There has been a rise in scams against the elderly during the pandemic. According to the FBI, American seniors were scammed for $1 billion dollars in 2020, up $300 million from the previous year.
To stay connected with friends and family during the pandemic, more seniors joined social media, opening them up to new avenues for fraud.
“The combination of online shopping and social media creates easy venues for scammers to post false advertisements,” the FBI report said. “Many victims report ordering items from links advertised on social media and either receiving nothing at all or receiving something completely unlike the advertised item.”
But when scammers came after 73-year-old Jean Ebbert in Long Island, New York, they had no idea they were dealing with a law enforcement veteran. Ebbert is a former 911 dispatcher, so she knows exactly what a scam looks like.
Ebbert was texting with her son when she got a phone call from someone claiming to be her grandson who said he was in jail after being arrested for DUI. The problem was that Ebbert doesn’t have a grandson old enough to drive.
“I knew he was a real scammer. I just knew he wasn’t going to scam me,” Ebbert told CBS News.
Ebbert decided to play along with the scammer for fun. "It took about three hours of back-and-forth phone calls, maybe 15 phone calls," Ebbert told Fox News.
The fun stopped when her family told her to call the police.
At that point, Ebbert was talking to someone posing as her fake grandson’s lawyer who said he needed $8,000 in bail money. “I told him I had the money in the house, and I figured, he’s not going to fall for that. Well, he fell for that hook, line, and sinker,” she said.
When a man arrived at the door claiming to be a bail bondsman, Ebbert handed him an envelope filled with paper towels and the police sprang out of nowhere to arrest him. They charged 28-year-old Joshua Estrella Gomez with attempted grand larceny in the third degree.
She attributes her 911 training to her success. "You have to think quick. You have to be able to multitask,” she told Fox News. "I had to come up with why I had money in the house."
Local law enforcement are using the incident to remind people that scams against the elderly are rampant.
“Speak to your families. Speak to your neighbors. Visit those that are vulnerable. Let them know, don’t listen to these scams,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. “These individuals sit at home and have nothing else to do but think of a way to take advantage of our elderly.”
Ebbert believes that elderly people should remain vigilant as well.
“I feel like gotcha, and I feel like, like you say, so many people fall for this and you only hear about it on the other end after they’ve lost $8,000,” she said.
It feels incredibly satisfying to see a senior citizen put one over on a scammer. But people should be careful when dealing with criminals and leave the dangerous job of law enforcement to the professionals.
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