How scammers use ride share drivers to target grandparents in Northeast Ohio and beyond

Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 5:26 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The latest trend for scammers targeting grandparents involves ride share drivers or couriers, and threats about an emergency involving the victim’s grandchild.

In 2021, 450 victims lost $6.5 million to these scams.

“Usually a scam says potential scam or something like this, but it was actually somebody’s name with the telephone number. It was a 216 local,” said Crysta Willis.

Willis was shocked at what one scam artist tried to pull when he called her.

“He says, ‘I’m the deputy somebody and your grandson was in an accident. He’s at fault and you need to pay his bond for him to get out,’” she recalled.

He asked her to wire $5,000 immediately in order to keep her grandson, Eric, from being held in jail all weekend.

“Grandparents are the targets because, quite frankly, in this instance, they have the money,” said Susan Licate with the FBI Cleveland office.

She says criminals are now using a playbook of tactics and tools after they connect, via text or a phone call, with a sympathetic grandparent who is compelled to help when they think their loved one is in trouble.

“Maybe they’re arrested. Maybe they’ve been in an accident, or perhaps stranded on the side of the road and need money, and they need money now. And that’s when the scam starts,” she said.

Licate says the scammers are even roping in ride share drivers like Uber into these crimes, sending them to the victims homes to collect the cash, or asking for the money to be wired, all while pressuring the grandparents with a sense of urgency.

“So it’s like, almost like, how can you live with yourself not giving me the money because your grandchild is going to be in jail for the weekend if you don’t give me the money?” said Willis.

But in her case, this scammer was going after the wrong grandma.

“And I’m thinking to myself in the back of my head, this is going to be really cute because I know for sure my grandson is upstairs. But I’m gonna go with this,” she said.

Knowing her 20-year-old grandson wasn’t in a wreck, or in jail, Willis wasn’t going to fall for this.

Not only because she knew he was home, but because she’s also a member of the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad, as the Director for Community Outreach with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging.

She kept him on the phone trying to pry some information out of him but he wouldn’t give her his name.

He also didn’t specify which sheriff’s department he was allegedly calling from.

Licate says Willis did the right thing, by asking questions before acting, and not giving up the requested funds right away.

“That first call that you make should be to the person who is purported to be in trouble to verify if they are in fact stranded on the side of the road in the hospital, in jail, or have been detained or arrested or whatnot. And if you can’t reach that person, say it is the grandchild, call the parent or another. Family member that may be able to verify and vouch for their health and safety,” Licate said.

Willis didn’t stop at trying to extract information from the scammer, she laid into him!

“He was like ‘This is my job’ and I was like, ‘This is your job, scamming? This is how you want to feed your family?’ Then I just went off on him,” she said.

The tongue lashing went on for about 10 minutes, she said.

“You’re approaching seniors who are frail to get money. How is that ok?” she continued.

In the absence of an over-the-phone scolding like Willis was able to pull off, Licate says reporting it, and quickly, is very important, and could actually help get your money back if you do end up wiring up money to fraudsters.

“If it is reported to within three days, there’s about an 80% chance of us to recover most of those funds for the victim. Now, if you’re just handing cash over to somebody, if they’ve come to your front door, it’s going to be a little trickier and frankly, probably unlikely,” said Licate.

Licate says, even if it’s beyond the three day window or you’re embarrassed because you’ve handed over cash to a ride share driver, it’s important to step up and file a report.

“It helps the FBI connect the dots all across the country because it’s important to know that these criminal actors, they’re usually not working alone. This is a criminal network,” said Licate.

“I’m just thinking in the back of my head how many seniors fall for this and just give up their life savings for something like this and they’re just trying to help their grandchild,” said Willis.

Reporting these incidents has resulted in stopping scammers, and convicting them.

In 2021, a pair of Florida men were calling elderly people in Brecksville, Parma, Gates Mills, Lorain, Mansfield, Fairview Park, Westlake and Mentor.

They told the victims a family member had been arrested and required money for bail.

The men traveled to the victims’ houses posing as couriers, and collected the money.

But the Westlake Police Department and FBI helped investigate and put a stop to the scam.

The men were convicted and ordered to pay back more than $380,000.