Four individuals face charges in Pennsylvania for allegedly preying on elderly victims concern for loved ones by defrauding them out of thousands of dollars. PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane has referred to the case to as the “Grandparent Scam.”
Kane announced the charges Thursday, following a nine month investigation that discovered 11 victims with an average age of 79 who live as far away as Texas, Washington, and California.
According to the FBI’s website, the “Grandparent Scam” is a nation-wide phenomenon, with many different perpetrators who have scammed thousands of victims in the last decade. Callers will target elderly people and pretend to be a grandchild in need of assistance. The “grandchild” claims to desperately need money for some reason—bail, a flight home, legal fees—and begs the senior to send funds.
“This swindle creates false fears among our senior citizens that their loved ones are in some kind of serious trouble and urgently need their help,” said Kane.
In the Pennsylvania case, the investigation began after a 77 year old man from California received a call from a man pretending to be an attorney for his grandson. The scammer told him that his grandson was arrested for a DUI in Philadelphia, and needed $6,600 for bail and attorney’s fees. The victim paid the money, but grew suspicious and told the police when the “attorney” requested an additional $10,000.
An undercover sting took place on December 11, 2013, when a package supposedly containing $10,000 was dropped off by a law enforcement agent disguised as a UPS deliverer to a home in Philadelphia, where a Spencer Compas was waiting to receive it.
Compas, along with Wilson Lavilette and brother and sister Kens and Johanne Wesh, was charged with corrupt organizations, criminal conspiracy, identity theft, and theft by deception. Compas, Lavilette, and Johanne Wesh are in custody and being held on $1 million dollar bail. A warrant is out on Kens Wesh, who is alleged to be the mastermind of the scheme and who lives in New York City.
The group is accused of stealing at least $162,600 and attempting to steal another $37,325.
Kane said that there are potentially many more victims than the 11 who have been identified, and more perpetrators.
“They are not the only ones out there preying on people’s fears, and their scam underscores the need for vigilance,” Kane said.
There are many forms of the Grandparent Scam, and seniors need to be cautious about any emails or phone calls that come at odd hours and request large sums of money. The FBI suggests asking a question only the grandchild would know the answer to, and notifying someone else in the family if such a call is received.
“Because it has become so common, police departments around the state are constantly on the lookout for this kind of activity,” Kane said. “Every citizen can help them do their job more effectively by reaching out to law enforcement if they suspect they or a loved one are being victimized.”
Compas, Johanne Wesh, and Lavilette are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 21.