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"Grandparent Scams" ravage Western New York senior community

The phone scams reportedly stole upwards of $13 million in the last year.
Posted at 6:13 PM, Oct 01, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Between January 2020 and June 2021, there were over 650 "Grandparent Scams" reported to the Buffalo FBI office.

"It's alarming," said Anthony Abramowitz, an FBI Special Agent and the head of the Buffalo Division on "White Collar Crime."

The most common framework for this scam is a scammer posing as a grandchild or child in legal trouble. They explain the situation, and then pass the phone off to a lawyer, who is in on the scam. The lawyer then explains that in order for their grandchild or child to avoid legal trouble, a certain amount of money must be paid to post bail.

"They are absolutely playing at the hearts of our seniors - and their pocketbooks," said Kerry Peek, the director of the Cheektowaga Senior Center - which hosts weekly talks with its members about the issues of phone scams.

Typically, phone scams are common across the country, particularly with the elderly. They play to their generosity , but also naivety - and the FBI believes there's a pattern.

Approximately three billion phone scams are reported each year nationally, according to the FBI.

"When an area keeps biting, the scammers stick around ... and when they stop falling for the scammer’s trap, the scammers typically move on," said Abramowitz.

However, the FBI wants a higher degree of visibility for these scams, because they are more dangerous than others.

"The difference here though ... is that sometimes seniors will wire money, transfer money ... but now the couriers will actually show up in person. We've never seen that before," said Abramowitz.

Thus far, there have been about 90 reports of home visits attached to couriers showing up to ones home to help collect funds.

"It is absolutely a danger," said Abramowitz.

The FBI has created a plan to assist in stopping these crimes before they occur. This is due to the fact that frequently, once the money changes hands, it is gone forever.

"It gets really tough once that money even crosses state lines," he said.

The FBI says that if you receive a suspicious phone call, you should

  1. Hang up the phone immediately.
  2. Resist the urge to send money .
  3. Try to verify the claim - by asking a specific question only the person would know.
  4. Call the police in your area.
  5. Call the FBI at (716) 856-7800.