BRISTOL–Either you or someone you know has probably gotten a scam phone call threatening you to pay up. Some say that a child or grandchild is in jail and needs bail money. Others make you think you’ll be arrested by the Internal Revenue Service for not paying back taxes.
Victims are usually instructed to immediately wire money to prevent the bad thing from happening.
Rarely, however, do we hear about the anonymous callers being caught–until now.
On Thursday, federal authorities arrested Nancy Frye, 50, and Douglas Martin, 52, both of Bristol, and charged them with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They each face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The arrest affidavit states that in October 2015, Frye got phone calls and text messages from people trying to recruit her to pick up money wired through MoneyGram and Western Union, and to deposit that money into specific bank accounts. Frye then recruited Martin and others to help her do this throughout central Connecticut.
The pair and others who Frye recruited received about $547,000 in wired funds between October 2015 and June 2016, according to an arrest affidavit. Frye told investigators she would get to keep about $40 per transaction and would make about $500 per day.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) began investigating Frye in December 2015 after a victim of the scheme reported the incident, saying he or she made multiple payments to the caller. A second victim came forward at the end of January 2016 reporting a similar incident. In the second incident, the victim said Martin admitted to the scam over the phone but said he couldn’t refund the money because it was his job and he’d be in danger if he did not do it as directed.
In May, Frye was interviewed by several law enforcement officers, and voluntarily admitted to the crime. She said she was a victim herself, and also that she began the scheme in October 2015 after getting calls and texts. She never met her “bosses” in person, and said at the time she was still getting messages from them. She also said she was never threatened, and they told her they were there to help her pay off debt, which she did.
Frye said she recruited her sister, boyfriend (Martin) and two friends.
Frye’s sister, who is on permanent disability with brain damage, did not know she was part of a scam until employees at Wal-Mart, where she’d pick up the wired funds, confronted her and said they thought she was involved in some type of fraud. She kept participating for two more months, she told investigators.
In all, Frye said she believes more than $1 million passed through her hands, though records only revealed $547,000 in transferred funds.
Meanwhile, Martin told police that he warned two victims that he thought they were being scammed, and he said he did not make any money from the transactions. He said he did it to help Frye, because she didn’t have time to pick up all the wire transfers herself.
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said in a statement, “This prosecution serves as another opportunity to warn everyone to avoid becoming a victim of this scam. he IRS will never call anyone and demand immediate payment or threaten arrest. If you receive one of these calls, just hang up and report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.”
The extent of these scams is enormous. According to TIGTA, there have been more than 1.6 million reports of impersonation phone calls since October 2013, with more than 8,600 falling victim to the scheme. In all, about $47 million has been paid out.
Frye was previously convicted of larceny in the first degree in the state of Connecticut for stealing more than $185,000 from her father after being named his conservator. She was arrested in 2010, convicted in 2012, and was sentenced to eight years in jail. However, she was released early after 2.5 years.
Martin has also been convicted 18 times since 1986, for crimes including assault, burglary, larceny, criminal mischief and threatening. The most recent was in 2011 for violation of a protective order.