US charges 16 over 'depraved' grandparent scams

Vulnerable elderly people tricked into paying tens of thousands over fake car accidents

Sixteen people are facing charges from US prosecutors for allegedly preying on the elderly and scamming them out of millions of dollars.

The accused offenders are based in the Dominican Republic and the US, are aged between 21 and 59, and each had a role to play in the "sprawling grandparent scam" that affected elderly Americans in multiple states.

Grandparent scams involve call center workers ringing a list of vulnerable, elderly people and trying to impersonate their close relatives, such as children and grandchildren, pretending they're in great danger and need money to be bailed from jail.

It's a numbers game. Most people will be able to discern their relative's voice from an imposter's but some won't and criminals prey on these people's steadfast determination to help their loved ones in a crisis.

The indictment claims some of the accused were responsible for selling the initial scam – their division was called the "openers," the filing [PDF] reads. They would be the ones ringing victims from numbers that appeared to be coming from within the US and convincing them that their relatives were in need of help.

Typically, this would involve both a health and legal component. An oft-used tale was that the relative had been in a car accident and that they were also arrested in relation to that accident.

In other cases, prosecutors said a car accident involving a pregnant relative led to a miscarriage. 

"The panic-stricken grandparents quickly paid – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars," said US attorney Sellinger for the district of New Jersey. "My office is committed to protecting the rights of all victims, and we will relentlessly prosecute those who allegedly target vulnerable seniors to steal their hard-earned savings."

Other members of the group were allegedly part of the "closers" – the people who impersonated lawyers assigned to their relative's case, police officers, or court staff to sow the belief that sending thousands of dollars in the mail would solve their loved one's problems.

Using couriers like these Dominican nationals are alleged to have done is a known tactic and one the FBI issued an alert about as recently as January. 

Between May and December 2023, the crime agency said couriers unwittingly transported more than $55 million worth of assets, usually belonging to scammed elderly citizens, commonly consisting of either cash or precious metals.

The couriers in this case were sometimes part of the criminal operation and simply posed as legitimate couriers, providing victims with fake names and receipts. Other times victims were instructed to mail the money without a courier involved.

Once collected, members of the operation would attempt to launder the proceeds through various means including wiring money to the Dominican Republic and making bulk cash transfers to other members, the 19-count indictment reads.

Each of the accused faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Potential fines could include $250,000 for each count of mail and wire fraud and $500,000 for each count of money laundering.

"These charges underscore law enforcement's commitment to protecting our older population from fraudsters and financial exploitation," said Edward A. Caban, commissioner at the New York Police Department (NYPD), which is helping to prosecute the case. 

"The crimes outlined here are truly depraved in their nature: targeting our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others in an elaborate venture to bilk them of their hard-earned savings. I applaud our NYPD investigators and all of our federal partners involved in this important case for their tireless dedication to our shared public safety mission."

The Justice Department made no mention of arrests taking place, nor have trial dates been set. However, the US does have an extradition agreement with the Dominican Republic, so it is possible the suspects will ultimately face court in the US. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like