Overseas scam artists target the elderly for money

Courtney Kerrigan

Portage County police are warning residents to not talk to strangers — at least, not if they’re trying to scam you.

Recent phone calls from scammers, labeled as “grandparent scams” by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, have drained some bank accounts in the Northeast Ohio area.

The scenarios are similar: An elderly person receives a call from a “grandchild” desperately seeking money after landing him or herself in a sticky situation overseas. The grandparent complies without asking questions, either wiring money or giving out a bank account number.

Lt. Greg Johnson, chief of the detective bureau for Portage County, described a more recent scenario in which scammers claim the person won a type of sweepstakes or lottery they never entered.

“They’re good at what they do,” he said. “They try to get them talking and keep them talking. They get these people to send them money or give information on their banking accounts.”

The calls come from out of the country, mainly Europe and some from Canada. They target an area code, and once people fall for the scam, “it’s almost like they put you on a list,” he said.

There have been scam calls in Kent, but the Kent police dispatcher said police didn’t report the last few calls received because residents didn’t fall for it.

The highest amount a scammer got was a more than $30,000. An elderly woman in Portage County lost her entire life savings. When police finally traced the source, they could only find the country, but not the locale.

But Johnson said to be cautious when receiving calls of this nature.

Know where their money’s going.

Scam artists ask money to be wired through Western Union in the U.S. “What people don’t understand is once you put money in Western Union, it doesn’t matter what person you’re sending it to,” Johnson said. Scammers can access that money from any local Western Union overseas.

Avoid posting travel information.

They may check on Facebook or other social networking websites for someone’s vacation plans and then call grandparents asking for money, according to a news release on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Ask who’s calling.

Grandparents should ask the caller a personal question such as a birthdate, or ask them to call back in 10 minutes and call their grandchild to check, according to kentpd.org.

Scammers start low, around $1,000 or $1,500. Once the person is hooked and he/she sends the money they try a get a little more.

Portage County police have trouble tracking scammers down because Internet sites out of the country are uncooperative with law enforcement, Johnson said. Chances are if police send a search warrant for an IP address overseas, they won’t provide information.

For now, police work with local newspapers and radio stations to get the warning out.

“Be aware if something sounds too good to be true,” he said.

For more information or to report a scam, call the Kent Police Department at 330-673-7732.

Contact Courtney Kerrigan at [email protected].