"Grandparents Scam" Exposed

Con Artists Pretend to be Grandchildren in Trouble

A special report by the syndicated TV news program "Inside Edition" finds con artists are scamming seniors out of hundreds and even thousands of dollars by posing as their grandchildren.

Holly Haase, a Multnomah County, Oregon Sheriff's Deputy, explains how the scam artist works, once the con artist has an elderly victim on the phone. "By calling and saying, 'Hello Grandma, this is your favorite grandson,' they give him the information that he needs."

Con: Hi, Grandpa.
Victim: Hi.
Con: Do you know who this is?
Victim: Randy?
Con: Yeah.

"Even in this line of work, for over ten years, you don't think that somebody is capable of doing this to your grandma," Haase says.

Orville and Dorothy Shanafelt, of Portland, Oregon, were both nearing 90 when they fell victim to a phone scam. The con, posing as their grandson, called them, claiming he'd been in a car accident and needed money wired to him immediately.

The Shanafelt's wired $550 to the con artist, explaining they thought he was in trouble. They say they didn't call to verify the story with other family members because the con artist specifically told them he didn't want other relatives to know what had happened.

"It sure sounded like him on the phone ... I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles it was him," Orville Shanafelt says.

Stephen Lee Brown, the con artist arrested in the Shanafelt fraud case, victimized dozens of seniors and found his victims by scanning the phone book for old-fashioned sounding names.

"The victims [names] were Delores, Dorothy, Ruth, Alberta," Deputy Haase tells Inside Edition.

One of Brown's victims, an 86-year-old grandmother, even had to use a walker in order to get to her bank and withdraw money for him.

What was most shocking, the Shanafelt's say, was where the calls originated. Brown had made all of his calls while serving time at a Portland County Jail, where all inmate phone calls are recorded. He is now serving a 17-year sentence for elder fraud.

However, Inside Edition discovered the positive outcome in Brown's case is an exception when it comes to catching these con artists.

The con man who convinced Edward and Irene Kellerman of Fairlawn, Ohio, that he was their beloved grandson Brian is still on the run. They wired him $3,000.

"It was the perfect set up and these people knew exactly what they were doing," says Edward Kellerman.

The detective on the Kellerman case, Dave Zampelli, was able to track the con to Canada where he retrieved the wire transfer records and a fake id with Brian Kellerman's name on it.

"They're very organized. They know what they're doing. They're cons. They're smooth talkers and daily they 're persuading victims to wire them money," Zampelli said.

The Kellermans, who like many of the other victims are retired and live on social security and small dividends, say they were hurt financially and emotionally by this scam.

"You feel stupid that you were taken by a scam, that is foremost. Secondly, you are embarrassed," Mrs. Kellerman said.

Take a Home Warranty Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.