Elderly scam victims mailed thousands of dollars in cash to group operating in Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS — Investigators tracked a popular scam, often referred to as the “grandparent scam” or “relative scam,” to a group of people who used empty Indianapolis homes to collect the money.

The U.S. Attorney’s office charged five people with mail fraud and money laundering. According to a criminal complaint, an 81-year-old victim in Massachusetts reported that a caller said her grandniece was in legal trouble and directed her to mail $9,000 in cash to an Indianapolis address.

An investigation in Indianapolis uncovered evidence of a larger criminal enterprise, which targeted mostly elderly victims across the country. Acting U.S. Attorney John Childress said the group worked in multiple cities beginning in at least April 2020 and they came to Indianapolis last August.

“They had done it in 10 different cities in five different states,” Childress said. “We think (victims lost) very close to about $350,000.”

Authorities in Canada launched an investigation into the larger enterprise. Better Business Bureau CEO Tim Maniscalo confirmed it is very unusual to see this type of scam happen locally.

“Most of these scams are perpetrated outside the country,” Maniscalo said. “This was one of those rare cases when they did catch them, but really the way to avoid scams is to know about them.”

Maniscalo warned that just because a caller knows some of your personal information, does not mean that they are an authority figure.

“They will check into things like Ancestry.com to see family members, so they know who family members names are, those types of things,” Maniscalo said.

You should be especially wary of anyone who calls asking for immediate payment by means like cash, gift card or wire transfer.

Deborah Hartley recently reported a similar scam to the BBB. Hartley received a call from a relative, 88, who claimed her son was in trouble following a car accident.

“He was apparently crying and very upset and didn’t want to have her tell his parents,” Hartley said. “They’d given her a phone number to call to reach an attorney to send money.”

Hartley confirmed her son was safe at school. Luckily, her relative wrote down the number incorrectly and was unable to send anything.

“With the state that she was in at the time, I think it’s quite possible that she would have wired money,” Hartley said.

Another common thread among these types of scams is some excuse for secrecy, as an effort to keep victims from telling anyone what they’re doing before sending money.

“Some of the victims were … informed that there was a gag order and by that the criminals meant don’t tell anybody,” Childress said.

Hartley doesn’t know who tried to trick her relative, but she and Childress agreed that it’s important to take steps now to prevent loved ones from falling for this type of scam.

“Get up and go talk to or go call your loved ones, especially if they’re elderly,” Childress said.

“The first thing I did after I calmed down and realized that everything was fine, I actually called my parents and said, ‘Hey, if you get this kind of phone call, don’t fall for this,'” Hartley said.

For more information about relative scams and how to spot them, click the link here.

If you or a family member are targeted in a scam, even if you don’t fall for it, you should report it to the Better Business Bureau at the link here, the Federal Trade Commission at the link here and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office at the link here.

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