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The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs is warning residents about a costly new version of the grandparent scam. Seniors have lost up to $12,000 apiece in this evolving scam, which uses iTunes as the form of payment.
An 87-year-old Cuyahoga County man lost $12,000 when a scammer pretending to be his grandson called and asked for help. The “grandson” said he was in jail after causing an accident while texting and driving. He then handed the phone off to a bogus “attorney,” who told the grandfather that he would need to pay $4,000 using iTunes gift cards. Each time the grandfather paid, he got another call telling him about new charges.
A 79-year-old Cuyahoga County resident was tricked by a scammer pretending to be her granddaughter. The girl pleaded for the grandma to help her pay bail without telling the girl’s parents. When the grandmother said she didn’t have the money to pay, a bogus attorney advised her to take out a cash advance against her credit cards so she could purchase the iTunes gift cards. The woman was left $7,000 in debt.
Scammers con victims into reading the iTunes card numbers to them over the phone. That allows the scammers to get the information they need to sell the cards online. ITunes cards have high resale value in some online markets.
Seniors say the callers were convincing: They sounded like their grandchildren, or masked their voices by sobbing or claiming they had suffered a broken nose in a car crash. In one case, a caller addressed the grandfather using a familiar nickname.
Cuyahoga County residents who encounter this or any other scam should call the Department of Consumer Affairs at 216-443-7035.
- Ignore callers’ pleas for secrecy. They are part of the scam and are meant to keep you from checking out the caller’s story.
- Keep family members’ cell numbers handy – and use them if a relative calls asking for help. Many people discover the grandchild they thought was in jail was safe at home or work.
- Avoid sending payments to people who call demanding money. It’s easy for callers to pretend to be law enforcement officers, public defenders, IRS agents or even relatives.
- Understand that scammers often ask for unusual payment methods (prepaid cards, gift cards, Moneypaks, wire transfers, etc.) because they are hard for law enforcement to trace. Law enforcement and government officials will never instruct you to use a gift card or wire transfer to pay a fine.
- Never read the numbers off the back of a gift card to someone demanding payment. Giving out this number allows them to strip the value off the card.
The Department of Consumer Affairs’ mission is to make sure people who live or shop in Cuyahoga County get what they pay for.