Tuesday, February 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

International ‘Grandma Scam’ Dismantled

SAN DIEGO (CN) — San Diego's district attorney announced Monday that her office helped bring down an international fraud scheme based in India that targeted the elderly.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced her office's involvement in an international federal take-down of 20 suspects based in the U.S., along with 32 outside the country and five call centers in India.

The defendants ran multiple schemes including the "Grandma Scam" that cheated an 86-year-old San Diego woman out of $65,000 because she believed her grandson was in trouble in another country, Dumanis said.

The suspects used information obtained from data brokers to contact potential victims and impersonate officials from IRS or Immigration. They would then threaten potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay "taxes or penalties" to the government, Dumanis said.

According to the San Diego County News Center, the international web of fraudsters scammed 86-year-old Beth Baker in 2014. She received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the U.S. Embassy in Peru who told Baker her grandson had been arrested in connection with a car accident and needed bail money. Over the course of a week, Baker emptied out her savings account and drove all over San Diego County to purchase pre-paid credit cards for $1,000 each. She then read the card numbers over the phone to the scammer — essentially transferring the money to him, Dumanis said.

The DA's elder abuse unit has been investigating Baker's case for the past two years. Investigator Paul Holman traced Baker's money through what prosecutors called an "intricate labyrinth," which led them to an Indian national living in Corona, California, who had laundered much of the money stolen from Baker.

Dilipkumar "Don" Patel was one of the people the Department of Justice indicted last week — he now faces prosecution in Houston. A search of Patel's home turned up bank documents, computers and cell phones showing he laundered more than $4.2 million in a year, Dumanis said.

Beth Baker's son, Jim Baker, told reporters it wasn't until his mother went to the bank and tried to take out a loan that her personal banker realized she was being scammed and alerted Jim. He said he felt guilty he did not know what his mom was up to even though she acted strangely when he talked to her on the phone and skipped visits to her husband at the veterans hospital.

But Jim said his mom was trying to protect his son, who she believed was in trouble, and so complied with the scammers' "gag order."

Jim cautioned people to check-in with their elderly parents and ask questions if they start to act out of the ordinary.

Another elderly San Diego victim, also in her 80s, lost $12,000 in the scam, Dumanis said.

Prosecutors have called on other potential victims to come forward despite their potential embarrassment.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.