WOBURN -- A Lowell man was ordered held on $15,000 cash bail in what Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan called a "despicable" crime in which police allege he scammed four gullible grandparents in Utah and Texas out of a total of $83,000 using the notorious "grandparent scam."
It is alleged that in total, Mohammed Khan, also known as Mohammed Kann, 36, a native of Liberia, used four different locations in Lowell for delivery of the cash payments.
Khan pleaded not guilty in Middlesex Superior Court on Friday to charges of larceny over $250 from a person over 60 (seven counts), attempt to commit larceny over $250 from a person over 60 (two counts), and being a common and notorious thief.
If he posts bail, Khan is ordered to wear a GPS monitoring device and surrender his passport.
Lowell police allege the scam used is known as "the grandparent scam." Both the FBI and the Consumer Federation of America say the scam is a common way criminals prey on loving grandparents. The grandparent scam is one of the most common scams that prey on older Americans, and it has been around since at least 2008, according to the FBI.
Ryan said in a statement that Khan was apparently working with unnamed others to "create and execute a deliberate, malicious scam to scare grandparents into thinking that their grandchildren were in jail and needed financial help to get out.
Ryan added that the allegations against Khan are "despicable," in that it is alleged he "convinced caring elders that their loved ones are in jeopardy and only by depleting their life savings can they help keep their grandchildren safe."
According to police, in February, four residents of Utah and Texas received phone calls notifying them that their grandchildren had been arrested and needed bail money to be released from jail.
As part of the scam, an initial call was made by the "grandchild" telling their grandparent that they had been arrested, were in custody, and needed money to make bail. This call was then followed up allegedly by another, purportedly by someone who was helping the grandchild to make the bail arrangements.
In each instance, it is alleged that the recipient of the call was directed to send cash overnight to various addresses in Lowell to effectuate this bail transaction. It is alleged that Khan retrieved the overnight shipments of cash at the specified addresses.
Typically, scammers will insist that money be sent overseas via money transfer, which is nearly impossible to trace, unlike the FedEx deliveries used in this case, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
Once the first payment was received, the victim then allegedly received a follow up call telling them that the police were "upgrading" the charges against the grandchild and that more money was required for bail and to retain legal counsel.
The grandparent was then directed to make an additional cash payment in the same fashion as the first. Each victim was also instructed to keep the phone calls and the bail money confidential and to tell no one about the supposed arrest and charges.
When the grandparents were finally able to speak with their actual grandchildren, and learned it was all a lie, they notified authorities and an investigation was initiated.
Khan's next court date is July 2 for a pretrial conference.