Seniors fleeced by Greendot scammers

Prepaid debit cards are sometimes used by telephone scammers.
Community News Group / Jaime Williams

The 45th Precinct has seen an uptick this year in ‘Greendot’ scams, which often targets seniors.

One Throggs Neck senior found herself the victim of the scam just before Thanksgiving.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” said Carmela Ianiello.

Ianiello had received a call from someone claiming to be one of her grandsons. He said he had gone with a friend to the Dominican Republic on a last minute trip and had gotten in a car accident the night before, breaking his nose.

“His voice sounded just like him,” said Ianiello.

A ‘policeman’ then got on the phone, and explained her grandson would need to appear before a judge with $3,000.

After offering up his name and badge number, he told her to go buy GreenDot MoneyPak prepaid debit cards for that amount, and come back and read him the numbers on the back of the card to get the money.

He told her not to tell anyone, and she didn’t want to worry her family about her grandson’s condition.

She withdrew the cash and bought the cards at a local drugstore, and provided the policeman with the cards’ numbers. Later that day, the ‘policeman’ called back and said her grandson had gone before the judge and now had to pay a fine of $2,500 additionally.

When she went to the bank to withdraw the second amount, two employees who knew her as a long-time customer inquired about the need for the large sum of cash.

When she started to explain the situation, they stopped her and told her it was a scam, and helped her contact her grandson at work.

Ianiello said she was extremely upset when she realized she had been scammed, but was grateful for the bank employees who stopped her from losing even more money.

She had believed the callers because they triggered an emotional response about her grandson and spoke in a very convincing manner.

Although Ianiello filed a report with the 45th Precinct, she understood she wouldn’t see that $3,000 again, and had to cancel her vacation plans this winter.

“I’m never going to get my money back,” said Ianiello. “That’s a very big hardship for me.”

Ianiello had never heard of Greendot cards or the scam before, and she hopes other people become aware of the issue and avoid her fate.

The 45th Precinct has seen an increase in overall reported scams this year. These reports were up 300 percent in 2014, said Captain James McGeown, with 28 cases reported year compared to 7 in 2013.

Cases like Ianiello’s are not uncommon, said Community Affairs officer Anne Marie Morrison. The scammers often prey on seniors and tap into their emotions by convincing them that family members, especially grandchildren, have been in accidents, are in jail, or have been kidnapped.

If you get a call like that, Morrison recommends telling them you’ll call back, and then reach out to your family members. Be especially wary when callers tell you not to tell anyone about the situation.

Another guise that scammers use is pretending to be from Con Edison calling about an electric bill, said Morrison. These scams can target businesses who rely on refrigeration. Other scams may target immigrants who fear legal repercussions.

While the GreenDot MoneyPak cards are often associated with these scams, other brands of prepaid debit cards are used as well, said Morrison.

The scammers access the money through the number on the back of the card, and then transfer it to another prepaid card, neither of which are linked to any accounts. This makes the money nearly impossible to trace or recover.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at 718-260-4591. E-mail her at jwill‌iams@‌cnglo‌

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