By: Bethany Lindsay, ctvbc.ca
Date: Wednesday Jul. 13, 2011 4:54 PM PT
A routine traffic stop ended in jail for a Colombian man, after Vancouver police discovered that his rental car was filled with mail connected to a worldwide scam targeting the elderly.
Colombian citizen and Florida resident Juan David Hernandez, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 in Vancouver provincial court last month and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Vancouver Police Det. Rick Stewart says Hernandez was arrested on June 11 after patrol officers arrested him for obstruction of justice when he was pulled over and gave a false name.
"When they looked inside the vehicle's front seat, they saw bags and bags of mail," Stewart said.
The mail turned out to be remittance letters containing $30 cheques from people in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. After investigating further, police discovered that Hernandez had scammed his targets by sending letters asking for a small payment to receive a big cash prize.
"This particular one is targeted so directly to senior citizens. Our victims are between the ages of 68 and 94," Stewart said.
Stewart says that no British Columbians were affected by the scam, and only one Canadian was a victim.
The mail was traced to four mailboxes in the Vancouver area, receiving a total of about 200 letters a day. Stewart says that this bust marks the largest telemarketing or mail-out scam investigators have seen in the last seven years.
"We're pretty darn pleased with ourselves," he said.
But he added that police are struggling to educate senior citizens about the dangers of mail-out scams, and that means criminals are able to take advantage of trusting, vulnerable people.
"These people are targeting our elderly. At best, I would say this is a systematic targeting of our elderly. At worst, it's elder abuse," Stewart said.
"Once an elderly person answers one of these letters, they end up on every hit list going around the world. They're not victimized once; they're victimized several times."
He said seniors should remember that they can't win a prize if they haven't entered a contest.