What would you do if your grandchild called and desperately needed money to get out of jail in a foreign country? Assuming you have a grandchild, you'd probably send it, right?
Bad idea, says Lawrence Wasden, the attorney general of Idaho, which has seen a rash of such cases lately.
The scam, which has been around in one form or another for years, involves a phone call from a criminal posing as the victim’s grandchild. The caller says that he or she is in trouble or under arrest in another country and needs money right away.
The caller then asks the grandparent to wire the cash right away and asks the grandparents not to tell anyone. Sometimes another person will get on the line to back up the caller’s story.
The second person usually claims to be a police officer, bail bondsman or just a helpful bystander. If the grandparent does send money, the scammers usually call again to ask for more and give various reasons for the second request for money.
Wasden says he has heard from three Idaho residents who fell for the scam and lost thousands of dollars.
One Idaho, man received a call from a young man whom he felt confident was his grandson. The caller told him that he was with a number of other young men, and he had been arrested for speeding and put in jail in Canada. He went on to say that the police searched their car and found marijuana.
The grandparent was told to call an “Officer Steely” at a Toronto, Canada number. “Officer Steely” then instructed him to send $6,100 via Western Union to Nashville, Tennessee, because bail had been let out for competitive bid and the Nashville’s bondsperson submitted the lowest bid.
“Officer Steely” said that a bail bondsperson in Nashville would forward it to Canada, and the man’s grandson would be released from jail. After being asked to send additional money for a court-ordered fine, the victim became suspicious and called his grandson, who was actually at home in Oregon.
Two Idaho women reported losing $3,000. The grandmother was told that her grandson had been driving an uninsured rental car in Trinidad when he was sideswiped and that the rental company needed to be paid or he would go to jail. The grandmother contacted the mother and together they came up with the money.
After wiring the money, the mother received a call from the imposter. She became suspicious of his unfamiliar voice and accent. She then hung up and made an effort to contact her son. Later, her real son called her back and said, “Mom, tell me you didn’t send $3,000 to Trinidad.”
An Idaho couple was told that their granddaughter was in Spain attending a funeral with relatives, when their car was stopped on the way to the airport to fly home. The couple was told their granddaughter was arrested after the police searched the trunk of the car and found cocaine and that she needed money for a bail bond.
After they sent the money, someone impersonating a Marine sergeant called and said he was calling from the American Embassy. He advised them their granddaughter had lost her passport and needed money for a replacement. They sent that money as well, losing a total of $5,870. Although the callers claimed to be in Spain, the telephone company said that the number where the call originated was in Canada.
“You may think that you wouldn’t fall for these scams, but they’re designed to catch you off guard,” Attorney General Wasden said. “Con artists play on your fears to make you do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
If you receive a call like this, Wasden recommends you follow the three C’s: Calm, Contact and Confirm.
• CALM down. Being agitated or upset clouds your judgment. Take a few deep breaths and then evaluate the situation.
• CONTACT your grandchild with the information about the call. Call his or her home or cell phone. Call the parents or other family members. Don’t trust the caller. When he says, “I don’t want Mom and Dad to know,” it is just a scammer’s technique to keep you from discovering the truth.
• CONFIRM your suspicions. The people who don’t fall victim to this scam find out where their grandchild is. Usually, that is at home, work or school, and completely unaware of the scam.