‘Grandparenting scams’ targeting seniors across the country

Across the country, grandparents are receiving frantic phone calls — and in some cases cheeky knocks on the door — alerting them that a grandchild has been arrested and is in legal hot water.

The frantic caller will pose as a friend, lawyer or grandchild and will usually ask the grandparent for money to help pay bail or legal fees to get the loved one out of a distant prison. Money is needed urgently and secretly.

The calls are scams.

So-called “grandparent scams” ​​are also getting more sophisticated and with dangerous new architects.

“Violent street gangs are turning to grandparenting scams to make money easier,” said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention for AARP.

Stokes said the gangs realized they would face lesser criminal penalties and sentences for these schemes than for other crimes. Financial and fraud crimes generally do not have the same types of penalties as other crimes deemed violent or involving drugs or firearms.

“Financial crimes simply carry different penalties than other criminal crimes,” she said.

Some of these schemes are increasingly elaborate and involve offshore criminal syndicates from Nigeria, India, Russia and China.

“They have boiler rooms and call centers where they call from,” Stokes said.

Fake kidnappings

Although the scammers may be offshore, the impacts are very local.

Callers will demand payment of a ransom and sometimes have family details. Fake kidnappers will also claim to have hacked into smartphones and computers.

Frequently, the scammers will also ask their targets to provide them with the funds via gift cards. That should be a huge red flag, according to the Florida attorney general’s office. The state, with its high number of seniors, is a prime target market for fraud rings.

“As a general rule, we always let the community know that if it’s too good to be true, it’s usually a scam,” said Claudette Smith, spokeswoman for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. “Another red flag is requesting payment in the form of a gift card.”

Investigators and consumer watchdogs are also seeing distressing cases where scammers visit victims’ homes or meet with them personally to collect gift cards or other payments.

In Maryland, state police reported two grandparenting scam cases in February that cost victims more than $24,000. These cases involve telling grandparents that their grandchild has been in a car accident or is in legal trouble. They are then given the telephone number of a lawyer.

Elaborate routes

In August, the FBI and federal prosecutors announced racketeering indictments of eight people who allegedly ran an elaborate grandparenting scam that defrauded 70 victims out of $2 million.

The national ring, which targeted victims in Florida, Ohio, California, Texas, New York, Georgia and other states, created “well-honed” scenarios and roles to bring the grandparents to sign money, prosecutors say.

“One would play the beloved parent; another pretends to be a lawyer; and still others would pose as bail officers or medical professionals. They provided victims with false case numbers and they ordered victims to lie to family, friends and bank officials about the reasons for withdrawing or transferring money,” the FBI said in a statement. news release regarding federal indictments.

The ring would rent houses under false names to serve as mailing addresses for payments. According to the FBI, they would also use rental cars or carpools to collect the money in person from the victims. The defendants are men and women and range in age from 24 to 73.

In Oregon, state officials and the FBI are warning of a recent grandparenting scam involving someone posing as a troubled grandchild on the phone. The caller will blame COVID-19 or another medical condition for not being like the younger parent.

A so-called bail representative will then show up in person to collect the money and tell the duped grandparent not to tell anyone about the case or transaction due to a gag order.

Madison Heid, spokeswoman for the city of North Port, said the local police department periodically receives calls about potential scams. In some cases, the suspects themselves claim to be North Port Police officials, even using local numbers.

When a local resident receives such a call, Heid said, it’s best to call the department directly and confirm or debunk what the caller is saying.

“Criminals get super creative in how they go about their scam attempts,” Heid said. “It’s important to stay very diligent and not fall for their trickery.”

It can be difficult to investigate scams beyond their international and covert origins. Local law enforcement can also focus on responding to street crimes and other emergency calls. Scam victims, including seniors, may also be reluctant to report fraud out of fear or retaliation and the judgments they might receive for being cheated out of money.

best advice

Stokes said there are other scams targeting seniors and other consumers. These include internet romance scams, often with long-distance suitors, who end up asking for financial help, including through gift cards. Often these scams can start with a direct message through Facebook or online games such as Words with Friends, she said.

The best advice is to ignore phone calls from unknown numbers as well as emails and social media posts from strangers, according to watchdog groups. The social isolations of the pandemic have also made some seniors more vulnerable to robocalls and scammers.

“You have to trust your instincts,” Smith said. “It is imperative that you never give out personal information such as your social security number, banking information, or home address.”

If you fall victim to such a scheme, you can report the scam to local law enforcement or AARP, which received approximately 98,000 calls to its anti-scam line last year and frequently 10,000 calls per month to its fraud monitoring program. These scam tips are passed on to the Federal Trade Commission.

Consumer watchdogs and law enforcement insist on the need for awareness and common sense.

“Do you really think the Social Security Administration is calling you because a crime was committed with your number?” Stokes said. “Do you really think the Internal Revenue Service has a warrant for your arrest? »

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