A pair of so-called ‘grandparent scammers’ who conned elderly Americans out of more than $2 million by posing as close family members have pleaded guilty in a Federal court.
According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Lyda Harris, 74, and Tracy Glinton, 35, were part of an eight-strong network that telephoned elderly US citizens pretending to be a grandchild or relative in need, convincing them to hand over up to tens of thousands of dollars at a time. They then used cryptocurrencies to launder a portion of their gains.
More than 70 elderly marks gave the scammers cash for fake emergencies such as bail costs, a car crash, or to avoid further criminal charges. The brazen group then collected the cash via mail, wire transfer, and in some cases, the con artists made an in-person pick-up.
“These defendants were part of a sophisticated criminal organization that exploited the tremendous love a grandparent has for a grandchild,” US Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California said in a DoJ release on Friday.
“The victims were financially and emotionally devastated by callous people who thought only of enriching themselves,” Grossman added.
Six of the group were arrested last year, after a country-wide investigation that included septuagenarian Harris’ extradition from Albania. The DoJ said it marks a first-of-its-kind case for The Elder Justice Task Force which launched in February 2020 to combat financial exploitation.
All eight members of the grandparent scamming group were indicted by a San Diego jury on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges in August.
Timothy Ingram, 29, and Jack Owuor, 24, were the first to fess up to the federal court in March. 23-year-old Anajah Gifford and Joaquin Lopez, 46, entered their guilty plea in May. They all face up to 20 years in jail.
Authorities continue the hunt for Tracy Adrine Knowles, 29, and Adonis Alexis Butler Wong, 29, the other two members of the group who remain at large.
An epidemic of grandparent scammers in the US
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said that confidence fraud and romance scams account for the highest losses reported by those over the age of 60.
In 2021, its internet crime department (IC3) received reports from 7,658 victims who lost more than $432 million. According to its Elder Fraud report, 450 victims over 60 lost around $6.5 million to grandparent scams.
However, the US is wising up to these types of cons — take for example grandma-of-seven Jean from New York. Tired of receiving endless calls from scammers, Jean decided to fight back and orchestrated a sting operation in collaboration with the Nassau Police Department.
She invited the scammer to her Long Island home after they demanded $8,000 to bail her grandson out of jail following a fake car crash. Instead of a wad of cash, she handed him an envelope of paper towels before he was tackled to the ground by police.
And, just last month, a New Hampshire bank teller spotted a similar scam and saved an elderly individual from handing over $20,000. Two individuals were later arrested by the Hampton Police Department.