BBB: “Grandparents Scam” costs St. Charles woman $14,000

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(KTVI) - The son of an 83-year-old St. Charles woman was so certain his mother would never fall victim to the notorious “grandparent scam” that he felt no need to warn her about it.  He was wrong – almost $14,000 wrong.

In what seems to be an unusually sophisticated case, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says that the thief knew the name of the woman’s grandson and other specific family information. Those details helped convince her that the phone call was legitimate.

The man, who called the woman last week posing as her grandson, told her that he was being held in a Mexican prison until he could raise enough money to get out. She said he instructed her how to wire $13,800 from the checking account of her local bank to an account in Mexico.

“I thought sure it was” (my grandson), the woman said. She said she was devastated to learn she likely would never be able to recover the money.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the St. Charles case illustrates the increasing sophistication of thieves who have victimized seniors nationwide in recent years. “Gone are the days when the scammers called numbers at random, hoping to get a senior on the other line, and then used vague information to draw them into the scam,” she said. “Increasingly, thieves are taking advantage of social media and other resources to get the names of family members and other details to help them target seniors. These people are devious, despicable and cruel.”

In May, a California woman lost her $75,000 life’s savings after wiring money to New York when a thief impersonating her son asked her to pay his bail after an arrest. In July, a Florida woman lost more than $50,000 to scammers who duped her into believing her grandson was jailed in South America.

The St. Charles woman said the caller identified himself as her 19-year-old grandson, using her grandson’s name.  She told him that he did not sound like her grandson, but he told her that he had suffered a broken and bloodied nose in the scuffle that led to his arrest.

She said he also knew the name of her other grandson and other family details. He instructed her not to tell anyone about his arrest, especially his mother and father, and dictated five pages of instructions – much of it in Spanish – to make sure she understood what to do.

Over the next couple of hours, the thief called her several more times to make sure she was following through with the transfer.  She said he called her twice while she was inside the bank and again as soon as she got into the parking lot after making the transfer.

It was not until two hours after the transfer that she finally called her son to tell him what had happened. The son knew immediately that thieves had stolen the money.

The son described his mother as “paranoid about all kinds of things.  She would never even talk to a stranger.” He said he was shocked his mother had fallen victim to the scam.

The son said he believes the thief may have pulled family information from Facebook.

The son said that he spoke recently to the bank and asked that they notify him if his mother tries again to remove an unusually large amount from her account. He said he understands the bank’s need to serve its customers and protect their privacy, but he said he believes employees should be trained to watch for seniors wiring or withdrawing large sums.

The BBB urges relatives and friends of seniors, as well as churches and social service agencies that work with seniors, to help educate them about scams.

The BBB offers the following tips on how to avoid the grandparent scam:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a family member and asking for money, do not disclose any personal information until you have confirmed who is on the other line. Sometimes, you can confirm the person’s identity by asking a question that the impersonator likely would not know, such as the name of his or her pet or details on your most recent get-together.
  • Before sending any money, call a family member to find out the relative’s whereabouts and notify the family member of the phone call.
  • Be leery of requests to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram or send payments via the use of prepaid cards like Green Dot MoneyPaks. Funds sent through these methods are hard to track and are rarely recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.
  • In most instances, a scammer will ask that the call be kept a secret, especially from other family members.

If you are a victim of a scam, report it to authorities.

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