“We give leads on where people can go in certain situations. We reference the [Federal Trade Commission] and also suggest they contact the wire agency used, although there may be little recourse to get the money back,” said Woodman.
Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said it was up to local law enforcement agencies to respond. “The local police do the investigation. . . . We wouldn’t get involved until there are charges filed,” she said.
Swampscott Police Detective Tim Cassidy, who investigated the Mandell case, said his department lacked the funds to probe the fraud and thinks it’s unlikely the case would he prosecuted.
“We don’t have the funds to fly every other week to the Dominican Republic or Canada to investigate the scams. Is it frustrating? Extremely,” said Cassidy.
Swampscott police eventually turned the investigation over to the FBI. In an interview, FBI Special Agent Greg Comcowich said victims of elderly fraud are referred to a website. “We refer them to our Internet Crime Complaint Center and that is our way of aggregating. Because, normally, one criminal victimizes hundreds or thousands of people. So we aggregate; we use [www.ic3.gov] to aggregate victims across the country to come up with a larger sum, and use that to come up a with a perpetrator.”
Until MoneyGram and Walmart decided to refund her money, that was little help to Mandell, who is among the 42 percent of Americans over the age of 65 who do not use a computer, according to the Pew Research Center.
According to the website, 314,246 complaints were filed in 2011, amounting to $485 million in losses across America. The scams ranged from criminals posing as FBI agents to defraud victims, to identity theft, pyramid schemes, and auction, credit card, and lottery scams.
According to state law enforcement officials, Mandell fits the profile of a victim of a “Grandma scam,” where an imposter takes advantage of an elderly person by posing as a relative in trouble, and scares them into sending money.
According to the crime complaint center, 5,059 complaints were filed by Massachusetts residents last year, amounting to $6.18 million in losses to scams.
Meanwhile, Mandell is pleased the companies are returning her money. She advises people to think twice before falling victim to any scheme.
“Think with your head, not with your heart,” she said.