Suspected grandparent scammer busted in S. Fla. airport

handcuffsThe grandparent scam is a despicable trick on kind and trusting older people, prosecutors say — but in a cyberspace-age twist, a suspected ringleader has been arrested at a South Florida airport in a case involving the virtual currency Bitcoin.

Stephan Moskwyn, 32,  of Canada is charged with laundering millions of dollars, officials said Friday. Records show he was arrested at the Miami airport on his way to Chile. Charges against him involve financial transactions in South Florida that investigators say are tied to money generated by Canadian call centers victimizing older Americans.

Various forms of the con have been around for years, and seniors in South Florida are often the targets. State officials warned about it in a Palm Beach County workshop a few weeks ago. A caller pretends to be — or to call on behalf of — a grandchild or other relative. The call often comes at night and the voice may sound muffled. A worried senior may unwittingly help the scammer by blurting out a name: “Thomas?” or “Jenny? Is that you?”

Prosecutors described Moskwyn as the leader of a scheme to launder the proceeds.

“As alleged, this scam exploited the kindness and trust of elderly American citizens by convincing them that loved ones were in trouble and needed money,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a statement Friday. “We will vigorously pursue those who callously prey on our society’s most vulnerable populations. Criminals who engage in these scams must know that they are not safe from prosecution, merely because they operate from foreign countries or use virtual currencies.”

Federal agents investigated for almost a year, records in the case show. At one point Moskwyn traveled to South Florida under an assumed name but investigators traced a rental car to his real identity, records say.

Moskwyn had employees in Canadian call centers instruct victims to send a kind of money order that is difficult to trace, such as a Green Dot MoneyPak, according to investigators. Then it was eventually converted to Bitcoin, a virtual currency, officials said. Authorities are pursuing charges of money laundering and use of unauthorized access devices.

Investigators also cited recorded conversations with people who cooperated in the probe.