Nowadays, we’re constantly warned about scammers and con artists who would do anything to get trick you out of your money. But what if the scammer targeted your elderly relatives? Well, one town has had to find out the hard way…
Rome, New York
The city of Rome is located in the center of New York, in the Oneida County district. However, the so-called Copper City is not like your usual American city. It’s quiet, quaint, friendly, and there is rarely any crime.
However, in November 2016, the quiet city was thrown into disarray and disaster. Their once crime-free neighborhoods were targeted by scammers, who used the residents’ good nature to their advantage. Specifically, these scammers targeted elderly grandparents, who would naturally be incredibly worried about the safety of their grandchild and would do anything to make sure they were alright. It was called the Grandma Scam, and the people of Rome were falling prey into the hands of their money-loving predators.
The Grandma Scam
So what is the Grandma Scam? Well, this perfectly planned deception warns elderly people that their grandchild is being arrested and that the only way to save them is to pay a hefty price. The deception is so intricate and so believable that many of the residents would often pay out thousands of dollars to help out their loved ones. Little did they know that the person on the end of the phone didn’t have their best interests at heart…
November in Rome
In November 2016, Capt. Tim Bates from the Rome Police Department received numerous reports from scared elderly residents and worried relatives, who made him aware of the Grandma Scam that plagued their city. In fact, he received a whopping seven reports of the scam over the course of two weeks. The Capt. had never experienced anything like the scam before, so decided to investigate the case, learn more about the Grandma Scam and decide how to proceed.
Capt. Bates knew that the residents and the Police Department would not stand for scammers in their city, and that he had to uncover the scammers and prevent them from targeting the elderly in the future. So, he spoke to those who had received the phone calls, spoke to neighboring police departments who had experienced the same scam, and researched the backstory behind the Grandma Scams that were plaguing his city. He needed to get to the bottom of it.
As he embarked on his research, Capt. Bates soon discovered that there was more to the Grandma Scam than he first thought. Instead of targeting random individuals and hoping for the best, which is what he had been led to believe, the scammers put time and effort into choosing the right victims and convincing them of their supposed grandchild’s situation. In fact, the scammers make sure they have enough genealogical information behind them before they make their move.
The scam caller will begin their research by scouring social media to find suitable local and elderly residents. They will then use the information on their social media pages to delve into their lives and the people in it. They will build up a family tree, and memorize the names of those in their family – specifically, their grandchildren. They will then procure the victim’s phone number, either from the social media site (if it is available) or from the local phone directory.
Making up the lie
The scammer will then call the victim and pretend to be the relevant grandchild. Of course, with all of their information they had gained from the social media sites, they can easily convince the elderly resident that the caller is indeed their relative. However, this call will not be a friendly chat to catch up and discuss their classes at college or their recent trip to Thailand. Instead, this call will leave the elderly resident overcome with worry.
Time in jail
Yes, the scammer will convince the elderly resident that they, the grandchild, is in a lot of trouble with the police. In fact, the supposed grandchild reveals that they have been arrested for either unpaid fines or a misdemeanor, and could serve jail time if they didn’t pay the fines in a prompt manner. The grandchild maintains that they don’t have the money to do so, and asks the grandparent for help. Most of the time, they oblige.
Calls from the police
However, the scammers don’t always use this method. Instead, they like to shake things up a bit. Sometimes these scammers will pretend to be the police, rather than the grandchild in question. They will maintain that they are from a local or national police department and that their grandchild has been arrested. They also note that serving jail time could be avoided, but only if they pay a fee. As the scammers are so convincing, they believe them.
Paying the price
So what do the scammers ask for? Well, instead of asking the elderly residents to pay the fine in cash – the scammers ask for something a little different. They will normally ask for around $2,000 to $3,000 worth of gift vouchers for the likes of iTunes, or prepaid credit cards from the likes of Green Dot and Visa. Once the elderly relatives have bought the vouchers, the scammers request the card numbers, and will supposedly release their loved one.
Not the police
As soon as Capt. Bates discovered this information about the so-called Grandma Scammers; he knew he had to make the Rome residents aware of the legal processes, and the ways in which the real police would contact the relatives of those arrested. He maintained that the police officers would never ask people to pay fines through the likes of gift cards or prepaid credit cards. In fact, they would never ask for any wire transfers or cash over the phone.
Knowing the difference
Capt. Bates also wanted the residents to know the main difference between scammers and the police – that the real police would always ask a relative to come down to the station and deal with a bail fee or unpaid fines in person. To this day, he still pleads with the elderly relatives of Rome to take a step back if they do receive any of these scam calls, and wonder whether the real law enforcers would ask these requests of them.
However, there have been times where the Grandma Scammers have based their lies a little further away from home. They will often create false stories surrounding the grandchild in a far-off jail in a different country. Of course, it is not always possible for elderly relatives to easily travel across the globe to save their grandchild. This is when the scammers receive true success – as the elderly relatives send their money quickly, quietly, and without putting up a fight.
This new way of scamming the elderly has unfortunately resulted in many residents losing their money because of their kind nature. Capt. Bates wants people to realize that there’s no need for them to do this – all they need to do is double check. If they receive a call like this or are unsure whether the call is legitimate, they should always check. Ask the scammer which police department they are from, or where the child has been arrested, and call them directly.
Not just Rome
Unfortunately, this new form of Grandma Scamming has not just been found in Rome, New York. In fact, it has traveled to Utica, New York – and has even made its way to Florida and surrounding states. One elderly resident from Utica has become a leading figure in the efforts to prevent people falling prey to the scammers. The 91-year-old woman, by the name of Flora Brindisi, has helped many worried grandparents get themselves out of the scam.
Doing their homework
Flora Brindisi has often spoken to the press about the Grandma Scammers and the detailed work that goes behind it. She noted that the con artists ‘certainly do their homework’ and confirmed Capt. Bates’ discovery that they uncover deep and personal information regarding the elderly relative and their family. They catch the elderly relatives with a hook and attempt to keep a hold of them throughout the whole scam, to eventually steal their money from the vulnerable individuals.
A Mexican prison
Flora first became interested in the Grandma Scammers after she witnessed one of her elderly friends be swindled out of thousands of dollars. In that case, the woman was called by the scammers and led to believe that her grandson was held up in a Mexican prison and would need bailing out with gift cards and prepaid credit cards. The scared woman was terrified for the safety of her grandson and eagerly paid the price for it.
Now, Flora works with the local Utica Police Department to learn more about scammers that specifically target the elderly, and works as an activist to spread the message. By doing this, she hopes fewer people will fall into the prying hands of the scammers, and lose their money – many of whom have little money in the first place. She believes that those who are aware of the scam and its methods will be able to spot the first signs of the Grandma Scam.
Answering the phone
Unfortunately, there will always be scammers who target their victims over the phone. Although Flora still answers her telephone, she is wary of the person on the other side, and knows to double check every piece of information she receives about her family and friends – just as Capt. Bates noted. However, many police departments will suggest elderly residents buy Caller ID for their phones, and only answer the phone to those they know, to avoid the growth of the Grandma Scam.