Scam targets the elderly

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Watch out, a phone scam that targets the elderly is making its way through West Liberty. This has been reported by both community members and local telecompany Liberty Communications.

Dubbed the ‘Grandparent Scam,’ the calls specifically targets grandparents and informs them that their grandchild is stranded or in some sort of danger.

The catch: the scammer, imitating the grandchild, pleads for help in the form of money.

“It is one of many disgusting scams on seniors,” says West Liberty Police Chief Kary Kinmonth. “Often the police never hear about it because the victim was too embarrassed to say anything.”

The grandparent scam is nothing new he says, there have been many different variations throughout his 25 years in law enforcement. But there’s always one objective: money.

“It’s cyclical, you won’t hear about it for a year or two and then it will pop back up,” he adds. ”But sadly this has been around for quite awhile, and yes, they prey on the elderly.”

This specific instance of telephone fraud begins with a simple phone call. The scammer on the other side of the line pretends to be in trouble.

Often they pretend to be a grand child in need of help, whether that be a car accident, in jail, or stranded on the side of road. The scammer’s imagination is unlimited.

For one 85-year-old member of the West Liberty community who wishes to remain anonymous, the scammer even knew the name of her own grandson.

Perhaps they gleaned the information from a social media website such as Facebook, or they just simply did a Google search about the grandparent.

Either way, the caller used her grandson’s name as his own. When asked why he didn’t sound the same, the scammer merely said he had a cold.

“He said I need to talk to you, I don’t want to say anything about this to anyone else in the family, it’s just between you and I,” she recalls.

The scammer attempted to convince her that he was driving a friends car and got caught possessing marijuana by the police. Now he needed bail money to get out of jail.

Just as all rivers lead to the ocean, the scammer got to thereason for his call, he needed $61,000 for bail.

“He said he needed the money right away,” she added. “He said he would send it back to me in 48 hours, and I thought that this was so strange.”

Luckily in this case the family was there to tell the grandmother that this was, in no way, real. She received confirmation from her son and grandson. The scammer never got the chance to take it much further than that.

But, according to Chief Kinmonth, scammers usually create a sense of urgency to send the money. They don’t want the victim to get off the phone and think too long about it.

“These people want an answer now, they want to hook you,” he says. “It’s like if you go to a resort and they want to sell you a timeshare, they want to hook you that day.”

When they get someone hooked they ask for the money to be sent to a public place, usually they want it wired to a Western Union or other financial institution.

In this specific case the West Liberty resident’s daughter was around, plus the resident was skeptical about the large amount of money needed. When the scammer called back after the first phone call nobody bothered to answer.

“We have it on our phone so we can see who is calling and it showed up as unavailable,” says the West Liberty resident, “So that pretty much ended it.”

Unfortunately, for those that follow through and send the money…it’s gone.

Scammers are a dime in a dozen, and they come from any of the 50 U.S. states or anywhere in the world. Tracking one of them down far exceeds the ability of a single police force.

“We just don’t have the time or the resources to follow up on a crime that would cost us thousands and thousands to investigate,” says Chief Kinmonth.

“It’s kind of a perfect crime on their end, because they realize that in the grand scheme it’s not going to be worth the energy of a small police unit unless it’s a big plot or you get the FBI involved,” he adds.

There are many different kinds of scams across the board that use a variety of mediums such as the email, telephones and the internet.

Chief Kinmonth brings up another case in West Liberty where an individual gave $450 during a fraudulent back-and-forth on Craigslist, a website.

That being said, it’s not hopeless. In the case of the West Liberty grandmother, she was skeptical of the information and talked with her family. This is the best place to start.

“Call us for anything the seems off or unusual,” Chief Kinmonth of the West Liberty Police Department. Their non-emergency number is 319-627-2223.

“Or call someone you trust and run it past them,” he says. “You can ask for their name and their call back number, then say you’ll get back to them in a couple days.”

“If it sounds weird or too good to be true, or it’s just that unknown thing and someone’s rushing and asking for money talk to someone you trust,” he adds.

Mainly, just be aware that it’s real and it’s happening in West Liberty. Liberty Communications recently posted a warning on facebook reading:

“We have received several calls from customers in the last week reporting that they've received scam phone calls. The calls target Grandparents and the caller pretends to be calling on behalf of a grandchild who is stranded and in need of money. Please help spread the word about this scam.”

Perhaps that’s the best advice. Help spread the word in West Liberty and with friends and family outside of the community. These ‘grandparent scam’ and many others can be found just about anywhere.
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