Phong Tran sat in the lobby of the C-11 district police station in Dorchester, waiting for a police officer. He was there to make a complaint.

Someone had called him claiming to be from National Grid. They told Tran he owed $500 in electric bills for the nail salon he owns with his wife. “And I had to pay the bill right away,” Tran said.  

Tran is just one of thousands of fraud victims in Massachusetts. Federal investigators received more than 20,000 fraud complaints last year in the Commonwealthalone. People don’t always report those types of crimes. But that’s more than $10 million lost to scheming and lying. 

As Tran was telling his story, his phone started to ring. "It’s them," he said. And he put the call on speakerphone.

“Hello Mr. Chang?" a woman's voice said on the other end, getting his name wrong. "This is Christina Sandoval from National Grid."

“Yes, what do you want?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, were you able to purchase the same-day payment method?” she replied.

Tran had just been describing how the person on the phone had told him he needed to buy a $500 pre-paid debit card at CVS and gave him a phone number to call back with the card information. He still gripped the card in his hand. Tran was out $500.

This time they were demanding another thousand. Now he knew they were scammers, though, and he played along.

"I have given you an hour. It’s already been an hour," she said, sounding impatient. "You are not able to purchase a same-day payment method?"

"No, I can’t make it now," he replied.

"And you can’t go get it?"

"I don’t have money to go get it."

"OK, sir, just wait for a technician," she told him. "He’ll disconnect your power, OK?"

"All right," he said, not upset, because he knew it was a scam.

"Have a good day," she said, ending the call.

Of course, the electricity stayed on. Utility companies don’t demand instant payment; and they definitely don’t demand customers buy pre-paid debit cards. In Tran’s case, he’s actually a customer at Eversource, not National Grid. 

“That is just not how we do business," said Eversource spokesman Mike Durand. "And we always recommend customers if you get that type of call, hang up immediately and call the local authorities.”

The problem is, there’s not really much the local authorities can do. 

“They’re often very difficult to investigate," said Lieutenant Detective Mike McCarthy of the Boston Police. "Because often the numbers that folks are calling from are not a valid phone number.”

In the last year, Boston Police received more than eleven hundred reports of this kind of fraud. And McCarthy said they come in all forms.

“We have individuals posing as parties who were involved in a car accident, and that they’re withholding medical help for somebody’s loved ones unless they send money,” he said.

Other scams include calls claiming to be from the IRS, or a tech support or credit card company. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office received more than 750 complaints in 2016 that they classified as phone or impostor scams. Thirty-six of them were utility scams like the one Tran fell for.

“Now we have a technology that basically allows a scam artist -- a criminal -- to go and copy someone’s actual telephone number ... and then call from a different phone but make it appear like they’re calling form that number,” Healey said.

Healey said to hang up if you get a questionable call like this, then report it to her office.

“When the money’s already been sent, most times we’re not going to be able to get it back," she said. "Because oftentimes it’s gone, and gone overseas.”

When they get phone scam complaints, Healey’s office turns them over to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. Monica Vaca of the FTC says there’s actually not much they can do, either.

“Even though there may not be a whole ton of prosecutions that result out of those complaints, when there are, we can get real money back for people," Vaca said. "When there are, we can actually shut some of these enterprises down.”

Vaca said another way of fighting this is going after the money transfer companies. In January, the FTC reached a settlement with Western Union, which agreed to pay back $586 million to people who were scammed in these kinds of frauds.

“All of those companies, they’re aware of how their payment mechanisms can be used to perpetrate fraud," she said. "And so it’s really important that consumers complain to those companies.”

Green Dot, the company behind the payment card Tran used, says there are ways law enforcement can track down scammers through bank accounts. But at this point, Boston police only will say their investigation is ongoing.

What about the phone number Tran was given to call once he had the debit card? WGBH News decided to give it a call. 

“You have reached the central district business office of National Grid," the outgoing message announced. "If you are calling to report a power outage, press one.”

At first, I couldn't help but wonder – wait, did I mix up the numbers? Was I actually calling National Grid?

When I got someone on the line, I asked for the name Phong Tran was given. But when she answered, as soon as I told her who I was and why I was calling, she hung up. I called back. I asked for the same name again, but this time a man answered.

“Oh, are you the guy from yesterday, that I was drinking beer all night last night with his money, are you the same guy?” he asked.

No, I said. I explained that I’m a reporter and tell him about Tran.

“Yeah, yeah, he replied. "I remember now, that guy sent me $500 that I was drinking beers all night with his money.”

He wasn't interested in answering real questions.

“Where are you located?" I asked.

"Give me some money, I will let you know,” he replied.

“You realize you’re taking advantage of people," I said.

"I love it,” he said.

I tried to put a personal face on the victim of his scam. “The person who’s money you took is Mr. Phong Tran, needed that money," I told him. "He’s not a rich man, and he didn’t understand what he was doing when he gave it to you."

That was met with maniacal laughter. It was, as I see it, the voice of someone who’s unrepentant and unworried about getting caught. We spoke like this for about six minutes. Then he hung up.

When I spoke with Phong Tran in the police station that day, he wasn’t making his complaint in the hopes of getting his money back. He was resigned to that loss.

“I just want, in the future, they don’t scam somebody else, you know?” he said.

Unfortunately, at least for now, the scammers are probably still at it.