Phone Scam, Part 1: The Sting

The Sting

Dr. Phil brings former FBI agent and private investigator Harold Copus onto the case to help

him try to get to the bottom of the scam.


Harold discovers that the scammers are asking people to send money to Betty Lee, and the money is being wired to Houston, Texas. He sets up surveillance at three Western Union locations in Houston.


"We've set up some decoys," Harold explains. The decoys, two women, are going to make contact with the people at the 800 numbers and wire them money. "We're setting them up with a sting," Harold tells the decoys. It's important that the scammers know that the decoys have money.  "When you're making a call, you've g

ot cash, and you're desperate," he tells the decoys. "I've got to keep Western Union messages going in there so that surveillance can pick something up." Harold is hopeful that as the money gets transferred, the scammers will go to one of the three Western Union locations that are under surveillance to pick up the cash, and he can catch their images on tape.

Susan, one of the decoys, makes a call. The woman who answers says, "This is Dr.

Phil's session line and what he does here is he consults people over the phone, and it's $375. Is that something that you're interested in?"

The woman tells Susan that there is a time slot available that afternoon, and she explains how to wire money through Western Union, because she says their credit card machine is down. "When the operator answers, tell her that you want to wire $375, and you want to wire it
to this name " Dr. Phil's secretary " her name is Esther, last name is Hernandez," the scammer explains. "The city and state is Houston, Texas. And they'll ask you if you know Esther Hernandez. Just go ahead and tell them, ‘Yes,' and they'll go ahead and put the transaction through for you. OK? And as you get a control number from them, call me back. My name is Pam."

On day two, Susan calls Western Union to verify that the money has been picked up, but it hasn't been. "I'm a little concerned. I'm going to try and call Pam again," she says. The number she calls is out of service.

"The scammer seems to have pulled the plug on the 800 number. They may have taken the money and run. We may have to dig a little deeper to figure out who these people are," Harold says.

With the information collected during the sting operation, Harold and his investigative team set up an extensive surveillance operation in Houston, Texas. "I've spoken with the police. The people running this scam

are big-time players. They've been referred to as ‘gypsies.' They have numerous 800 numbers, more than one name, safe houses. There are a number of victims. This is just really major. It's going to take a lot of resources to bring them down," Harold explains. 

Harold addresses his team, including Frank and John, the two men setting up the more extensive surveillance in Houston. "We learned that the 800 number used in the scam traces back to a psychic shop on Alabama Street. We have observed several women who traveled from this location on Alabama Street to another location on Dunlavy Street," Harold says. "The people running this scam have picked up money at a Western Union inside Fiesta Mart near the psychic shops."


The crew gets ready to go on surveillance. "We need to positively identify the people running this scam," Harold explains. John and Frank will run the surveillance on the psychic shop to visually identify the women. "When you run a surveillance like this, you have to be really careful." They are using a special type of camera lens called a lipstick lens. "Those things will allow us to shoot from more cover than just putting the camera regular up," Harold says.

John and Frank scout the locations for the best surveillance positions. "The vehicle left the location on Dunlavy, so right now we are on them," Frank says.

"We're going to attempt to follow them in and get into a location where we can get an ID shot as well," John says.