Six accused of stealing $250K from Florida seniors in grandparent scam

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Provided By CBS12

Six fraudsters are accused of stealing nearly $250,000 from Florida seniors through grandparent scams, the Florida Attorney General (AG) announced on Monday.

The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution said the scam affected seniors in multiple counties, including Palm Beach, Brevard, Broward, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Sarasota.

The Miami-Dade Police Department’s Vice Intelligence Squad handled the case and noted the alleged fraudsters — Jairo Izquierdo, Gennesis Castro, Wendy Angelina Ortiz, Ada Tido, Wandy Castro, and Olfa Cornielle — contacted South Florida seniors posing as lawyers or legal representatives of one of the victim’s grandchildren.

The Attorney General’s Office said the defendants told their victims their grandchildren were arrested after hitting a pregnant woman with a vehicle and needed bail money. The victims were then convinced to send the bail payment.

The suspects directed the victims to use cash only and place it into a box to be picked up by a courier, police said. Then, the couriers — unknowing ride-share drivers booked by the criminals — picked up the cash and transported the money back to the scammers at a set location.

“Criminals don’t care who they use. And this isn’t unique to Uber. It’s not even unique to rideshare for this type of elder fraud,” Vince Lisi, Senior Director of Global Security and Investigations for Uber, said.

Uber’s Global Security team of engineers took a closer look at the rides early on in the investigation and were able to spot a few small common factors. While they aren’t able to tell us what those are, officials said they now use it as a safety tool.

“They said, okay, this this this this this and this will happen,” Lisi said. “If one of the trips is coming through the platform, and it meets those criteria. It automatically sends an alert.”

It immediately notifies the driver and cancels the ride.

“They notify law enforcement that like you need to get to this house right away because they’re about to be victimized,” Lisi said.

During the investigation, it was learned that the scammers contacted the same victim multiple times pressuring for more cash, police said.

In a separate instance, a Palm Bay victim had already sent the fraudsters $9,000. Still, the scammers told the victim that the pregnant woman miscarried and the grandchild required an additional $18,000 because authorities upgraded the charges, the AG’s Office said. The alleged fraudsters continued, police said, telling the same victim the baby’s father attacked the senior’s grandson for causing the miscarriage, and during the attack the grandchild elbowed an officer, causing an additional $20,000 needed for bail, as well as $7,500 in court fees. The victim ended up paying the fraudsters more than $54,000, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Nearly identical events happened to a Melbourne victim, who paid $53,000 to the criminal group, police learned.

“These fraudsters know that most grandparents would do anything to help a grandchild in need, and through a convincing imposter scheme they used fear and family to extort Florida seniors—stealing nearly a quarter of a million dollars,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said. “Working with our great law enforcement partners in South Florida, we were able to shut down this far-reaching grandparent scheme and now six fraudsters will have to answer for their crimes.”

All six defendants face multiple first-degree felonies, including organized schemes to defraud, grand theft, criminal use of personal identification, and more, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

While there were no reported victims from the Treasure Coast, Martin County Sheriff’s deputies said they handle similar cases daily.

“If you walk in our lobbies, if you look at our call history, you will see that all day long, we are responding to and taking calls for people who have been scammed out of money or have been frauded,” Trisha Green, Community Outreach Manager with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, said.

They aren’t alone. The latest data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) shows total losses reported by those over the age of 60 topped $3.4 billion, which is 11% more than in 2022.

The West Palm Beach Police Department, the Boca Raton Police Department, the Jupiter Police Department, the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the Brevard Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the North Port Police Department, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the Palm Bay Police Department, and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office partnered together on the investigation.

“I am immensely proud of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Vice Intelligence Squad, for their exceptional collaboration with the Florida Attorney General, and federal agencies in successfully apprehending individuals involved in extorting the elderly population,” Miami-Dade Police Department Director Stephanie V. Daniels said. “Their dedication, expertise, and unwavering commitment to protecting our community’s most vulnerable population are truly commendable.”