they couldn’t get their parking lot plowed. To be more self-reliant, Ren wanted to purchase a tractor to help clear the snow for their business and offer the church and elderly locals assistance with snow plowing.

Ren scoured Craigslist, hoping to find a gently used tractor at a reasonable price, and he saw the perfect one. The price wasn’t too low to set off any alarms—The price was just right. A good deal, he thought.

At first glance, everything seemed on the up and up. This wasn’t some shady individual Ren was buying from. It was a legitimate business based in Idaho that sold tractors. Their website was polished and professional, complete with pricing, photos, and even videos of other tractors for sale.

When it came time to finalize the sale, all the documentation looked authentic. The contract, title, and business license all seemed to check out. They sent other documents to prove their legitimacy, which appeared over the top and gave Deanna a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Unfortunately, they were under immense stress from the snowstorms and other calamities and ignored this red flag.

They wired the money to the supposed seller’s Wells Fargo account and expected delivery of their new tractor on a Friday. But the delivery never came. Ren reached out to the driver and was met with apologies and excuses about a broken water pump delaying the delivery until Monday.

Monday came and Deanna’s gut was telling her they had been scammed—even though the “driver” was still saying the tractor was on the way. She shared her thoughts with Ren, and he began investigating.

Ren contacted a similar tractor sales company in Idaho and learned that the woman who had conned them was Tatianna, a con artist under FBI investigation. She had been using their company to appear legitimate, only slightly changing the company name in the website URL. It was a devastating revelation, but at least Ren finally had answers.

That day, Ren and Deanna filed a report with the FBI, Idaho Police Department, and the State Attorney General. Their report now sits among the thousands of reports coming in each and every year. They also turned to their bank to try and stop the wire transfer, with absolutely no help.

Scammers are a serious problem, with 1 in 10 people falling victim. Law enforcement struggles to keep up, and the banks... do not expect any assistance regarding wire transfers. The chances of getting your money back are slim to none.

I am happy to report Ren did get his tractor. He researched the tractor he wanted and purchased directly from a dealer in Oklahoma—taking additional steps to verify who they were. He even called businesses around the dealer to verify they had a brick-and-mortar business and had been around for a while.

It’s with gratitude that I thank Deanna, Ren, and my Genna for being strong and allowing me to share their stories. People must be vigilant and cautious in today’s digital landscape, where sophisticated and cunning scammers lurk around every corner. Let their stories serve as a cautionary tale for us all, reminding us to do our due diligence before making any significant purchases or engaging with unknown individuals.

So, when you happen to run into Deanna, Ren, or Genna in the Park, there’s no need to offer any advice on the subject. Just give them a warm hello and let their experience inspire you to stay alert and stay safe.

In the May 5th issue for the Pinewood News we will provide tips on how to protect yourself from scammers.

1 Comment

Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ
Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ
Apr 20, 2023

I operate a large website with half a million users. We've been in business for over 30 years and we have hosted, among other things, an online swap meet. We have seen and heard of every conceivable scam over this period and have been witness to scores of people who have been swindled. In almost every case, the loss was avoidable had the buyer taken common sense precautions. In the case of the child's watch, as I read the story, all I could think about was “where's the kid?” Who is responsible for the child and what is the status of their custody? Then, I read about how the victim went from bank to bank, emptying out accounts and…

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