WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and law enforcement partners are warning residents that crooks are out to get people’s money through what they call a scam targeting the elderly.
In the so-called grandparent scam, a person gets a call saying his or her loved one has either been hurt or jailed and pressures the victim into sending a large amount of money to help.
One of the victims was Eric Lieberman’s 86-year-old mother.
“I think it was an attorney that was supposedly calling saying that he was arrested, he had gotten into a car accident, dropped his phone and the woman was pregnant who he hit, and he needed money for bail,” said Lieberman. “And they supposedly put my nephew, her grandson, on the phone and then he spoke with her saying, ‘Don’t tell my parents.'”
He said his mother lost $16,000 and withdrew another $13,000, emptying her bank account, thinking she was helping her grandson.
“She was scared, she was anxious, she was embarrassed,” said Lieberman. “I mean, the amount of money that was taken was a significant amount of money, you know, especially for someone like my mother. She’s not sitting on tons of extra cash.”
Lieberman said a driver picked up the money from her house and delivered it to the alleged scammer.
It wasn’t until his mother spoke with a neighbor and called her nephew that she realized she was a victim.
“The fact that some criminals were actually able to come to her house was another scary thing,” said Lieberman. “They knew her phone number. It’s messed up.”
Officials said the caller can pretend to be a grandchild in trouble, law enforcement collecting debt, or even a romantic partner, all in need of money.
“These people are very skilled in what they do. These are criminals who are very skilled in keeping you on the phone and making you believe that they’re for real,” said Aronberg. “Now, we’re arming you with the knowledge to prevent this from happening, and that’s the best way to protect yourself.”
The state attorney’s office said it’s going on every day throughout Palm Beach County, and it is on the rise.
“The sheriff has an entire unit dedicated to investigating these types of cases. We’re willing and able to handle any case that comes forward,” said Capt. Steven Strivelli. “We also work with our federal partners on the major cases, too.”
Officials urge any victims to report the crime.
“These scams are underreported; victims are embarrassed to come forward and that’s why it’s important that they do, because it can help others avoid the scam and maybe there’s a shot that we can get their money back,” said Aronberg.
Lieberman said his mother has learned her lesson but said the money is a loss.
“The fact that people take advantage of elderly people, most elderly are on fixed income of some sort,” said Lieberman. “The important thing is if someone is asking you for money reach out to a family member, reach out to a friend and see if it sounds legit.”
Law enforcement officials said if you feel the call is suspicious, hang up immediately and call to confirm with your loved one that they’re safe. They also said not to send any money because once it’s done, it’s pretty difficult to get back.