Grandparent Scam Thwarted

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Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas
Nassau County District Attorney
Madeline Singas

Singas recovers $9,800 for elderly victim

When an 86-year-old Garden City woman received a call from a man identifying himself as an “Officer Steve Blair” and was told that her grandson was awaiting a hearing
at the United States Embassy following a car accident in the Dominican Republic, she followed through on instructions to immediately deposit $9,800 into a Bank of America account to pay for damages and avoid any further trouble. It turns out she had become the latest victim of the grandparent scam, a phone hoax where a grandparent is targeted and told that a grandchild is being detained in a foreign country and money is required to release them from custody. It is unfortunately a ruse that’s quite frequently targeted at seniors, according to The Safe Center LI, which serves victims of abuse.

“The elderly can be some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” a center spokesperson said in a statement. “We all need to be diligent to educate our parents, older family members and neighbors about the likelihood of scams and what to do if someone is trying to take advantage in some way.”

Fortunately for this victim, her son advised her to report the theft to authorities after she called him and found out her grandson was fine and not in the Dominican Republic. A visit to the bank resulted in the branch manager immediately making arrangements to freeze the $9,800 that had been deposited.

The case was investigated by Garden City Police Department Detective Kevin Madden, who also worked with the office of the Nassau County District Attorney (NCDA). Bank security informed law enforcement that a court order would be needed to return the money to the victim as current statutes require the account to be frozen for 50 years. Further investigation revealed the Bank of America account to have been opened under the name of “Bennard Johnson,” an individual whose address was in Sugarland, TX. As is typical in these types of scams, a forged Ghanian passport was used as identification to open the account. In order to recover the money, the NCDA decided to use NYS Penal Law, Section 450.10 that states a person accused of a crime that involves the return of stolen property must be notified. In this case, the NCDA learned the address for Bennard Johnson was an inactive P.O. box. The NCDA then filed an application to the court under Penal Law 450.10 with the result being the judge signing an order directing Bank of America to return the $9,800 to the victim. It was the first time this law was used in a case in which no perpetrator was arrested.

“We used a section of law that we believe has never been used for this purpose,” Singas said. “Often, by the time a person realizes that they’ve been targeted, it’s too late and the money is gone. These despicable scams target elderly residents and exploit their love for their grandchildren to steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting victims. I’m glad we were able to help the victim.”

By Dave Dil de Rubio

How to Avoid the Grandparent Scam

Grandparent and phone scams are becoming more prevalent in Nassau County and around the nation and the calls usually originate overseas using spoofed phone numbers, which are difficult for authorities to trace, especially after a call has concluded.

• You should be wary anytime someone calls claiming your grandchild has been arrested or was in a car accident and asks you to wire them money.

•Ask questions that are difficult to answer, like what is the name of a person’s pet or what is their mother’s date of birth.

• Immediately call your grandchild and other family to verify whether there is a true emergency before you wire any money.

• If you do receive a call, take the caller’s return phone number and also the phone number on the caller ID.

• Avoid putting personal information, like vacation or other travel plans on social media sites. Grandparent scam calls often come during school breaks and during the summer, times when a grandparent would believe a grandchild might be traveling

• If you’ve been scammed, contact the money transfer service immediately to report the scam. The money can be retrieved if it has not been picked up yet.

Submitted by the Nassau County District Attorney’s office

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