L.A. Sheriff's Department Chases Serial Con Artist
According to Detective Estevan Martinez of The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Regina Velez, 31, began an online dating relationship with Lewis, 31, in February 2010 through the website BlackPeopleMeet.com. Lewis told her he lived in the Los Angeles area and was a private trucker who was paid by a broker.
Explaining that a newly opened bank account at Wells Fargo would take some time to clear, he asked if he could deposit some of his checks into Velez’s bank account.
Although the couple had not met in person, Velez agreed to help and gave Lewis her bank account number.
When the bank manager called to notify Velez that the check was fraudulent, she met with Lewis, who told her the confusion must have occurred because the broker did not know who she was and thus put a stop payment on the check.
Believing him, she allowed him to give her another check, which she deposited at her local branch in Chula Vista.
Martinez first received a complaint from the check owner, who ran a business in Arizona, on April 19, 2010. He had become aware that a man had deposited a check from his company into Velez’s account.
When Martinez contacted Velez as a possible suspect, he learned that she was in fact the victim of a scam costing her approximately $4,500. After a victim deposits fraudulent checks and withdraws money from them, the bank either pulls money from the victim’s account to pay itself back or holds the victim accountable for the debt.
Two other women in Oregon and three other women in Los Angeles have reported being conned by Lewis under almost identical circumstances.
Karen, a member of the customer care team at BlackPeopleMeet.com, asks that users report any fraudulent activity so that the team may investigate further.
“Be assured that we take fraud very seriously and investigate all reports and take appropriate action,” she said. “We do our best to see that our members have a safe and enjoyable time on our site.”
Martinez said he has encountered close to 1,000 incidents of conning in his career, hundreds of which have occurred through the Internet.
People can prevent becoming victims of conning by taking the time to do research, Martinez said. “Start by entering the e-mail or phone number on Google and you would be surprised that people have already tagged this e-mail or phone number to be involved in fraud. Nine out of ten Internet scams that I have handled could have been prevented by a simple Google search.”
He added that some red flags include, “when promises are made for easy money, when you receive an e-mail that talks about money that is available if you just pay the taxes on it, and when someone offers you a job you can do at home and then says they are going to pay you more than they originally offered you, adding that they need you to wire them the balance back.”
Martinez said many of the victims are Craigslist users because they offer their services publicly on the site and criminals take advantage of them.
Throughout the investigation, Martinez said the various organizations involved have been helpful in solving the cases, but it is primarily the responsibility of people visiting websites to be aware.
“As for banks, I highly suggest people do most of their banking online,” Martinez said. “They tend to monitor their accounts more and are likely to identify theft much faster than if they wait for their monthly statement.”
Martinez said once the district attorney files the case, Lewis will be given an opportunity to turn himself in. If he does not comply, police will have a warrant for his arrest.
“This guy needs to be prosecuted; he’s done this too many times,” Martinez said. “He’s taking advantage of these women left and right.”
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