Maria Spease takes care of her 75-year-old mother, Enedina Ambriz, who is homebound and receives in-home benefits through the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS). So when Ambriz got a call at home from a social worker saying she was coming over, it didn't seem too out of the ordinary.
"My mom calls me right away and tells me the social worker is coming today. I said, 'Today? I though it was Wednesday,'" Spease said.
By the time Spease arrived at her mother's home, the social worker was already there filling out forms and making copies of all her mother's records.
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"She took out a copy machine and said, 'Where can I plug it in?' and I was so surprised to see that," Spease said.
The social worker made copies of the 75-year-old's medical, Medicare and Social Security cards, but what Spease and her mother didn't know at the time was that the social worker with the copy machine was a con artist. Both Spease and her mother figured it out when the real social worker called to confirm an upcoming visit.
"At this point, we don't know why this victim was targeted or if there is a person on the inside," said La Verne Police Department Det. Justin Newman.
The con began six months ago and now there are a dozen cases under investigation, according to DPSS. Most of the victims live in senior housing. The scammers are flashing fake badges and are always carrying copy machines, which the cash-strapped department never uses in the field.
When asked if she thought it was an inside job, Spease said, "It sounds like it because this woman knew my mom had an appointment, knew my mom's home address and home phone number."
DPSS said it doesn't know how the scammers are getting client information. Officials said that in most of the cases, two Spanish-speaking women visited the victims.
"They prey on the elderly, who are expecting these kinds of visits -- and who are generally more trusting," Newman said.
Ambriz, who does not speak English, said she is worried about what could happen next because the con artist had her sign some documents. The problem is Ambriz doesn't know how to read and doesn't know what she signed.
"I feel so bad because someone took advantage of my mom," Spease said.
The fake social worker in the La Verne case is described as a Hispanic woman, about 25 years old, 5 feet 2 inches tall, with a thin build and dark hair pulled up. She has a 2-inch scar on her chest near her breastbone, and a tattoo on her wrist with the letters C-A-R.
Government officials say they have three agencies monitoring the cases for any sign of fraudulent claims.
If you believe you have been a victim of similar crime, call your local police department, or the La Verne detectives working on this case at 909-596-1913. Or you can call DPSS at 1-800-349-9970.