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New twist on old scam puts seniors in danger, costs them thousands of dollars

Posted at 5:11 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 18:51:47-04

MACEDONIA, Ohio — Several Northeast Ohio law enforcement agencies are investigating a spike in "grandparent scam" cases in which fake couriers are showing up at homes and swindling senior citizens out of thousands of dollars.

According to Macedonia Detective Dan Matejka, similar recent scams have been reported in Macedonia, Wickliffe, Russell Township, Westlake and Gates Mills.

In the Macedonia case from August 24, an 83-year-old resident received a call from a man who she thought was her grandson.

"The male was saying that her grandson, who lived down in Florida, was arrested and she needed to post his bail," Matejka said.

The victim was told her grandson was facing a reckless endangerment charge and $15,000 was needed to get him out of jail. The senior went to her bank and withdrew the money.

She then received a second call was was told someone was coming to her house to pick up the cash.

"There was a knock on the door. She opened it, handed the money over to the male and she was out $15,000," Matejka said.

Police do not have any suspects and are looking for any potential neighborhood video to assist in the investigation.

The scam, which has been around for several years, often involves a person claiming to be a grandson, granddaughter or another relative, who is in trouble and needs money immediately.

Some of the seniors are contacted randomly. Others are found through social networking sites, marketing lists and obituaries.

In most cases, the con artists request victims to send money through a transfer service, police said.

However, fake couriers now showing up at doorsteps adds a whole new level of worry.

"It's different than we've normally seen," Matejka said. "With somebody actually coming to the house, it makes it a little more dangerous. You have to be careful about who's coming and going and knocking on your door."

An 88-year-old Plain Township resident named Nick-- who didn't want his last name used-- nearly fell victim to the scam on August 25.

Nick received a phone call from a woman who seemed to be in a panic and said she was in a car accident.

"She said, 'I hate bothering you. I'm in trouble and you're the first person I thought of,'" he recalled.

As Nick listened, he assumed it was his niece, which the caller didn't deny when Nick used her name.

"It was so real to me," he said.

The woman handed the phone to a man who posed as a defense attorney and demanded $9,400 for bond.

Nick, who was very concerned about his loved one, quickly put on his shoes with a plan to withdraw the money from his bank.

However, his wife of 61 years stopped him at the front door.

"My wife said, 'Sounds like a scam.' She saved the day," Nick said.

Nick called his niece and found out she was at home and fine. He kept his money in the bank and filed a police report with the Stark County Sheriff's Office.

With multiple reported cases of seniors losing similar amounts in the region, police are urging elderly people and their families to be alert about strange phone calls.

To avoid becoming a victim of the grandparent scam, consumer groups advise senior citizens take down phone numbers they don't recognize, but don't send any money until independently confirming a loved one is in trouble. Other tips include creating a list of questions only family members would be able to answer, and text or call your grandchild to find out where they are.

Nick said he almost learned the hard way how quickly a fast-talking swindler can take someone for thousands of dollars.

"I think it's awful and I'm one that could not be scammed because I'm usually very aware of stuff like that and he nailed me big time. Almost," he said.