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Grandparent scam on the rise again - Scammers play on family ties, emotions

Usually Sara* has a cool head when it comes to emergencies, but when she received a phone call from her grandson saying he was in trouble in Canada, all rational thought gave way to emotions, pushing her to act. This is exactly what the scammer posing as her grandson was hoping she would do.

Sara, a Fallbrook resident, received a call on Jan. 27 from a young male who addressed her as “Grandma.”

Sara immediately assumed the caller was her grandson, Craig*, a 17-year-old who resides in Orange County. The caller proceeded to tell Sara that he had gotten into trouble with law enforcement in Canada, and that alcohol had been involved.

“After raising six teens, I’m aware that all it takes is for one open container of alcohol in the car for the driver to be arrested,” said Sara, who was immediately was concerned and ready to help.

“He told me he needed money for an attorney and bail,” said Sara. “[Craig] asked me to help him because he didn’t want to tell his parents what trouble he was in, and that he would repay me as soon as he got home.”

Because Sara did not frequently speak to her grandson, the 72-year-old woman sincerely believed that her grandchild was in danger, and was willing to do anything to help him.

“It was the perfect storm,” she said. “This grandson is a good kid, an honor student, and I figured that he was snowboarding with friends. His parents have been known to overreact before, so I thought this was an opportunity for Grandma to come in and save the day.”

Sara agreed to wire money to Canada to save her grandson, and gave the scammer her cell phone number. She received calls from the individual every 10 minutes, pressuring her to hurry and send the money as soon as possible.

In total, Sara sent money to the same Canadian post three times, taking nearly $8,000 from her savings to help her grandson.

“I didn’t press him for information,” she said. “He told me I had to hurry before the courts closed.”

“There were so many red flags that I didn’t notice and just blew by,” reflected Sara. “He had to ask me for my cell phone number, and asked me not to tell his parents or the wire service what the money was for.”

“I sent the money, and when I got home, he called again, saying he now needed money to help him with immigration,” said Sara. “I wasn’t thinking; I was feeling.”

Two days after the incident, Sara was told by one of her friends that she had fallen for a scam, and that she was not alone.

“I was at lunch with my friend, and she told me the same thing had happened to her friend,” Sara explained. “At that moment, the guy called me again. When I asked him what his birthday was, he hung up immediately.”

According to Sheriff Department crime prevention specialist, John McLelland, the “Grandparent scam” is once again on the rise, and senior citizens should take notice to ensure that they are not being tricked into giving away their savings to scammers riding on their emotions.

To ensure that they are not being scammed, McLelland recommends that seniors allow their “natural curiosity” to take a strong role in the circumstance.

“When a grandparent gets a call like this, they are usually asked not to contact the parents, for various reasons,” said McLelland. “If I got a call like this, I would want to know the details of the circumstance. Fake it with the person; ask questions to try and trip up the caller and dig for information.”

Asking how the caller got to their alleged location is a great start for ensuring that the senior is truly talking to their grandchild, said McLelland.

“Keep a rational, cool head,” he said. “About 99.9 percent of the time, it will be your grandchild, and you should be able to tell.”

Scammers trying to manipulate grandparents won’t typically ask for large sums of money, McLelland said.

“If a scammer makes a few hundred dollars on a call, it’s more than I make in a day,” said McLelland.

If someone finds that they have been scammed, McLelland states the most important action they can take is to report fraud to law enforcement.

“Many times, senior citizens don’t report what happened because they are too embarrassed to say what happened,” McLelland said. “Everyone, from a rocket scientist on down, can be scammed.”

After reporting the scam, Sara was visited by Senior Citizens Protection Services, a service that checks to see if seniors are at an imminent risk to themselves and others, or who are suspected of being abused.

“They found out I am not senile,” she said. “I am the original skeptic. If something doesn’t sound right, I check it on Snopes.com to see if it’s a scam or Google it.”

Regardless, Sara has learned that being vigilant is never enough. While some information has been found about the scammers, the case is ongoing.

“This scam was perfect for our family situation,” she said.

*Names have been changed to protect individuals.

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