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Scammers from the Dominican Republic netted a collective $35 million by impersonating elderly victims' grandchildren and other relatives, claiming that they were in dire situations and needed money for bail or legal fees, the Department of Homeland Security announced.

Before the 16 fraudsters were charged in a 19-count indictment, they had conned approximately 5,000 victims in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts between the ages of 72 and 93, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Philip Sellinger said at a Tuesday press conference. 

"A grandparent scam usually goes something like this: the phone rings, a caller claims to be a relative, usually a grandchild, in distress – a victim in a car accident or [who] got arrested – and they need money immediately," Sellinger said. "The concerned grandparent jumps into action. They would do anything for their grandchild, no matter the cost. But it's all a scam, and once the grandparents hand over the cash, it's almost always gone for good."

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An elderly couple sits on a bench together.

An elderly couple sits on a bench together.? (iStock)

Protect yourself from scams

Sixteen scammers from the Dominican Republic conned thousands of elderly victims out of a collective $35 million by pretending to be grandchildren and relatives in need of money for bail or other emergencies, according to the Department of Homeland Security. (Fox News)

"A video recovered in the investigation shows [one of the scammers] on the phone impersonating a victim's grandson. In the video, the conspirator pretends to cry into the phone, ‘Grandma, I love you and I trust you more than anyone,’" Sellinger said. 

"Through fake sobs, the coconspirator continues, 'Tell grandpa I love him,' and pretending to choke back tears, he tells the victim to follow his lawyer's instructions. ‘Just do whatever he tells you to do at the bank,’" he continued.

In another instance, an 87-year-old woman nearly provided thousands of dollars to a scammer who posed as her sister's grandson and claimed he was in desperate need of bail money after an arrest. In this case, the Homeland Security Investigations New York El Dorado Task Force Cyber Intrusion Group intervened before the money exchanged hands.

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In several instances, a scammer pretending to be a victim's grandchild said they hit a pregnant woman in a car accident, while another scammer would call the victim and claim that the pregnant woman had miscarried and demanded more money.

Once scammers pretending to be relatives convince their elderly victims, a second person known as a "closer" will call, impersonating defense attorneys, police officers or court personnel, demanding money for nonexistent fees that are typically picked up from victims' homes via local couriers.

Eleven men from the Dominican Republic were charged with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering: Juan "Yofre" Rafael Parra Arias, 41; Nefy "Keko" Vladimir Parra Arias, 39; Nelson "Nelson Tech" Refael Gonzalez Acevedo, 35; Rafael "Max Morgan" Ambiorix Rodriguez Guzman, 59; Miguel "Botiga" Angel Fortuna Solano, 41; Felix "Filly the Kid" Samuel Reynoso Venture, 37; Carlos Javier Estevez, 45; Louis "Junior" Rodriguez Serrano, 27; Miguel "Disla" Angel Vasquez, 24; Jovanni "Porky" Antonio Rosario Garcia, 45; and Jose Ismael Dilone Rodriguez, 34.

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They worked out of a series of call centers around Santiago de los Caballeros, according to their indictment.

Another five defendants who lived in New York City and acted as cash couriers were charged with wire fraud conspiracy: Endy Jose Torres Morgan, 21; Ivan Alexander Inoa Suerol, 32; Jhonny Cepada, 27; Ramon Hurtado, 43; and Yuleisy Roque, 21.

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"These charges underscore law enforcement’s commitment to protecting our older population from fraudsters and financial exploitation," said Commissioner Edward A. Caban of the New York City Police Department in a press release. "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."

If you or someone you know is over 60 years old and has been defrauded, the National Elder Fraud Hotline can be reached at 1-833-FRAUD-11.

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