Fraudsters target elderly in ‘grandchild’ scam

Italy has led a European sting operation against fraudsters suspected of tricking the elderly into handing over vast sums of cash.

Fraudsters target elderly in 'grandchild' scam
The criminals are thought to have been behind more than 250 acts of fraud against the elderly. Elderly person photo: Shutterstock

A total of 150 police officers were deployed in Italy on Monday to hunt down gang members, the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said in a statement.

Using the so-called “grandchild" trick, a gang member would phone an elderly person and psychologically manipulate them into believing the criminal was one of their hard-up relatives. The caller would then convince them to withdraw a large amount of cash, which would be picked up by an accomplice.

Five people were arrested in Italy, six in Poland and one in Switzerland, while police are still hunting for 20 suspects.

As part of the raids authorities also seized €1 million worth of assets, including real estate, precious stones, luxury watches and jewellery. The riches are thought to be the profits of more than 250 acts of fraud against the elderly, along with over 20 burglaries, Europol said.

Described as a “dangerous criminal network”, the gang allegedly targeted “polite and trusting” elderly people to con them out money.

Police in Genoa, north-west Italy, launched an investigation into the scam in 2010 and worked with Europol and Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation unit.

In addition to Polish and Swiss authorities, those in Austria and Germany were also part of the operation, which involved wiretapping over 100 phones.

Despite crackdowns in recent years on "grandchild" fraudsters, Europol said there are still a “noteworthy” number of cases in Europe. The gangs move quickly across borders, making them harder for police forces to trace, while some elderly victims are too embarrassed to come forward when they realize they have been conned. 

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Spanish university accused of giving away diplomas to Italian nationals

A Spanish university already accused of gifting degrees to high-profile politicians is also being probed for allegedly giving away diplomas to hundreds of Italian nationals, a court spokesman said Thursday September 20th.

Spanish university accused of giving away diplomas to Italian nationals
Photo: Kzenon/Depositphotos

A court in Madrid is investigating whether around 500 Italians received express law diplomas from the King Juan Carlos University, the spokesman said. The Italians were granted the degrees despite having little knowledge of Spanish, according to media reports.

In a scandal dubbed “Mastergate”, the university already faces claims of gifting degrees to politicians by allegedly awarding them good grades without them turning up for class.

The allegations forced the resignation of Cristina Cifuentes, former head of the Madrid region, in April and ex-health minister Carmen Monton earlier this month.

The new leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, who has a Master's degree from the university's now-closed Institute of Public Law, is also under fire. 

The court spokesman said Thursday that the latest probe was at a “very early stage.” He said the Italians are thought to have used the degrees to sign up to the Bar Association of Madrid (ICAM) and possibly that of other Spanish cities.

With the diploma – a validation of a Bachelor's degree already done in Italy – and the bar association, they could then practice law in all European Union member states, according to online daily

READ ALSO: Italian high schoolers caught on video threatening teacher over grades

This allows aspiring lawyers in Italy to get around the expensive Master's degree usually required in their home country before they are able to practice, it reported.

Citing sources close to the probe, the website said the Italian nationals would make “express” trips to Madrid to pass exams without knowing much Spanish, sometimes taking in a Real Madrid game on their trip.

In a statement, the Bar Association of Madrid told AFP the case was not “attributable to ICAM but to the King Juan Carlos University” and the government

Since the 'mastergate' scandal broke, the university has closed its Institute of Public Law and filed a complaint for alleged misuse of funds involving former director Enrique Alvarez Conde.

Spanish radio Cadena Ser has also revealed that Alvarez and his deputy in the institute allegedly received unexplained money transfers of close to €200,000 ($230,000) between 2012 and May this year.

READ MORE: Italy jails man for selling fake TripAdvisor reviews