When Frances Markowitz, 83, formerly of Merrick, sent roughly $20,000 in cash to a Delaware address, she was under the impression that she was freeing her grandson Aaron from a jail in the Dominican Republic.
Two days later, on June 3, she discovered that Aaron had never been in jail and she had been scammed into giving away her life savings, according to a police report from Port St. Lucie, Florida, where Markowitz currently lives.
Markowitz had received a call from a man who pretended to be Aaron. The man said that he was attending a wedding in the Dominican Republic when he was pulled over for passing through a red light and found with a large quantity of drugs.
The phone was then handed to an individual who claimed to be Sergeant Perry Thomas of the U.S. Embassy. He said that Markowitz must send $870 to the Dominican Republic for a lawyer, which she did. Following that, he told her to send $9,000 to an address in Bear, Delaware, and on the following day she was told to send another $8,400 to the same address. She followed through each time.
According to Markowitz’s daughter, Debra, the man claiming to be Aaron said that his nose was broken and spoke in a frantic cry to disguise his voice. Markowitz didn’t call Aaron until two days later to find out that she was being scammed. “Once your heart’s on the line, you’re not thinking straight anymore,” Debra said.
Markowitz and her husband Mark called Aaron on June 3, when he would be supposedly returning from the Dominican Republic. Aaron told her that he was never there and urged her to call the police. They contacted UPS to stop the deliveries, but they were told that the money had already been sent.
In a press release, Port St. Lucie police apparently referenced the incident, and warned citizens not to be a victim of fraud. “Persons who receive phone calls requesting money should call police and never send money to unknown persons,” the release reads.
“They’re shaken,” Debra said of her parents. “And they feel embarrassed. My mother only went public because she didn’t want this to happen to anyone else … My parents are smart people, but when you think someone you love is suffering, you don’t even think. You just go for it.”
When Debbie Haas and Catharine Malchak, two of Markowitz’s friends, heard about what happened they started a Gofundme page to replace the money that was lost. In 13 days it has reached $3,451 of its $20K goal with 39 people donating. Those who are interested in donating can do so here.