Nassau County prosecutors said Tuesday they helped an 86-year-old Garden City woman get her money back after a caller in a telephone hoax duped her into paying nearly $10,000 to get her grandson out of “trouble.”
The hoax, known as a “grandparent scam,” leeches money from victims by telling them a family member is in trouble — often in a foreign country — and needs cash immediately, according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.
Her office’s Civil Forfeiture Bureau returned $9,800 to the woman who had deposited the cash in a bank account last December after the caller said her grandson had been involved in a car crash in the Dominican Republic.
“The message to everyone is, please be wary and skeptical when someone calls you asking for money, proclaiming some kind of emergency,” Singas said in an interview Tuesday. “You need to verify that. You need to ask for a callback number . . . You need to take down as much information as you can, and contact the authorities.”
Singas said the male caller told the woman her grandson was awaiting a hearing at the U.S. Embassy.
The man on the other end of the phone line identified himself as “Officer Steve Blair” and told the woman she should put $9,800 into a separate account to pay for the damage her grandson had done to the vehicle and so he could avoid any “trouble.”
After depositing the money, the woman’s son told her that her grandson was neither in the Dominican Republic nor in any trouble.
The family reported the scam to law enforcement, and the bank froze the account so the money could not be withdrawn, authorities said.
Bank security told Garden City police the account could stay frozen for 50 years, but they needed a court order to return the money to the victim, authorities said.
Investigators, including Det. Kevin Madden of the Garden City Police Department, learned the frozen account was opened in the name of Bennard Johnson of Sugar Land, Texas.
Under state law, before authorities could return the money, they first had to notify Johnson of the alleged crime, according to prosecutors.
A notice sent by certified mail to Johnson was returned unopened to the district attorney’s office, authorities said. Prosecutors applied to the court to get the money returned.
A judge then signed an order directing the bank to return the $9,800 to the victim, authorities said.
With Bridget Murphy
Tips to avoid the scam
- Be wary if someone calls and asks for money while claiming a relative of yours was arrested or in an accident.
- Call your relative or other family members right away and check if there is a true emergency.
- Take the caller’s phone number and note the number on your caller ID.
- Avoid putting vacation or travel plans on social media sites that scam artists can see.
- If you believe you’ve fallen victim, contact the money transfer service right away because money can be retrieved if it’s not picked up yet.