From the Desk of the DA: Senior Phone Scams

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Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore Photo Credit: Contributed

We all know that con artists succeed by manipulating and taking advantage of people, and some recent phone scams targeting seniors in Westchester remind us that we should always be vigilant. As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I want to let you know about these scams and the ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from con artists like these.

Police in Mount Pleasant and New Castle have recently received reports of a series of calls to elderly residents with urgent requests for money. In one instance, a caller told a grandfather that his grandson had been in an accident in Mexico and needed $2500 wired immediately. The grandfather sent the money, and then sent another $2500 when he received a second call, but it was all a hoax. In another case, a caller claimed a grandchild was in jail in Bolivia and urgently needed $4500 for bail. The grandfather got in touch with his grandson and realized this was a scam before sending the money.

These are not rare or isolated cases. One frequently reported version of this scam involves a phone call that begins with a young caller saying “Hi, this is your favorite grandson”. The grandparent naturally responds with the grandson’s name, which the con artist then uses. The caller then tells the grandparent that he is in trouble overseas and needs money immediately, claiming either to have been in an accident, or to have lost his passport and wallet, or to have some other emergency. In these cases, when a caring grandparent wires money overseas, it is picked up immediately by the scammers and is not recoverable.

If you receive an urgent call asking for help for a family member overseas, be suspicious and make every attempt to find out whether the emergency is real before acting. Ask for the caller’s name and contact information. Make some calls and find out whether the story is true. Don’t be pressured by a caller who tells you that you must act immediately. Even if the caller’s account is true, there is no emergency so critical that you cannot take some time to verify the facts. And if you have been the victim of one of these scams, don’t blame yourself. These con artists are professional criminals who take advantage of a grandparent’s natural desire to help a grandchild.

As with all unsolicited phone calls, be cautious and do not provide any personal or financial information to the caller. Do not respond immediately to requests for donations or offers to sell you things. Instead, ask for the caller’s name, firm and contact information, and then decide whether to respond after you have had time to consider the call. Report any phone calls that you consider suspicious to your local police department.

For more on the work of the District Attorney’s Office, log on to our website www.westchesterda.net.

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How about the scams run by the DA office on Police Cover-Ups ?

Keep in mind that scams are also being perpetrated via the internet. I have received several emails stating that I won hundreds of thousands of dollars and that I needed to disclose my bank account number so that the funds could be electronically transferred. My momma didn't raise a fool. I immediately delete these emails.

It's amazing how intelligent some people can get just to steal someone else's hard-earned money but not intelligent enough to keep a decent job. That scam's also called the Grandson Scam. As mentioned in the article, scam artists target the seniors and take advantage of their "natural desire to help a grandchild." I've read several cases of this being reported at http://www.callercenter.com and it's sad that almost 60% of the victims got scammed because they were not aware.

This is why I always remind family and friends to be cautious about incoming phone calls and if the call turns out suspicious. hang up. There's no sense putting up with a call especially when the call tries to hide his own number by blocking it. That, to me, is already "scammy".

This happened to a neighbor. Phone rang, and he heard a voice say, "Hi, Uncle Jim." While you're caught off guard, he says, "It's Joey." (Bingo. You have a nephew named Joey.) Next, he says that he and a group of his buddies are up in Canada, and their rental car broke down on the way to a friend's funeral. Supposedly, cops discovered illegal drugs in this rental car, and all were arrested. Joey says he's now in jail and needs your help, but "don't tell Dad...you know that we can't upset him." (Sounds about right, doesn't it?) He then hands the phone to a really nice-sounding detective who gives you his name and badge number. (This helps to make it sound legit.) He says that Joey is such a great guy, the judge will let him off easily without a doubt..... But first, as a formality, they need bail money which will be completely refunded. Western Union is the method from which they want this payment, and since Western Union representatives are trained to ask "why" (to detect and thwart a scam), the criminal will tell you exactly what to say verbatim in order to avoid such suspicion. These are consummate liars and thieves. The number they call from is not traceable, as they are always on the run. Do not fall for anything like this, please.
Love is blind (and deaf). My neighbor said that he did not remember how his nephew's voice sounds, so this simply did not trigger any doubt at the time. Yes, this scam is targeted toward the elderly, so please remember, your nephew is not 12. He is a big boy, and you're not doing him any service by protecting him from getting into trouble with his daddy. Before doing anything foolish, call your family members to be sure- even if you haven't talked to them in years. Otherwise, the only person who will run into trouble is you.