A would-be phone scammer apparently targeting elderly people met his match in one Long Island grandmother last week, police say.
Joshua Estrella Gomez, 28, was arrested by the Nassau County Police in Seaford, New York — about 35 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island — on Thursday and charged with third degree attempted grand larceny, according to a press release by the department.
Police say that someone contacted a 73-year-old woman, claiming to be her grandson. The man told the woman that he was in jail and needed her to help — and then hung up. Then a different man called, claiming to be her grandson's lawyer and saying that he needed $8,000 for her grandson's bail. Finally, a third man called, claiming to be the bail bondsman — and saying that he was in the area to pick up the cash from her.
Photo: Nassau County Police Department
None of it was true: This is what law enforcement refers to as a "grandparent scam." While elderly people being targeted by scammers is nothing new, the targeting of elderly people by those pretending to be jailed loved ones is a relatively recent phenomenon.
The Federal Trade Commission began highlighting the proliferation of this type of scam back in 2018, even creating a video to help educate people about how they work.
In August 2021, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of six people as part of a racketeering investigation into a nationwide network of people who used similar scams to swindle more than $2 million out of more than 70 elderly people.
But in this case, the Seaford women who was targeted — and who asked local media to only identify her as Jean — wasn't fooled.
"I knew he was a real scammer," Jean told CBS affiliate WLNY. "I just knew he wasn’t going to scam me."
What tipped Jean off was that the man who called her claiming to be her grandson said that he was in jail after a car accident and had been charged with driving under the influence.
"He starts calling me 'grandma, and then I’m like, 'I don’t have a grandson that drives,' so I knew it was a scam," she told WLNY.
But when the second man, claiming to be her grandson's lawyer called, Jean decided to play along.
"I played stupid grandma," she told WNBC in New York. "'Oh my poor grandson,' I told the guy. 'Please don’t tell his mother.'"
“I told him I had the money in the house, and I figured, he’s not going to fall for that," she told WLNY. "Well, he fell for that hook, line and sinker."
But after she got off the phone with the "lawyer," Jean called 911.
"She's smart enough to call out and reach out to the police department and say, 'I think I'm being taken advantage of,'" Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told reporters at a press conference reported by WABC in New York.
Jean came by those smarts in an honest fashion: She was a Nassau County 911 dispatcher for more than 20 years, according to WNBC.
Nassau County officers were already at Jean's house, interviewing her about the first two scam calls, when the third call, from the supposed bail bondsman came in, WABC reported.
"Apparently they thought they had the big fish," she told WNBC. "They actually thought I was gonna give them money."
The officers told her to play along, and she gave the "bail bondsman" her address.
That's when Gomez arrived at her door and she handed him an envelope full of paper towels.
Nassau County police officers tackled him on her front yard and arrested him — which she caught on her Ring doorbell camera.
Police are now trying to figure out who, if anyone, Gomez was working with.
Jean wants other people to hear about her experience so they can be prepared, too.
“I feel like — like you say — so many people fall for this and you only hear about it on the other end after they’ve lost $8,000," she told WLNY.
Jean's son told WNBC he knows what his mom did was "cool" but wishes she hadn't done it.
"I couldn’t believe what was going on," he told the station when he found out his mom intended to toy with the would-be scammers. "I told her to stop, stop."
Jean feels more triumphant, though.
"Bored grandma: one," she told WNBC. "Bad guy: zero."
She's not the first New York-area grandmother to help bust a grandparent scammer in the last few weeks: A Middletown, New Jersey woman got a similar call from her purported grandson in early December, the Asbury Park Press reported. She, too, called police after receiving the calls and they told her to call back if the scammers attempted to collect the money.
On Dec. 8, Middletown police arrested Bronx resident Oscal Novas Bastista, 36, when he came to collect the "bail money" for the grandmother's relative.
Nassau Police, like the Middletown Police, are asking elderly residents to be on guard — and to call police first, rather than trying to set up potential scammers themselves, according to WLNY.
Gomez, meanwhile, was released on an appearance ticket and is due back in court on Feb. 3, according to police.