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WI ‘grandparents scam’ case prompts safeguard reminders

Senior woman looking at a computer screen
Richard Johnson - stock.adobe.com

A Wisconsin grand jury indicted a Connecticut man on wire fraud charges over accusations he scammed older residents. It's the latest case that calls attention to fraud-prevention tips.

Matthew-Ramos Soto, 26, of Hartford is accused of stealing $200,000 from Wisconsin seniors last year. The scam was to call the victims, falsely claim to be representing one of their younger relatives who had been arrested and say that bail money was needed.

Better Business Bureau communications associate Kristen Johnson said disengaging right away can help people avoid this kind of scam.

"Put down the phone, hang it up and call your grandchild," she said. "Do not call the number on your caller ID because scammers can spoof caller IDs, they can spoof names and numbers. Look in your phone book and actually call the number to that grandchild and say, 'Did you really just call me? Are you OK?'"

Other ways people can remain vigilant are to ask questions of the scammer that only a family member could answer, and to not wire money if there's any doubt about the call.

ohnson urged anyone who has been a victim to report it on the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker.

Ramos-Soto faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison if he's convicted.

Although older adults are some of the most likely targets for scams like this, experts note the vulnerability among younger people aged 18 to 24. Still, Johnson said there are big concerns about the impact on older people.

"So, while older adults were less likely to fall for scams when targeted," she said, "when they did fall for them, they lost a lot more money than someone ages 18 to 24, because people ages 18 to 24 just don't have as much money to lose."

She noted that people should talk with older adults in their family to ensure they're not as impulsive to act on certain scams. Around 74% of adults age 55 and older are susceptible to scams. In 2022, this population was scammed out of around $350 per scam.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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