THE WOODLANDS, Texas – The number of victims who are elderly and falling for scammer’s tactics has risen at an alarming rate, while the amounts they’ve loss are even more staggering.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2021, over 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion.
This represents a 74% increase in losses over those reported in 2020.
And these scams are circulating more and more in the Houston area. One scam, in particular, has recently robbed the elderly of tens of thousands of dollars.
“He says ‘Grandpa?’. And I say, ‘Yeah?’ [He says] ‘Grandpa, I had an accident, and I’ve been arrested,” noted grandfather John Heyde.
“He called me and said [my son’s] in jail, and I said, ‘No.’ And I yelled to Dan to call Travis,” explained Debbie Gamel.
The scam always seems to start the same. The person on the other line targets an older person who in many cases has a grandchild.
“It sounded so genuine in other ways, and it sounded so much like him, like the way he says, Grandpa,” explained Heyde. “This was so real and so personal. He says I was reaching for my phone, and I hit another car with a woman that was pregnant.”
In many of these cases, the victims say the scammer who is acting like their grandchild says they are injured after getting into a car wreck and need help bailing out.
Heyde says the person acting as his grandson said his lawyer would call him soon.
“A few minutes later this other guy calls, the public defender. I figured the kid really was in trouble. I was suffering because I was feeling I might be letting the kid down [and] I don’t ever want to let my grandkids down,” said Heyde.
Heyde says he talked to the man who said he needed his assistance to bail him out. He proceeded to tell him to meet him with the money, but Heyde responded by saying he didn’t have a car, nor did he have access to his bank account.
That’s when he called his son to see if it really was his grandchild in trouble.
“I was shaking the whole time until I knew my son was safe,” explained Karen Gunther, John’s daughter-in-law.
While Heyde caught the scam in time, others have not been so lucky.
“They got $5,000, and they wanted $2,000 more. And he went back to Target, and that’s when the manager talked to my father-in-law and said you’ve been scammed,” explained Debbie Gamel. Her father-in-law was asked by the scammer to get gift cards from Target and he did.
“Dad was embarrassed and he wouldn’t talk about it much but what he did say is they are very convincing. He was a very proud man and embarrassed he fell victim,” said Dan Gamel.
According to the FBI, they have had such an alarming number of reports of this particular scam, they sent out a PSA last year to warn people.
“There were over 650 reports of potential grandparent scams and that resulted in a loss of more than $13,000,000,” explained FBI Public Information Officer C.J. Jones.
Heyde’s family is grateful he didn’t hand over any cash.
“It’s not small amounts of money, and you’re preying on people who are generally on fixed incomes,” they said.
But they are still worried, along with Heyde, about the others who may not be so lucky.
“There are so many people my age, and I’m concerned they may be even more gullible than me.”
If you have heard of a scam or you have scammed yourself, the FBI encourages you to call them at 1 (800) 225-5324.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of elder fraud, help is also available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311 Monday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. eastern time.
Some advice for anyone who does get a call like this and thinks it may be a scam:
- Let the call go to voicemail or have them call back.
- Try and take time to verify the information. If someone is arrested, it is public information and can be looked up online, along with a booking number and possibly even a mug shot.
- Collect as much information as possible about the person asking for the money.
- Be careful what you put online.