City employee stops scam

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Working as a city employee serving the public can mean never quite being off-duty, and that was the case for Code Enforcement Officer Juan Bonilla-Acosta when he stepped up to prevent an elderly man from being scammed.

While Juan was on a break recently, he made a quick stop at a convenience store where he noticed an elderly man acting frantic while talking on a cellphone. He noted that the man was trying to find a gift card to purchase. Gift cards have become a frequent target of scam artists that involve phone calls demanding residents buy gift cards to resolve some made-up issue or crisis. The elderly have often been the target of these scams, with callers claiming the senior owes money to the Internal Revenue Service or that a relative needs money to get out of jail. They are then told that providing money through the gift card will resolve the situation. Recognizing that the elderly man’s situation could be an indication of fraud, Juan asked him if he needed help and why he needed the gift card.

The man told Juan he had to buy a card because the electric company had contacted him and threatened to turn off his power if he failed to do so. Juan was able to get the man to hang up the cellphone and then took the time to explain to him that he was being scammed. Juan recommended not going through with the purchase of the gift card.

Juan also made note of what the man was wearing, and after leaving the store Juan saw a Lakewood Police car in the area. He contacted the patrol agents and reported the incident. The agents then went in the direction that Juan said the man had walked, and he was located, allowing the agents to talk further with him about the situation and determine that he had been targeted for fraud but had followed Juan’s advice. 

Through Juan’s observations and actions, the elderly man avoided becoming a victim of a scam. Juan’s quick thinking and intervention into a situation that didn’t look right exemplifies a level of excellence and a commitment to the meaning of public service.