A Seaford woman made national headlines after she lured an alleged phone scammer to his own arrest — and got it all on camera.
Jan. 20 started out as a typical day for Jean Ebbert, 73. The resident of Waverly Avenue was working on crossword puzzles and texting with her son, Rusty Ebbert, which she does every day.
Just before noon, she received a call on her house phone, and heard a man sobbing. At first she thought it was her son-in-law, Emmanuel, who, she said, is “a big jokester.”
“But then he says, ‘Grandma, I need help, I’ve been in a car accident,’” Ebbert explained. The man on the phone told her that he had been charged with driving under the influence, and needed cash for his bail.
But both of her grandchildren, who are in elementary and middle school, are too young to drive, so Ebbert immediately knew the call was a scam.
A retired 911 call dispatcher for the Nassau County Police Department, she has hung up on many phone scammers in the past, she said. But last Thursday she decided to change things up. “I started playing along,” she said. “I told him, ‘Oh my god, don’t call your mother, she’ll be mad! Let me handle this!’ So they thought I was falling for it.”
The scammer gave Ebbert a “case number” and a Pennsylvania-based phone number, and then hung up. She received several more calls, one informing her that her “grandson” was being held in a municipal court in New Jersey, and another in which the caller identified himself as her grandson’s attorney, “Matt Levine,” who required $8,000 in cash for her grandson’s bail.
Ebbert continued to con the con artist. “‘Can I Venmo it to you?’” she asked him innocently. Confused, he told her that wasn’t an option; it had to be cash. She told “Levine” that she had the cash on hand, and that it was intended for a contractor who was bringing her new kitchen cabinets — none of which was true. The scammer said his bail bondsman would be in touch.
All the while, Ebbert was still texting with her son. Though he thought little of it from the get-go, he said, he was becoming increasingly concerned. He requested that his two sisters call their mother and check in on her.
Out of an abundance of caution, Ebbert alerted the NCPD’s 7th Precinct, and two police officers were dispatched to her house. They arrived shortly after 1 p.m. and filed a report. She got another call from the scammer, and turned her phone on speaker to let the officers listen.
After several additional calls, she was finally asked to put the $8,000 in an envelope and hand it to a “bail bondsman” who would be arriving at her house in roughly 10 minutes. “I look at the cops, the cops look at me, and one of them goes flying out the door to move his patrol car down to the firehouse,” Ebbert recounted. The other officer also moved his vehicle out of sight and came back inside.
In that moment alone, fear washed over her: “I was wondering, what if he has a gun? What if police have to shoot him?” she recalled. “All this stuff runs through your head. I’m worried.”
Her son, who lives in Lindenhurst, was also worried. Preoccupied by the situation, his mother wasn’t responding to his texts. With access to the Ring doorbell camera system at his mother’s house, he checked the corresponding app, saw the police cars and began to worry. “I saw this guy walking up to her house — I was like, no way is this happening,” he said. “There was a brief moment that I didn’t know what was going on.”
While his mother was on the phone with one scammer, another man — identified by police as Joshua Estrella Gomez, of Mineola — appeared at her door as the “bondsman.” Ebbert handed Gomez a sealed manila envelope — stuffed with paper towels — and as he turned to leave, he was tackled by the officers, who were hiding inside the house. Rusty Ebbert watched Gomez’s entire arrest on the Ring doorbell camera.
His mother, a 911 dispatcher from 1989 to 2012, said that experience benefited her in her mission. “I think it helped me as far as being quick,” she said. “[In that position] you had to know where everyone was in your whole precinct. You could never change your tone — you always had to remain calm in the chaos.”
A Seaford resident since 1984, Ebbert raised her four children — Deanna, Wendy, Melissa and Rusty — in the hamlet.
According to a NCPD report, Gomez, 28, was charged with third-degree attempted grand larceny. He has been the only individual charged in relation to the incident. He was released on an appearance ticket and is due back in court on Feb. 3.