When Mary Strippoli heard what she thought was her grandson Michael crying and begging over the phone to bail him out of jail, her heart broke.
“I would do anything for my grandson,” said the 87-year-old from Boynton Beach.
Another man came on the phone and identified himself as a police officer and said he’d free Michael, 28 — who lives in New Jersey — and drop the charges if she sent $6,000 in cash to an address in North Miami Beach.
She knew something wasn’t right, but common sense was overtaken by her concern.
“It was like a drug,” said Strippoli, who cares for herself and her husband, drives and manages their finances. “Michael was in trouble.”
She went to the bank, withdrew the cash, and tucked the money in the pages of her AARP magazine.
She then went to UPS and mailed the package overnight express — just as she was instructed. She never told anyone because her “grandson” asked her not to because he didn’t want to get in trouble.
“I felt so guilty,” she said. “It was the first time in 65 years I hid something from my husband.”
Later that night, she began to stew on what happened. She called Michael, who was having dinner with his parents.
“He seemed so happy,” she said.
She fessed up to her daughter Catherine Licata —Michael’s mother.
“I was so horribly embarrassed,” she said, especially since she hid it from her husband. “I broke that trust.”
Her daughter quickly called UPS, Boynton Beach and North Miami Beach police. Luckily for her, she tracked the package before it got to the scammers and was able to get her money back.
The mother-daughter team shared their story to warn others about people who prey on the elderly through phone scams.
“When things like this happen you have to speak up,” Licata said. “There is no shame in telling someone.”
How to avoid falling victim to a scam:
▪ Never agree to buy something from an unsolicited person by phone or at your door.
▪ Don’t throw away anything with personal information before shredding it.
▪ Remove yourself from call lists and mailing lists, if possible.
▪ Avoid falling into traps where you divulge personal information to scammers.
▪ Be careful to never give your Social Security number or credit card information over the phone, unless you initiated the call.
▪ If you feel like you may be caught in a scam, always report it to police or call Eldercare at 1-800-677-1116 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Source: National Council on Aging