The grandparents scam: Local senior reports being scammed out of $16,000

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s called “the Grandparents scam.”

And it all starts with a phone call seeking to get your money to bail a loved one out of jail. A Buffalo family contacted Call for Action after filing a police report on Monday. The family, who does not want to be named, wants the public to be aware of the scam.

The alleged victim, a 78-year-old woman, told police someone she did not know called her saying her son was in jail and that she needed to get $16,000 to bail him out. The report goes on to say that the woman got the money, put it in a package and gave it to a man she did not know. Buffalo police are now investigating.

“We are obtaining multiple subpoenas for a variety of places, financial and in some instances, video as well as modes of transportation,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.

But, police acknowledge these cases are not easy.

“The problem with phones, it’s not the old day of phones, where a phone is where the area code might be. A lot of times there’s VPNs involved, there’s different bouncing around locations that’s going to take a round of subpoenas to really nail down as well as to get subscriber information,” Gramaglia said, “The challenges are, where are these people, where are the ones that are pulling the scams, are they stateside, are they overseas, if they’re overseas that clearly makes it extremely, extremely difficult to pursue legally.”

The Center for Elder Law and Justice says the ‘Grandparents Scam’ is intriguing for scammers and comes in waves, usually when people tend to travel.

“It’s getting more and more real, unfortunately, with a lot of information that’s online,” said Sarah Duval, supervising attorney at the Center for Elder Law and Justice. “It feels very real and that natural instinct is to want to help that person.”

Instead, experts say resist the pressure to act quickly, call the person who’s being talked about, be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door service offers and never give or send personal information, money, or gifts to people or businesses you don’t know.

“We recommend that to avoid this, families develop a code word that they have with their grandkids or other relatives, a family code word so you can say, well what’s the code word?” Duval said.

If you get one of these scam calls, experts say in addition to those tips, you should report it on IC3, that’s the website the FBI uses to collect these reports and maybe stop a bank transfer to a scammer from happening.

Late last year, the FBI issued an alert warning people of the Grandparents scam. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 200 complaints of these scams resulting in at least $2 million in losses.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.

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