An 87-year-old woman in California—who we’ll call Jane Doe—received a call from someone claiming to be Jane’s granddaughter. The “granddaughter” stated she had been arrested following a car accident and needed $9,000 for bail. She asked Jane to talk to her lawyer, “Matthew Halloway.” Matthew Halloway called and told Jane that he needed $9,000 and warned Jane that a gag order prevented her from talking about her granddaughter’s predicament. Halloway said someone would pick up the $9,000 from Jane’s house. Jane handed the money to the woman who came to her door.
Within a day after Jane handed over $9,000, she received another call, purportedly from an accident specialist, who told Jane the other individual in her granddaughter’s car accident has lost her baby and unless Jane paid another $42,000, Jane’s granddaughter would be charged with manslaughter and spend 15-20 years in prison. If asked about why she was wiring the money, the accident specialist told Jane to say that it was for a real estate investment. Jane wired the money as directed.
But the scammers weren’t done. A week later, Jane was called again and told that Jane and her granddaughter had broken the gag order and her granddaughter would go to jail, unless Jane wired $57,000.
As evidenced by Jane’s story—which is based on a victim’s experience included in criminal charges secured by the U.S. Department of Justice—grandparent or person-in-need scams are a particularly horrifying version of an imposter scam. These scams typically begin with a phone call, generally placed by a fraudster based overseas. Fraudsters pretend to be a loved one, or someone calling on that person’s behalf, and state that the family member is in serious trouble and urgently in need of money. Fraudsters try to isolate the potential victim by inventing a reason that the family members’ situation cannot be discussed, preventing interventions from family members, community members, and others. These fraudsters are aggressive and move quickly. If victims pay, they will receive additional requests for more funds. When sentencing a defendant involved with the network, a federal judge called the scheme “heartbreakingly evil.”
If you know someone who has, unfortunately, fallen for a fraudster’s well-honed tactics, report to local law enforcement or call the Department of Justice’s Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-372-8311. The Hotline can help with reporting the activity and also can provide the assistance of case managers trained to support fraud victims, who may be able to make connections with needed resources.
Not every report to law enforcement will result in a federal prosecution, but prosecutions can’t happen without victims coming forward. The ring of people associated with Jane’s experience stole over $2 million from more than 70 victims. Six defendants have pled guilty and three have been sentenced, with one receiving a nine-year prison sentence.
Help also is available from the aging network, including adult protective services, to support older adults who experience this and other scams. Contact the Eldercare Locator at eldercare.acl.gov or by calling 1-800-677-1116 to get connected to services that can help.
Educating the public about scams and talking about fraudsters’ tactics are two of the most impactful tools we have to prevent international criminals and their facilitators from persuading older adults to part with their money. Please join the Department of Justice, the Administration for Community Living, and other agencies and nonprofits in working to increase awareness about these scams. Free awareness materials are available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and from the Federal Trade Commission to help you get the word out. .
Editor’s Note: On September 14, ACL and Elder Justice Coordinating Council partner DOJ hosted a webinar, Understanding and Fighting the Grandparent Scam: What Aging Network Professionals Should Know to Empower Older Adults. The webinar discussed how aging network professionals con understand and fight the grandparent scams through partnering with law enforcement and by supporting those who have experienced this scam to recover from their losses and regain their agency. Watch a recording of the webinar.