The 78-year-old woman was a victim of the Enkeltrick crime, otherwise known as the “grandparent scam” which happens time and again in Germany and dates back to the late 1990s.
The crime involves fraudsters impersonating the close relatives of pensioners in order to gain access to their money or valuables under false pretences.
Since the families of many older people live far away from them in other states, the pensioners can be lonely and are overwhelmed by joy when someone contacts them, Kim Freigang, press spokesman for the Dortmund police, told Handelsblatt.
"The perpetrators then shamelessly exploit this," Freigang added. Police have been warning for years against handing over money to unknown people and in case of doubt, to seek help from family members and the authorities.
In the case of the 78-year-old in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt, the senior citizen received a phone call from a woman claiming to be her granddaughter, saying she urgently needed €20,000 for the purchase of a mobile home, local police announced on Sunday.
The senior citizen did not suspect anything, got into a taxi, went to the bank and withdrew the money. She handed the huge sum of cash to a man whom the caller had said was an acquaintance. Alarm bells only went off when the pensioner’s actual daughter found out what her mom had done and both of them went to the police.
Where does the scam originate from?
One of the most extreme cases of this scam, in which an elderly lady dished out €640,000 to an alleged relative, involves a Polish criminal called Marcin K. but better known as “Lolli.”
Lolli went to court in Hamburg in 2015 over suspicion of having organized this Enkeltrick via a phone call made in Austria. He was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison earlier this year when judges in a Hamburg court found him guilty of 40 cases of fraud in several countries.
Though variations of the scam can be seen worldwide, in Germany it really took off over twenty years ago when a Hamburg-based Polish carpet seller named Arkadiusz L. started to build up a Europe-wide network of fraudsters. Lolli is the son of Arkadiusz L.
How many crimes like this take place in Germany per year?
While it is known that hundreds of pensioners lose their money every year due to this scam, no one knows how many of these crimes actually take place, reports Mitteldeutsche Zeitung (MZ).
According to MZ, there are no exact figures but the estimates are in the millions. Thousands of fraudulent calls take place in the country each day, and while most do not work as intended by the criminals, sometimes they do.
Criminologists say the organized crime has a future in Germany particularly due to the country's ageing population. Joachim Ludwig, chief detective commissioner in Cologne and an Enkeltrick expert, told MZ that Germany must care more about its old people. While the elderly are afraid of being attacked or robbed, it’s a “mistake” that “no one is afraid of the grandparent scam,” Ludwig said.
"We live in the illusion that something like this could never happen to us. But the perpetrators know better. If it doesn't work this year, call again next year. Or the next one. One day it'll work."
What are the best ways to prevent this crime?
In the case of the 78-year-old in Halberstadt, much like many of the other Enkeltrick scams, police investigations are difficult because the caller’s number is foreign and cannot be traced.
The perpetrators make the calls from Poland and in addition to Germany, other countries where German is partly spoken such as Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria.
They look specifically for old-fashioned first names that could indicate that someone is a senior citizen, such as Irmgard, Gertrud, Ingeborg or Helga. They also speak perfect German and are friendly on the phone.
Police say one of the best ways of fighting this crime is to anticipate it and know how to react and what to say if it happens. Children and grandchildren of pensioners can also do their part by making sure their loved ones are aware of this scam and reminding them never to give money or reveal bank data to people they don’t know.
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