Jean, a 73-year-old grandmother, was at her Long Island home Thursday morning when she received a phone call from a man claiming to be her grandson. He was in jail for drunken driving, he said. He needed her help posting an $8,000 bail.
But there was one problem, Jean thought — her grandsons are far too young to drive. It was a scam. So Jean decided to swindle the swindler.
“I knew he was a real scammer. I just knew he wasn’t going to scam me,” Jean told WCBS, which identified her only by her first name.
Jean played along, eventually inviting an apparent bail bondsman to pick up the cash from her house. But it was a setup, and moments after Jean handed over an envelope stuffed with paper towels, police tackled the man to the ground.
Joshua Estrella Gomez, 28, was arrested and charged with attempted grand larceny in the third degree, according to the Nassau County Police Department. Gomez could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear whether he has an attorney.
Millions of senior citizens fall victim to elder fraud every year, according to the FBI. The crimes have gotten worse during the pandemic. A 2020 report from the FBI found that people over 60 were scammed out of $1 billion that year. Now, the annual losses are up to $3 billion, the FBI says.
There are several types of schemes, many of which involve people posing as technology support, the IRS or a charitable organization. The scammers exploit the vulnerable senior population because they often have financial savings and are “trusting and polite,” the FBI says.
Even well-educated people can be duped. In July 2020, a swindler convinced a retired professor that he was an agent with the Social Security Administration and informed the 81-year-old that traffickers from Mexico were using his personal information to smuggle drugs and people across the border. The caller knew detailed information about the professor’s life and persuaded him to send cash and gift cards worth thousands of dollars to Virginia, where the agent claimed he would use them as bait for the supposed traffickers.
The scam attempted with Jean on Thursday is also common. The criminal pretends to be a family member in desperate need of financial help. Sometimes the “grandchild” claims to be in a hospital and needs help paying a bill or, like with Jean, says they are in jail and need bail money. Jean talked to a few people — one of whom claimed to be someone from the Nassau County court system and another who pretended to be a lawyer named Matt Levine, she told Newsday. The self-identified lawyer knew Jean’s address, full name and age.
Jean then texted her daughter and best friend, both of whom work at a 911 call center, according to Newsday. They alerted police, who sent two officers to Jean’s home. While there, the officers witnessed the scammers calling Jean several more times, according to police.
When Jean told the purported lawyer that she had enough cash at home to pay for her grandson’s bail, he said a bail bondsman would be at her house in 10 minutes to pick up the cash.
Jean was on the phone with one of the scammers when a man in a beanie, a camel-colored coat and dark pants arrived at her door and took the envelope. As the man turned around and walked away, two police officers busted out of the front door. Ring security-camera footage from Jean’s home shows one of them tackling Gomez on the front lawn as Jean watched from her front porch.
Gomez was released from jail to await trial and will be arraigned on Feb. 3, according to police.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder warned that similar scams are prolific among seniors. He encouraged people to educate elderly family members and neighbors.
“Let them know — don’t listen to these scams,” Ryder said at a news conference Friday, according to WCBS. “These individuals sit at home and have nothing else to do but think of a way to take advantage of our elderly.”
Jean said she felt vindicated by her ability to stop an alleged predator.
“I feel like — ‘Gotcha!’ ” she told WCBS. “So many people fall for this, and you only hear about it on the other end after they’ve lost $8,000.”