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Scam artists target clients, friends of Ripon councilman

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POSTED September 3, 2012 11:01 p.m.

RIPON - Internet con artists attempted to bilk Ripon insurance agent and City Councilman Dean Uecker’s friends and clients for as much as $2,000 each using fictitious emails allegedly written by Uecker asking desperately for help from Barcelona, Spain.

The attempt to defraud the Riponites came on a holiday weekend when most businesses and banks were closed.

Leonardo Livestock owner Dena Leonardo received an email before dawn Monday morning – supposedly signed by Uecker – asking for money because he was destitute after being attacked by thugs with all of his valuables taken. The email said he was without his phone, money and other valuables. His flight back to the U.S. was scheduled and he couldn’t pay the hotel bill and make the flight without the cash –1,650 Euros.

Leonardo said she was heart struck hearing a friend was in need and gave thought to immediately wiring the money. Something told her to wait until later in the morning when she called Uecker at his home and he answered the phone. He wasn’t in Spain after all.

She said the councilman told her he had received about 45 calls from friends in the Ripon area and beyond all wanting to help him if they could in his apparent time of need. Leonardo said she hoped that other residents in the area would get a “heads up” to the scam by publicizing it in the newspaper and would not fall victim to the same fraudulent call for cash.

The email read:

“Hello,

“I am sorry for reaching you rather too late due to the situation of things right now. My family and I had a trip visiting Barcelona (Spain). Everything was going on fine until last night when we got attacked by some unknown gunmen. All our money, phones and credit cards was stolen away including some valuable items. It was a terrible experience, but the good thing is they didn’t hurt anyone or made away with our passports.

“We have reported the incident to the local authorities and the consulate but their response was too casual. We were ask (sic) to come back in two weeks’ time for investigations to be made proper, but the truth is we can’t wait till then as we have just got our return flight booked and is (sic) leaving in a few hours from now but presently sorting out the bills here and also getting a cab down to the airport. Right now we are financially strapped due to the unexpected robbery attack. Wondering if you can help us with a quick loan to sort our bills and get back home. All we need is (E 1,650.00EUR) or anything you can afford. I promise to refund you in full as soon as I return, hopefully tomorrow or next. Write back.”

Leonardo wrote back, questioning the credibility of the request:

“If this is really you Dean, I will do all that I can to help,” she responded. “Just answer these few questions: How many diamonds did the ring have that you gave to Vicki? And, what was Vicki’s little brother’s name or nickname. Waiting at my computer for your answer.”

The original email came in at 5:40 a.m. and his reply to her questions came back at about 9:30 Sunday morning. The sender completely ignored her queries that would have identified Uecker as the sender. Instead, he replied in stress:

“It’s me, OMG!!!, this is for real. We’re doing everything possible to get ourself (sic) back home peacefully. We have been to the cops to report the matter but they said we should wait 2 weeks for proper investigation and we can’t wait for that cos (sic) we’re freak out here.

“Though the consulates are helping us out with our return ticket but we need some bucks to settle the hotel bills. We don’t have enough on us right now. We’ll pay back once we get home safely. Reply ASAP, Thank you.”

Copies of the email exchange were turned over to the Ripon Police Department later Sunday morning and they immediately noted that it was an all too often Internet scam similar to the adult grandchild away at college asking for money.

In that attempt to bilk grandparents, an individual calls on the telephone, crying and asking for bail money at a Canadian jail. Grandparents have been unable to accurately identify the voice of their teen or early 20s grandson who is usually heard crying on the phone for help. In the general Manteca region con artists have usually asked for about $2,000. In all too many cases the money has been wired to the addresses the senders directed.

Several attempts to wire money in the past have been discouraged by local bankers who have seen the fraud activity against senior citizens in past years.

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