Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs Warns Residents of New Version of Grandparent Scam

cuyahoga_countyCLEVELAND – The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs is warning residents about a costly new version of the grandparent scam, which uses iTunes as the form of payment.

A 79-year-old Cuyahoga County woman is indebted $7,000 after a scammer posed as her granddaughter. The “granddaughter” called stating that she was in jail and then handed the call off to an accomplice pretending to be a public defender.  The accomplice told the grandmother she needed to pay $3,500 to free her granddaughter from jail.

When the grandmother said she did not have the bail money, the scammer directed her to get a cash advance on her credit card and use the money to buy iTunes gift cards from a nearby grocery store. After purchasing the iTunes gift cards, the scammer called to ask for the card numbers, a tactic that allowed them to strip the value from the cards.  The scammer then instructed her to mail the now worthless cards to a Columbus address.

Several days later, the scammer called again to say the granddaughter needed to pay an additional $3,500 before she could be released. The grandmother bought more iTunes gift cards and followed the scammers’ instructions to mail them to an insurance agent in Cleveland.

When the scammer called a third time, the woman called the insurer, which advised her it had no such agent and no office at that address in Cleveland.

The United States Postal Inspection Service in Cleveland, the law enforcement arm of the post office, reported receiving a nearly identical scam complaint from a senior in Huron County who lost $8,000. Last month, the Cleveland BBB reported a Slavic Village man was approached with the scam but didn’t go through with the card purchase.

Consumers should:

  • Be aware that grandparent scams are common. Seniors can avoid these scams simply by calling a relative to confirm the family member’s location. Family members should make sure grandparents have cell numbers for children and grandchildren and encourage them to verify a relative is in trouble, even if the grandchild pleads for secrecy. Spread the word to seniors so they can protect themselves. Any call in which they are asked to send money and to tell no one about the request, should be treated as suspect.
  • 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 (technology can even help them change the sound of their voices).
  • 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 to pay a fine, nor will they tell you how to take out a cash advance on your credit card.

Cuyahoga County residents who encounter a scam should call the Department of Consumer Affairs at 216-443-7035.

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