A Bay Village grandmother wasn’t about to let a phone scammer get away with stealing $21,600 from her even though she had already fallen for his fake scheme three times
She ended up helping police catch a con artist in New York.
The 83-year-old woman is just one of many who are falling for scams that target older victims. It’s been increasing and police and those who work with senior citizens have seen it.
“These scam artists know seniors are vulnerable and target them because of that,” said Deborah Huff, director of senior services for Rocky River. “We’ve put on seminars, we have luncheon speakers speak about topics like this, work with the police and always try to talk with our seniors to see what is going on with them.”
Not all cases end badly.
Teri Newsome, a supervisor at the Target at Westgate shopping center, grew suspicious July 6 when an older Rocky River man said he needed to buy $5,000 in gift cards. He explained that a man at the “Federal Sheriff’s Department’ called him and said he needed to buy the gift cards and send them to him at the sheriff’s department.
“It was pretty clearly a scam,” Newsome said. “There are a series of questions we ask designed to see if it’s a scam or something illegal, so we can stop it.”
Spokeswoman Danielle Schumann said Target takes a multi-layered, comprehensive approach to preventing theft and fraud that includes team member training.
“We take these situations very seriously,” Schumann said. We are aware of the prevalence of scams like these. We have signage in our stores and share general safety tips with our team members through training, so they can stay alert and help guests as best as they can at our registers.”
But in other instances, the scam works.
The Bay Village grandmother received a call May 20, and was told her grandson needed $9,600 to get out of jail. She sent the money. Two days later, she was called again, with the caller saying an additional $6,000 was needed, which she sent. Another man called May 24, saying he was her grandson’s attorney and that he needed another $6,000 for bail, which she sent. When she was contacted May 29, the caller again claimed to be an attorney and said she needed to send $8,900 to expunge her grandson’s record. At this point, she became concerned and contacted the Bay Village police, Detective Jay Elish said.
The woman sent cash via a UPS package and the man is expected to pay restitution, police said.
“She was pretty sure something was going on at that point,” Elish said. ”She was scared. But she also wanted to do something about this.”
“Young people never get these type of calls,” Elish added. “They always prey on the older people. It goes to their fears about family members being in trouble. The person saying he is the grandchild will appeal to the person being scammed to not tell his parents, because he’s embarrassed.”
After talking with Elish, the woman set up the scammer. She agreed to send the money via UPS to an address in Nassau County. Elish talked with Nassau County officers, who were waiting and picked up the man when he got the package on May 29.
Police arrested Jean Dashill, 32, of Rosedale, New York, who has been charged with two felony counts of grand larceny and one felony count of attempted grand larceny. Dashill is scheduled to appear Monday in New York First District Court on the charges. He could face up to seven years in prison on the grand larceny charges and two to five years on the attempted grand larceny charge, said Miriam Sholder of the Nassau County District Attorney’s office.
Dashill used what police call the grandparent scam. It works like this: A caller impersonates an older person’s grandchild or says he is calling on behalf of the grandchild who is in some type of trouble. In both situations, the conman claims to need money quickly or there will be dire consequences.
Vinnie Garcia, a detective in Nassau County’s 5th Precinct, said police are aware scams are a problem for seniors.
“We’re trying to hit them hard here,” Garcia said. “We have other cases like this, so we’re glad to get an arrest in a case like this.”
Social media has made it easier for the scam artists, Elish said. They use social media to find personal information such as names, birthdays and other data that enable them to pose as a grandchild. The caller is always the same sex as the grandchild and will use those personal details to gain the trust of the person being targeted, Elish said.
“They’ll call the grandparent and say ‘It’s me — Billy,’ or whomever, and then they’ll start asking them for money,” Elish said. “Or someone will say they’re an attorney representing the grandchild or someone calling on the grandchild’s behalf. They’ll try any tactic to get some money by using the grandparent’s concern.’
Another scam is to say a senior is in trouble with the law and needs to buy gift cards or send money to get out of it.
Huff, one of two licensed social workers at the Rocky River senior center, said help can come from different areas. Huff related a story of a Rocky River senior who had a man approach him about doing work on his home.
“The guy told the senior, ‘Don’t you remember me? I did some work for you a few years ago, so I’ll give you a good deal on your roof,’ ” Huff said.
The Rocky River man wrote a $4,000 check and gave it to the other man, but when it became apparent the work wasn’t getting done, the Rocky River senior center staff worked with the man and got his $4,000 back.
“They’re not always that lucky,” Huff said. “That’s why we work with seniors, talk to the police or whatever we can to try and stop this type of thing.”
It’s not a new problem. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office issued an alert two years ago warning families to be aware of phone scams targeting grandparents. Pam Anson, community outreach coordinator with the Better Business Bureau’s Cleveland office, spoke about the issue at the Gardens at Westlake Senior Living facility in September 2017.
Callers feed off emotions to get you to give up money, Anson warned. The con artists are often prepared for initial skepticism, she said.
“Sometimes they’ll even put people pretending to be doctors or lawyers or police officers on the phone to make the story sound more legitimate,” Anson said.
Never be afraid to hang up on someone, she said.
The Ohio Department of Aging advises seniors to ask questions only your grandchild could answer. For example, if your grandchild doesn't have a sister, ask the caller if they have reached out to their sister, and see how they respond. If you’re still unsure, call the child or his or her parents via numbers you trust to verify. And, no matter the situation, never agree to send money immediately or give credit card or gift card information over the phone if you are not sure the caller is who he or she claims to be.
Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 440-871-5797.