Just last month, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned the public about the "grandparent scam," a con where crooks target the elderly, pretend to be their grandchildren and demand money for an emergency. Now, the FBI and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara have announced that a Brooklyn man has been charged with duping numerous grandparents across the country.
Allah Justice McQueen is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. According to a press release, McQueen was working with a team:
Beginning in approximately 2013, MCQUEEN and his co-conspirators perpetrated a scheme to defraud elderly victims around the United States by tricking them into believing their grandchildren had been imprisoned and needed immediate bail money. In particular, in each case, a member of the conspiracy contacted the victim by phone, purported to be a law enforcement official or attorney, and falsely claimed that the victim’s grandchild had been taken into custody for a narcotics offense and would not be released unless the victim paid thousands of dollars, and in some cases tens of thousands of dollars, in purported bail money. A member of the conspiracy also frequently posed on the call as the victim’s grandchild, typically crying and pleading with the elderly victim to send money to secure the grandchild’s release from jail, and asking the victim not to contact any other family members because the grandchild felt ashamed.
In each case, in extreme distress, the victim sent thousands of dollars, at a minimum, as instructed, to certain individuals who, among other things, provided that money to MCQUEEN at his direction. In each case, after paying the “bail” money as directed, the victim directly contacted his or her grandchild and thereupon learned that the grandchild had not, in fact, been arrested, that the grandchild knew nothing about the claims made on the call to the victim, and that the call was fraudulent.
For example, among the 17 examples set forth in the complaint, one 79 year-old victim in New York received a phone call in August 2013 from an individual who identified himself as a police sergeant and claimed that the victim’s grandson had been arrested after drugs were discovered in a car in which the grandson was a passenger. The purported sergeant said the grandson would be released if the victim sent $6,000 in bail money as directed. The victim, who briefly heard, on the phone, an individual who sounded like the victim’s grandson, wired the money as directed. The victim subsequently spoke directly with the victim’s grandson, and learned that he had not been arrested, and knew nothing about the purported sergeant or the basis for his request for bail money. The victim never received any money back from the purported sergeant.
In other cases, grandparents gave up $18,000 and $50,000.
McQueen is being held on $500,000 bail. Bharara said that he "exploited the emotions of vulnerable grandparents by convincing them that those they loved were in trouble and needed money. Not only did he allegedly swindle grandparents out of thousands of dollars, he also caused them considerable emotional distress."
Schneiderman offered suggestions on how to avoid falling for the scam (PDF), like "Verify any supposed emergency, by calling friends and family, before wiring money" and "Develop a secret code or "password" with family members that can be used to verify a true emergency." And, of course, "Limit personal information, such as vacation plans, shared on social media sites," because criminals know how to check Facebook, too.