Published Thursday, November 12, 2020
A gang may have scammed
$800,000-plus through calls
made from jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The Fraud and Cybercrime Prosecutor's Office ordered 18 raids in several zones of the county, including inside the cells of the La Reforma jail, in Alajuela Province, to stop the alleged criminal activity of a gang that could have scammed approximately $814,000 from people through calls made from the jail.
According to the investigations of the case made by the Prosecutor's Office, members of this alleged gang made calls from jail to contact its victims and get sensitive information about the security data of their bank accounts.
After the alleged criminals managed to obtain the information of the bank accounts, they entered the victim's account through the internet banking system and made the transfer of the money to other bank accounts. It is estimated that the victims were defrauded out of more than $800,000 using this scheming method.
According to the Prosecutor's Office, in a second phase of the scam, the alleged accomplices dedicated themselves to hiding the money by buying property and even livestock. Some of the money was withdrawn from the bank in cash and was hidden inside the properties.
According to the case, the alleged leader of the gang is a man surnamed Terencio-Rodríguez, who is in jail serving a sentence for murder and robbery.
Among the other suspects is Terencio's brother who was allegedly in charge of collecting the money; look for accomplices who allow the money to be deposited in their bank accounts, Wálter Espinoza, Director of the Judicial Investigation Organization said.
Another suspect is Terencio's father, who allegedly received the money and was in charge of buying the properties and livestock.
According to Espinoza, the gang paid advice to a lawyer, who has his office in Grecia, Alajuela Province. The lawyer is suspected of helping the suspects to register companies to cover the properties in the company's name and open bank accounts.
In addition to the operation inside the jail, the judicial agents also carried out raids on properties located in the cantons of Guatuso and Grecia in Alajuela Province, Barva in Heredia Province, Turrubares in San José Province and other sites in Cartago Province.
"It is an extremely complex investigation of organized crime because it involves various criminal phenomena to achieve the committing of crimes," Miguel Ramírez López, fraud prosecutor said.
According to Ramirez, the gang maintained a very defined organization that ranged from obtaining databases with the victims 'contact information, creating fake websites to steal the victims' information, to hiding the money and then buying assets.
In one of the raids, cattle were found, which, it is presumed, would have been bought with the scammed money. The animals were handed over to the National Animal Health Service as part of the actions that were carried out in this case.
While cases of scams through phone calls made by inmates from jails continues, the Ministry of Justice maintains the process of blocking cell phone signals in jails.
In October the Ministry of Justice announced the beginning of the process of blocking cellular signal and internet access in jails.
The telecommunications companies have applied technology to block the internet and cell phone signals for wireless devices in jails. The jail service block should not affect the cell signal or internet service to people who live near the jails, the ministry said.
April was the original deadline to develop the cell phones and other devices blockade, but due to the situation caused by the covid-19 emergency, the telephone operators could not comply with this process.
According to the ministry, the international specialists in charge of carrying out the final tests were expected to arrive in the country. Due to the pandemic, this process was carried out virtually. Also, the ban on driving rule slowed down the visit of specialists to jails.
The technology will gradually be installed inside all 20 prisons to block internet access and cell phone signals.
The installation process will take the rest of the year, for that reason authorities call to not answer anonymous calls from people who claim to represent public institutions and seek to mislead people to obtain bank account data.
Authorities warn to never give bank account information or download applications on computers or other devices, as a request from people pretending to be representatives of public institutions.
Fiorella Salazar Rojas, Minister of Justice, said that due to confidentiality aspects of the agreement with the three companies in charge of the block system, the ministry will not disclose the details related to the cost of this service.
Prisoners can continue to communicate with families, friends or lawyers through the authorized and monitored public phones available in the jail, officials said.
Scams made by prisoners calling their victims from jails with the use of cell phones have been constantly reported to authorities. Due to that, the deputies of the Legislative Assembly approved in 2019 the installation of systems to block the outgoing calls from prisons made by cell phones.
Last year, the ministry reported that 2,412 various types of electronic equipment, including cell phones, had been confiscated from all of the prisons in the country. Of these, the majority are from La Reforma jail in Alajuela Province.
According to police statistics, 15,341 cell phones have been confiscated from inside prisoners' cells between 2015 to 2019.
What have you heard of people being scammed because of fake calls made from prisons? We would
like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your
comments to email@example.com