Imagine the telephone rings and a young person claiming to be your granddaughter or grandson says they are in distress. They have been in an accident or are in jail. They beg you not to tell their parents but need you to wire a large amount of money for them to Canada.
Alan Green from Seniors vs. Crime of Clinton County said this is the typical format of a very common telephone scam. The “grandparent scam” has been going on for the past three to four years. Green said this is a “very effective scam being perpetrated on grandparents, taking advantage of their love and concern for their grandchildren.”
“You may love your children. You adore your grandchildren,” Green said. “And that's what the scam artists work on.”
These calls will often start with the person tricking the victim into saying the grandchild’s name and then using it, said Green. In some cases, the con artists may have even searched online social networking sites to get personal information, such as a pets’s name, as proof that they are the grandchild. Sometimes a second person may get on the line, posing as a police officer, lawyer or doctor to add credibility to the story. The bottom line is that they need money.
Unlike some telephone scams which ask for a few hundred dollars, Green said the “grandparent scam” asks the victim to wire $1,000 to $5,000 to Canada at one time. He added once it has been wired out of the country, it is practically impossible to get it back. If the scam is successful, the “grandchild” will often call back and ask for more.
“They'll just keep going back if the person succumbs to the scam,” Green said.
While this scam has been around for the past few years, Green is seeing an increase in the frequency of it being reported and in the frequency of it being successful.
He said that the Federal Trade Commission has reported that imposter scams increased by 22 percent in 2011 when compared to the previous year. According to Green, these occur every week in the Gateway area. Some people hang up on them and some report them. In the past four months, almost $10,000 has been transferred from Clinton to Canada in four separate incidences.
Recently, members of the HyVee staff helped prevent one Clinton couple from being victimized by this scam. HyVee Camera Video Manager Carol Jewel was working that day when a couple came to customer service needing help to send a couple of Western Union money transfers. As she began to start the process, she asked where it was being sent and the woman told her Canada.
“And as soon as she said that, ‘I said do you know the people you are sending this to,’” Jewell said.
The couple told her their granddaughter had been in an accident and they needed to wire the money to her lawyer. Jewel told them about the “grandparent scam.”
“The flags went up, because Sue (Knipper, HyVee Customer Service Manager) gets faxes and e-mails and letters about different scams going around,” Jewell said.
Knipper then came over and she and Jewell both tried to explain to the couple that this is what con artists do, eventually calling Store Manager Chris DeSaulniers. DeSaulniers said the couple were very emotional and determined that this was real.
“It took a little while for me to try and reason with them,” DeSaulniers said.
He eventually called the couple’s son, who then called his daughter and verified that she had not been in an accident.
“And through the diligence of the employees at HyVee, they were able to convince these grandparents that they were about to be victimized by a scam,” Green said. He felt the employees deserved recognition for helping to prevent this scam.
Knipper said the employees are pretty wise to these scams. The Hy-Vee corporate office keeps the stores informed on what scams are going on and Knipper forwards this information to her employees.
DeSaulniers, Knipper and Jewell encourage people to check on their grandchildren if they receive these calls and warn them to never wire money to people they do not know. Green agreed the most important thing is to make people aware of the scam. The con artists operate out of the country and typically use pre-paid cellphones that cannot be traced. Green said all this makes pursuing them after the fact virtually impossible.
“Prevention is about the only tool that we're left with,” Green said.