Man poses as New York City attorney to scam grandparents out of serious cash

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A well-known defense attorney in New York City says a mystery criminal is ruining his reputation by using his name to trick grandparents out of thousands of dollars.

For more than a year, the fraudster has been cold-calling grandparents around the country, pretending to represent their grandchildren, who he claims have been arrested for DUI in New York City and need cash bail.

During the call, the fraudster pretends to be a New York City defense attorney named Benjamin Perez.

In reality, these grandchildren have not been arrested and are often not even in New York.

The real Benjamin Perez said he found out about the scam in February 2018, when his office received a call from a concerned grandparent who had been duped out of $10,000.

"Since then, it has been non-stop," Perez said. "The calls keep coming. It's terrible. Obviously, I don't want my name being used to rip people off."

Eyewitness News has learned of more than a dozen victims over the past year in states like Arkansas, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas.

"You care about your family, so they prey on those feelings," said a victim in Arkansas, who asked to remain anonymous. She sent the fraudster $14,000.

"I'm upset with myself for falling for it," said Daniel Caswell, another victim in Florida, who sent the fraudster $2,000 before figuring out the call was a scam.

All of the victims who spoke to Eyewitness News told the same story. They described a caller with a Hispanic accent claiming to be Benjamin Perez and asking them to get thousands of dollars in cash, hide it in a magazine, and mail it to one of three addresses in New York.

Perez said it's important to know that real attorneys would not request bail be sent as cash in the mail in this manner.

"I almost felt like it was a kidnapping type of thing," said Robert Balser, remembering what he went through mailing the cash.

The victims said they sent the mail to addresses in Harlem, Copiague and Richmond Hill.

Property records indicate two of the addresses had vacancies around the same time the victims had been mailing cash to those addresses.

Eyewitness News spoke to a current tenant at one of the addresses who said he had no idea about the scam.

A woman at the third address said she had lived on the property over 20 years with her husband but knew nothing about the cash payments sent to her address by mail.

"I don't know how I get targeted, I mean the city is saturated with criminal defense lawyers," Perez said. "I suspect that maybe it's unfortunately a former client of mine who knows a little bit about my practice and what I do for a living."

Perez has been complaining to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office since he learned about the scheme in February 2018, emailing whatever evidence he could gather to a crime analyst named Steven Ford.

In one email back in March 2018, Ford replies, "Thank you! Working on this now."

Then one day, Perez says Ford just stopped responding.

"I just don't know what they've been doing with the information," Perez said.

Eyewitness News reached out to Vance's office to find out what had become of the investigation.

A spokesperson responded by email, "Looks like the person Mr. Perez was emailing is no longer with the office, and accordingly, that email address is inactive. I would urge Mr. Perez to call our Cyber Crime and Identity Theft Bureau at 212-335-9600. I will give them a heads-up so they know to expect his call."

When Eyewitness News pressed for more information, Vance's office did not respond.

In other words, Perez would need to get the investigation started all over again.

"It's frustrating, very frustrating," Perez said. "I really want something done about it."

At the suggestion of Eyewitness News, Perez also filed a complaint with the New York City Police Department and the New York State Attorney General's Office.

In an email the Attorney General's Office responded, "Unfortunately, after careful review, it appears that your problem is not one for which our office can offer assistance."

Perez said officers with the NYPD also said the department would not investigate the crime since Perez himself had not lost any money, and an NYPD spokesperson told Eyewitness News to suggest Perez reach out to the Federal Trade Commission.

Perez has now also filed a complaint with federal law enforcement and followed up once again with the Manhattan DA Cyber Crimes Bureau, which he says located Ford's old notes and added that the case had been closed after an email associated with the scheme was tied to the Dominican Republic.

Perez said that representative indicated she would look into his case once again.

"I feel really bad for these people," Perez said. "They shouldn't have to go through this. They shouldn't be losing their money to someone like this who is obviously an opportunist."

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