Long arm of the law reaches deep into the heart of Texas to nab alleged scammer | VailDaily.com

Long arm of the law reaches deep into the heart of Texas to nab alleged scammer

Linda Lazard Franks is in the Eagle County jail after Eagle Police tracked a scam in which she was allegedly involved all the way to the Beaumont, Texas, Walmart where she worked.

EAGLE — A classified ad in the local newspaper helped police nab an alleged scammer working from Texas.

Eagle Police say Linda Lazard Franks, 56, was allegedly running scams from a Beaumont, Texas, Walmart money center, when the long arm of the law reached all the way to the Texas coast to grab her. Franks faces five felonies.

In all, Franks is accused of stealing more than $28,000 in nine days through 28 fraudulent transactions. Some victims are Eagle County residents, Eagle police say.

What police say

Late on the morning of Nov. 28, 2017, Eagle Police Officer Bryce Hinton was called to Eagle's Community Bank of Colorado to meet with two women who said they had been scammed.

One of the women said she answered a classified ad in the Vail Daily, asking for a part-time personal assistant to do some shopping and other errands. "Send resume to executiveoffice999@gmail.com," the ad said.

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Meanwhile, foreign hackers broke into the Google account of a Chino, California man, Todd Michael McNitt, and used McNitt's stolen identity to buy the classified ad and run their scams through Franks, police allege.

The Eagle woman, a local college student, answered the classified ad by email on Oct. 26, 2017. Three days later she received an email response saying she got the job.

The woman, heard from not-McNitt again on Nov. 2, 2017, after she had asked him if the job was a scam. The alleged scammers assured her it was not a scam, and produced McNitt's California drivers license and some Linked In references.

Four days later, the alleged scammers asked the woman to buy a Target gift card, and to make sure they could access it, using McNitt's reportedly forged identity.

Four days after that, the woman followed their instructions and opened a checking account in her and McNitt's names, giving the scammers access to it.

The alleged scammers told the woman they had transferred $4,500 into her personal account.

Over the next few days, they told the woman to send thousands of dollars from her account to a foster home in Austin, Texas.

Three days later the woman discovered that her checking account was overdrawn by $3,124.56. She also discovered that the New York bank the scammers said they were using had refused to pay the $4,500.

That's about the time she also received a message from craigslist saying the email she had answered and the code she used was a scam.

"Any request for it is a scam," the craigslist message said.

Eagle police asked the Vail Daily for information about the ad. With that information and by working with Walmart Global Investigations, they tracked the transactions to Franks, who was working in Walmart's Beaumont, Texas, "money center."

Smiling with money stacks

Between Nov. 20 and 29, when the Eagle County woman was being scammed, Franks had completed 28 transactions for $22,472.50, Walmart investigator Jay Johnston told the Eagle police.

Walmart security video shows Franks signing receipts for money orders, and putting the money in her pocket, an Eagle police report said.

Eagle police's Hinton found Linda Lazard Franks on Facebook, wearing a Walmart vest and shirt, smiling at the camera with money stacked in the background.

Hinton tracked McNitt to Chino Hills, California, where McNitt told them his Google account had been hacked, and the hackers got his personal information from his emails. The real McNitt produced a Google alert that Google sent him when his account was hacked.

Hinton says McNitt changed his passwords within 15 minutes of speaking with Google.

Franks was arrested Jan. 6, and remains in the Eagle County jail on $30,000 bond. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.